Around 1800 Lettice Sweetapple lived in West Overton, Wiltshire, between Avebury and Marlborough. Her house looked across the River Kennet to the chalk downs and southwards to woods once part of the Savernake Forest. She represents hundreds of thousands of largely anonymous people whose lives were shaped by this changing landscape, and who themselves changed it, over ten millennia.
Peter Fowler and his team of archaeologists, historians and scientists have investigated the landscape of the parishes of West Overton and Fyfield over 39 years, not merely as local history but as a microcosm of the English countryside. In setting out to answer the question ‘How has this landscape come to look as it does?’, they have made use of fieldwork, aerial photography, excavation, old maps and documents, geophysics and numerous analytical techniques on everything from standing buildings to flecks of charcoal. The resulting mountain of information contradicts the persistent myth of ‘the unchanging English countryside’.
The first part of the book tells the story of the investigation, in the fields, on the downs, in the valley and in the woods. One result was to raise further questions and to highlight what is still unknown. So, in the second part, using imagination and insight, the authors build on their first-hand knowledge to tell another story, that of the ordinary yet extraordinary life led in this typical yet unique patch of English countryside – the land of Lettice Sweetapple.