Introduction to Leland's Itinerary of England and Wales.
In producing her 5 volumes of Leland's Itinerary, Lucy Toulmin Smith drew upon several sources. In addition to Leland's manuscripts she also included, where relevant, copies from John Stow and Thomas Hearn.
The copy made by John Stow, the London antiquary, in and about the year 1576, was made only twenty-four years after Leland's death, before the original had suffered much injury.
Thomas Hearne, the painstaking librarian of Bodley's library, spent several years in making an exact copy of the manuscript, which he published in nine volumes.
The order in which Hearne printed the Parts, was preserved by Lucy Toulmin Smith because any other would be nearly the same.
However, in the third volume of what is more strictly called Leland's " Collectanea " are several passages which evidently belong rather to his journeys and are also included.
Though it is impossible to make a continuous Itinerary, maps show, in conjunction with the text, that Leland started from several places, and must have made several separate tours. These are seen the more distinctly in the portions in which his narrative is written out, viz., in Parts 1, 2, 3 of vol. i, and in Parts 5, 6, 7 and 10 in succeeding volumes. As in Wales, so in England, he seems to have stayed at certain places for a time, making each a centre for excursions in the neighbourhood. York, Bishop Auckland, Doncaster and Leicester were some of these centres; in the south, Winchester, Exeter, Sherborne, Keynsham and Trowbridge among others. This might be the case where he found opportunity of examining a library or books, no doubt, too, a congenial host would entertain him, and open out his genealogies or private papers. Or he had facilities afforded him by some local magnate, for example, Mr. Brudenell of Dene, Northamptonshire, one of the two sons of Chief Justice Brudenell, whom he mentions several times as showing him rolls.
His plan seems to have been to note down his facts on the spot, or from various local enquiries; then later, at leisure, he wrote his narrative direct from them, adding in bits from memory occasionally; he would make a skeleton page of names of towns in a district, evidently intending to fill in particulars and distances, which was not always done. As the original notes, as well as the narrative, are in many cases preserved, this accounts for much repetition and apparent confusion; it is not always possible to trace the connection, but the three Parts in vol. I afford a good example of the practice (see p. 182).
In the course of his journeys Leland names many men of good family, local gentry of past days and of repute, also landowners and well-known men of his own time. It would be possible with some research to make from his pages a goodly company of the Englishmen of standing in the first half of the sixteenth century. What may be called the social and economic value of Leland's regular notices as he passed through the realm is considerable. Not only the condition of the castles, old and new, and of the market towns and cities, with their principal buildings and churches, and great men's houses are set down; but, living in a country still largely dependent upon agriculture, he is particular to record the kind and proportions of champion ground, i.e. common arable land, inclosed land, meadows, often of waste, and wood; also the chief forests and parks. Frequent details of parishes and hamlets remind us that the village community was still strong, and the manor and its courts in vital existence. The number and position of bridges, early regarded as necessary erections for public use, are carefully recorded. Rivers and brooks he most perseveringly tries to follow, but here, as well as with regard to actual distances, he is liable to error. But considering his great undertaking, singlehanded, as it would seem, the actual physical labour to be gone through when horse-back was the mode of travel, the eagerness to omit nothing that might be useful to his purposes, we might wonder that he did not make more mistakes of fact or conjecture than he actually did. Details may be and are wrong in philology, family history, or mensuration here and there, but modern science and opportunity may correct these, and still be grateful to their forerunner in the field.Return to top of page