Richard Gough, ed. David Hey (London, 1981)
Recommended by Alexandra Harris
A pioneering work of local history. Richard Gough was a Shropshire yeoman who wanted to write about his parish community: its past and its present. In 1701 he published a study of the antiquities in Myddle, following more or less the newly established conventions for antiquarian place studies. But he wanted to write about more than the pedigrees of manorial lords and the relics of monastic houses, so he invented a form to suit him and embarked on his ‘Observations concerning the Seats in Myddle and the families to which they belong’. By ‘seats’ he meant pews in the church. He drew a plan of St Peter’s, labelled the pews, and wrote a portrait of each member of the congregation, seat by seat. Though he was imagining them all in church, he was writing lives that strayed far from the orderly Sunday formation, into fields and towns, into bedrooms, backrooms, affairs, and quarrels. It was a simple and evocative method of group biography; no-one seems to have used it before, or since.