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Alfred Watkins' Herefordshire
by Ron and Jennifer Shoesmith

Alfred Watkins, who was born in Hereford and lived all his life (1855-1935) in Herefordshire, is perhaps best known for the discovery of ancient tracks - "ley lines" - described in "The Old Straight Track", which is still in print. But he had many gifts and interests, and was especially keen on photography. The core of this book is a previously unpublished manuscript by Alfred Watkins called "The Masefield Country", written in 1931. It is an evocative piece about Herefordshire, especially the area around Ledbury, inspired by John Masefield's glowing speech in praise of his native county (he was a Ledbury man) when he accepted the freedom of Hereford in 1930, having recently been appointed Poet Laureate.

In "The Masefield Country" Alfred tells stories gleaned from his chance meetings with a variety of people in his travels - some of whose memories went back to the 19th century - and reflects on three poets with Ledbury connections: William Langland, Elizabeth Barrett Browning and John Masefield. Local people still remembered Barrett Browning and Masefield with affection, and Alfred Watkins went to great trouble to find and photograph the very places that in the 14th century inspired Langland's "marvellous vision", "Piers Plowman". It is a text full of asides, insights, wryly amusing anecdotes and deep feeling, coupled with respect for the rural wisdom of "men of the soil". This theme is strongly developed in his last chapter, which expresses his feelings about Herefordshire as a whole and his concern that it should somehow sustain its traditional values and its native wisdom in a fast-changing world.

Alfred Watkins' text is prefaced by an introduction to his life and work by Ron and Jennifer Shoesmith and followed by a section on his pioneering photography and developments in photographic equipment. (A light meter of his invention was used to good effect by Herbert Ponting, the official photographer on Scott's ill-fated expedition to the South Pole.)

The book ends with a selection of Alfred Watkins' photographs of Herefordshire from those held in Hereford City Library, whilst others are used to illustrate the earlier sections of the book, some of them being specifically referred to in Alfred's own text, for he intended to publish this book himself and had planned how to illustrate it.

Paperback, 192 pages, with 150 photographs by Alfred Watkins together with over 30 other illustrations.