I’m going to start this week with some news. Many of you will know Paul Bennett or have read about him in various blogs over the last couple of years, and will know, therefore, that he is the Director of Canterbury Archaeological Trust and also a Visiting Professor in the Centre for Kent History and Heritage, Canterbury Christ Church University.
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.
Having discussed one event in the whole blog last week, I thought this week I would begin with news of three Centre events next month before turning briefly to one event that occurred yesterday and then even more briefly to one that took place last week.
Being back in Canterbury this week, I am now turning my attention to future Centre events, especially those due to take place in the next couple of months.
I thought I would keep it short this week, not least because I’m pretty busy doing things for the Medieval Canterbury Weekend. Just in case you have missed this the box office at www.canterbury.ac.uk/medieval-canterbury in terms of ticket sales will close this Friday, but tickets will be available to buy at Old Sessions, Canterbury Christ Church on Saturday 2 April (cash payments only) and at the Cathedral Lodge, the Precincts on Sunday 3 April (same arrangements). So please if you are interested do come along. There are lots of fascinating talks, and just considering those under ‘Books and Manuscripts’, there will be two great lectures on Anglo-Saxon Manuscripts. Firstly on Friday evening Richard Gameson will consider the fabulous St Augustine’s Gospels, seen by contemporaries as relics in their own right, and then on Saturday morning Michelle Brown will look more broadly at the manuscripts and documents produced in Anglo-Saxon Canterbury at two of the most important scriptoria in the land. Sunday will bring us forward in time to the ‘Age of Chaucer’ and Peter Brown’s entertaining assessment of what was being produced by way of texts by Chaucer’s contemporaries – another treat.
I have also heard from Martin Watts, who tells me that tickets for his ‘Richborough through the Ages’ are selling. This one-day conference on Saturday 25 June promises to be a great day. Now as a medievalist I am particularly interested to hear what Ges Moody has to say about the area as a contested landscape and Paul Dalton’s assessment of Richborough’s medieval context also looks to be in my area. However I’m sure the modern history lectures will be exciting too, and as an ex-dairy farmer I’ll be interested to hear what John Bulaitis has to say about G.C Solley of King’s End Farm, whose activities in the early 20th century extended well beyond farming!
I’m also thinking about the autumn, when hopefully the first recipient of an award from the Ian Coulson Memorial Postgraduate fund will be embarking on his/her new research project towards a higher degree on a Kentish history topic at Canterbury Christ Church. At the moment I’m looking at a one-day conference on ‘Early Medieval Kent’ on 10 September, and possibly towards another joint lecture with Brook Agricultural Museum, the Nightingale Memorial Lecture. Last year we were treated to a brilliant talk by Canterbury Christ Church’s own John Bulaitis on the ‘tithe wars’ in early 1930s Kent, a lecture that is still discussed in glowing terms. Indeed it was one of the topics raised at a meeting of the Trustees of the Brook Museum yesterday, and hopefully the next lecture will be equally successful. I have an idea for a potential speaker but before I reveal anything more I want to talk to a few key people. However I am really excited about the prospect, so do watch this space.
This concept of joint conferences and lectures has been actively embraced by the Centre and I believe the Kent Archaeological Society’s Place-Name conference for 2016 will also take place under such a scheme. Again when I know more details I’ll let you know. To a degree keeping with an archaeological theme, it is probably worth mentioning that Canterbury Archaeological Trust’s ‘40 years’ exhibition at The Beaney will be opening at Easter and will be in The Front Room there for about a month. Andrew Richardson of CAT has also been involved as the honorary curator of the KAS in overseeing the cataloguing of the Society’s artefact collection held at Maidstone Museum. In addition, photos of the pieces are going on the Society’s website making a fantastic resource for teachers, students and those having a more general interest in the county’s archaeological heritage.
Finally, it was good to see this evening that the BBC’s regional news programme was actively exploring links between Shakespeare and Kent under the banner of the regional and national aspect of Shakespeare 400. Thus it was excellent to watch Liz Finn at the Kent History Library Centre in Maidstone pointing out entries in Dover’s chamberlains’ accounts relating to early modern players, in this case the theatre company linked to the Bard, the King’s Players, who visited the town on more than one occasion. The camera crew had also been to Dover Museum because we were treated to Jon Iveson pointing out details on William Eldred’s fascinating map of the town dated c.1641. So it was great to see Kent’s history brought to life in this way, and it would be equally fantastic to do the same for Canterbury, although hopefully we will not have to wait until the 2020 anniversary of St Thomas Becket’s Translation.
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.
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.
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.
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.