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It is in recording the break-up of the monastic leaflets inverness system, which took place during his journeys, that Leland was particularly valuable. But he was fascinated by leaflets inverness fortifications and by the different life-styles of towns. And with that lively leaflets inverness eye of his he could pick on a characteristic, and sum up a place in a sentence. Droitwich is dismissed as a town famous for a single street - ‘the town itself is somewhat foule and dirty when any reyne falleth’ - because the streets were badly paved. The buildings of Wakefield ‘are meately faire, most of tymbre but sum of stone’; the strength of Newcastle’s great walls ‘far passith all the waules of the cities of England and most of the towne’s of Europe’. And infusing all that is true, passionate love of country which motivated all these travellers and which Leland himself expressed in a letter to the king: I was totally enflamed with a love to see thoroughly all of those parts of your opulent and ample realm that I had read of. Tragically, he went mad before he was able to order his notes into a coherent whole, and it was not until 1710 that they were eventually published.
Leland was essentially a field worker. One receives the unforgettable impression of him jotting down notes while on horseback, intending later to flesh them out. William Camden was essentially an editor, willing to travel himself where necessary or possible but preferring to correlate the work of others, both living and dead, to create his great work Britannia. Born in 1551, the year before Leland died, his was a purely academic career. The title of his book is significant – England was, for him, the palimpsest that had been placed upon Roman Britain: he even based its divisions upon the tribal organization at the time of the Claudian invasion. One gets little sense of the delight of discovery in Camden, but there are facts, neatly put together like to many Roman tiles; the name of the place, what it signifies, why it is where it is, who lives there, what it is worth.
With William Stukely, we enter on to the first splendid flowering of the English antiquary. ‘What Regions boast more of Antiquity and genuine Reliques of it of all sorts?’ he asks rhetorically: ‘What Earth throws up so many Roman Coins, Medals, Urns that one would think Rome itself was transplanted in to Great Britain?’ Born in 1687, Stukely’s career as a discoverer of England can be divided into two: the earlier, responsible period when, fascinated by Roman Britain, he set himself the task of tracking down its myriad manifestations and the later, undeniably eccentric, period when he was dominated by his Druidic obsession. The preposterous modern ‘Druid’ ceremonies at Stonehenge owe their origins to this amiable Anglican clergyman and his book Stonehenge: a Temple restored to the British Druids, published in 1740. But posterity owes him much more for his careful – and exhausting – investigations into the Roman towns of Britain. On one of his tours, he walked along some 500 miles of Roman roads, describing not only the cities the roads connected, but the structure of the roads themselves. Of Watling Street he remarked: “It is laid out very broad and deep, with travel not yet worn out, where it goes over commons and moors. It is raised a good height above the soil and so straight that you can, upon an eminence, see it ten or twelve miles before you.” He not only described and measured but also illustrated the great Newport Gate in Lincoln and the now disappeared Worth Gate at Canterbury, leaving a unique record.