Busy towns and green pastures: thus Arthur Mee describes the ancient county of Leicestershire, in his introduction to this volume, first published sixty years ago in 1937. In the intervening gap of over half a century, the towns have become busier and the green pastures perhaps smaller and fewer, but one incontrovertible fact remains the same: the original publisher’s boast that "there have been many books on Leicestershire but never one like this.”
The King’s England series - "the indispensable companion to the motor age” - was originally published in the 1930’s to fill the demand for guidebooks fuelled by the growth of popular travel and the Youth Hostels Association, and the interest in England’s landscape sparked by such writers as H. V. Morton and S. P. B. Mais, as a whole generation sought to rediscover their native land. Now, however, for the modern reader, the book has a twofold appeal: firstly as a guidebook pure and simple, a function it fulfils admirably, and secondly as an historical document in its own right, a fascinating glimpse of Leicestershire and Rutland on the eve of the Second World War, illustrated with over 130 period photographs.
Yet the pictures are only part of the book’s appeal. Leicestershire, together with its smaller neighbour Rutland, (which Mee describes as "the little brother of the shires”) are examined alphabetically, village by village and town by town. In Arthur Mee’s elegant prose, we meet not only the famous and the mighty in Leicester and Rutland’s history, such as "the bloodstained Richard on his way to Bosworth”, Lord Macaulay of Rothley, Hugh Latimer, of Thurcaston, and John Wycliffe, but also the lesser figures, patiently chronicled by the author’s journalistic pen, who have their place, albeit minor, on history’s stage: Sir Henry Shirley, the falconer, of Ragdall, who went to prison to defend his right to hawk; Humphrey Michael, the Grumbling Vicar of Horninghold, and Lord Berners, who appeared at dinner one evening in a coat made from wool which had still been on the back of his Kegworth sheep that very morning.
And what of tiny Rutland? It too has its stories, from John Clare, the poor mad poet, and his love, Patty Turner of Great Casterton, to Edward Vere Hodge, vicar of Oakham, whose only comment when his church was demolished by an enormous lightning fireball was to remark to the choir, "I hope you will not fail to appreciate the extraordinary beauty and interest of this phenomenon.”
Of enormous interest to all who know and love this idyllic corner of England, Arthur Mee’s Leicestershire and Rutland was published by The King’s England Press in the autumn of 1997 at £14.95 in a faithful facsimile of 1937 first edition, so that a whole new generation of historians of these famous counties can appreciate their landscape once more through Arthur Mee’s eyes.