In 1697, a 34-year-old woman mounted her horse and set off on a 3,000-mile journey which over two summers would take her to every county in England. Her name was Celia Fiennes. It was a time when women didn’t do such things. It could be gruelling, unhealthy and dangerous. As she discovered, most roads were unsigned, marshy tracks, lodgings could be filthy and vermin-ridden, and highwaymen lay in wait for the unwary.
Luckily for us, Celia Fiennes kept a detailed diary about the places she saw and the people she met. She reports on the brutal justice system and political shenanigans of the time, and is fascinated by industry and commerce – workshops, shipping and especially coal-pits and tin mines. What she tells us is significant as the Industrial Revolution would soon change England forever.
Yet this remarkable woman and her story have, until now, been largely neglected.
In England From a Side-Saddle, historian and journalist Derek J. Taylor seeks to put that right. As we follow the route Celia Fiennes took, we see through her eyes an England of 320 years ago, and learn of the courage, determination and curiosity of one woman who was centuries ahead of her time.