Papers of E W Martin relating to the history and literature of the Westcountry

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

This collection represents the only known surviving research, professional and personal papers of Ernest Martin, with the exception of the few minor parts sold off during his lifetime as detailed above.

The most significant parts of the collection are the sequences of correspondence accumulated by Martin throughout his lifetime, although they constitute only a fragment of what must once have existed. Martin had a particular interest in the work of Henry Williamson (1895-1977), a well-known resident of North Devon of long-standing who had forged a national and international reputation for himself as a writer, primarily on the topics of warfare and natural history. He knew Williamson personally; a few letters (originals or copies) from Williamson to Martin survive within the collection. However, the bulk of the correspondence with the biographer Malcolm Elwin who also had a keen interest in Williamson, and who was a close friend of Martin for many years. Author of published full-length biographies on William Thackeray, Robert Louis Stevenson, Lord Byron and the Dorset writer Llewellyn Powys (who had contributed to Martin's anthology Country life in England, 1965, as well as writing forewords to other Martin works), he published articles on Williamson in various periodicals, and also contributed to Brocard Sewell's symposium on Williamson of 1957 to which Martin also contributed. The collection contains numerous typescript articles and drafts by both Martin and Elwin on Williamson and his significance as a literary figure in particular connection to Devon. The collection includes numerous letters from Elwin to Martin (and vice versa), as well as letters from Brocard Sewell relating to Williamson and his work. Interestingly, the collection also contains much correspondence to and from Elwin which has somehow come into Martin's possession, relating to well-known literary and historical figures such as Oliver Stonor, Asa Briggs, Michael Holroyd, Denys Val Baker and John Redwood-Anderson. And of course, correspondence to Martin himself is also prominent, including letters from the Cornish poet Jack Clemo (1916-1994), as well as other literary figures with connections to the southwest, such as C C Vyvyan, Jan Mills Whitham. A few audio recordings contain an interview of Martin with Jack Clemo, as well as Martin's views on hunting and other topics (not currently catalogued or transcribed).

Martin's interest in literary figures of the Southwest is also evident in his broadcasting career and the collection includes the script for several episodes of the BBC radio programmes 'Writers in the West'. Papers relating to the Channel 4 film 'Going Home', for which Martin acted as Historical consultant, are also contained in the collection.

Although well-published during his lifetime, many apparently unpublished works and articles are represented within his research papers, as well as the original datasets for the pioneering work which he undertook in the area of oral and social history in Devon, based at the now defunct Beaford Central Archive. Martin set out to document rapidly vanishing old patterns of village work and life, exploiting his "insider's" knowledge and native skills in the Devon dialect. This oral history material has been described as "one of his most important legacies", but appears to have had little research or publication drawn from it to date, by Martin or others. In addition to the original 1970s tape recordings, the collection contains numerous interview transcripts and profiles of Martin's interviewees, who were elderly inhabitants of villages throughout the county of Devon, ranging from Shebbear, Holsworthy, Exeter, South Zeal and North Tawton.

The principal part of the collection (in volume) constitutes typescripts, manuscripts and drafts for his historical and sociological research. Data in the form of numerous manuscript notebooks and loose papers is also included, on a similarly wide scope of subjects, such as workhouses and the Poor Law, the eminent Westcountry historian and novelist Rev Sabine Baring Gould, Devon dialects, and John Eliot. Martin's work was highly influential in what was a formative time for rural research in the mid 20th century, giving rise to new sociological and historical approaches.

A subsidiary group of family papers form only a small part of the collection; these are early (late 19th-early 20th c) family photographs, correspondence between Martin and his wife, and a couple of personal diaries from 1988 and 1990.

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".

Arrangement

Not in any discernible order at time of deposit. Now arranged by Cari Tuhey as follows:

MS 309/1 Research papers

MS 309/2 Professional papers

MS 309/3 Personal papers

Conditions Governing Access

Usual EUL arrangements apply.

Acquisition Information

Purchased by the Library in 2006 with assistance from the Friends of the National Libraries and the Victoria and Albert Purchase Grant Fund.

Other Finding Aids

A rough handlist is available. A rough handlist of the audio recordings contained in MS 309/1/2/4 is also available.

Archivist's Note

Description compiled by Cari Tuhey, 3 Aug 2006. Updated by Rob Ford, 3 Aug 2007. Updated by Christine Faunch, Archive Curator, 5 Jun 2009.

Conditions Governing Use

Usual EUL restrictions apply

Custodial History

This collection was originally housed in Martin's study at his cottage at Black Torrington (and probably also at his flat in Exeter). He lived the last years of his life with his wife Elisabeth at a sheltered bungalow attached to the Barn Park Nursing Home, Halwill, North Devon. All their possessions, including Martin's private papers were left to the owner of the Home, Mr Derek Scantlebury. It is thought that the papers must have been previously weeded and sorted at some point prior to or after Martin's death, as visitors to the cottage have confirmed that the bulk of papers stored in his study are not represented in the volume of papers that were boxed up and collected by the Bristol rare book dealer, A R Heath in May 2005. Martin pre-deceased his wife only by a few weeks but, during that time, it is understood that some books and possibly papers were given away by his wife to various friends and acquaintances. Apparently, Elisabeth Martin sold some letters from Ted Hughes to Martin to Heartland Old Books, Tiverton, Devon, at some point during the 1990s.

However, the remainder of the collection seems complete. A R Heath visited the Martins in early 2005, and purchased from Martin's wife a variety of 18th and 19th century ledgers and manuscripts, of which some (public records relating to the North Devon Infirmary) were later acquired by the North Devon Record Office.

A few letters from figures such as George Bernard Shaw, Jack Lindsey, J Paris, Lewis Mumford and Tony Benn are not included in this collection as they were separated out by the Bristol rare book dealer and sold separately. The book dealer also retained a small collection of other book items not related to the Southwest which were sold on an item by item basis. Apparently, all Martin's modern first editions were purchased by Simon French Modern First Editions of Ledbury, Herefordshire, and the remainder of the collection (biographies and paperbacks) were acquired by a Chagford book dealer, Devon.

Accruals

No accruals expected.

Related Material

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]

Bibliography

Some of the typescripts and manuscripts in the collection have been published.