Moving to mid-August and it remains a quiet time in the academic year before the ‘A’ level results appear and universities endeavour to attract even more students through ‘clearing’.
This week has finally seen my return to preparing an article on businesswomen in fifteenth-century Canterbury that I haven’t really had a chance to work on since late last year. So it has been a case first of trying to pick-up where I left off and rethink myself back into the subject. However having worked out the rolling five-year average for all the ‘intrantes’: those below the freemen who were permitted to reside and trade in the city and compared it to the number of businesswomen similarly living and working independently, it is interesting to note that in the 1480s, in particular, these numbers do not follow the same pattern and the figures for women pick up in this decade whereas the total figures are the lowest for the whole century. I’m still working out what this may mean in terms of how these businesswomen were viewed by the authorities, not least because this broadly coincides with the incidence in the city’s courts of those classed as a ‘femme sole’ (a married woman who was legally seen as responsible for her commercial activities). Demonstrating once again the importance of the city’s medieval records, and these are still held at Canterbury Cathedral Archives and Library.
As a medievalist, I’m very interested in memory, memorials and commemoration (as readers of this blog may have gathered from previous posts!), but even though there are in many ways major cultural differences between the Middle Ages and today, such ideas are still very important. Consequently, I’m going to tell you about two acts of commemoration that are significant from my perspective this week.
In some ways the summer academic conference season resembles the grouse season, even though the timings are not as precise, in part because the end of the summer term varies to a degree (excuse the pun!) university to university. However, from the end of June for about a month and then again in early September academics can be seen travelling across England and these days internationally to take part in such occasions. Some conferences are exceedingly broad thematically and even chronologically, a couple of years ago I attended one in Durham under the title ‘Coping with Crisis’ which was indeed very wide-ranging, albeit there was a very strong strand that explored banking and bankers. This was perhaps hardly surprising in terms of current issues, but for those interested in other topics was a bit limiting.
Hythe High Street – look for potential medieval buildings (steep roofs)
Image from: www.invectis.co.uk
This year I went north again, although only as far as Hull. Maybe not the first choice for my sole ‘beyond Canterbury’ conference for 2015, but I must admit the place has changed significantly since I was there over twenty years ago. Being the summer rather than early December helped too, and I was very pleasantly surprised as I wandered around the city centre and what remains of the docks on Sunday afternoon. The conference itself took place at Hull University, which again as you would expect has expanded vastly since the early 1990s, and was organised by three members of the history department under the heading ‘Women, Land and the Making of the British Landscape’. I met Amanda Capern, one of the organisers, a couple of years ago at Plymouth where we got talking about place and space, among other matters, relating these ideas to personal, family and communal identity, and it was great to see that she is now developing such notions with respect to female sensibility and the landscape in early modern England. As you might expect, several speakers explored the use of place and space, ranging from quasi-royal progresses made by Lady Anne Clifford, a great aristocrat of the North (Jessica Malay), to Essex women in summer gathering together in the fields to spin (Amanda Flather).
This latter communal activity is also in evidence in late-sixteenth-century Canterbury, according to a church court deposition, the deponent or witness stating that she and her neighbours had sat together outside their front doors in Ivy Lane to spin. Again it was summer, being about the middle of harvest time, and as industrious, hard-working women they had begun early in the morning. Of course one of the reasons for such details was to demonstrate to the authorities, as well as others involved in the case and more broadly in the community, that they were honest, reliable and upright members of the parish whose testimony could be trusted in what was a defamation issue. Consequently, provided such evidence is used carefully, from the historian’s viewpoint these cases not only offer ideas about working practices of those below the elite, but also how such practices were viewed and understood economically, socially and morally by contemporaries.
The conference programme worked chronologically and thus opened with the sole medieval session. Interestingly this also worked from south to north. Hence I kicked-off proceedings with an assessment of what I believe contemporaries saw as the strategic value of the location of three houses for religious women in medieval Canterbury. The positioning of these houses on boundaries was, I think, less a matter of separation, liminality and vulnerability, words often employed with regard to nunneries, but instead needs to be considered in terms of negotiation, exchange and reciprocity for any assessment of the role of such female communities in the medieval landscape. I have mentioned the case involving St Lawrence’s hospital and the ‘fight’ in 1436 in an earlier blog, so it is just worth noting that the hospital sisters at St James’ had suffered similarly in 1188. Indeed, at St James’ the attack involved the theft of an unknown number of cattle and sheep, presumably from the hospital’s home farm. This incident was part of the dispute between Archbishop Hubert Walter and the monastic community at Canterbury Cathedral over the archbishop’s desire to found a college at Hackington. Yet, as in so many disputes, other issues might become attached, and here territorial and jurisdictional matters in Wincheap were ripe for negotiation among the various parties: the prioress and her hospital sisters, the master at St James’, the archbishop, the prior at Christ Church and several prominent Canterbury citizens. If you would like to know more about this episode and other examples involving competing constituencies, see the collection of essays edited by two present members of the Centre, Paul and Louise: Paul Dalton, Charles Insley and Louise Wilkinson, Cathedrals, Communities and Conflict in the Anglo-Norman World (Woodbridge: Boydell, 2011).
Having arrived back in Canterbury on Tuesday night, I was able to attend a lecture given by Andy Mills yesterday evening at Hythe. Having lived all his life in the town, he has a great affection for the place and this has translated into an engagement with Hythe’s built environment. Also being a civil engineer by training he has a professional interest and considerable knowledge about buildings and their construction generally. I met him several years ago because of our shared interest in medieval Hythe and his talk last night was on the port’s medieval buildings. He touched on the church briefly but his chief concern was the timber-framed structures on either side of the High Street. As he said, in most cases the ground floor spaces of these houses and shops have been altered so many times that there is almost nothing medieval left in terms of determining what they may have looked like. However by looking up – to first floor and the roof – it is possible, at least in some cases, to get an idea of their form, their size, their age, whether they were jettied and on which sides, which the low/high end, whether they were end-on to the street frontage, and the quality of the building work. Being well-known locally, Andy (often with Andy Linklater and Rupert Austin of Canterbury Archaeological Trust) has managed to explore inside almost all of the likely buildings in the High Street and surrounding streets, but as he said there may be others hidden behind later facades, or surviving only as a few fragments in a later structure.
His illustrated lecture was full of interesting structural details from the various buildings, including moulded beams, decorated crown posts of different sizes, and fire-blackened timbers from once open hearths. Yet perhaps one of the best discoveries he has made is the few panes of a leaded light containing probably sixteenth-century very thin glass that survives because by chance it has been protected by an adjoining outer wall. His audience was, therefore, treated to a fascinating lecture about an under-researched gem of a medieval town. To be able to bring together the buildings and people who lived there in the fifteenth century still remains my aim, and hopefully I’ll be able to get back to work on the Hythe documentary records later this summer. However in the mean time I shall get on editing the final volume of the Kent History Project: Early Medieval Kent, 800–1220, which needs my attention, not least for Ian Coulson’s sake as the long-suffering series editor.
Having highlighted Leonie Seliger’s wonderful talk about the Ancestors stained glass windows last week, I thought today I would focus on another of the cathedral’s experts. I first met Heather Newton, who heads the masonry department at Canterbury, when I was organising a study day at Hythe parish church as a joint initiative between the Kent Archaeological Society’s churches committee, the churchwardens at St Leonard’s, Hythe, and Canterbury Cathedral. This study day looked at how the parishioners in the Middle Ages would have experienced their church – the services, the spaces, the places they would have come to for those rites of passage from cradle to grave, as well as for the town court and civic elections – through a series of lectures and workshops. Heather led one of these sessions, where she explained and demonstrated how the masons would have worked, the tools they would have used and what types of designs they would have implemented. Everyone enjoyed her exceedingly informative session, and, like Leonie, it was obvious just how good a communicator she is – making the complex appear simple.
From the Angel Frieze – the light coloured stone on the angel’s right-hand wing is original Caen stone
Consequently when Heather offered me the opportunity to have a guided tour of Christ Church gate I leapt at the chance to be shown around by such an expert. It is only the start of the Dean & Chapter’s Heritage Lottery-funded project on the gate so there will be scaffolding around the structure off and on for several years to come. At this stage it is more deciding what should be done and this can only be achieved once the gate structure has been surveyed in detail. In addition to Heather and her team, Rupert Austin and Peter Seary from Canterbury Archaeological Trust have been heavily involved in these early stages and this collaborative approach is vital to achieve the best result. Moreover, as the year-long documentary on Canterbury Cathedral demonstrated, the need to enhance the relationship between cathedral and city is vital if both parties are truly going to make the most of being part of Canterbury. Hopefully this will extend to the universities, and especially this Centre at Christ Church, which is physically only just outside the walls and includes staff members who see the precincts and Cathedral Archives and Library as a second home.
To return to the gate, a physical and symbolic interface between city and cathedral now as it was 500 years ago when it was first constructed on its present site. This magnificent structure was built in the early Tudor period and perhaps completed by 1520, the year of St Thomas of Canterbury’s final Jubilee, albeit that would not have been known by those attending the celebrations. Over the centuries it continued to function as a border between these two authorities: secular and clerical and, depending on relations between them, might be a more or less permeable boundary. In Elizabethan Canterbury, for example, the city made its way into the precincts as several of the citizens ran shops and workshops there, shopkeepers and customers not only discussing matters of commerce but also their responses to the religious changes. We know about such conversations from the church court depositions, and there is a particularly interesting case that involves a very heated discussion about plays and playing in Canterbury and New Romney, and a friar’s coat.
The gate also witnessed conflict between cathedral and city in Elizabeth’s reign (1561), but it is the mid-17th strife that led to changes to the gate itself when a group of Parliamentary soldiers used the statue of Christ in the great central niche for target practice (the statue was thereafter removed on the mayor’s orders). This occasion, in August 1642, was the final part of the soldiers’ iconoclastic activities at the cathedral that day, thereby pitting them against those who saw themselves as supporters of Archbishop Laud. From the available evidence, Peter Seary is not sure whether the wooden gates had already been removed. However, all of this destruction was part and parcel of the war between Royalists and Parliamentarians, the conflict at the gate (and in Canterbury) mirroring national conditions, and culminating in the Christmas riots of 1647.
Thus in the 1650s the empty space where the wooden gates had been did not denote harmony between those inside and outside the precincts; and it seems likely that for many contemporaries this denoted penetration of the cathedral (Church) rather than a welcome opening up of the cathedral to the city. For the Restoration cathedral community, putting back the wooden gates was a high priority and the current oak gates date from 1661. These are splendid baroque pieces and have recently been restored to their former glory. So if you have never really looked at them, I would suggest you take the opportunity, not least because the iconography and heraldry are fascinating.
This brings me back to the gate and to finish I just want to mention a couple of items Heather told me as we clambered down from the parapet to the various levels of scaffolding as she showed me, amongst other things, what is still original Caen stone, what is Portland-stone repairs and further repairs in Doulting stone, as well as W.D. Caroe’s careful repair work in plastic stone and Clipsham. Comparing the different types of stone was fascinating, from the Portland: coarse and extremely hard-wearing, but useless for detailed carving (turrets and parapet) to the Caen: now fragmentary and crumbling, but still showing delicate details, as in the small section of angel’s wing above. Also interesting was the paintwork, of which there are tiny original traces, as well as Caroe’s sometimes somewhat imaginative inventions. Consequently, I had a very happy hour or so with a true expert and I am now really looking forward to what the team decide should be the correct course of action: that is how much do you restore, what time period to you privilege, do you want to see the gate in as close to its original form as possible or as a continuous work in progress? And finally, hopefully participants at the ‘Medieval Canterbury Weekend’ next April will have the opportunity to view Christ Church gate, alongside some of the city’s other iconic buildings. The publicity and booking systems are now almost complete and I’m hoping to be able to provide the appropriate web addresses and links in early July.