This week has finally seen my return to preparing an article on businesswomen in fifteenth-century Canterbury that I haven’t really had a chance to work on since late last year. So it has been a case first of trying to pick-up where I left off and rethink myself back into the subject. However having worked out the rolling five-year average for all the ‘intrantes’: those below the freemen who were permitted to reside and trade in the city and compared it to the number of businesswomen similarly living and working independently, it is interesting to note that in the 1480s, in particular, these numbers do not follow the same pattern and the figures for women pick up in this decade whereas the total figures are the lowest for the whole century. I’m still working out what this may mean in terms of how these businesswomen were viewed by the authorities, not least because this broadly coincides with the incidence in the city’s courts of those classed as a ‘femme sole’ (a married woman who was legally seen as responsible for her commercial activities). Demonstrating once again the importance of the city’s medieval records, and these are still held at Canterbury Cathedral Archives and Library.

Saltwood Castle door - more beautiful ironwork

Saltwood Castle door – more beautiful ironwork

More of this in future weeks, but I’ll just mention a possibly little known fact regarding the city’s ducking stool before moving on to provide an update on the Medieval Canterbury Weekend. So first ‘le cockyngstole’ that was apparently commissioned by the civic authorities in 1520/1, Harry Shepard the carpenter and his mate paid for three and a half days work at a grand cost of 3s 6d. Not, of course, that that was the only outlay by the city chamberlains and in total the timber, iron, carriage and workmanship came to 10s 5.5d, and probably just as interestingly it was set up at Abbottes Mill. And now the Medieval Weekend, where initial preparations are in hand regarding the giving of the four donations to St Mildred’s church, the Poor Priests’ Hospital, St John’s Hospital and Westgate Towers that in total amount to £4,000. It is envisaged that this will take place towards the end of May at Canterbury Christ Church’s St Martin’s Priory and the University’s representative will be Dr Keith McLay, the Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Humanities. Again I’ll keep readers of the blog posted as matters develop over the next few weeks. This is a great opportunity to demonstrate the University’s commitment to the city’s community and its important medieval heritage.

So what else has been happening this week? Well on Thursday several members of the Centre invited Dr Ben Marsh from the University of Kent to a meeting at Christ Church. Among those present from Christ Church were the joint heads of the Centre Professor Jackie Eales and Dr Stephen Hipkin. Ben Marsh is a relatively new member of the School of History at Kent whose specialism is American history, especially trade during the early modern period, and this has led him to explore the importance of silk to the Americas. He is also becoming more interested in the history of Kent having moved down to the county with his family from his previous post at Stirling University. One avenue that this interest is leading him towards is a desire to see if it might be possible to engage with other institutions – schools, museums, local interest groups – to explore the county’s past. Hence his concern to meet historians from Christ Church and this led to an interesting conversation about possible ideas, themes, approaches that might be mutually beneficial to a range of constituents. After an amicable discussion it was agreed that Dr Martin Watts, as Christ Church’s representative, would continue to liaise with Ben, not least because Martin is involved in a project about the history of Richborough – see the one-day conference on Saturday 25 June: www.canterbury.ac.uk/richborough – and a community project on maritime Whitstable.

On Friday I went along to St Mildred’s church to hear a fascinating lecture, organised by the Friends of St Mildred’s, by Dr David Wright on the Rev. Bryan Faussett: ‘Antiquary Extraordinary’. Some of you may already know about David’s biography of this amazing cleric who spent much of his adult life investigating barrows and other funerary sites in east Kent. As a gentleman archaeologist of the mid eighteenth century he was ahead of his time regarding his painstaking recording of the sites he oversaw, his labourers instructed to be careful how they excavated the vast number of burials he unearthed. His detailed notebooks are held by the Society of Antiquaries and include drawings and notes of the finds he made, information regarding their position within the burial, and the location of the graves. His earliest excavations were at Tremworth Down, Crundale but his most important and famous discoveries took place at Kingston near Barham. The significance of the Anglo-Saxons finds unearthed there cannot be over-emphasised and include the staggeringly beautiful Kingston brooch with its gold plates and filigree work with large numbers of garnets and blue glass.

For Faussett the archaeological season was the late spring to early autumn and during the winter he seems to have paid more attention to his parish responsibilities, albeit he only seems to have attended one of his churches in person: Nackington just outside Canterbury and close to the family seat of Heppington House. Incidentally this house survived until the 1950s until its conversion to a poultry house and its subsequent demolition – the loss of yet another substantial gentry house regionally and nationally, which is a shocking indictment of the crippling nature of death duties that seriously damaged the nation’s heritage in the first half of the twentieth century. But to return to Faussett’s staggering collection of unearthed artefacts, he was justifiably proud of his finds and during his life time was keen to share his knowledge and results with other scholars and this included displaying some of his collection in his garden in specially created shelters. Moreover, under the terms of his will, his collection was to remain intact with the family at Heppington, thereby protecting it from ‘trophy’ hunters. Yet there was a feeling in the 1850s, about eighty years after Faussett’s death, that his collection should be preserved for its amazing scientific value, although this was not at the British Museum as you might expect. Indeed the British Museum turned it down because its policy was only to take foreign antiquities. Nonetheless to cut a long story short, as a result of Charles Roach Smith’s and others’ endeavours, Faussett’s collection was saved and continues to reside at the Liverpool World Museum.

Continuing this theme of death and material culture, I joined Dr Diane Heath and another medievalist friend today to visit the ossuary at St Leonard’s church, Hythe. The skulls and long bones of about 4000 people are stored in the ‘crypt’, which, as the churchwarden said, is not really a crypt but may have been a processional ring passage to the east of the chancel, thereby remaining within consecrated ground. In the last few decades some scientific work has been undertaken on the skulls, firstly by Bournemouth University and most recently by the University of Kent. These findings have shown that the skulls belong to a mixed population of men and women with juveniles, and that few skulls show signs of head injuries, thus eliminating the idea that they were battle victims and instead may represent the charnel house of a parish that gradually filled up over the Middle Ages. If you haven’t visited the ossuary, it can be arranged during the summer months and is extremely interesting, as is the parish church – another gem in the Kentish Cinque Ports.