Reasons for valuing certain landscapes

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AKC 5 T&RS – Spring Term 2007 – Religion and Public History 08/02/07
AKC 5 – 8 FEBRUARY 2007

Reasons for valuing certain landscapes

- Aesthetic – scenic beauty. Lake District; Cornish Coast; Scottish Highlands; White Cliffs. Landscape as individual, distinctive, unique.

Can link to national identity: unique landscapes serve to indicate Englishness or Britishness. White cliffs of Dover. Controversy 1900 when American company Quaker Oats posted enormous advert on ‘the white cliffs of Albion’. Patriotic outcry leads to poster’s removal.

- Associational value

    1. Literary: Thomas Gray and Churchyard at Stoke Poges; Hardy’s Dorset; Lake District and Poets, e.g. Wordsworth. Link to national literary traditions.

    2. Artistic: Constable and Suffolk. Constable Country. Cook’s tours from 1880s.

SPB Mais England’s character (1937): ‘If ever it was given to man to interpret the English spirit exactly it was given to Constable… [and] it remains intact, inviolate, at Flatford Mill. On the banks of the Suffolk Stour you will find England still’.

    1. Historical: events e.g. Battles (Hastings) or historical figures. View from the park on Richmond Hill in Surrey, preserved by Act of Parliament in 1902.

Leisure Hour 1887: “The natural beauties of Richmond are accompanied by historical associations of a rich, diverse, and enduring interest. It speaks as much to the imagination as to the senses. The very air is charged, as by vivifying ozone, with a crowded and distinguished past. Names of illustrious monarchs, statesmen, judges, churchmen, warriors, poets, actors and painters reach the ear wherever we stand and wherever we look’, making the scene not just ‘a gallery of beautiful landscapes, but… also… an illustrated volume of the history of England.”

      • But valuation of landscape is NEVER purely on scenic/physical grounds.

- Nature as authentic / original. Example of a beautiful landscape that mining company promises to restore after exploiting. Problem: nature ‘faked’. Physical appearance not enough; authenticity important, originality. Example: American wilderness. John Muir – founder of US National Parks movement – valued Hetch Hetchy Valley not for scenery, but for wilderness. Genesis of landscape important; value of ‘natural’ landscape lost when continuity lost. Grey Wethers or Sarsen Stones of Marlborough Downs in Wiltshire. Acquired National Trust before 1914. Seen as ‘strange geological relics of distant past’. Heathery uplands of SW Surrey around Hindhead as ‘primitive wilderness’.

- Connections and resonance with human history

  1. Forests Conifers vs. native trees. Confers as alien, ‘German’. New Statesman (1963): ‘German conifer-worship’ was practised ‘in Britain only by the Forestry Commission’.

Connotations with British naval prowess (this esp strong in 18C and early 19C); oak in warships.

New Forest: preservationist concern from late 19C on. Defended on grounds of history. NF a piece of historic land that gave a glimpse of ‘the England that was and ceased to be’. Great age of many trees, ruins of Beaulieu Abbey, Rufus Stone, Anglo-Saxon Court of Verderers, charcoal-burners, still-used common rights. All evoked older England of sturdy yeomen and small farmers – the ‘England of the outlaw, of the singer of ballads, of the lover of the greenwood life… which, belonging to the past, had by some fortunate accident survived into the present’ (Auberon Herbert)

  1. Commons: Commons also valued for associations with human history. ‘Freeborn Englishman’ – libertarian view of English past – common rights before the enclosure movement of late 18C/early 19C. Inspiration for much land reform. Also romantic appeal of commons – ‘Merrie England’. Example: Colley Hill in Surrey 1913, preserved by National Trust. Lord Curzon - place evoked the rumbustious informality of English life in Chaucer’s time. Historical pageant.

Landscape, History and National identity

Natural landscape connects to national identity: Swiss & Alps; Basques & mountains; Americans & wilderness; diversity of French landscape. Stanley Baldwin 1926: “England is the Country, and the Country is England”.

HV Morton In Search of England (1927): London factory worker after WW1 saw England he had fought to save not London, ‘not his own street, but as Epping Forest, the green place where he had spent Bank Holidays.’

But History central to nationalist appeal of landscape.

David Lowenthal: English landscape the ‘mainstay’ of English national heritage, with 20C and 21C English people seeing their landscape as ‘both admirable and ancestral’. Coffee table book The Spirit of England (1989). 119 colour photos chosen to ‘evoke the true character of England’. 45% landscape; 53% rural setting. 1% city, 1% industrial. Landscapes generally untouched and unpeopled; an older England.

National identity connected to sense of continuity. So landscapes prized for their connections with national past become part of discourse of cultural nationalism. A.D Smith: ‘the territorialization of memory’. ‘Homelands’.
The English Homeland

‘South country’ pastoralism? Edward Thomas etc. Conservative, nostalgic view of Englishness and English national identity? ‘Heritage’ view of England – chocolate-box villages etc. Martin Wiener: negative cultural reaction to modernity and industrialisation which helps explain British economic decline in 20C?

Peter Mandler: actually ruralism not that extensive.

BUT: in fact clear that ruralism more culturally significant than Mandler says; and concern with natural landscape less reactionary than portrayed. Did not reflect backward-looking Englishness

Complex picture: ideological heterogeneity of British engagement with landscape
Geography of Homeland?

Melanie Tebutt on Peak District. High Peak seen as part of an older, wilder England, isolated and remote from modern world. But also ‘heartland’ of England.

Peter Howard: examined catalogues of Royal Academy summer exhibitions between 1769 to mid-20C. Looked at places that featured in paintings and mapped geographical shifts in artistic taste. Found following patterns:

Late 18C and early 19C: country houses & parks; also ruined castles and Abbeys. Picturesque

Mid 19C: decline in country houses, more rivers, more rugged coasts, e.g. in Cornwall and Devon

Later 19C and early to mid 20C: very few country houses; moorlands, heathland, commons. Southern England popular, but NB focus on Heaths and Commons. Avoidance of aristocratic landscapes – democratic landscape. So Conservative Englishness?

Landscape and Modernity

Historicized view of rural landscape and rural past came about in context of industrialisation and urbanisation in late 19C and early 20C: 1851 – 50% population rural, 1914 – 20%. Sharper division between ‘town’ and ‘country’; between rural past and urban present. Hence modern-day concern for maintaining continuities with an older, more rural England. This impulse reactionary and opposed to modernity?

No; an accommodative response to modernity; concern to preserve historical national continuity as means of dealing with change. Example: preservationist movement. Commons Preservation Society 1865; National Trust 1894, Society for Checking the Abuses of Public Advertising, or SCAPA, 1894 Later on: Council for the Preservation of Rural England etc.

Preservationists generally saw economic progress as compatible with preservation of historic landscape. Unnecessary violations of landscape opposed – e.g. speculative mining schemes in Lake District 1880s, but even Commons Preservation Society allowed Commons to be taken for railways, so long as land dedicated to public in compensation. Parallels with German preservationist movement: Thomas K Lekan.

David Matless on interwar period. Argument against general assumption that rural, natural and historical opposed to the modern. Example: preservationist attitudes to electricity pylons.

But possibly changed with late-20C rise of heritage tourism? More socially conservative attitudes now? Or still accommodative response to modernity?

Suggestions for reading

R. Elliot, ‘Faking Nature’, Inquiry, 25 (1982)

P. Howard, ‘Painters’ Preferred Places’, Journal of Historical Geography, 11 (1985)

A. Howkins, ‘The discovery of rural England’, in R. Colls and P.Dodd, Englishness (1986)

T.K. Lekan, Imagining the Nation in Nature: Landscape Preservation and German Identity, 1885-1945 (2004)

D. Lowenthal, ‘European & English landscapes as national symbols’, in D. Hooson, Geography & national identity (1994)

D. Lowenthal, ‘British National Identity and the English Landscape’, Rural History, 2 (1991)

P. Mandler, ‘Against Englishness: English culture and the limits to rural nostalgia, 1850-1940’, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 6th series, 7 (1997)

D. Matless, Landscape and Englishness (1998)

R. Nash, Wilderness and the American Mind (3rd ed. 1982 and later editions)

P. Readman, ‘Landscape preservation, “advertising disfigurement” and English national identity’, Rural History, 12 (2001)

P. Readman, ‘The Place of the Past in English Culture, 1890-1914’, Past and Present (2005)

A.D. Smith, ‘Nation and Ethnoscape’, in Smith Myths and Memories of the Nation (1999)

A.D. Smith, Chosen Peoples: Scared Sources of National Identity (2003), chapter 6: ‘Sacred Homelands’

M. Tebbutt, ‘“In the Midlands but not of them”: Derbyshire’s Dark Peak’, in Neville Kirk, ed., Northern Identities (2000)

M.J. Wiener, English culture and the decline of the industrial spirit, 1850-1980 (1981)

Patrick Wright, On living in an old country: the national past in contemporary Britain (1985)

Full details about the AKC course, including copies of the handouts, can be found on the AKC website at: If you have any queries please contact the AKC Course Administrator on ext 2333 or via email at You must register for the course, using the form on the website, before registering for the exam. Please note the AKC Exam is on Friday 23 March 2007 between 14.30 and 16.30. EXAM REGISTRATION is now open. To register please reply to the email from the Dean’s Office giving your full name and student ID number. The deadline of registration is 9 March 2007.

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