As this is the last blog before its 2-week ‘vacacion’, I thought I would remind readers about the great opportunity for a part-funded MA by Research on a project based around the St Albans Library inventory. Due to the generosity of a local benefactor, this is a chance for someone interested in Book History and Material Culture to investigate a substantial gentry family library collected in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, which covers a very wide range of fascinating subjects. Annotations cover the period up to the auction of the library books in 1938 and the inventory also includes silver and plate, jewels, statues, objects of worth and paintings. This project will draw on comparable ‘great house’ libraries to explore, for example, ideas about collecting and reading habits, as well as the presence of book-sharing networks among this group in Hanoverian and Victorian society. The successful applicant will be offered a bursary of £1000, with the possibility of applying for a further £1000 from the Ian Coulson Award fund. If this sounds exciting and you would like to find out more about the opportunity, please do contact Dr Claire Bartram who will be one of the supervisors: email@example.com
Dr Diane Heath and I will be delighted to receive photos of your medieval animal ‘tile’ designs, so please do send them in and we will send out your certificate. Also we hope you enjoy eating your edible material culture, as well as enjoying the Virtual Canterbury Medieval Pageant at https://www.canterburybid.co.uk/canterbury-medieval-pageant/
While governments – national, regional and local, continue to grapple with the situation, and a large number of businesses and charities are equally trying to manage, even survive – note, for example, the grave problems being experienced in the horticultural and agricultural sectors; universities, too, are feeling the strain. This is certainly the case sorting out what to do for the best for students regarding teaching, assessments and exams, and thus matters of progression and completion of degrees.
Before I get to what I have been doing this week, I thought I would mention that Dr Martin Watts has been continuing to work on Richborough’s role in the Great War and has been in contact with a potential speaker for a one-day conference that he is planning in 2016. To that end there will be a meeting with his colleagues in Christ Church this coming Tuesday, so hopefully I will have more to report on this venture next week. Secondly, as you may remember Dr John Bulaitis gave the Nightingale Memorial Lecture at the beginning of this month and today he and Professor Jackie Eales visited the Agricultural Museum, Brook, the other partner in the lecture at Christ Church and the founder of the lecture series. I shall be interested to hear about their visit and their impressions of the Museum’s medieval great barn, its collection of agricultural machinery and the early round-shaped oast house.
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.