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John Martin of Evershot

This website is devoted to the life and work of a single subject, a nineteenth century land surveyor from Dorset [England] called John Martin. Although he is no relation of mine I became interested in him after discovering a series of diaries he wrote and which are now stored safely in the Dorset History Centre in Dorchester.

The diaries extend over a period of fifty one years from 1810, when he was 30 years old, and ending in 1861, two years before his death, at the age of  83. This was a period of history which saw England transformed. In Dorset and the surrounding counties Martin played a not insignificant part in bringing this transformation about. Had a man or woman left Dorset, in say 1760 and returned in 1810 they would have seen little difference in the appearance of the land. Had it been possible for them to repeat the exercise, leaving in 1810 and returning in 1861, they could not have failed to see that the physical appearance of the Dorset countryside had been changed, beyond all recognition.

Driving the transformation were three great movements. The first was the inclosure movement,designed to inclose [their word] with fences and hedgerows the open fields and any remaining ‘waste’ or common land. Then there were the turnpike trusts. Since the mid 18th century these trusts had gradually improved the road system in the county. The revolution here was not so much that you could travel further than that you could do so faster and at all times of the year. On turnpike roads few people got bogged down in winter mud. Finally by the 1840’s and 50’s an entirely new development arrived in the form of the railways. For the first time man could travel faster than he could on a galloping horse. Like two large armies the London and South Western Railway and the Great Western Railway attempted to outflank each other in an attempt to gain territory. Massive earth works, quite literally carved their way through the countryside. Nothing like it had been seen before.

John Martin was involved with all of these developments. He inclosed parishes, advised turnpike trusts and surveyed potential new routes for the railway companies. His most enduring legacy though came about because of an even more revolutionary change in the balance of power and influence between church and state.From 1836 the tithe, that tenth part of the annual increase of the produce of the earth, claimed by the church from every farmer in the country, was to be replaced by a monetary charge regulated by the state. The process, known as Tithe Commutation required large scale maps of the parishes of the county to be made. Martin made over fifty of these in Dorset, Somerset and Wiltshire.

The transformation of the country was not simply about the physical structure of the countryside though; it also saw the erosion of community ties and responsibilities. Inclosure of the open fields led not only to the loss of material and legal rights over the soil of the parish but also to the loss of centuries old customs that had glued communities together. In 1834 the responsibility for looking after the poor of the parish was passed from the parish itself to ‘The Union’. Once again the ties of community were broken with the poor being all too often incarcerated in workhouses far from their homes. Finally in 1836 came the abolition of the tithe ; after nine hundred years [more or less] a payment made because it was divine law, a payment in effect to ensure the intercession of the Lord in times of hardship was replaced with a ‘rent-charge’ that was viewed as little more than another tax and was widely resented as such.

There is of course much more to say about the world in which Martin lived and in these pages I have tried to give a flavour of that world drawing on his diaries for inspiration. It must be said however that he was no Samuel Pepys. He probably wrote the diaries to serve  as aides memoires in his business rather than as a record of his life. They do though serve as an outline, a skeleton map, as he would have called it, on which a narrative can be built and which is not without interest. This is an era of English history that is, by and large forgotten and ill understood.

The purpose of this website is to tell the story of John Martin, the period in which he lived, the people with whom he lived and worked and the villages and hamlets of Dorset in which he worked.

I have structured the website in a manner similar to a traditional text book. The menu bar has a number of section headings with the drop down menus representing the chapters. As of the date below the site is not yet complete. However it is beginning to rain, the winter is coming and we are still in lockdown so it should not be long before it is.

On the “In Depth” page I look in greater detail at some of the stories behind the entries in his diary. I hope you find the site interesting. If you have any questions about Martin or any of the topics covered please feel free to email me at johnmartinofevershot@gmail.com

Site updated 05/03/2021