Perhaps the best TV series the BBC has ever produced – and what it tells us about our society

Apologies for an England-centric article.

I’ve recently been catching up on my TV viewing. I have finally watched most of the episodes of Michael Wood’s “Story of England”.

This series follows the history of England from the Romans to the present day, through the prism of one village – Kibworth in Leicestershire.

It really is an amateur historian’s dream – because it focuses not on wars and kings, but instead uses basic digging by present-day villagers, and original documents (some of which haven’t been touched for over 500 years). Thereby, it focuses on history from the roots of our society. It dwells on the history of actual families through the centuries.

Two themes emerge which caught my eye.

First of all, Michael Wood captures how our historical forbears have always had a great sense of community, and of being charitable to those less well-off than themselves. He traces the generosity of villagers to the poor through the centuries to present-day charitable giving and sponsored runs, walks etc for good causes.

Secondly, he highlights how communities have recognised the importance of education over the centuries. In the 15th century, after 100 years of harrowing times with unprecedented plague and famine, he tells how the remaining villagers (reduced in number by two-thirds due to the Black Death) start to pick themselves up. And one thing they focus on, as an important way of rebuilding, is education. They establish a local grammar school. Common farmers donate stretches of land to the school to enable it to educate poorer village children. Michael Wood takes present day pupils to find some of those parcels of land, donated in such a way, that are still owned by the school and still help to pay for poorer village students to go to university.

There is another theme which runs through the series. One dear to our hearts as Liberals. Land.

Wood traces the ownership of small strips of lands by villagers.

Then the Enclosure Act comes along and gives it all to rich landowners.

“Rank robbery” was how this was described by one contemporary document.

The series is still available to watch here.

Photo by Patrick Dalton Flick CCL

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist. He is currently taking a break from his role as one of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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This entry was posted in TV and film.


  • Richard Kay 17th Dec '20 - 4:39pm

    Interesting program concept. Have to catch it on IPlayer. Apology for English content inappropriate. #MiddleEngland #Liberal and #Proud.

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