Keeping with the maritime theme, at least for part of this blog, I thought I would report on a presentation I went to last Saturday at the Beaney in Canterbury. This was the second in a series of lectures and other events organised by the Kent History and Library Centre at Maidstone under the title ‘Life along the Kent Coast’ that works with an exhibition at Maidstone called ‘Bawleys, Barbels and Owlers’.
Wednesday saw two events linked to History at Canterbury Christ Church. The first was the presentation of the John and Peggy Hayes Canterbury Award to Paul Bennett as Director of Canterbury Archaeological Trust. The Lord Mayor, Councillor George Metcalfe, presented the award to the Trust in recognition of the several publications recently completed on such large sites as Canterbury Whitefriars and the outer precincts of St Augustine’s Abbey (now largely covered by the main campus of Christ Church). Among the committee responsible for the Award is Professor Jackie Eales and it was thus appropriate that the presentation took place at the University’s Sidney Cooper Centre. Professor Louise Wilkinson joined Jackie Eales, and other members of the School of Humanities, as well as a number of Trustees from Canterbury Archaeological Trust at the presentation. The audience heard the Lord Mayor congratulate Paul on the continuing work of the Trust in the face of increasing difficulties regarding planning matters and other issues. Paul responded in kind and thanked both the Award’s committee and Councillor Metcalfe. He recalled the activities of John and Peggy Hayes in the field of Canterbury history, and the direct help they had given to the Trust over many decades. Paul also mentioned that 2016 had been very successful, not least the ‘40-year history of the Trust’ exhibition held in the Beaney about six months ago which had brought in several thousand visitors.
The Lord Mayor, Paul Bennett and Richard Eales in discussion
The second event on Wednesday was Dr Leonie Hicks’ lecture on ‘Reading and Writing the Battle of Hastings, 1066’. As Christ Church’s contribution to the 950th commemoration of a battle that arguably changed the course of national and international history, it was fitting that Dr Keith McLay, the Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Humanities, chaired the lecture. Students joined staff members from the Faculty in the lecture theatre in Old Sessions House, and the audience was considerably enlarged by the presence of members from several local organisations, such as the Friends of Canterbury Archaeological Trust, Canterbury Historical and Archaeological Society, the Historical Association and the University of Kent’s Centre for Medieval and Early Modern Studies.
Leonie explored a considerable number of almost contemporary and relatively near contemporary sources, including the poem Carmen de Hastingae Proelio, and narratives of the period and people produced by William of Poitiers, William of Jumieges, and monastic writers such as Eadmer and Orderic Vitalis. As she was keen to point out, there are analytical issues regarding all the sources. Yet some are more problematic than others are in terms of the story told, the level of detail given, and the viewpoint of the narrator. Moreover, when looking at the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle a further consideration has to be its place of production because William’s treatment of the north not surprisingly influenced how chronicles viewed these invaders. Leonie did not confine her analysis to the written word, but also discussed the Bayeux Tapestry. She noted that like Eadmer’s History, this should be seen as a ‘local’ source because Odo Bishop of Bayeux probably commissioned its creation at St Augustine’s Abbey under Abbot Scolland. This makes it especially interesting because she posed the question ‘did the makers have any agency in its design’ at a time when there must have been considerable tension between Anglo-Saxon and Norman in the monastery, as in society more generally. Such topics engaged the attention of the audience and Leonie took a large number of questions after her lecture.
Another lecture that drew questions from the audience was Dr Conrad Leyser’s lecture on ‘The Cult of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the History of the Family’ in The Schoolroom of the King’s School on Tuesday evening. Conrad took questions on his analysis of the development of Marian piety during late antiquity and the subsequent Carolingian era, in particular. Several of his questioners were students at King’s, and it was interesting to hear the various viewpoints raised.
A considerable number of students from Canterbury Christ Church were at the Friends of Canterbury Archaeological Trust lecture last night. As a result, the lecture theatre in Newton was almost full to hear Peter Clark, Deputy Director of CAT, give a fascinating talk on ‘The Swordsmiths of Holborough: the manufacture, use and disposal of late Bronze Age weaponry’. His assessment of the way bronze swords were made using clay moulds was eye-opening and demonstrated his very careful analysis of all the various processes, as well as opening up a wide range of questions about the availability of raw materials, logistical matters, and the status of smiths and other skilled workers from this period. However, from a personal perspective it was the cultural questions that he posed that reminded me of Everyday Objects, edited by T. Hamling and C. Richardson, and the paradox of an apparently ‘everyday object’ that through its particular use becomes ‘symbolically changed’ or ‘singular’, but that its everydayness is paramount for this process to work. Thus, thematically this was indeed thought provoking for a medievalist who knew nothing of Bronze Age sword making an hour earlier.
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.
To keep up the momentum, I thought I would add a second post this week as a way of getting up-to-date. Moreover, having attended the Chaucer Lecture at the University of Kent last night, it reminded me of the ‘Books and Manuscripts’ strand at the Medieval Canterbury Weekend. For not only had Weekend participants witnessed two amazing lectures on Anglo-Saxon manuscripts by first Richard Gameson and then Michelle Brown late Saturday morning, but others had had the benefit of seeing copies of some of the earliest printed books in England from the late 15th century – a rare treat. These Canterbury Cathedral Library tours had been led by Karen Brayshaw, the librarian, who was able to discuss with participants matters regarding where, by whom and how these books had been printed. She had also been able to indicate how such books would have been part of the book culture circulating in London and cities such as Canterbury in the later Middle Ages, and how readers of such books as Dives and Pauper, and The Golden Legend were just the type of men (and women) who would have enjoyed Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, alongside more ‘worthy’ texts. As books in English rather than Latin, they were also prime examples of the reading matter discussed by Peter Brown during his talk last Sunday morning in the Kentish Barn. Again an appreciative audience was treated to a detailed (within the confines of a 50-minute lecture) assessment of what people wanted to read, as well as what people wanted to write. For the audience was/is crucial, especially when books were being produced for an increasingly discerning readership who wanted romances as well as ‘improving’ literature.
Another busy week at Canterbury Christ Church because on Wednesday Dr Michael (Mike) Bintley gave a paper to the staff and postgraduates in Humanities in St Martin’s Priory and then on Thursday Professor Louise Wilkinson was ‘up the hill’ at Kent giving a paper to the Medieval and Early Modern Studies group of postgraduates and staff members on the daughters of Edward I. I also spotted among the Christ Church tweets that the Folkestone People’s History Centre, which involves Dr Lesley Hardy of Christ Church and Dr Andrew Richardson of Canterbury Archaeological Trust, had recently held a couple of events: a lecture by Andrew on the period after the Romans left when various Germanic and other groups arrived in Kent (and England), and a family activities day last Saturday, including activities reflecting this same transitional era.
This week has seen more activity regarding publicity and arrangements for the Medieval Canterbury Weekend. In addition Dr Martin Watts has been finalising details for the one-day conference on ‘Richborough through the Ages’ and we will be start promoting the conference very shortly. However, having reported on both of these last week, I am going instead to turn my attention to the Canterbury Historical and Archaeological Society’s February lecture that was given by Dr Andrew Richardson of Canterbury Archaeological Trust. Andrew Richardson is an expert on Anglo-Saxon material culture and is one of the contributors to Early Medieval Kent, 800–1220, but his topic on Wednesday evening at Canterbury Christ Church was ‘Vessels of the dead: funerary archaeology in Canterbury and District, 2012–15’. He used a series of case studies to discuss the problems and value of the work of metal detectorists over the last few years in east Kent.
Having had a meeting today with Drs Martin Watts and John Bulaitis regarding the feasibility of putting on a one-day conference on the development of Richborough, especially its role as a gateway both into and out of Kent, and England, to/from continental Europe, I thought I would pass on the news to readers. Martin and John’s primary interest in the place rests on its 20th-century history, and both are keen to provide lectures from their recent research findings. As a consequence it is envisaged at this planning stage that the talks in the afternoon will feature episodes from the port’s Great War and subsequent history, while the morning will focus on its Roman, Anglo-Saxon and medieval past. In addition to lectures from staff at Canterbury Christ Church, the intention is to involve experts from east Kent, particularly field archaeologists from the region who have first-hand knowledge of the area. More on this anon as things develop, but a provisional date for this conference is late May or early June in 2016.