Centre for Kent History and Heritage

Medieval Merchants and much more at MCW24


Medieval Merchants and much more at MCW24

After the excellent lecture by Professor Alan Stewart last week, this week is more a case of looking forward to 2024, although it is also important to note that Dr Diane Heath’s NLHF-funded Medieval Animals Heritage project is drawing to a close with the last Project Board meeting next week and the submission of the final report to the National Lottery Heritage Fund very shortly. This has been a fantastic project and hopefully Diane will be able to procure another large grant to keep up this great work with SEND children and their families.

Diane at the Kent History Showcase at Dover Museum

Keeping with projects involving the CKHH, I was down in Southampton last week visiting Professor Craig Lambert to discuss out Kent’s Maritime Communities project. He and Dr Robert Blackmore, the RA, have been exceedingly busy entering data from the Customs Accounts and Port Books, as well as other sources including the Muster Rolls for Kent’s many port towns. Currently, they are working on the records of Sandwich, having left them until the end as the most numerous. As a way of speeding up the process because of the sheer number, they have been using a system whereby they have taught the computer to read sixteenth-century script and having checked and re-checked the computer’s results now have a very high degree of accuracy which ensures that with the extra checking this will save them time and mean the Sandwich records should all have been entered on the database by about Easter next year.

With his colleagues in Geography at the University of Southampton, Craig is also looking at mapping which will mean we can produce maps from the database to show, for example, where different cargos were shipped to both for overseas and coastal trade. Again, this is an exceedingly exciting development and will be extremely helpful when we write the book next year. This will be with Boydell and is entitled ‘Kent and Europe, 1450-1640: Merchants, Mariners, Shipping and Defence’. Moreover, next year we will be extending our outreach activities and, as I have already mentioned, thanks to Jon Iveson and Martin Crowther we’ll be holding a day of talks and workshops at Dover Museum on Saturday 23 March, which will include the two doctoral students at Christ Church who are associated with the project, Kieron Hoyle and Jason Mazzocchi, with further similar events later in the year.

Jason at the Medway History Showcase discussing the Faversham oyster disputes

Changing topic but not month, the Aphra Behn Project with the University of Kent and the University of Loughborough has a day of lectures and another of workshops in March 2024 which will be led by Dr Astrid Stilma and Dr Claire Bartram, and Dr Catriona Cooper respectively. I’ll bring you more on these when I have the details.

Looking forward into next year for other projects, as well as being involved in the Lossenham Project and the Leverhulme-funded Gough Map Project, I’m working with colleagues who were in Geography at Christ Church, Professor Peter Vujakovic and Dr Chris Young, as well as Keith Parfitt (see Chris and Keith in Maritime Kent) to put together the programme for the Society of Landscape Studies conference and fieldtrip on the weekend of 28th and 29th September. We have some ideas already but hope to get an outline of the weekend organised when we meet in mid-December.

Not that this is everything for next year, but I thought I would use the rest of this shorter blog to bring you some more highlights from the programme of the Medieval Canterbury Weekend 2024 that resonate with the same themes of landscape and merchants. Taking the landscapes first, it is great to be welcoming back Dr Mike Bintley to MCW24. Mike is now Associate Professor in Medieval English Literature at the University of Southampton and thus it is highly appropriate that for the History Weekend he will be exploring seascapes. Among the questions he will be considering are: how did people living in the early Middle Ages think and feel about the waters that flowed through, across, and around the landscapes they inhabited? He will also discuss: what efforts can we make to reconstruct their sensory and intellectual engagements through evidence of medieval experience from textual and material sources? As a result, we’ll be able to cross tempestuous oceans, plumb bottomless depths, and paddle between waterlocked landmasses, all to the tune of Old English poetry’s lithe and living waters!

Dr Mike Bintley

Taking a different approach but equally fascinating, Alison Norton, a doctoral student nearing completion at CCCU will investigate the siting of rural castles in Norman England. Alison is keen to examine the uniqueness of local landscapes, the needs of individual castle builders and communities, and the impact rural settlements and communities had on castle-siting decisions as a means to gain a much more nuanced understanding of how and why such decisions were made. As a result, she will offer an appreciation of how local and regional landscapes, as well as the communities within these environments, provide unique and critical information regarding how people engaged with and understood their environment. 

Now turning to merchants, it is excellent to be able to bring Dr Justin Colson to Canterbury. Justin is an expert on late medieval London and for his lecture he will be introducing us to Richard Arnold of London Bridge. By charting the life and career of this late medieval merchant through an unusual early printed book we’ll learn how Arnold faced misfortune, and frequently disaster, in every aspect of his work. From pirates seizing his ship, to uncooperative landlords, pub brawls in Antwerp, and corrupt Archdeacons, his writings reveal that everything seemed to go wrong for him. As Justin says, is often the way in history, it is precisely these failures which give us a much deeper insight into his life, and especially into the ways in which trade actually worked in the medieval world.

London Alderman – come and find out which!

Staying with mercantile London and how historians can bring to life medieval society through early books, I’m delighted that Professor Caroline Barron will be returning to Canterbury to consider a set of images that have been little studied. For in 1446 the Clarencieux Herald was commissioned to provide images of the mayor, John Olney and each of the other twenty-four aldermen, together with the then Recorder of London, John Danvers. Taking these as her starting point, Caroline will explore such questions as: why were they commissioned at that time? What can they tell us about the aldermen and what can we find out about these men? Half of them were MPs, and many of them were notable in the city and in the wider realm, but some were comparatively obscure. The remarkable survival of this collection of images provokes further questions: where did these men come from? How did they make (or lose) money? What can we find out about their family life or their children? Consequently, her talk will be the beginning of an exploration, not the end.

Hopefully these snapshots of a few of the talks on offer has whetted your appetite and the full programme for the MCW24 weekend of 26th to 28th April, again as a means of raising funds for the Ian Coulson Postgraduate Award Fund, will be available very shortly on the Centre’s new website. This is an exciting development, so please keep these dates and watch this space.

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