Medieval Canterbury Weekend
I thought I would start with an apology for not writing the blog last week but I was somewhat busy and time just disappeared as it is inclined to do. Anyway I’m now back having resurfaced after the Medieval Canterbury Weekend, but even so I’m going to keep it short because when you are thinking about whether the microphone is working properly or whether you have got out enough programmes you don’t really take in what the lecturer is saying, even if you are chairing the session. So if you were hoping for a summary of the various talks I’m afraid I’m going to disappoint you.
Instead I going to give you a few pointers about what happened over the weekend and hopefully an idea of what it was like to be there. As a start it was sheer luck but a few days before the Weekend Dr Diane Heath (my fellow organiser) and I had seen someone putting up a pop-up poster, and Diane with her ‘marketing head’ had immediately seen the possibilities for a gigantic Black Prince to preside over the Weekend. So we immediately investigated where and how to get such a poster and Diane, having produced a design that the firm could work with, became the proud guardian of the new Black Prince pop-up poster when it arrived from the makers just before the start of the Weekend. Indeed the last I saw of it yesterday it was disappearing into her car, although I am confident it will reappear tomorrow in the sessional staff part of Fyndon, one of the buildings used by Humanities at Christ Church.
Thus we had our mascot sort-of-speak and it was interesting to see over the Weekend how many people had their photograph taken next to him both outside Old Sessions House on Saturday and then at the Cathedral Lodge on Sunday when ‘he’ moved nearer ‘home’. Among those who had their picture taken in this way was Abby Armstrong, one of the five student (postgrad and undergrad) helpers who were absolutely fantastic throughout the Weekend. Abby’s fellows were Harriet Kersey, Lauren Shaw and the two Andys, Andy Leach and Andy Connell, and they deserve a major vote of thanks for their tireless efforts in helping at the box office, programme selling, ticket checking, photocopying duties and being on microphone duty during question and answer sessions at the end of each of the lectures. Others who thoroughly deserve a mention for their similar commitment to helping participants to have a great time are Diane Heath’s daughter Heli, a student at Birmingham, who gave up her Saturday and Mary-Jane Pamphilon, a Christ Church staff member, who was in charge of the box office.
While I’m on the subject of people who helped make the Weekend such a success, I feel it is exceedingly important to mention those who provided the Canterbury Christ Church University bookstall. Craig the manager couldn’t actually be on duty, although as it turned out he wasn’t far away as he was attending a wedding reception at the Cathedral Lodge over the weekend. However Colette and her colleagues did a sterling job on both days and one of those who filled in a questionnaire said s/he just couldn’t get close to the bookstall because it was always so busy. Also busy was the book signing table, and that part of the Weekend was greatly appreciated by lots of people. The queue to have Dan Jones’ signature was truly staggering and what was even better was that he was happy to have his photo taken with any of these lucky people, and I know of at least one person who couldn’t resist keep looking at it for the rest of Saturday. Another lecturer who similarly showed this level of consideration was David Starkey. Poor Dr Starkey was suffering from both a very nasty cold and considerable pain from problems with his knees, yet he was still prepared to sign numerous copies of his books, and even more importantly was prepared to have a conversation with all the students who wanted his signature – a telling sign of the calibre of the man.
To a degree the BBC History Weekends had been the model but we had adapted their format by concentrating on a popular period of history and by having guided tours by experts of some of Canterbury’s iconic buildings. And it was these tours, with lectures by first Gordon Corrigan and then Michelle Brown back at Old Sessions that took place on Saturday morning. Although I’ll just mention that the whole Weekend had been started on Friday evening with Richard Gameson’s truly fascinating lecture on the St Augustine’s Gospels and his current research project on the use of colour pigments in medieval manuscripts. But to return to the guided tours, while Louise Wilkinson acted as Paul Bennett’s ‘back stop’ for his expert interrogation of the building of first St Mildred’s church and then the Poor Priests’ Hospital, I was guiding people around St John’s Hospital before some went on to follow Richard Eales around and into the Westgate Towers for further fascinating insights into Canterbury’s medieval buildings. My back stop was Matthew Crockatt who had generously given up his Saturday to do this and also to take photos. Matthew designed the Centre’s website and he was done a great deal regarding the IT side of the work involving the Weekend. Those who came to St John’s were also fortunate to hear an expert on medieval chests because the hospital has three wonderful examples of this form of medieval furniture. Indeed Dr Christopher Pickvance thinks two of the chests are probably the most important examples of their kind in the country.
Returning to the lectures, which meant for the group who came with me after St John’s a brisk walk back to Old Sessions, one of the things that really impressed me was the enthusiasm all the lecturers showed for their chosen topic, whether it was Anglo-Saxon manuscripts, St Thomas’ relics or market regulations for butchers in towns across western Europe. Now you might say, well of course they would be enthusiastic but that’s not always the case and their passion shone through to such an extent that it was commented upon by many who filled in questionnaires. Indeed for many participants it was this and the fact that the lecturers were friendly and happy to answer questions after the sessions that particularly impressed people. This engagement is, I think, very valuable, and it was also great to hear how the various lecturers referred to things others had said earlier so that the whole Weekend was conducted in an atmosphere of learning – wanting to find out more and wanting to pass on knowledge and ideas to anyone who was interested. And lots of people were because I think, although I have yet to get the final number, that it was at least in the region of 1500 tickets sold – a truly staggering number.
To conclude this brief look at the Medieval Canterbury Weekend, I think Ian Coulson, after whom the new postgraduate bursary will be named, would have had a ball of a time had he still been alive. He would have appreciated this exchange of ideas and knowledge, this engagement between academics and members of the public, and most of all the presence, activities and obvious enjoyment the student helpers (and their fellows) took away from being part of this successful venture.