Imperial Mud (Hardback)
The Fight for the Fens
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**WINNER OF THE HISTORY AND TRADITION CATEGORY, EAST ANGLIAN BOOK AWARDS 2020**
**LONGLISTED FOR THE RSL ONDAATJE PRIZE 2021**
'A real page-turner … a warning about what happens when the rich and powerful dress up their avarice as "progress" – a lesson we could do with learning today.' Dixe Wills, BBC Countryfile magazine
FROM A MULTI-AWARD-WINNING HISTORIAN, AN ARRESTING NEW HISTORY OF THE BATTLE FOR THE FENS.
Between the English Civil Wars and the mid-Victorian period, the proud indigenous population of the Fens of eastern England fought to preserve their homeland against an expanding empire. After centuries of resistance, their culture and community were destroyed, along with their wetland home – England's last lowland wilderness. But this was no simple triumph of technology over nature – it was the consequence of a newly centralised and militarised state, which enriched the few while impoverishing the many.
In this colourful and evocative history, James Boyce brings to life not only colonial masters such as Oliver Cromwell and the Dukes of Bedford but also the defiant 'Fennish' themselves and their dangerous and often bloody resistance to the enclosing landowners. We learn of the eels so plentiful they became a kind of medieval currency; the games of 'Fen football' that were often a cover for sabotage of the drainage works; and the destruction of a bountiful ecosystem that had sustained the Fennish for thousands of years and which meant that they did not have to submit in order to survive.
Masterfully argued and imbued with a keen sense of place, Imperial Mud reimagines not just the history of the Fens, but the history and identity of the English people.
A real page-turner … a warning about what happens when the rich and powerful dress up their avarice as "progress" – a lesson we could do with learning today.
This book goes straight into my shortlist of books of the year for 2020: no doubt about it. I wish I had written this book but since I didn't, I'm very glad that someone else did so that I could read it. [M]y best read of 2020 so far … a strong historical account of land use change which any nature conservationist should read.
Like Patagonia, 'the Fens' has no precise border. This bountiful wetland on the English east coast is a region that most maps cover with a blank. In a masterful and painstaking act of retrieval, James Boyce reclaims the landscape of his fiercely independent forebears. The Fennish, like most indigenous people, left few written records – an absence that makes Imperial Mud even more valuable, as a celebration of their centuries-long resistance against drainage and enclosing landlords; and, above all, of their utterly passionate relationship with the 'common' marsh through which they defined their identity.
Boyce tells the tale with that rare but always winning combination of passion and scholarly vigour.
Evocative and imaginatively argued
A wonderful example of history writing embedded in the narratives of place, in this instance the Fenlands of England and its people, both dramatically altered in the name of dubious progress.
A lively, affectionate, colourful account of individuals from all walks of life living their lives and particularly standing up for themselves with passion, control and careful planning.
In telling the story of the people and the lost wetlands, Boyce has provided robust scholarship and rigour which combines with passionate writing to bring the account to a wider audience. In short this volume is incredibly readable as well as being wonderfully entertaining, and not least, informative.