Yesterday marked a watershed in History at Canterbury Christ Church, as well as in the Centre, because Dr Stephen Hipkin finished teaching at CCCU having opted for early retirement.
Yesterday marked a watershed in History at Canterbury Christ Church, as well as in the Centre, because Dr Stephen Hipkin finished teaching at CCCU having opted for early retirement.
About this time last year I was musing about Archbishop Sudbury and the subject of commemoration, a fitting topic for the last week in December. This year I’m going to start with another murdered archbishop because today, of course, is the anniversary of Thomas Becket’s martyrdom in his own cathedral in 1170. Although I did not attend Evensong this evening when those events will have been remembered through an embellishment to the service that involves the archbishop leading the congregation to the Martyrdom, while the lay clerks continue Vespers in the quire. The events at the Martyrdom having been retold to the lay onlookers, the archbishop takes the congregation down to the crypt, where Thomas’ mangled body was similarly taken, the choir, as the monks, joining the assembled masses in the crypt for the remainder of the service. Much of this movement is undertaken by candlelight, greatly enhancing the atmosphere of this most evocative of services.
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.
I decided to wait until today because the Centre’s programme of (joint) events hit a real high this week with first Professor Louise Wilkinson’s lecture on Wednesday (with Friends of Canterbury Archaeological Trust [FCAT]), where she discussed the importance of Magna Carta for women’s rights, and then yesterday the ‘New Developments in Kent History since Joan Thirsk’ conference (with Kent Archaeological Society [KAS] and the Historical Association [HA]), also held at Christ Church. Such events are valuable for several reasons, but in particular they do allow the Centre to extend ideas of ‘outreach’ both in terms of the composition of the audience and the involvement of other organisations, which have strong and long-standing interests in the history and archaeology of Kent. I will come to these two history events in a minute, but first I will draw your attention to a further event this coming Tuesday 31 March. In this case it involves the archaeological arm of the Centre. Dr Paul Bennett will be the guest lecturer at the AGM of the Folkestone People’s History Centre, to be held at the Woodward Hall (The Bayle, Folkestone) 7.30pm for 8.00pm, where he will be speaking about the Conservation, Science and Investigation (CSI) of an Anglo-Saxon cemetery at Sittingbourne. If you are/live in the area please do go along because Dr Bennett is an excellent communicator and his passion for archaeology is boundless and infectious.
The stair tower at Eastgate House, Rochester
At its summit is an observation platform – the watchers and the watched, but who is who?
To return to last week’s events, Professor Wilkinson’s masterly analysis of the clauses in Magna Carta that affected the legal position of women was given to a packed audience which was fascinated to learn that widows after 1215, for example, were guaranteed access to property to which they were entitled as well as ‘freebench’ of forty days in the principal marital home, as long as it was not a castle. Another clause of special value to widows was that they could not thereafter be remarried if they wished otherwise. Of course to a modern audience these and other clauses involving the rights of free women seem somewhat strange but for contemporaries, particularly the women themselves and their knightly, baronial and noble relatives, these were a major victory in their struggle again King John and his use (or abuse) of the royal prerogative. In addition to providing some fascinating examples where particular women had either suffered prior to 1215 or had been able to take advantage of these rights thereafter, Professor Wilkinson also looked in some detail at other clauses that might be said to affect these higher status women indirectly. These include those relating to the selling of wardships and the marriages of orphans, something that John had been exploiting ruthlessly in his drive to fund his attempt to regain the territories he had lost in France. As well as drawing on examples from a wide range of aristocratic families, Professor Wilkinson also provided cases concerning women from Canterbury and Dover, thereby linking the local to the national.
This connecting of local and national was similarly in evidence yesterday. As several speakers recorded, Joan Thirsk had either been a direct influence or they had benefitted from those who themselves had gained from her insights respecting the role of the provinces in the development of early modern English society. Moreover, there were a couple of themes that became increasing evident, thereby providing fascinating threads that ran throughout the day from Duncan Harrington’s assessment of the role of education in Faversham to Dr Andy Kesson’s analysis of Kentish playwrights in the early history of the commercial stage. These, I would contend, were the idea of ‘negotiating the political’ and the role of networks in the lives of those below the aristocracy – a celebration of ‘history from below’ that has been in evidence at all three Kent universities (Canterbury Christ Church, Greenwich and Kent) for at least two decades. And as one might expect such negotiations were not always undertaken in a spirit of co-operation, for conflict has been equally important in the shaping of early modern society. Thus Joan Thirsk’s ‘lost conversations’ might just as easily have taken place among the Earl of Dorset’s tenants before their assault on his deer park at Knole in the early seventeenth century, as described by Dr Susan Pittman, as between those setting out the tithe sheaves in such a way that the tithe farmer’s corn was inferior to that collected by the tenant. Dr Paula Simpson’s investigation of such low-level resistance through sixteenth-century disputes over tithe also drew attention to regional clustering, and the people of the Weald were also the subject of Dr Lorraine Flisher’s paper. She highlighted the role of radical religious ideas in the lives of a group of entrepreneurial clothiers, and among other topics she underlined how both horizontal and vertical familial, communal and occupational networks were significant for this cohort, especially in the period before and during the Civil War.
Similar ideas were equally in evidence on the other side of the county. Keeping with the inter-relationship between economy and politics, Dr Sandra Dunster pointed out how during the reigns of the later Stuart monarchs the Chatham market was the focus for differing constituencies in their ‘fight’ to supply the neighbouring royal dockyard. From a slightly earlier period, I looked at Sir Peter Buck’s Eastgate House in Rochester, an example of such negotiation in brick and stone where to see and be seen were deployed as markers of status and of commonwealth. Dr Claire Bartram, too, highlighted the value of material culture as an analytical tool through her assessment of the place of agricultural texts in these ‘lost conversations’. Consequently, it was a lovely linking of twenty-first and sixteenth century when one of her examples was a reference to Barnabe Googe’s finding of a particularly wholesome herb in Lord Sackville’s deer park, for unlike the deer poachers that Dr Pittman had just described, Mr Googe was there by invitation, and his ‘conversation’ through his comments in the pages of his translation of Heresbach’s ‘Four Books of Husbandarie’ underlined the placing of Kent as a county of consequence – its peoples from William Lambard’s governors AND the governed actively engaged in the shaping of their society through their ‘negotiating of the political’.
By and large I’m going to stick to the early modern theme this week, not least because I attended an exceedingly interesting lecture on Wednesday by Dr Catherine Richardson (University of Kent). Like the Centre here, the Centre of Medieval and Early Modern Studies at Kent holds joint lectures and conferences with different organisations and the one on Wednesday was with Friends of Canterbury Archaeological Trust (FCAT). Next month Professor Louise Wilkinson will be delivering a similar joint lecture at Christ Church between FCAT and the Centre for Research in Kent History and Archaeology on ‘Women in the Age of Magna Carta’. But to return to Wednesday’s talk, as Dr Richardson explained, her paper was part of a wider project into the significance of material culture in everyday domestic life for the ‘middling sort’ in early modern society. This is a joint project with Dr Tara Hamling at the University of Birmingham, and follows on from their earlier collaboration regarding a study of ‘everyday objects’ which resulted in a major essay collection. Their new book should be coming out in 2016 under the title: A Day at Home in Early Modern England: The Materiality of Domestic Life, 1500–1700.
A native American as depicted on an early 17th-century house in Canterbury
On Wednesday Dr Richardson concentrated on issues concerning meals – how and where they were prepared, matters regarding sourcing the ingredients, the role of the mistress of the house, and how and where meals would have been eaten, in both households of the yeomanry and their urban counterparts. As she noted, the kitchen is actually one of the most difficult rooms to investigate in terms of structural features because relatively few examples survive which have not undergone major modification over the last few centuries. And yet the early modern period is an exceedingly important time in the development of the kitchen, not least because of the move from detached to integrated kitchens, the introduction and role of the chimney, changing eating habits including the introduction of exotic foods and the greater consumption of vegetables, and the greater availability of printed instruction manuals on housekeeping that contained numerous recipes.
Drawing on examples from Kent and the Thames valley, she outlined how a wide range of documentary sources can be used fruitfully when studied in conjunction with artefacts, especially when these findings can be tested by exploring reconstructed buildings and experimental archaeology, as happens at the Weald and Downland Museum at Singleton near Chichester. For those who do not know this Museum, it is a fantastic place, as well as a safe haven for numerous medieval and early modern buildings that otherwise would have been lost forever. But I digress, Dr Richardson discussed the various utensils that would have been in the kitchen and in storage areas such as the buttery, to demonstrate how much space would have been needed by yeomen farmers, the sort of people who would have lived at Bayleaf Farm, one of the Museum’s iconic buildings, to preserve and store grain, fruit, meat and dairy products produced on the farm, as well as items purchased at shops, markets or ordered and brought in by pedlars and other dealers who had London and other ‘big’ city connections. This potential for bountiful storage may have been especially important in the difficult years of the 1590s and the early decades of the 17th century, a time when England remained harvest sensitive and when dearth could still lead to death from starvation and associated diseases. Consequently for the yeoman who could provide for his household – family and servants – at such times, the satisfaction of having sufficient stores to sustain them through the winter must have been considerable. Moreover, the ability to offer special or unusual dishes at significant events in the household’s lifetime, for example baptism, the churching of mothers or funerals, was an important aspect of its status and honour, for it provided tangible evidence of the master, and mistress’ place in the community, their role within the commonweal that was paramount in early modern society.
Some of these aspects will be explored again and in other ways on Saturday 28 March at the ‘New Directions in Kent History’ conference. Consequently it was excellent to hear Dr Richardson’s views on the allegorical link between wives and glassware, as it was expounded by Robert Cleaver in 1598, because this opened up a number of debates on gender issues as well as ideas about the value and availability of glass vessels. Although not expressed in the same terms in early twentieth-century Kent, society’s views on wives and their role and place were similarly complex and mutable, at least to a degree during and after the Great War. Ideas on how the sexes were seen, and the differing but sometimes complementary at other times contradictory roles they undertook in the home, at work and at leisure, will be among the areas examined at the one-day workshop in May. In addition, such ideas will be extended to investigate children and their experiences, an area of research that Dr David Budgen has explored extensively, his colleague Dr Martin Watts providing the analysis on adults during the Great War and subsequent decade. The third element of the day will be a consideration of the role of memorialization by Drs Andrew Palmer and Sally Minogue, using amongst other examples materials from Folkestone, a town with which the Centre is building important links through the ongoing work and commitment of Dr Lesley Hardy and members of the Folkestone People’s History Centre. Dr Hardy is engaged in several projects in the town, including work on ‘Finding Eanswythe’, an education project that has secured a KCC Community Grant to fund school workshops. Such collaboration between academia, and communities and special interest groups would seem to be a vital ingredient in the desire for a greater understanding of our predecessors’ history in the county, and also more broadly, for diversity is as important as similarity and change needs its corollary continuity.
I think I will start with Professor Peter Brown’s lecture from last night when he gave a masterful account of Canterbury’s literary history between 1340 and 1420, a period that witnessed Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, of course, but also much more. Among the works alluded to were Michael of Northgate’s Ayenbite of Inwit (1340), a translation into Kentish dialect of a French treatise on how to avoid sin and cultivate virtue that was aimed at lay people. Whether he was the translator or was copying it, perhaps even for those he knew in the parish of St Mary Northgate, close to his home at St Augustine’s Abbey, remains a moot point, but does indicate a desire to inform and educate his kinsfolk and former neighbours.
One of the misericords at Eastbridge Hospital, Canterbury (ex Holy Cross church)
Apparently depicting a watermill, the archbishop’s Westgate mill perhaps, it demonstrates among other things the value and complexity of the visual – issues of patronage, jurisdiction and benevolence
Another monk at the abbey, William Thorne was even busier later in the century and his chronicle provides, amongst other things, a report of the activities of the 1381 rebels in the city. Jean Froissart’s account of his visit to Becket’s shrine in 1395 in his Chroniques, although certainly not as violent, does highlight his unease in that after an absence from England for several decades he finds much has changed and he feels a stranger. Such feelings might have worried the Cathedral monks because they wished to attract pilgrims not alienate them, and in the run-up to the 1420 Jubilee of St Thomas they apparently employed considerable resources to be as welcoming as possible. Again the written word was the chosen tool and in the Prologue to The Tale of Beryn, a clever continuation of Chaucer’s pilgrim tale where the pilgrims arrive in Canterbury, they book into The Cheker of the Hope, an inn that ‘many a man did know’ and which was owned by these same monks, before setting off for the final stage of their pilgrimage. Nor was this the only text because several open letters extolling the virtues of such pilgrimages were strategically nailed up in London, Canterbury and on the way, which seemingly had the desired effect if anything like the numbers of pilgrims said to have flocked to the shrine actually did so. Even though not all these various works were in Middle English, the mother tongue of the vast majority of people in England at this time, albeit in different dialects, Professor Brown did stress the importance of what may be seen as the growth and flowering of literary texts in this vernacular nationally, as well as in Canterbury. Yet Canterbury and Kent are important in such developments, whether we are looking at the construction of custumals (by-laws) at the Cinque Ports from the early 14th century, as Dr Justin Croft has discussed in his unpublished doctoral thesis; or studies on monastic libraries and book keeping, such as Dr Paul Lee’s book on the Dominican nunnery at Dartford; or Dr James Gibson’s Records of Early English Drama volume on the diocese of Canterbury (soon to be followed by Rochester), where it is clear even parishes and small towns were able to fund and organise plays that presumably meant the production and copying of dramatic texts in English, which could be read by growing numbers of people in these late medieval Kentish communities. Such developments would seem to place Kent in the vanguard of literary and book culture in the Middle Ages, and these cultural features of the lives of Kentish men and women did not stop at the Reformation. Rather, as Dr Claire Bartram has shown, the Protestant gentry, as well as those somewhat below them socially – leading townsmen and yeomen – were keen to embrace the advantages of printing and to proclaim their great cultural heritage from the Anglo-Saxons now that the ‘Roman yoke’ had been thrown off. Dr Bartram will be among the speakers at the conference on 28 March where, as she says, ‘I will revisit Joan Thirsk’s work on agricultural texts. Professor Thirsk was among the first to promote the rich potential of this kind of practical literature and it remains an understudied area of scholarship. Taking Kent as its focus, my paper considers a number of Elizabethan print and manuscript works including Barnabe Googe’s translation of Heresbach’s ‘Four Books of Husbandrie’ and Reginald Scot’s ‘Pefite Platforme of a Hoppe Garden’. It explores what these works reveal about the book as a mechanism for social interaction in provincial society and how these writings promoted spiritual and social reform at a local level that responded to nationalist imperatives apparent in the period.’ Claire will be joined in this section of the conference by Dr Andy Kesson, whose work on John Lyly and the London stage will again show just how influential Canterbury was in the flowering of literature and drama in the early modern period, as witnessed by the richness of the Elizabethan theatre. Thus these scholars are pushing forward a wide range of exciting and important ideas that will enlarge our understanding of the role of the written (and printed) word in history.
Considering the potential problems that may be on the horizon regarding archives in Kent, it is great to be able to report on something positive. I was at a meeting on Tuesday this week where it was agreed that the Canterbury Historical and Archaeological Society will once again offer young and not so young scholars the opportunity to apply for a grant to aid their research. The Society has been aiding historical and archaeological research on Canterbury and its surrounding area for well over a decade and previous grant holders include postgraduate students from the universities of Kent and Christ Church, members of staff at Canterbury Archaeological Trust, archaeologists from Cambridge and researchers from among the general public who had a particular interest in their locality. As normal details for applicants are on the Society’s website, the closing date being 30 June 2015, and there is a link to the Society’s site from this Centre’s front page. Such a link seems wholly appropriate because the desire to foster good research is central to both organisations, as is the importance of publishing the results so that as wide an audience as possible has access to these research findings.
An Elizabethan hunt
Such a desire is also behind the ‘New Directions in Kent History since Joan Thirsk’ conference that will be held at Old Sessions House on Saturday 28 March 2015. Almost all the speakers will be drawing on their doctoral work or that undertaken as part of post-doctoral projects. Thus they can be seen in some ways as the academic ‘grandchildren’ of Joan Thirsk who during her time at Leicester, Oxford, and in retirement in Kent, was interested in and wrote on a wide range of early modern social and economic topics. Just to give you a flavour of what will be on offer in March, as Dr Lorraine Flisher writes: ‘In the seventeenth century the market town of Cranbrook in Kent was the centre of the Kentish broadcloth industry. Within the Wealden wood-pasture countryside, a capitalist clothier elite supported a large, economically dependent rural labour force through the development of cloth manufacture and agriculture. My paper will explore aspects of economic activity and religious pressure in the early seventeenth century, which demanded an entrepreneurial response from Cranbrook’s inhabitants, and led some to migrate to the New World in search of religious freedom and economic opportunities.’ We will also be treated to Dr Susan Pittman’s examination of rural relations, for as she says: ‘My talk will be the first attempt to describe the role of the deer-keeper, in particular concentrating on the dilemma he faced in enforcing elitist laws covering hunting, deer and parks, which were widely unpopular. The deer-keeper faced challenges to his authority from the lowlier strata in society and from those below the upper echelons, who were denied the right to hunt. I will discuss the factors that were likely to encourage him to remain loyal to the park owner, and those which led him to give way to local pressure.’ To gain a full list of the lectures at the conference, please do look at the Centre’s website and I will provide further insights from two more speakers next week.
Having attended a planning meeting of the Centre yesterday, I thought it was highly appropriate to record that things are moving on the Great War study day scheduled for a Saturday in May 2015. More details will be available soon but I can confirm that two of the speakers will be Dr Martin Watts and Dr David Budgen, who will also lead the accompanying workshops.
Canterbury Cathedral – an architectural gem
This is only one of several planned events, some of which are already on the Centre’s calendar and tickets are selling for the one-day conference ‘New Directions in Kent History since Joan Thirsk’ which will take place on Saturday 28 March 2015. Another highlight from my perspective will be the lecture on the 20th-century tithe ‘war’ in Kent, these disputes shine an excellent light on social relations in the countryside in the inter-war years at a time when local as well as national politics were extremely volatile. Talking of politics, there will be a bumper clutch of events associated with the celebration of Magna Carta in June 2015, including a two-day conference on the 5 and 6 June, and there are more details on the Centre’s webpages. The following weekend will see further activities and these will involve a procession on Saturday 13 June. Finally, I don’t want to leave out the Centre’s archaeologists who will be launching the first of an annual series of lectures in February. So as well as the Becket lecture, the Centre will have the new Lambarde lecture on 18 February 2015 – fantastic!
Joan Thirsk was an exceedingly important social historian of the 20th century, who understood the importance of putting the history of people, especially rural people, at the centre of academic studies. She was a major force in the creation of a magisterial eight volume set of books, spanning a period of time from from the neolithic period to the twentieth century, titled The Agrarian History of England and Wales.
She also understood the importance of difference, that the various regions across England had developed differently in terms of ideas about lordship, how the land was managed, and the varying farming regimes and techniques that were employed.
After a distinguished academic career at the Universities of Leicester and Oxford, she retired to Kent. Among her activities in retirement, as Professor Christopher Dyer noted in his obituary of her, is a co-authored book entitled Hadlow: Life, Land and People in a Wealden Parish 1460-1600 (2007). This history of the place that became her home for the last 30 years of her long and distinguished life highlights her desire to make ‘academic’ history accessible to a wide audience, as her successors will do in this conference.
Tickets for the conference are £18.
To book a place please download an application form and send a cheque for £18, made out to Canterbury Christ Church University, to Dr S. Sweetinburgh, 11 Caledon Terrace, Canterbury CT1 3JS.
Please ensure we receive your cheque by 20th March 2015.
Please also include a stamped addressed envelope.