Now that we are well into January it is time to move on to the next part of the preparations for the Medieval Canterbury Weekend 2018 on 6–8 April. Speakers have been invited to send details of the books they would like Craig at the Canterbury Christ Church University bookshop to have at the book stall, and several people including Dr Janina Ramirez and Dr Helen Castor have responded already. If you have not heard about the Weekend, please check it out at www.canterbury.ac.uk/medieval-canterbury
In 2018, we will be heading back to the Middle Ages for our Medieval Canterbury Weekend from the 6 to 8 April. Regarding the lectures and tours, we will start on the Friday evening as usual with a lecture by a leading expert in his/her field.
Before I give a brief report on Professor Paul Bennett’s fascinating ‘Part Two’ of his inaugural professorial lecture, I thought I would mention a few events the Centre is running in early 2018 and also the ‘Picture this …’ Advent entry for today: www.canterbury-cathedral.org/heritage/archives/picture-this/summer-blooms-a-wonderful-transformation/ and what could be better than flowers in summer?
Next week will bring the first Chatham Historic Dockyard conference at which Dr Martin Watts (CCCU lecturer and member of the Centre) will be speaking on ‘Chatham Dockyard at the heart of industry and sea power’, and I’ll hope to have some information about this event from Martin after next Friday.
This week has brought the start of the academic year, I hope the final touches to the Medieval Canterbury Weekend 2018 webpages so that they can go live next week and the Nightingale Lecture. This year was the sixth and the third to be held jointly by the Centre and the Agricultural Museum, Brook at Canterbury Christ Church.
Due to it being half-term last week, I took the opportunity to visit the Canterbury Heritage Museum because now it is shut again for another month until the Easter holidays. Consequently, several of the photos this week are of the museum and link in some way to the twin themes I want to mention this week: travelling and communities.
I thought this week I would provide photos from two events that I attended over the last three days because they involved several people – staff and students – from Canterbury Christ Church. However before I get to that I thought I would share with you other matters, and the prospect of an exciting event next Saturday. It is now just six days before the ‘Richborough Through the Ages’ conference and Dr Martin Watts and I will be sorting out the final details early next week. Numbers have greatly exceeded expectations and it will be great to welcome a hundred or so participants what to looks like a very exciting programme exploring Richborough down the centuries, including its very important role during the Great War. In addition, I would just like to point out that Early Medieval Kent 800–1220 was published by Boydell yesterday – a major milestone in terms of the Kent History Project (primarily funded by Kent County Council) that is now complete. As I have mentioned before, there will be a one-day conference to mark this publication on Saturday 10 September at Canterbury Christ Church. Details of this event will follow shortly. Among the contributors to this volume is Dr Diane Heath, who has taught on the History undergraduate programme at Christ Church over the last few years, and this publication marks Diane’s second article this week. On Thursday she received notification that her essay on Burnellus, a rather special ass in terms of medieval beast literature, has been published in the South Atlantic Review. This is an excellent achievement.
This week I thought I would report on a variety of matters linked to the Centre. In terms of the chronology of the events, I’ll start with that relating to the modern era and work backwards. Consequently it gives me great pleasure to draw your attention to a new booklet by Dr Martin Watts about the St Gregory’s Great War Memorial and those commemorated. As you may remember, Martin gave a lecture on the war memorial last November in Canterbury Christ Church’s St Gregory’s Centre where the memorial is housed. Subsequently he has been engaging in further research on the men (and woman) whose names appear there. He drew on some of his findings for the ‘Great War and its Aftermath’ study day in May and now he has brought his research together in the booklet. At the moment I am not sure where they will be available, but if you are interested it would be worth contacting the History and Archaeology section of the School of Humanities.
Another angel – a misericord currently in the chapel at Eastbridge
I thought I would just give you a flavour of Martin’s research by summarising a couple of topics he includes in the booklet. For those of you who know Canterbury, you will be well aware that the eastern suburbs could be characterised as the military sector, at least until relatively recently. This was because from the time of the Napoleonic wars it was home to units of infantry, cavalry and artillery, and, as well as these regular regiments, there was a depot for the militia. Such an influx of military personnel and their dependents necessitated extra parochial provision, leading to the building of first St Alban’s church in Military Road (today rededicated as All Saints’ church) and then, in 1852, St Gregory’s church.
From its inception, St Gregory’s was a very small, poor parish and this is mirrored in the experiences of almost half of the 144 names on the memorial, because the fallen of St Gregory’s came from families which depended on unskilled, casual and domestic employment. Today’s concept of ‘a living wage’ was not a political issue in anything like the same way, rather the workhouse was the final resort for the poor, often for short periods when things became totally hopeless. Thus for some St Gregory’s families, not only had times been hard before 1914, but the loss of son(s), fathers, and brothers thereafter in the Great War heaped even further hardship, as well, of course, the anguish of the deaths of family members. For example, several parents lost two sons, as was the case for Albert and Mary Powell of Spring Lane, who first lost their unmarried son Frederick in 1916, and then his married brother Bertie two years later. Thus in addition to the grieving parents, Bertie’s widow Rose was left in Broadoak to try to come to terms with his death.
I will leave the rest of Martin’s findings for those who are particularly interested in this aspect of Canterbury’s history to read for themselves. However, it is worth mentioning that Martin would be delighted to hear from anyone else who knows relatives who are commemorated on the memorial, or any other details regarding its creation or, indeed, anything else linked to this particular Great War memorial.
Turning to my second topic, I have just heard that one of the active local history and archaeological societies in Canterbury has decided to award small grants to two projects that should enhance our knowledge of the city and cathedral. One of these grants will help to fund the cost of undertaking on-site analysis of the Ancestors’ stained glass currently in the Cathedral Chapter House using a method known as Portable X-ray Fluorescence (pXRF). The successful doctoral applicant from York has used this technique to good effect at York Minster. She has been able to gain ideas about the organisation of medieval glass-painting at the York workshop, including identifying the work of different painters in addition to different sources of glass. Leonie Seliger from Canterbury Cathedral (see previous blog) is very excited about such work because not only may it reveal ideas about the technical aspects of the work of Canterbury glass painters in the 12th and 13th centuries, but may also provide answers for conservators regarding issues surrounding different rates of decay and other conservation problems.
The second successful applicant is a Christ Church postgraduate from History who is working on the post-Reformation history of Eastbridge Hospital. Again, for those of you who know Canterbury this is an iconic building in the High Street that began its life as a refuge for poor and sick pilgrims on their way to St Thomas’ shrine. Arguably it might be said that the most fortunate pilgrims were those who died at the hospital because they would expect to be buried in the cathedral’s lay cemetery, probably having a wax candle made from the great Dover (rope) candle that sat on its reel next to the saint’s shrine, a piece having been cut off for the purpose. As a result they were ‘close’ to one of medieval Christendom’s premier saints, as well as to the high altar in Christ Church, such physical proximity highly valued especially for those who would have had no other chance to achieve this outcome.
Yet after 1538 this relationship between hospital and recipients was destroyed, along with the shrine and the other aspects of medieval pilgrimage, requiring the hospital authorities to find an alternative function if it was to survive. Like its fellow archiepiscopal foundations, St John’s and St Nicholas’ hospitals, this required readjustment, and of the three Eastbridge’s position was by far the most precarious. Even though some research, including the late Canon Ingram-Hill’s published study of Canterbury’s ancient hospitals and almshouses, has been done on this period of Eastbridge’s history, there is further scope, especially in the context of changing attitudes to charitable provision and the poor in late Tudor and Stuart society. At the moment this is a ‘fashionable’ topic in social history not least because of its current resonances, and local and regional studies of this nature can provide important findings that indicate both the norm and the particularity of local circumstances. Professor Louise Wilkinson is overseeing his Masters thesis which he is intending to extend as a published article. This is not the only Canterbury topic on which Christ Church postgraduates are working, and another Masters will be on women’s lives in the High Middle Ages, a topic close to Louise’s own specialism (in addition to Magna Carta).
My final piece of good news, at least from my perspective, it that Keith Parfitt of Canterbury Archaeological Trust has begun an archaeological excavation with his team in Dover. The site is near that of the Townwall Street excavation over a decade ago which provided important discoveries regarding the post-Conquest fishing community among other matters. I’m hoping for an equally fruitful investigation, and hopefully the opportunity after the excavation to go ‘digging in the archives’ again to find out more about the people who lived and worked there in the Middle Ages.
This week I am going to use the blog spot to give you Rob Gainey’s response to the recent ‘New Directions in Kent History’ conference because as a current Christ Church postgraduate working on a Kent topic he can, like his fellow postgraduates, be seen as one of Joan Thirsk’s academic great-grandchildren. Rob is researching the history of Eastbridge Hospital in early modern Canterbury and if you look very carefully at the photo above you will catch a glimpse of the hospital. So over to Rob:
Postgraduate view on the health of history from below in and on Kent – Thirsk conference
The history of Kent is a long and deep story – a microcosm per se of England’s. This was the message that seems to have come through strongest at the conference honouring and continuing the work of the late Joan Thirsk. The speakers that addressed the academic community there present shared knowledge of historical research that had been either understudied or was only just beginning in its discovery.
Another view from Bell Harry
For those of you who know Canterbury, Eastbridge Hospital is almost at the centre of this photo
The curiosity and investment of the historians towards Kent is indisputably evident. The county’s motto is Invicta, unconquerable, and it is clear that this spirit of determination once held by the citizens of the county a millennium ago has emerged itself once more in establishing Kent’s background and development. Few stones have remained unturned, whilst there was excitement of areas of study that have not yet truly been touched upon but the mere essence addressed in preparation to be taken further. With confidence, it can be claimed that Thirsk would be both enthused and pleased by the development of study that has since taken place.
The diversity, both in range and time period, has helped reveal how rich Kent is in what it has to tell. As a postgraduate, this encourages the idea that there can be the ability to later continue such work and be a part of what is very clearly a lively academic setting. The thing that is so clearly wonderful about history from below is that it is not restrained. In many ways this has allowed the capability to uncover areas that would otherwise not have been so well studied. Through this, it continues to paint a broader representation of Kentish history.
From tithing to deer parks, we were able to see the valuable role that the county has played and continues to play in this country. The importance of it in a religious setting, so often known due to the central prominence of the city of Canterbury, was in some ways overshadowed by its political significance and architectural beauty. Through this, it has allowed a new breath of life to come into this area of study as it has lifted restrictions that felt as if they were formerly present.
Certainly, to those of us in attendance who are advancing in academia, it gave us the drive and interest to further pursue Kent. Often it feels as though most of the history has already been written or uncovered, yet this conference revealed to us just how rich the life of the history of this county is. The times when the speaker would state that ‘this needs further study’ or ‘there is much more to research into on this topic’, has invigorated this postgraduate community to be eager to continue through with the work that has only just started.
The history of Kent, then, is fascinating and anyone in attendance would be unable to dispute this statement. What is more fascinating however, is the focus and drive to continue to fill in the pieces of the jigsaw that is this historical story.
It is always encouraging for anyone in an academic setting to see people passionate about what they are researching into. Fortunately this is what was witnessed at this conference. Questions were asked not just to be said but in a genuine curiosity to further understand the whole picture. History from below in Kent is exciting because those who study it are excited about it – and this was only too apparent.
Thus there is no fear that the study of history within Kent is suffering. It is evident that there is a clear wish to pursue what has not been pursued and discover the so far undiscovered. Kent holds stories and importance that people are only too keen to learn about. The significance of this conference is that it helped to show just how much academics and those merely interested in history, wished to spread the picture of this county. Furthermore, from what was being spoken, it is clear that there should be no fear for the history on Kent as there is so much left to be studied, and much historiography to be discussed. As a postgraduate, this is incredibly important as it encourages the later study of a county that has become personally significant, of which there will be invested interest – a reflection as to why those speaking on it were equally so passionate. History from below on and in Kent is therefore something that is contributing encouragingly to the national picture. The whole conference exceeded expectation, and revealed that those speaking on Kent and the history of the county have a future that is rich, diverse, and living.