About Alfred Watkins’s Cuttings Book

Front cover
This is a unique book of press cuttings compiled by Alfred Watkins from 1922 to early 1925. He started it in order to collect reviews of his first ley book Early British Trackways, which was published in March 1922. When these dried up he continued with cuttings on archaeology, place names, and the like, related to his ley theory. There are also a few typed or handwritten items such as letters.

The cuttings book was bought at the PBFA Book Fair in Cambridge in February 2011, and is now available for viewing on the Web. The book can be browsed by moving through the scanned images with the “Prev” and “Next” buttons. Links are provided from the scanned images to text versions of the cuttings, which have been generated by applying optical character recognition (OCR) software to the images. Stepping through the text versions is also supported.

For users on a slow Web connection (e.g. dial-up) there is a series of monochrome images, which are of inferior quality but much quicker to download.

Example of slip from cuttings agency
Agency slip
The book contains 257 items (including a few duplicates) on 137 pages; there are also ten loose items and one tipped in. Some cuttings were supplied by an agency, named on one cutting as Durrant’s of London, a firm that still exists. For this Web version I have added six extra items to fill gaps, e.g. in the series of letters arising from O.G.S. Crawford’s articles in the Observer.

Fly leaf
Instead of getting a new scrapbook for the cuttings, Watkins pasted them into an old notebook which (as the fly-leaf shows) his son Allen had used for lecture notes when a student at St John’s College, Cambridge. In many of the scanned images, Allen’s notes are visible around the cuttings.

The cuttings are not arranged in the book in any logical order. Cuttings on various topics are mixed together, and sometimes the reply to a letter or article appears before it. Nor did Watkins record the source and date of every cutting. In this Web version, I have tried to arrange the cuttings into topics, and place the cuttings within each topic roughly in order of date, while keeping a sequence of cuttings on the same subject together. For stepping through the OCR version of the cuttings, buttons for “Prev/Next by topic” are provided as well as “Prev/Next in book”. The division into topics is of course rather arbitrary, and may be revised from time to time.

I have divided the reviews of Early British Trackways into two topics: Notices, and Reviews proper. A “notice” is little more than a statement of what the book is about, using words supplied by Watkins. Reading through these becomes tedious, as the same phrases occur over and over again. A cutting is a “review” if the writer expresses some personal opinion about the book, whether for, against, or mixed. Watkins must have sent out a great many review copies, for there are notices and reviews from magazines and local newspapers all over Britain.

The topic “Towards The Old Straight Track” includes cuttings that Watkins used in writing his most important ley book, which was published in November 1925. A few cuttings so used can be found in other topics.


The book when bought had no page numbers, but for creating this Web version it was desirable to add them. Watkins did not use the first few pages, and the cuttings are on pages 9 to 145. One leaf had come loose when the book was bought, and I could not work out exactly where in the book it belonged. Using the dates as a rough guide I have called it pages 35 and 36. The cuttings on each page are labelled a, b, c, etc. in the pattern shown.

The source of each cutting, if known, is given at the top of the OCR version, and at the end of the OCR version is a note giving the authority for the source. If the source is missing or incomplete in the cuttings book, it has sometimes been possible to fill it in from the Web or a library copy. Willing’s Press Guide has been useful for information about sources and for deciphering Watkins’s handwriting. This work is continuing.

Misprints. Any belief that newspapers had no misprints in the good old days is soon dispelled by these cuttings. It cannot be guaranteed either that no errors have been introduced when OCRing over 250 cuttings, some of which required extensive correction by hand. A spelling checker is helpful when checking OCRed text, but cannot detect e.g. confusion between “be” and “he” (a common OCR error). I hope at least that uncorrected OCR errors are very few. Misprints in the original cuttings have not been corrected, but are discreetly highlighted like this to distinguish them from OCR errors.

Michael Behrend, 2 May 2011