This collection consists of letters to E W Martin from various correspondents including the following: Tony Benn MP (formerly Anthony Wedgwood Benn), the Prime Minister's Office, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II's office, Sandringham, G Ewart Evans, Brocard Sewell, H J Massingham, Henry Williamson, Professor Asa Briggs, Edward Thompson, R Ward, E Blunden, Richard Acland, Paul Bloomfield, Ray Reynolds, Richard Church, Kenneth Hopkins, Ruth Tomalin, Herbert Wood, Ian Niall, John Arlott, Rafael Sabatini, Middleton Murray, A Farquharson, D S Bezzant, CR Hewitt, Rex Warner, W G Hoskins, Hugh Fausset, Arthur Bryant, Eden Phillpotts, Winiford Cummings, Colin Still, Victor Bonham Carter, Fenner Brockway and Aubrey de Selincourt. Most of the letters concern literary topics, social debate and opinion, or personal correspondence but there is also a group of official letters from the Prime Minister's Office and the Queen's private secretary concerning E W Martin's civil list pension.
Ernest Martin: Additional letters
Scope and Content
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".
Conditions Governing Access
Usual EUL arrangements apply.
Purchased for the library in 2007.
Other Finding Aids
Description created by Rob Ford, 13 Jul 2007.
Conditions Governing Use
Usual EUL restrictions apply.
Possibly divided from the rest of the archive and sold separately by Heath Rare Books, Clifton, Bristol, prior to the purchase of MS 309 by Exeter University Library in 2006. Neil Summersgill, antiquarian bookseller purchased this collection from Dominic Winter auctions, South Cerney, Gloucestershire.