Literary ley lines

Lots of strange convergences over the last couple of days. My friend Paul sent me a link to a blog which explores the work of Arnold Toynbee (which I’ll get back to you about Paul!). The same day, I saw Toynbee mentioned in the book I’m currently reading – Where Man Belongs by the English inter-war rural writer and social thinker H.J. Massingham. Massingham, although spending much of his working life as a writer and journalist had some archaeological training and indeed in the same book he mentions O.G.S. Crawford, pioneer aerial photographer and founder of Antiquity. On Wednesday I got the recent and excellently reviewed new biography of Crawford by Kitty Hauser (which I hope to blog about shortly). Massingham was also closely involved in a fascinating nexus of thinkers and rural writers between the 1930s and 1950, which included Adrian Bell (father of Martin Bell), with whom he formed Kinship_in_Husbandry, a kind of proto-think tank opposed to the industrialisation of agriculture and promoting organic farming. It was one of the precursors of the Soil Association. This curious organisation straddled the traditional left/right divide and many of its founders were interested in the notions of social credit, Guild Socialism and Distributism (an economic philosophy formulated by Catholic thinkers such as Belloc and Chesterton). One of the key thinkers in Kinship in Husbandry was Rolf Gardiner, who made an appearance in yesterday’s Guardian, cited as a key figure in developing youth movements in Britain. Literary ley lines in action….

Published by David Petts

Assc. Prof Archaeology, Durham University - landscapes - old music/books - folk traditions - early med Britain - community heritage - post-medieval - views own @davidpetts1

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  1. Thanks for this- very interesting stuff. Its fascinating that in the inter-war period, which is often characterised as a time of the drawing of battle lines between the left and right in the forms of Moscow Communism and Fascism, that, in practice, ideological boundaries were very blurred (even confused). You can see this tension in people like Gardiner; he undeniably made some rather unpleasant links with individuals who were unequivocally fascists. However, some of his \’back to the land\’ activities, such as Heartbreak Hill in Cleveland, a development put in place for unemployed ironstone minors would fit comfortably into the category of \’leftist/proto-communist\’ (though see Malcolm Chase\’s article \’Heartbreak Hill : environment, unemployment and \”back to the land\” in inter-war Cleveland\’. Oral History, 28:1 (2000), 33-42).


  2. Shouldn\’t that be ironstone miners (with an \”e\”)?And just after reading your post I went to a library sale where I picked up an anthology of \”speeches and radio talks\” which included not only \”We\’ll fight them on the beaches\” but, among a dozen other things, James Lees-Milne\’s \”Who Cares for England?\” (it\’s a rather dated anthology, as you might expect from a library sale, specifically designed for teaching English in Belgian schools – I somehow can\’t imagine that any child in an English classroom was ever made to read a radio talk by James Lee-Milne).


  3. Incidentally the O.G.S. Crawford bio is great reading…picked up on this because I used to be an archaeologist, fascism is a very flexible form of fundamentalism so \’back to land\’ can be part of it…tragically the \’Early Green Politics\’ (see Gould\’s book of this title) collapsed with the degeneration of the left into Fabianism and Stalinism…thus people like Gardiner moved to the right.Edward Carpenter is worth looking at if you are interested in early green radicals..


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