This has been another busy week regarding putting arrangements in place for the ‘Richborough through the Ages’ conference that will take place at Old Sessions House, Canterbury Christ Church on Saturday 25 June. To give you a taste of what looks to be a very exciting day, I’m going to run through the speakers and their topics here.
In contrast to the previous fortnight, this week has been much quieter with regard to history lectures open to the public, except for Dr Martin Watts’ talk at St Peter’s Methodist Church on Thursday evening. This was organised by the Canterbury Festival as a marker that 2016 is an important anniversary for the Battle of the Somme. Martin focused to a large degree on the casualties suffered by, among other regiments, the Buffs and the West Kents, as well as drawing out the implications of the battle in terms of what was learnt by both those in high command and across society – a time of lost innocence regarding modern warfare. Others involved with the Centre have also been busy, and I thought I would report a few exciting items before offering a few snippets from the archives because I have missed being able to get on with my own research into the businesswomen of late medieval Canterbury.
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.
Now that the Canterbury Christ Church campus is almost deserted, the students having finished last Friday and only a few stalwarts in the School still working in their offices today, it seems a good time to bring you up to date with the thinking of members within the Centre about future plans. As you might expect these are quite diverse and range from Dr Lesley Hardy’s desire to concentrate on Public History to Dr John Bulaitis’ proposal to hold a conference in 2017 on ‘Tithe through Time’, a subject that he feels has considerable merit as a means of understanding social tensions in the countryside from medieval to modern times.
I believe several staff members have been out in the county giving lectures to local history groups during November. Among these are John Bulaitis at Whitstable, Lesley Hardy at Lyminge, Richard Eales at Frittenden and Martin Watts at Shepherdswell, although the latter may be speaking in early December. Such collaboration between those interested and engaged in local and regional history and those involved in this discipline within academia is a very worthwhile development and reminds me of the ‘New Directions in Local History since Hoskins’ conference that I spoke at several years ago at the University of Leicester. Even though there was at times a degree of tension between those advocating these different approaches, the resulting collection of essays underlined the ways each could benefit from the other, as the four editors demonstrated in their introduction and David Dymond discussed in his chapter: ‘Does local history have a split personality?’.
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.
For those who were at the Centre’s first event of the new academic year, a joint occasion where the Centre was in partnership with the Agricultural Museum, Brook, they experienced a great treat when Dr John Bulaitis give the Nightingale Memorial Lecture. As those who have read earlier blogposts will know, John was due to talk about ‘the battle of the ducks’, and these 56 Indian Runners, not your average farmyard fowl, were very much in evidence, but so were a bull, a sow and sundry other agricultural items, including a hayrick, as well as the inventor of bar billiards.
What is particularly striking about the ‘Tithe War’ of the 1930s is that this is still within living memory for some; indeed tithe itself was not fully abolished until 1977, so this is not some archaic practice lost in the mists of time, but still resonates today. In fact among the audience on Friday were men whose fathers and grandfathers had been on opposite sides of the proverbial barricades during the ‘tithe war’.
Professor John Nightingale of Magdalen College, Oxford, introducing Dr John Bulaitis (hidden behind John Nightingale)
at the start of Fourth Nightingale Memorial Lecture
Those directly involved in the ‘liberation’ of the ducks and the returning of them to their ‘rightful’ pond at Beechbrook Farm in Westwell had begun their campaign when between 70 and a 100 people, mostly young men and some with trucks, had congregated at the ‘Half-Way House’ on the Dover Road. This was not far from Shepherdswell where the ducks had been taken on the orders of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners to their farm called West Court Farm, run by their tenant. The ducks and other livestock had been seized because the farmer at Westwell, the Rev. Roderick Kedward, had refused as a matter of principle to pay the tithes demanded of him. Reports about this night-time raid in September 1934 were reported in the national press the following day, making the Church authorities even more furious. They thus sent their agents, General Dealers, to retake the ducks, and the other items that had not been collected during the first sequestration, and also persuaded the Police to provide a substantial guard at West Court Farm for the whole of the following week.
The Ecclesiastical Commissioners’ policy of seizing goods in lieu of tithe payments required them or their agents to turn the goods into cash, and initially the means used for the latter was to auction them off. Yet following several very public debacles (Ruckinge and Stelling Minnis in September 1931) where those sympathetic to those refusing to pay tithes put up ridiculously high bids and otherwise disrupted the auction process, the authorities turned to alternative methods – public tender using the services of possession men, and hence the ducks’ episode.
Just from the names of the places mentioned so far it is clear that these anti-tithe farmers came from different parts of Kent, and there were certain ‘hot spots’ in the county, namely the areas around Sandwich and north of Dover, the Weald and the Romney Marshes. Such areas were not that far from earlier centres of discontent, as at Barham Downs in May 1834 when about 3000 people met to denounce the evils inflicted by tithe, or again in the early 1880s when the Sevenoaks Chronicle reported in 1883 that support for tithe protestors was especially strong in the Weald. Indeed, Mr Cooper is still known as the Smarden martyr having been sentenced to a month’s hard labour at Maidstone jail for his actions again the Church authorities.
Furthermore, Dr Paula Simpson found evidence of such resistance in the 16th century, and even before the Reformation during the later Middle Ages. Equally, it is also roughly the same foci where these earlier tithe disputes were at their greatest, and such a geographical pattern similarly has something in common with first areas of Lollardy and later non-conformity. Not that Kent was the only place in the British Isles where tithe was bitterly contested and in the modern period, as John said, other places included Wessex, Sussex, East Anglia, and interestingly Wales. Again, as he suggested, we need to think about issues surrounding non-conformity and also nationalism (and/or an anti-London feeling in the form of seeing the capital as remote and urban, unable to understand rural society).
Thus, John provided a perceptive analysis of the place of tithe disputes as part of the social and cultural contexts of resistance and rebellion in the English countryside, before turning to the immediate conditions that were important in the problems of the inter-war years. He discussed these under 4 themes: the major changes in land ownership after the Great War when tenant farmers bought farms, paying ‘over the odds’ which necessitated large mortgages; the post Great War legacy of tithe payment levels that were pegged at what had become unrealistically high levels, which was coupled by a move to centralised collection of tithe through offices at Westminster Abbey; the new agricultural depression of the late 1920s and into the 1930s; and finally the activities of an increasingly militant group known as the National Tithepayers Association.
Towards the end of his lecture John spent some time discussing the important leaders of this Association. In particular he considered the strategic contribution of Frank R. Allen, who, having worked for the Dean and Chapter at Canterbury Cathedral in the collection of tithes, knew many of the farmers personally, the difficulties they were experiencing, and, for his later role, had an insider’s knowledge of exactly how the system worked. He seemingly changed sides as a consequence of a particularly nasty dispute with the Dean in 1924, which amongst other things cost him his pension. Other important individuals were the Rev. Kedwood we met earlier as the owner of the ducks, Kinglsley Dykes, a father and son: George and David Gill, Ebenezer Haffenden and Alderman Solley of Sandwich. While not going into details here, the important issue is that such men advocated a wide range of political views – from fascist to communist – but were bound together in their common hatred of what they saw as an out-dated system that exploited the rural community mercilessly. Yet, as John reported, sadly so far modern historians have failed to appreciate the significance of this political movement in the countryside. In part this is a consequence of an almost total focus on urban society, and even where such matters as the Tolpuddle Martyrs or the Swing Riots have been discussed, tithe has either been ignored or seen as ‘curious’ or ‘amusing’, rather than giving it due weight as an important political and social phenomenon – something John is in the process of correcting.
This week I had my first Canterbury boat trip when I went with Jonathan Carey (Eastbridge Hospital), Rupert Austin (Canterbury Archaeological Trust) and Rosie Cummings (Canterbury City Council) to look at the above waterline archaeology of St Thomas’ hospital at Eastbridge. It was fascinating listening to these experts discuss the type and state of the timbers and stonework of the hospital on the bridge, both in terms of the date of these various features, how the building had developed chronologically, the level of preservation, and what and how these features can be recorded. These factors are exceedingly important as part of the conservation and renovation that is presently taking place at the hospital, as became even more apparent when we came back onto dry land and went into the building itself. As Rupert pointed out, there is still some late medieval timber-framing extant in the west end wall, and, as well as the timbers, even some of the wattle and daub survives. Exactly what happened to this medieval hall in the 16th and 17th centuries is still being investigated, but it is likely that the area was subdivided to provide more privacy for the poor old men accommodated at the late 16th century refoundation by Archbishop Whitgift. Whether this subdivision was on the lines undertaken at the Great Hospital in Norwich is a moot question, but feasible, and interestingly at Norwich these cubicles are still preserved, albeit they have not been lived in for many decades. Indeed, the accommodation provided for the people at the Great Hospital today is excellent, there having been a considerable amount of rebuilding and new buildings in the last few decades.
The underside of St Thomas’s hospital, note the pigeon roosting on a medieval corbel
As I am sure many of you know, St Thomas’ started life in the late 12th century as a hospital for poor pilgrims. However exactly what the living arrangements were for the master and his staff, matters such as the location of the kitchen, and where the corrodians (long-term, fee-paying inmates) were housed are all questions that really need further investigation. One of the problems regarding such research is the limited survival of the medieval records. The hospital has a fantastic collection of deeds, which provide many details regarding its property holdings, but there are hardly any documents such as accounts or rentals. These are really what you need in order to investigate the life of the hospital, because, even though the revised rules are useful, they really only tell you what the patron wanted to happen, not necessarily what did happen. Wills, too, only give us tantalizing glimpses, like that of Henry Newell (1475), who bequeathed a mattress, a red-and-white coverlet and a pair of sheets to Alice the custodian of the paupers, who, according to the regulations, should have been elderly, that is over 40 years of age.
Another aspect of this week was the first lunch time seminar organised by History for staff and postgraduates – really a research forum. Although it did not feature anything directly about Canterbury or Kent, Professor Robert Bubczyk’s topic: ‘Attitudes of the Polish Clergy towards Alcoholic Beverages’ would have been of interest to the monks and canons living in medieval Canterbury. For although they would have been perfectly knowledgeable about wine, unlike their Polish counterparts, until probably the 15th century they would have drunk ale not beer. Indeed the arrival of hops transformed agricultural practices in Kent in the late 16th century because the hop garden became the new commercial crop that (excuse the pun) sprung up all over the place. It looks like initially in the early 15th century hops were brought over to Kent from the continental mainland by entrepreneurs who saw a commercial opportunity, and one of the earliest records of beer brewing comes from the court rolls of Appledore. Although it is not documented, the fact that Appledore was a Christ Church manor may have meant such activities came to the attention of those in charge of the priory’s brewhouse, and beer may thus have been available at Christ Church before St Augustine’s.
But to return to Professor Bubczyk’s topic, one area where senior churchmen in both Poland and Kent would have been in agreement was the concern over drinking alcohol to excess. Whether this was reported in terms of the behaviour of priests in chronicles or as examples in sermons, clerics and also the laity who visited taverns, especially at night, and who became drunk were castigated, such behaviour linked to greed and weakness. Interestingly in Poland it was also seen as creating frankness, so plying your guests might make them tell you what they really thought, but this did require the host to stay sober to get the most out of the situation. It is feasible this ‘advantage’ was similarly appreciated in England. Nevertheless, in English morality plays the watchword seems to have been ‘measure is treasure’, if Mankind is typical of the genre. For the dangers of visiting the pub are clearly displayed in the second half of the play when Mankind, having thrown away his spade and beads (rosary), joins the vices in the pub for further debauchery before being finally saved by Mercy from the ultimate sin of hanging himself. If you ever have the chance to see this late medieval play do take it, it is a real gem. And next week I’ll be reporting on further violent episodes in history after Dr John Bulaitis’ lecture on ‘The Battle of the Ducks’.
The lead-in to the new academic year is always a busy time, even if you are not teaching much, although it looks like I will pick-up a ‘first’ from my perspective in terms of a lecture for architecture at Kent. For those readers of the blog who live or work in Canterbury, the other thing you will have noticed is the arrival of students, and this has started already with Freshers Week at both universities in Canterbury taking place next week. From my point of view that means meeting the new Medieval and Early Modern Studies Masters postgrads at Kent, especially those who will being doing Paul Bennet and my option on ‘Medieval Canterbury’. At Christ Church this probably will mean trying to make sure all the new History students are aware of ‘The Battle of the Ducks’ lecture on Friday 2 October at 7.30pm (wine from 7pm) in Old Sessions House. Sara Wolfson, an early modern specialist, who is organising the History Induction Week, has promised to tell the students, which is great (many thanks Sara!), and hopefully other members of staff will be doing the same. As I have mentioned before, this is the Nightingale Memorial Lecture and is a joint venture between the Centre and the Agricultural Museum Brook, which some of you may know already. John Bulaitis’ talk on the early 1930s tithe wars looks like it will be a fascinating event and is open to all, so please do feel free to come along and hear about an amazing series of episodes in the county’s history.
The old Boots building in Mercery Lane, Canterbury
Worth seeking out if you are in Canterbury next April for the ‘Medieval Canterbury Weekend’
Another 20th-century topic that is potentially going to involve people from Canterbury Christ Church and also Canterbury Archaeological Trust is a proposed project on the history of the port of Richborough. Some details are known about its history and to a degree there is a photograph archive. However more needs to be done and Martin Watts, in particular, has started delving into its documented history at the Royal Engineers, and if all really goes well a funded project may come out of this. This is only one of several leads Martin is following at the moment, as I outlined a couple of weeks ago, and more information will be reported as things progress.
Keeping with this 20th century theme, I just thought people might be interested in the site on the corner of The Parade and Mercery Lane, which is now ‘Pret A Manger’, but longer-standing residents and visitors to Canterbury will remember it as Boots the chemists, before the firm relocated to its massive premises in Whitefriars. The whole history of the building is fascinating but I’ll just stick to these later times. Boots arrived in the late 1920s, taking over premises that had been those of a tobacconist (J. F. Barber & Sons), Mrs Meers’ tearoom (nothing changes although probably much more coffee than tea now) and Thomas Becket, a jeweller. At that time the medieval building was said to be in a very poor condition and in danger of collapse, and when Boots actually came to look at it closely, it was found to be in an even worse state. Nevertheless, rather than demolish it they admirably took the decision to undertake an ambitious and costly restoration. What Boots could not have known at the time, because the scientific techniques and knowledge were then unavailable, is that some of the still existing structure pre-dates the Black Death of 1349, as discovered by Canterbury Archaeological Trust, making it a remarkable survival, albeit very little from this early phase remains.
To return to Boots’ work, the firm’s own architect, Mr Percy J. Bartlett, was responsible for preparing plans which would allow the building to blend into its medieval surroundings. The main contractor was Mr George Browning, a man with extensive experience of work of this nature. Decorative plasterwork, lead work and joinery was undertaken by the Birmingham Guild Ltd. For those interested in the arts and crafts movement of the late 19th century, the Guild’s name is probably familiar because the firm had begun life in the late 1880s as the Birmingham Guild and School of Handicrafts. Those working for the firm in the 1880s and their successors in the 1920s were highly skilled craft workers, and their handiwork, especially the corbels in Mercery Lane, are excellent examples of this artistic craft. However, if you want a piece of genuine medieval carving turn around in Mercery Lane and look at the recently badly-damaged lion’s head on the corner of Mercery Lane and the High Street (about at adult head height). And on that note of the medieval juxtaposed to the modern I’ll finish for this week.
As last week I want to let you know about matters involving those attached to the Centre, and in this instance I want to highlight the value of working collaboratively with other organisations in Kent. The first involves the rescheduled lecture by Christ Church’s Dr John Bulaitis on the tithe ‘wars’ of the early 1930s. This talk comes under the umbrella of the Fourth Nightingale Memorial Lecture where the Centre has teamed up with the Agricultural Museum Brook, which holds these talks as a way of honouring Michael Nightingale’s vital contribution towards the setting up of the Museum. For in addition to the collection of mainly Kentish agricultural machinery and tools predominantly from the 19th and early 20th centuries, the Museum comprises two fantastic buildings. Firstly, there is the Grade I listed barn which was an essential component of the manorial complex in the Middle Ages. For those of you who know Brook this will not come as a surprise, and those who have visited this little village near Wye will also know about the lovely parish church with its fantastic wall paintings and upper room. Completing the medieval complex is the manor house that at one time was the home of the Principal of Wye College and is now a private residence. For the non-medievalists, and also a fascinating building in its own right, is the Museum’s second historical building, an oast house which is an early example of the round type. Consequently it is hardly surprising that the Museum’s Trustees believe it is important to remember Michael Nightingale’s contribution, and it is excellent that his son John Nightingale continues the family’s connection, especially as he is an eminent historian based in Oxford. So as one for your diary: do come and hear John Bulaitis’ lecture ‘The Battle of the Ducks’, which will take place on Friday 2 October at 7.30pm (wine reception from 7.00pm) at Old Sessions House, Canterbury Christ Church University.
Pilgrim badge showing the murder of Thomas Becket
Museum of London
My second involves the wearing of multiple hats, metaphorically that is because I don’t like hats! As some of you may know today is the beginning of the National Festival of Archaeology fortnight. To mark the start Maidstone Museum held a family-friendly day to introduce everyone to various aspects of archaeology in the county. The Museum is an excellent location because not only does it have an important and interesting collection of artefacts, but it also houses the library or meeting room of Kent Archaeological Society. The Society has strong connections to the Centre at Christ Church, including through the Society’s President Ian Coulson, but also I have served on the Society’s Council for several years. Consequently I was representing both KAS and the Centre when I joined Pernille Richards, the Society’s Hon. Librarian, after lunch in the Society’s library. In the morning Mike Clinch had given a talk on underground Kent – dene holes and the like, and we had decided to contrast this with a much more hands-on session in the afternoon.
Lots of Magna Carta activities have focused on the making of seals which meant we needed something different, and finding that the Museum has a badge-making machine was extremely helpful. Now for a medievalist the obvious badges are those pilgrims got when they had been to a particular shrine or image, and of the places of pilgrimage in medieval Kent the most obvious is Canterbury. Thus our activity was pilgrim badge making, and specifically badges that denote St Thomas of Canterbury. In the later Middle Ages such badges were often made of pewter, although some were probably lead and up-market ones were silver. Most of our information about such badges comes from the many examples that have been found, often in or near rivers, although these must represent the tip of the proverbial iceberg in terms of the total numbers made over the medieval period. It has been found that at particular important and popular shrines about 100,000 badges may have been sold to pilgrims each year. However the badges themselves are not the only sources. For Canterbury we do have the wills of a father and son badge-making business from the early 16th century and the Prologue of The Tale of Beryn (takes Chaucer’s Pilgrims into Canterbury and the cathedral) also talks about (stealing) badges.
Thus the thirty or so children and parents in Maidstone today pretended they had been on pilgrimage to Canterbury because we talked briefly about whose shrine we would have been to in the Middle Ages, what it looked like, why we might have gone, and, most importantly, what sort of badge we might have chosen to mark the completion of our ‘pilgrimage’. We looked at the simple ones which show St Thomas in his archiepiscopal vestments with his mitre, before moving on to look at badges that show episodes in Thomas’ life: his exile – on board a ship still wearing his mitre; and his death at the hands of the knights while a monk looks on. This surprisingly graphic depiction was contrasted to a badge that just had a sword and shield – emblematic of Thomas’ martyr’s death. These latter two badges were very popular, perhaps because we had more boys than girls, but we did also have some takers for the ship too. We also looked at a badge representing the shrine and then those showing ampullae, which are likely to have held a few drops of liquid – purporting to be the watered-down blood of St Thomas and hence having the potential for contemporaries of conferring healing powers to believers. The Canterbury bell was not popular, which again reflects the desire for a badge that portrays action in some form or other.
We had a pretty constant stream of badge-makers throughout the afternoon and, just like their medieval forebears, they went away proudly wearing their badges. Moreover by denoting their achievement, the early badge makers this afternoon seem to have helped to advertise the session, bringing in more recruits to try their hand at cutting out, sticking and colouring their chosen creation. This activity may seem a very simple introduction to archaeology (and history), but hopefully it is such days that will inspire the next generation of diggers and researchers. In addition, it is probably worth remembering that the skills involved in these two subjects are not only important for historians and archaeologists but can be transferred to many career paths. Consequently this was an enjoyable and worthwhile afternoon.