Cover image for The great hedge of India
The great hedge of India
Moxham, Roy.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Carroll & Graf, 2001.
Physical Description:
234 pages : map ; 22 cm
Personal Subject:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
DS414.2 .M69 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



Remarkable" and "astonishing," says Jan Morris of Roy Moxham's account of his search for "one of the least-known wonders of Queen Victoria's India," and John Keay finds it "a compelling read, simply told, and simply wonderful." An unquestionably fascinating tale, as well as a travel book and historical detective story, The Great Hedge of India begins in a secondhand bookshop on London's Charing Cross Road. There Roy Moxham buys the memoir of a nineteenth-century British colonial administrative officer, who makes a passing reference to a giant hedge planted by the British across the Indian subcontinent. That hedge--which for fifty years had been manned and cared for by 12,000 men and had run a length of 2,500 miles--becomes what Moxham calls his "ridiculous obsession." Recounting a journey that takes him to exotic isolated villages deep in the interior of India, Moxham chronicles his efforts to confirm the existence of the extraordinary, impenetrable green wall that had virtually disappeared from two nations' memories. Not only does he discover the shameful role the hedge played in the exploitative Raj and the famines of the late ninteenth century, but he also uncovers what remains of this British grand folly and restores to history what must be counted one of the world's wonders--and a monument to one of the great injustices of Victorian imperialism. "Grandly entertaining ... close to being a perfect story of a fanciful quest."--Boston Globe "A compellingread, simply told and simply wonderful."--John Keay

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

More than 2,000 miles long and tended by 12,000 workers. Was a hedge the British cultivated in India a mad monument to the topiary arts? Quite serendipitously in a colonial memoir, Moxham discovered such an oddity was maintained up to 1879, and he instantly decided to discover the hedge's purpose and any of its physical vestiges. The first task he ascertained from colonial archives stashed in London: the thistly hedge was the barbed-wire fence of its day, marking a customs line imposed to enforce the British tax on salt. Finding the hedge's remnants was a more elusive and frustrating labor, but it propels the travelogue in delightful directions as Moxham trains and ambles about central India, seeking help from villagers in locating the long-forgotten barrier. With revealing digressions into the salt tax's significance in the history of India--Gandhi defied it in 1930--the author rounds out an amazingly curious story, one to enjoy and savor while vicariously accompanying Moxham to see if he does find palimpsests of the hedge on the dusty plains. --Gilbert Taylor

Publisher's Weekly Review

Moxham, a British library conservator, chanced one day on a book describing a giant hedge, running east to west, 2,500 miles long and six to 12 feet thick, and guarded by 12,000 men, in British India in the late 19th century. This "eccentric enterprise... a quintessentially British folly," as Moxham calls the hedge, was designed as a customs border, in particular to collect the salt tax that was so oppressive to India's poor. Gandhi, who called the salt tax "the most inhuman poll tax that ingenuity of man can devise," led a march in 1930 to illegally make salt from the sea, which signaled the beginning of his nonviolent struggle for India's independence from the British. Moxham became obsessed with the customs hedge, and in this account, he winningly describes how he enlisted the aid of Indian friends in the course of three trips to India to find the remnants of the hedge, which seems to be largely forgotten. Along the way, our intrepid explorer searched for scaled maps, mastered navigators and compasses, visited 2,000-year-old temples and became adept at getting people in several tiny isolated villages to house him, transport him and help him find the remains of the hedge. After finding two small remnants, he encounters an old man who remembers the old men in his youth talking about the hedge. The old man helps him on the final leg of his quest, where he locates the hedge not far from where he had calculated, based on an 1876 map, that it would beÄat the same latitude, and only about one mile farther east. Moxham's debut offers an entertaining travel memoir and insight into a forgotten footnote to history. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

The Indian equivalent of the Great Wall, the Customs Hedge, which is rarely mentioned in history books, was grown to prevent the smuggling of salt in response to the East India Company's oppressive Salt Tax. Composed of thorny trees and shrubs, this barrier covered 2500 miles and was attended by 12,000 men for 50 years before it was finally abandoned in 1879. In this notable debut, Moxham, a paper conservator obsessed with the Customs Hedge, recounts his efforts to confirm its existence. Armed with a Global Positioning System navigator and photocopies of old maps from the Royal Geographical Society and sustained by the hospitality of the locals, the author traveled through many remote villages of India's interior until he finally located remnants of the Customs Hedge in dacoit-infested Chambal. In his highly readable account, Moxham exposes the rapacity behind the levy and collection of this historically famous tax and the widespread corruption it engendered. For comprehensive history collections devoted to India and the Raj.DRavi Shenoy, Naperville P.L., IL (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.