William Harrison's Description of England
William Harrison was Rector of Radwinter from 1559 until his death in 1593 and Vicar of Wimbish from 1571 until 1581. Neither his links with these Essex livings, nor his many other positions including Household Chaplain to Sir William Brooke, 10th Lord Cobham of Kent and Canon of St.George's Chapel, Windsor, have caused him to be memorable. It is as a scholar and historian that he is widely remembered today. His Description of England, which was published with Holinshed's Chronicles in 1577 and 1587, is the classic contemporary account of Tudor social life. His observations on the Church of England, its universities, Parliament, food and diet, dress, provisions for the poor, the navy and gardens and orchards and many other things can be found.25
This passage has the response of old men yet dwelling in the village to the question: 'What three things have 'marvellously altered' in your lifetime?' Change within an historic period is an important dimension of the past.26 In the modern period this is still a question worth asking of anyone. The improvement of bedding, the appearance of chimneys and the employment of new materials for tableware would not strike us today, but you will hear in a different form than straw pallets versus feather beds the eternal lament against the younger generation's never having had it so good!
For the curious, there is the memory of Harrison's rebus, a painted image on a window of the Radwinter Rectory of a hare couchant set against the background of the sun in its glory. This was a visual conundrum, a play on Harrison's name: hare i' sun.27