Letters of Ernest Martin to Jackson Page

Scope and Content

The collection consists of letters from Ernest Martin to Jackson Page from 1949 to 1979.

Administrative / Biographical History

Ernest Martin (1912-2005) was an important and influential figure in the North/West Devon and Westcountry landscape, making a substantial contribution to the areas of social history, agricultural history and local history, contributing to national and international journals and producing numerous monograph publications of national significance. A friend of the great oral historian George Ewart Evans (1909-1988), he pioneered oral history research during the 1970s through a project operating as an off-shoot of Dartington Hall, pre-dating the current developments in community archives and the research value of first-hand personal experience by some 25 years. He has been variously described by L A G Strong as "one of our most radical writers" and by E P Thompson as "not just a social historian but a prophet".

He concentrated his research work and publication output on the Westcountry, in particular the county of Devon, focusing on North/West Devon and Dartmoor, although his work also has significance on a national dimension, with some notable publications on the development of the English town and village. A native of North Devon, he was the son of a parish clerk and postman in the village of Shebbear, where he attended Shebbear College, run by radical Bible Christians. He spent a year at Seale Hayne agricultural college in South Devon, where he first developed his passion for agricultural history, and then pursued a career in writing full-time, formalising his academic excellence in a two year Leverhulme Fellowship at the University of Sussex, specialising in the Poor Law. Between the mid 1970s and the mid 1990s, he was an Honorary Research Fellow in Rural Social Studies at the Dept. of Sociology, University of Exeter, as well as a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society.

A conscientious objector during WW2, he was exempted from military service, was a fervent opponent to hunting throughout his life, and was also a force for educational equality, lecturing for many years for the Workers' Educational Association. He was an active broadcaster, making use of his wide range of contacts in the literary circles of North/West Devon and the Westcountry, personal friendships with Henry Williamson, Malcolm Elwin, Brocard Sewell and Jack Clemo, all of whom are figures of national repute and who are, with the exception of Elwin, represented within the literary archival holdings of the University of Exeter.

His obituary in 'The Independent' (5 May 2005) describes Martin as "one of the most ardent champions of disadvantaged members of rural society" - coming from rural stock, he came to represent the voice of the rural labour, with his most prestigious publications over several decades documenting the vanishing ways of rural life and the development of the urbanised industrial environment ('The Secret People: a study of English village life' (1954), 'Where London ends' (1958), 'Dartmoor' (1958), 'The Shearers and the Shorn: a study of life in a Devon community' [Okehampton] (1965), 'Country life in England', ed. (1966), 'Heritage of the West', (1938)). He also had keen interests in democracy and social welfare ('The Tyranny of the Majority' (1961), 'Comparative developments in Social Welfare', ed (1972)) and spiritualism ('In search of faith: a symposium', (1944), which included contributions from Bernard Shaw, Sir Richard Acland and Sir Stafford Cripps). He was awarded a civil list pension in 1972 for services to literature and social history. Dr Tom Greeves, a friend of Martin and an expert on Dartmoor, said of Martin that, "Certainly within the county of Devon there is no equivalent figure in the 20th century. He was by no means a mainstream conventional 'academic', but therein lies the fascination that future scholars will find in him".

Jackson Page (1897-1987) was a teacher at Shebbear College, North Devon, which Martin attended. They maintained a close friendship throughout their lives. Jackson Page taught at Shebbear from 1912 to 1915 and was master from 1921 to 1960.

Conditions Governing Access

Usual EUL arrangements apply.

Acquisition Information

Donated to the University Library, Jul 2006.

Other Finding Aids

This item only consists of one folder of letters.

Archivist's Note

Description created by Rob Ford, 30 Mar 2007.

Conditions Governing Use

Usual EUL restrictions apply.

Related Material

Exeter University, Special Collections hold further papers relating to Ernest Martin at EUL MS 309. Apart from the letters now assumed to be held in private hands from Ted Hughes, George Bernard Shaw, Jack Lindsey, J Paris, Lewis Mumford and Tony Benn, it is not thought that any related material is held elsewhere. With the exception of a couple of items included in this archive, Martin's book collections were dispersed following his death.

The book items originally forming part of the collection and which have now been transferred to the Reserve and Edmund Collections are as follows:

'Eden Phillpotts: an assessment and a tribute', Waveney Giran (ed), 1953

'The clay verge', Jack Clemo, 1957 [inscribed as gift from Clemo to Martin, May 1957]

'Dr Richard Harper of Barnstaple: a short account of his life and work, based on his journals', Margery Harper, [1983] [inscribed as gift to Ernest and Elisabeth Martin from Margery Harper, Christmas 1997]

'The case against hunting', E W Martin, 1958 [inscribed by Martin to his wife Elisabeth]

'London ends', E W Martin, 1958 [inscribed by Martin to his wife Elisabeth, Mar 1958

'Rural rides of the counties of Surrey, Kent...', William Cobbett [ed E W Martin], 1958 [inscribed by Martin to his wife Elisabeth, Jun 1959

'Images of England: Dartmoor', Tom Greeves, 2004 [inscribed by Greeves as gift to Martin, Dec 2003]

'A Dartmoor century 1883-1983: one hundred years of the Dartmoor Preservation Association', John Somers Cocks, 1983 [inscribed to Martin and his wife from Tom Greeves, 1983]

'The mines and miners of Dartmoor: a photographic record', Tom Greeves, 1986 [inscribed to Martin from Tom Greeves, 1986]. See also EUL MS 309 for the main collection of Martin's papers.


It is not known if publication has resulted from use of this collection.