The Description of the Hundred of Berkeley was dedicated by the antiquary John Smyth of Nibley (1568-641) to his son John, who succeeded him as estate steward to Lord Berkeley and to his clerk William Archard. It was written over many years, the final revision apparently occurring in 1639. It combines information that would be useful to his son as estate steward with the antiquarian gleanings of four decades spent in the Vale of Berkeley.
Smyth's description of the dialect of the Vale of Berkeley in the first half of the seventeenth century is a useful resource for historians, studying local documentary evidence of the period. It provides a tantalising glimpse of the modes of expression of middling and common sorts of people of the Vale of Berkeley. By the use of the phrase "wee hundreders", Smyth associates himself with his neighbours, although he was not a native of the Vale of Berkeley. Smyth was born in Leicestershire, took up residence in Gloucestershire when around 30 and spent a significant part of most years in London. It is doubtful how far a gentleman of his background would have spoken the local dialect of his adopted neighbours, although as the steward of the Hundred and manor courts it was useful to be able to understand them. (Smyth's wife on the otherhand was born and raised in the Vale of Berkeley, as were his own children.) It is clear, that Smyth wished to associate himself and his family firmly with the interests of the local community. This formed part of the impetus for the compilation of the Description of the Hundred of Berkeley and is very apparent in the preamble to this section.
A similar local identity is seen in Smyth's collection of local proverbs and his list of sigificant dates in the Vale of Berkeley. Despite Smyth's description of the proverbs as peculiar to the hundred, a large proportion of them had a more general currency in early modern England. Nevertheless, his explanations of the derivation of several of the proverbs is full of local colour. The list of significant dates (many of which occurred before Smyth settled in Gloucestershire) is reminiscent of the way in which significant local and national events were used by contemporary lawyers to establish dates during the drawing up of legal cases and in the examination of witnesses in court. (Smyth was himself a barrister.)
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