In 2009, Richard Skelton published his first book, Landings, a deeply personal and unique response to the moorland landscape of Anglezarke, near his birthplace in south-west Lancashire, UK. Written over the course of half a decade, the book is assembled from a diverse array of materials: texts excised from his own notebooks and diaries are combined with excerpts from census and parish records, maps and historical treatises. The result is what Skelton terms ‘mosaic sequences [of] reclaimed fragments’ – discrete but connected strands forming an oblique and poignant testimony to personal grief, a meditation on memory and forgetting, a conjuring of the ghosts and voices of a landscape, and an exposition of the effects of the Industrial Revolution on rural lives.
Between 2009 and 2011, Skelton significantly expanded Landings from 96 to 292 pages, writing about the landscape in absentia, whilst living in rural Ireland. Tellingly, the book included over 70 pages of appendices, gathering together the bulk of his research about Anglezarke itself: dialect glossaries, cartographic records and lists of names, dates and places drawn from various sources are carefully catalogued and indexed. In retrospect, it seems as if he was attempting to assemble his own private archive, rather than write a conventional book. As Robert MacFarlane describes, it is ‘a pained record-keeping of the Anglezarke moor – a textual summoning-back of its lost and forgotten … litanies spoken against loss’.
This new edition of Landings contains the first formal addition to the work in nearly half a decade, comprising an afterword which reflects on the nature of its own archival impetus, from which the following is an excerpt:
The archive that is Anglezarke has an unspeakably complex order of inter-relations – its index is constantly being extended and recompiled. Each object is a nexus for multiple experiences, lives, energies – both consecutively and simultaneously. The land is in continual flux, from hay meadow to moor, valley to reservoir, hill-side to plantation. Buildings reconfigure themselves as walls, bridges and feeder conduits, or else they are assimilated into the bloated body of the moor itself, whose very name shifts over the centuries – Andelevesarewe, Anlauesargh, Anlewesearche. There is no rest.
Throughout Landings I returned again and again to the empty space at the edges of maps, to the blank pages in the public record – “What name did this place have before records began?” I asked, “What happened to the polyonymy of place?” There is a sense, in this obsession with archives, lists and records, that I was searching for something that can never be found, because it was never recorded. Words spoken and lost to the morning air, muttered to the fire as it sparked into life, whispered to the animal in the fold. Or perhaps those words were never spoken, but were kept unsaid, held in the mouth, conserved, protected? Or, indeed, there might have been an intuitive understanding that such moments are beyond language – that thought and intellect take us out of that very presence – that connective tissue – which is the innate gift of all things.