Obituary Published in DA Transactions, 1992. President of the Devonshire Association in 1978

Professor W. G. Hoskins, one of England’s greatest economic and social historians, pioneered the subject of landscape history and revolutionised the study of local history. But, as the success of his two major television series in the 1970s suggested, his larger achievement was to have left us all incomparably richer in our understanding of the past all around us.

Devon played a large part in all this. Born in Exeter in 1908, the son and grandson of Exeter bakers, Hoskins was educated at Hele’s School and the University College of the South West. From his earliest years he developed a passionate interest in the Devon landscape, which provided much of the raw material for his thinking and writing. He began to ask questions about the apparently ordinary elements of the local landscape: its field banks and boundaries, its deep sunken lanes, its isolated farmsteads hidden down long muddy tracks.

Exeter Memories Professor William George Hoskins was born on 22nd May 1908 at 54 (now 26-28) St David's Hill, Exeter. Hoskins' great grandfather, William Dommett Hoskins, opened a bakery in Rack Street in the 1830's, before moving to Smythen Street. His grandfather, also William George Hoskins moved the bakery from Smythen Street to St Davids Hill in 1892. His father, another William George, later took over the business as a master baker, and married Alice Beatrice Hoskins (nee Dymond).

He first went to nursery school in Hoopern Street, followed by the Episcopal School, Mount Dinham which he attended during the First World War. The young Hoskins won a scholarship at the age of ten for Heles School, before attending the University College of the South West, now Exeter University. In 1933 Hoskins married Frances (Jane) Jackson and had one daughter and one son.

Hoskins academic career at the University College of Leicester between 1931-41 and 1946-51, as a Lecturer in Economics, but from 1948 he was a Reader in English Local History at Leicester. Hoskins became a Reader in Economic History at Oxford from 1951 until 1965 before returning to Leicester on the Advisory Committee on Building of Special Architectural Interest until 1964. From 1964 until 1968 he was the Hatton Professor (Emeritus) of English History at Leicester.

His book Devon, a volume that included a gazetteer of all 430 parishes of the county, along with chapters covering the history of the county and its towns, was published in 1954. Some consider it to be the finest modern county history; several of the photos for Devon where taken by F L Attenborough, vice Chancellor of Leicester, and father of David and Richard.

He significantly expanded our knowledge of the Devon landscape, especially Dartmoor. As a historian, lecturer, author and broadcaster he brought to the public his love of his native Devon environment, its history and problems.

Devon History Society WG Hoskins - Landscapes of England Series 1 & 2 (DVD)

First broadcast on BBC Two in 1976, Hoskins travels from Cornwall to Northumberland – and everywhere in between – exploring and explaining the origins of the country’s extraordinary landscapes. 

Professor W.G. Hoskins’ 1955 book The Making of The English Landscape examined the human influence on England’s landscapes at a regional level. These two series became a visual accompaniment to his ground-breaking work.

Series 1 Hoskins explores the heaths, valleys and villages of Dorset and provides fascinating insights on the history of the relationships between the landscapes and the people. He ventures further afield to explore the Lake District, Norfolk, Kent and Staffordshire. Lastly, he explores countryside near Banbury highlighting why it has been untouched for over a century.

Series 2 It opens with the tourist’s dream that is Cornwall and how the granite, sea and fiercely independent people have combined to shape the regions landscapes. Later in the series he explores the Lake District, Leicestershire, Derbyshire, Northumberland and Breckland. His final port of call is his home county of Devon, where he reminisces about the locations that first ignited his passion.

Directed and produced by BAFTA winner Peter Jones (The Trials of Life)

Exeter Civic Society W. G. Hoskins, 1908 – 1992, local historian and the man behind “The House That Moved”

The plaque is at 26-28 St David’s Hill, Exeter, EX4 4DT. The wording on the plaque is: W. G. Hoskins. C.B.E., F.B.A., D.Litt. 1908-1992 Historian of Devon, Exeter and the English landscape born here ‘Hic amor, haec patria est’.

The plaque was put up by Devon History Society in 2003. The Latin quotation from Virgil’s Aeneid means ‘This is love, this my native land’.

Wikipedia William George Hoskins CBE FBA (22 May 1908 – 11 January 1992) was an English local historian who founded the first university department of English Local History. His great contribution to the study of history was in the field of landscape history. Hoskins demonstrated the profound impact of human activity on the evolution of the English landscape in a pioneering book: The Making of the English Landscape. His work has had lasting influence in the fields of local and landscape history and historical and environmental conservation.

Wikipedia - The Making of the English Landscape is a 1955 book by the English local historian William George Hoskins. It is illustrated with 82 monochrome plates, mostly photographs by Hoskins himself, and 17 maps or plans. It has appeared in at least 35 editions and reprints in English and other languages.

The book is a landscape history of England and a seminal text in that discipline and in local history. The brief history of some one thousand years is widely used in local and environmental history courses.

Hoskins defines the theme of the book in the first chapter, arguing that a landscape historian needs to use botany, physical geography and natural history as well as historical knowledge to interpret any given scene fully. The remaining chapters describe how the English landscape was formed from the Anglo-Saxon period onwards, starting c. 450 AD, and looking in detail at the mediaeval landscape, the depopulation following the Black Death, the Tudor period through to the splendour of the Georgian period, the parliamentary enclosures that affected much of the English midlands, the industrial revolution, the development of road, canal, and railway transport networks, and finally the growth of towns from Norman times onwards. There is little mention of cities. The concluding chapter however laments the damage done to the English countryside by "the villainous requirements of the new age" such as military airfields and arterial roads, describes the new England as barbaric, and invites the reader to contemplate the past.

The work has been widely admired, but also described as grandly emotive, populist, and openly anti-modernist. Writers have praised the book for helping them understand and interpret the landscape in which they lived.

The Guardian - My hero: WG Hoskins by Penelope Lively I never knew him, but I sometimes feel that he has shown me the way to go, an abiding influence: firstly, and literally, by sending me out into the Oxfordshire landscape in search of ridge and furrow, drove roads, lost medieval villages; and then by giving me a metaphor that would wind into much that I subsequently wrote – a sense of the presence of the past. WG Hoskins's seminal book The Making of the English Landscape came out in 1955 – a marvellous, robust, opinionated account of the landscape as narrative, whether rural or urban, the visible record of what has gone before, once you know how to read it – or once he has told you how. You were to put on your walking boots and understand the country in which you lived. Plenty did, or tried to; I did.

follow Hartstongue on social media


Twitter  Facebook  YouTube  Instagram LinkedIn