I’m delighted to report that ‘Richborough through the Ages’ has over 60 people coming to it, but there are still spaces on Saturday 25 June so do have a look at the details online at www.canterbury.ac.uk/richborough if you think it sounds interesting. I’m not surprised that it is proving to be popular because it includes well-known archaeologists as speakers, such as Keith Parfitt of Canterbury Archaeological Trust and the Dover Archaeological Group, and Ges Moody who is a local expert and extremely active as an archaeologist in the Thanet area. Among those speaking from History at Canterbury Christ Church will be Lesley Hardy, who is particularly well-known for her work in the Folkestone area and John Bulaitis, who is heavily involved in his local history group at Nonington. Leading everyone and the driving force behind this project is Martin Watts, and it is great to see this level of interest in the history of east Kent.

Whitstable Oystermen - May Day in Canterbury

Whitstable Oystermen – May Day in Canterbury

Keeping with the Kent theme, it is now just over a month before Early Medieval Kent, 800–1220 will be published by Boydell as the final and tenth volume in the Kent History Project series. As I have mentioned before, this is a major achievement for a county-size project, especially as it has been funded by Kent County Council, albeit it started well before the local government cuts that have had such far-reaching consequences. Anyway this is well worth celebrating and, in addition to the formal book launch at Maidstone, there will be a one-day conference at Canterbury Christ Church to mark its arrival on Saturday 10 September. Details are still being finalised but I can report that the first of the morning sessions, under the title of ‘Raiders, Invaders and Settlers’, will feature short papers by Andrew Richardson and Richard Eales. This will be followed in the morning by Gillian Draper and Hilary Powell, who will explore ‘Aspects of Landscape’. The two afternoon sessions will firstly cover ‘The Church’, by Diane Heath and Sheila Sweetinburgh, and finally ‘The City of Canterbury’, which will feature two more members of Canterbury Archaeological Trust staff: the Director Paul Bennett and Jake Weekes, the Trust’s Research Officer. Because of the heavy involvement of Trust staff, it is envisaged that this conference will be a joint undertaking between the Christ Church Centre and Canterbury Archaeological Trust, and should attract many Friends of the Trust. This promises to be another exciting day if a similar conference five years ago for Later Medieval Kent, 1220–1540 is a guide. Indeed the two volumes have been designed to work together to provide a useful introduction to those interested in medieval Kent, as well as sitting comfortably between The Archaeology of Kent to AD 800, ed. J.H. Williams (Boydell, 2007) and Early Modern Kent, 1540–1640, ed. M. Zell (Boydell, 2000).

Another conference that I happened to hear about through Kent Archaeological Society will also be taking place in September at Christ Church. This is being organised by the Society for Church Archaeology and will be taking place between 2nd and 4th September under the title ‘Church and Industry’. Among the speakers will be Gabor Thomas, who will be discussing industrial activities at Anglo-Saxon Lyminge, and Martin Biddle, also well-known to many people in Kent, whose chosen topic is a retrospective assessment of his time as Canterbury Cathedral’s archaeologist. Late on the Saturday afternoon Andy Seaman, one of the archaeologists at Canterbury Christ Church, will lead a tour of St Augustine’s Abbey and St Martin’s church. The programme looks very interesting and the conference will also include a trip to look at sites at Lyminge, Folkestone and Dover.

Turning to activities that took place last week, last Sunday I watched the Morris men and women, including some excellent clog dancers from Lancashire, who were celebrating May Day in Canterbury’s Rose Square. The Whitstable Morris have now been in existence for forty years since its revival in the last century, but Morris dancing has a long history in the county, as elsewhere in the country. I thought I would mention a late 16th-century reference to such dancers in the Canterbury archives that notes that Henry Parkes and his companions also danced the ‘Morryce’ on May Day. As today they dressed specially, having particular but unspecified clothing, and had bells and other ‘furniture’. This they put on at ‘The Sign of the George’ at Newingate, ale or beer being as important then as it is now, and among the dancers was a boy in women’s clothing as Mayd Maryon. There is no mention of other characters, but presumably if we have Maid Marion Robin Hood was also present. Two other named dancers were John Emfrey and Nicholas Saynt, and the reason their statements were recorded in the city’s court rolls would seem to relate to where and how they danced. Music was provided by the fiddler and having danced at the city gate, this troop seemingly continued up the High Street before dancing outside the mayor’s door. The final dance, according to Emfrey, took place at St Stephen’s at or near the house of Mr Peter Manwood.

Such activities could have been a topic for the London Medieval Society’s conference on ‘Medieval Revelry’ yesterday that was held at Charterhouse Square, London. This is a beautiful venue apart from anything else and it was lovely at lunch time to sit out eating sandwiches in this haven of tranquillity surrounded by trees covered in blossom and that vibrant green of spring. But to get back to the revelry, the keynote lecture was given by Meg Twycross on ‘Can Practice be Research’ in terms of the issues of production and reception of early drama. She specifically discussed this using the case study of her involvement as part of a team from the University of Lancaster in 1988 when they put on the York ‘Domesday’ pageant. Having discussed some of the advantages and difficulties of this approach, she put forward her conclusion that when looking at past societies in this way, what practitioners should aim to produce is something as close as possible to what we think may have been done; that sometimes this is word for word, sometimes sense for sense, and that researchers should always set themselves a challenge.

Among the people yesterday who rose to the challenge and who have a Kent connection are Helen Gittos and Clare Wright, both lecturers in medieval studies at the University of Kent, Helen in History, Clare in English Literature. For Helen the challenge is part of a project she has begun relatively recently to examine the use of the vernacular, and more specifically English, in what today we call the liturgy or church services. This use of the word Helen considers is highly misleading, because the liturgy in the Middle Ages is frequently stated by modern scholars to have been exclusively in Latin, whereas she has found what she believes is a significant use of the vernacular in a number of rites and practices. This multi-lingual soundscape within the rites of baptism, marriage and confession, for example, and in processions, perhaps notably that on Palm Sunday, opens up ideas regarding how English was understood – what did it mean to use your mother tongue in these sacred rites?

While Helen has looked at about 10-15% of the documentary sources so far, Clare may be seen as being at a more preliminary stage and she is almost ready to submit a proposal for funding. To a degree she drew on this for her paper yesterday afternoon, providing her audience with some literary theories and practical examples regarding the slipperiness and inter-relatedness of place and space among players and audience. She focused on the early modern interlude, those plays often thought of as performed in aristocratic great halls as part of entertainments within a feasting environment. Among the topics she touched on was the role of the patron, in terms of what s/he would expect by way of the play, but also his/her physical presence – as the central figure in any procession, the use of objects such as a sword carried by or before, and placement and seating arrangements within the hall itself. Thus the sense of practice, and the fascination of thinking about the inter-dependency of players/audience (as witness, as honoured guest, as spectator etc) was as much in evidence yesterday as it had been last Sunday.