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John Martin of Evershot

This website is devoted to the life and work of a single man, 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. A further four diaries are known to exist in private hands, including the one for 1863, the year in which he died, but these have not been studied.

If the focus of the website is a single man, it’s purpose is far wider. It is above all to tell stories. Firstly it is the story of John Martin, his family, his work and his role in the local community. Then there are the stories of some of the many villages and hamlets that Martin worked in and which he helped to transform. Lastly I attempt to tell some of stories of the people of Dorset amongst whom Martin lived and worked. John Martin may be found conversing with peers of the realm in the morning and dung hauliers in the afternoon. The reader is warned however that unlike fictional stories there may be no happy ending or indeed any ending at all.

Martin was baptised in May 1780 and died in 1863 at the age of 83. This was a pivotal period in the history of the country during which the rural landscape was quite literally transformed. A time traveller leaving Dorset in, say 1760 and returning in 1860 could not have failed to observe the physical changes in the appearance of the Dorset countryside. Delving deeper, he or she would have noted social changes too. In many parishes, seemingly overnight, age old customs, laws and agricultural practices that had evolved in the parish and which had glued the community, were abolished. In 1834 that most basic responsibility of the community, the care of it’s poorest inhabitants was transferred away from the parish to ‘The Union’ and it’s workhouse.

Driving the transformation were three great movements with which Martin was intimately involved. 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 that from the mid 18th century had gradually improved the countries roads. The revolution here was not so much that you could travel further or to new places, but that you could do so faster and at all times of the year. Finally, during the 1840’s and 50’s, the railways arrived in Dorset. 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 carved their way through the countryside in their attempts to gain territory and outflank each other. Nothing like it had been seen before.

Martin’s most enduring legacy though came about because of an even more revolutionary change in society, when the balance of power and influence between church and state was subtly altered. For over 900 years the church had claimed, by divine law, a tenth part of each farmer’s annual produce. From 1836 the Tithe, as it was known, was replaced by a monetary payment that was regulated not by the church but by the state. This process, known as Tithe Commutation required land surveyors to make large scale maps of the parishes of the counties and John Martin made over fifty of these in Dorset, Somerset and Wiltshire.

I have structured the website in a manner similar to a traditional text book. The menu bar has a number of section headings and a brief description of the various topics is given there. Clicking on the + sign next to these headings will call up the drop down menus representing the chapters. None of the text is copyrighted so may be used freely elsewhere although an acknowledgement of it’s origins [by way of a link to johnmartinofevershot.org ]would be appreciated.

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 04/11/2021