Common People: Introduction

Oh, dear. I’m enjoying not blogging every week too much. Maybe it’s reached a natural end. And, well, we have plans: more on which later. Perhaps the blog needs ditching or reinventing. I’m also enjoying getting back into music: which is great, but a time-drain. First-world problems, perhaps. Meantime, I shall carry on posting older stuff. For the next month or so, I shall publish the original version of a deep dive into the 19th-century history of Berkhamsted Common. A version went into The Berkhamsted Chronicle this year (March 2021) condensed and edited by Linda Rollitt. It was researched and written in 2019/2020 which is as much to say it is itself a historical document.

I hope both versions are of some interest to some people. I enjoyed everything about the writing. I liked researching at Hertfordshire Archives over three or four Saturdays as people were getting married in the same building and posing for pictures in the car park. What stories were being laid down as I was pulling older ones out of box files? I always made time to walk towpaths and wander around the very likeable county town as well. Archives have always been as much about walking to me as researching. The National Archives are well placed in that respect. It may explain why I have so little to show for years of research except for happy memories and blisters.

It is an autistic thing partly. Berkhamsted is my ‘Pontito’. I think of myself as that patient of Oliver Sacks with a hypermnesic pencil and an eidetic memory: rebuilding the town I grew up in half a century ago, brick by brick, leaf by leaf. The difference – if it is a difference – is that it is not my memories that interest me. It is the memories of people who lived there when I was growing up. I feel part of a chain not of possession or heredity but a chain of belonging. Like other chains, it implies push as well as pull. Most people of my generation who grew up in the town have felt both at some point or another.

But I’m waffling now. For someone who has produced so little, I’ve already written far too much. I have begun to collect some of the voices from Berkhamsted Common online at common-people.uk. So if you tire of my voice, you can go straight to the source. Cut out the middle man.

Oliver Sacks, An Anthropologist on Mars, 1995, chapter titled: ‘The Landscape of His Dreams’.

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2 Comments

  1. Hello, Richard. I’m working on researching the history of Berkhamsted Common (I live in Berkhamsted). I’ve read your articles – which are great, but haven’t managed any of your tours. At the moment I’m reading as much material as I can find in books and online, but haven’t got so far in researching at the archives as I can see you have.
    I started off down this route when I was drawing trees on the Common and using it as a theme for art projects (I did an exhibition). I also wished someone had republished and updated Whybrow. I am open about where this might all go – I tell people I’m writing a book as that is the easiest thing to say, but I am more inclined to think about a variety of ‘products’ which would be more visual. Also I want to open up ideas about commons, the countryside, contested lands, beyond the immediate local history.
    I’m only just feeling confident now to contact people who might share my interest. I’m now in contact with Mary Casserley and the Berkhamsted Local History Society, and I’ve spoken to people at the golf club.

    1. Hi Jenny,

      sorry for the tardy reply. There seems to be a problem with my email notifications from wp. Thank you for your comment. It sounds like a fascinating project. I’ve always felt that the commons demand an artistic and creative response, not just a historical and scientific one: so your project sounds right up my street! If you would like to contribute an article or gallery to my other website, common-people.uk I would be really happy to publish it. Good luck with your research!

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