Papers of Professor MW Beresford

Scope and Content

Transcripts of the Poll Tax returns covering 1377-1381 held at The National Archives (Ref E.179). The collection also includes research papers regarding an unpublished book on the medieval peat industry ( U DX177/2) and research into Wharram Percy (U DX177/3) and Thixendale (U DX177/4) and surrounding areas.

Administrative / Biographical History

Maurice Beresford

Maurice Warwick Beresford was born in Sutton Coldfield, Warwickshire on the 6 February 1920. His interests in history, geography and literature originated at Bishop Vesey's Grammar School and then in 1939 he went on to read history at Jesus College, Cambridge. He was a conscientious objector and never felt completely comfortable in the collegiate set-up. He excelled at university and he was invited to participate in a seminar with John Saltmarsh, one of the few historians interested in the visible evidence in the landscape aswell as the documentary evidence and this was to be key influence in Beresford's subsequent research.

Beresford began working at an adult education centre in Rugby and it was here that he developed his interests in both local and Midlands history and began field-walking amongst the deserted villages in Warwickshire. He was encouraged by W.G. Hoskins who was also researching deserted medieval villages in Leicestershire and both published work on their research and was to lead to Beresford's The Lost Villages of England (published in 1954). Beresford sought to verify his work through archaeological excavations and shortly after being appointed to a role in Economic History at Leeds University he began excavating the earthworks at Wharram Percy assisted (from 1952) by John Hurst and the two were to spend over forty years excavating the village. Beresford recruited hundreds of volunteers to assist the work each summer. Beresford researched and published widely on the medieval landscape through maps, field-walks, aerial photography and excavation making Beresford and Hoskins the pioneers of Landscape History.

At Leeds he developed his interests in urban history with his New Towns of the Middle Ages: Town Plantation in England, Wales and Gascony (1967) and continued to research and write on a range of topics and themes. He spent twenty-five years as Professor of Economic History at Leeds from 1959 to 1985. In 1985 he was made a Fellow of the British Academy. He was awarded honorary degrees from Leeds, Loughborough, Leicester and Hull. He died on 15 December 2005.

Poll Tax Returns

With King Edward III ill it was John of Gaunt who asked Parliament for funds to finance the war against France. It has been named the poll tax as it was levied against each person, except beggars rather than against property or wealth. Initially intended as a one-off, it proved so successful that it was duly repeated. In 1377 everybody over the age of 14 had to pay one groat (4d), in 1379 the minimum age was raised to 16 and graded by social class and in 1381 everybody over 15 had to pay one shilling - three times the rate of 1377 and was a contributing factor to the 'Peasants Revolt'. The 1379 returns often provide occupation information but are not as comprehensive in terms of covering the entire population due to widespread evasion of the tax. Some of the 1381 returns were physically destroyed during the Peasants Revolt itself. Those returns that have survived were printed in full in Carolyn Fenwick's 'The Poll Taxes of 1377, 1379, and 1381' published between1998-2004.

The transcripts of the Poll Tax returns were prepared by Margaret Midgley, a historical researcher who worked for a range of individuals including Hilda Jonstone, Professor of History at Royal Holloway College, London from 1927 to 1940. In 1935 she became assistant to L.F.Salzman the Editor of the Victoria County History of the Counties of England. 1940-1947 she was librarian at the William Salt Library in Stafford before she took-up a role surveying the diocesan and cathedral archives of the Church of England. Further work took her back to the William Salt Library as Editor of the Staffordshire VCH. She retired in 1956 only to then undertake research for the new Agrian History of England being produced at the University of Leicester and in 1965 worked for Professor Beresford at Leeds University on the 1377 Poll Tax returns. She continued to work until the early 1980s and she died in1991

Medieval Peat industry

Beresford's interest in the medieval peat industry arose from his research and interest in landscape history.

Wharram Percy

Beresford and archaeologist John Hurst ran a summer season of excavations at Wharram for the next 40 years, and together wrote Wharram Percy (published in 1990) about the site. They also coordinated research through the Deserted Medieval Village Research Group (founded in 1952), culminating in a book, Deserted Medieval Villages (1971). The sites continue to provide a route to understanding the material life of peasant England and exploring the origin and development of villages.


U DX177/1 Transcripts of the Poll Tax returns

U DX177/2 Papers regarding an unpublished book on medieval peat industry

U DX177/3 Research papers relating to Wharram Percy and surrounding area

U DX177/4 Research papers relating to Thixendale and surrounding area

Access Information

U DX177/1 and U DX177/2 Access will be granted to any accredited reader

U DX177/3 and U DX177/4 (10 boxes or 1.67 linear metres) is currently un-catalogued. In some cases a draft or box list may exist which may allow us to provide access to the collection ahead of the material being catalogued. If you are interested in this collection please contact University Archivist Simon Wilson, at clearly outlining your interest and timescales.

Custodial History

Donated by Prof. MW Beresford, Leeds. [U DX177/1/] in April 1987, [U DX177/2 and U DX177/3] were donated in September 2002.

Related Material

Poll Tax returns, The National Archives [E.179]