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Response to Review of A History of the County of Somerset. Volume XI: Queen Camel and the Cadburys

In response to the review of VCH Somerset XI: Queen Camel and the Cadburys there are just a few points to make.

Professor Hicks’s review says much that is encouraging and raises a number of interesting points about VCH work in Somerset and the current approach of the VCH in general.

Although several of our volumes have covered southern Somerset, two volumes (V and VI), have been published on west Somerset and the Quantocks, including Bridgewater, two on the Poldens and central Somerset, and a large part of another (X) covers east Somerset. To reassure the reviewer, the volumes being worked on for future publication cover the west Somerset coast and Taunton Deane. The north of the historic county, towards Wells, Bath and the Mendips, however, remains unexplored, but it is to be hoped that, in the fullness of time, resources will enable work will extend in that direction.

In the case of the volume under review, many comments simply underline the paucity of available medieval material for the volume area. With regard to Queen Camel, although only two queens held it, several other members of the royal family did, ending with Henry VIII. The points about later medieval landholding in these parishes in general, however, are noted, and consideration of individual manors in the context of wider estates is something that the VCH has not traditionally done well: more thought is clearly still required.

The reviewer’s comments concerning maps might be said to be a little contradictory; should we include more information or less, given the scale at which they need to be reproduced? The VCH has always assumed readers would have an OS map of the area and therefore never mapped current topography, but of course if it is felt we need to change we could. The choice of the tithe maps as the base map for each parish is because they are of similar date and comparable across a volume. Where important early maps survive, and in urban areas, more maps have been created for volumes but unfortunately they are very expensive and in Somerset (and in many other counties), the VCH lacks financial resources.

Modern development – such as there is in this corner of south Somerset – has, like earlier developments, been occasioned by the presence of the road west, now the A303, but the population of the area covered is probably little higher than during the 16th century. The remarks about local bus routes – a difficult area to research for non-enthusiasts! – might have gone on to note the key role they played as means of communication and in demonstrating the economic relationships of these communities with their larger neighbours. Where once many buses served each of the nearby market towns (Glastonbury, Sherborne, etc.) on their respective market days, services have retreated to points along the main road between Wincanton and Yeovil.

To a great extent, the general lack of ‘dormitory development’ in the area covered is occasioned by Castle Cary and Wincanton retaining their status as ‘townlets’ whose recent development has not spread far beyond their boundaries. To describe Yeovil as such, however, would be to overstate the case, and indeed the extensive suburban development in the Yeovil area (its population has consistently increased since c.1800 and in the 2011 census was 5,000 greater than the nearby city of Salisbury) has to some extent relieved pressure on the area covered by this volume.

The reviewer makes several good points, such as the need to allow space for longer, more detailed captions, and also that still-tighter editing is needed to prevent inconsistencies in style caused by the fact that several people contribute to each volume. The need for a glossary of commonly-used terms and a much more detailed index has been raised before – and glossaries have been included in several recent volumes – and is something that the VCH generally needs to address within the constraints of affordable space.