A Day in the Life….. Here at Last!

Following on from the Past in Mind project there have been some exciting developments.  Firstly some volunteers have rocketed from the project launchpad into a new world of voluntary work, academic study and personal achievements.  On top of this, the project manager Jenny McMillan has written an article about the project which has been published in an International Journal.  (The link to this will be posted shortly).  And in addition there is going to be a book based on the project, which is due to be published in 2014.  We always knew that the Past in Mind project was breaking new ground, but who would have thought it would continue to reach new heights once the main work had finished?

The publication of the Day in the Life monologues which were performed at the Conquest Theatre in Bromyard in April 2013, is long overdue.  So to rekindle the flame of this fantastic project, here they are at last.  All the pieces were written by volunteers and staff involved with Past in Mind.

A Day in the Life of Pottery

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My origins lie beneath the Malvern Hills.

While Walter Potter held me in his hands in crude clay form, I fancied I might end up in a lady’s chamber. How proudly I would sit there, I thought, holding her trinkets. But then I mused upon the fact that I might find myself discarded, for I have it on hearsay that some young ladies are prone to fickleness.

Many a fine piece of Malvernware has been seen in the back of a cart, because Dorset clay has become more fashionable. So I got thinking as I was in Walter’s hands perhaps I would prefer to be pride of place in a gentleman’s chamber instead. But presently that vexed me also.  For I heard the other day that one of my cousins – a fine young bowl – was gambled away in an ale house and is now unaccounted for. Hhm!!

So if ladies apparently change their minds and men gamble, where does that leave me? Someone warned me against idle gossip, but it does make my position quite precarious. I hope I break into bits right here in Malvern and go back to my beloved soil.  My future is so uncertain! I’m destined to leave my home and I have no idea what Walter Potter plans to do with me.

These were my thoughts before I was made one of the finest cooking vessels in Mercia.
My cart journey to Studmarsh was painful and cumbersome. And I had to suffer the humiliation of being poked by a jug and jostled by square dishes that used the coarsest Medieval language. One of them told me I was not a fine vessel and that I’d know about it when my underside was roasting in the fire. I tried to ignore the foul-mouthed dish, but I must confess my rim quivered.

When we arrived in Studmarsh I tried to make my sides glow so that the lads sent to unload us would not handle me roughly.  One of those loathsome square dishes said we were all utilitarian and that the cook here was descended from a hairy Viking. I didn’t understand what any of this meant but it sounded painful.

We were all sent to the kitchen in batches and assigned our proper places. I was disgusted to find myself within earshot of the square dishes, ruffians through and through despite their squareness.

Although it was an uncomfortable start we had pleasant times in the stone house. I produced many steaming stews and even helped out at weddings. The Viking cook turned out to be a friendly wench from London who valued me dearly and called me her prize. Then the Black Death came.

As the deadly plague ate through Studmarsh, laughter became rare and my services were seldom called upon. One by one the people of Studmarsh died or drifted away, and inevitably I too became broken. I rested in the soil for the next six centuries.

In 2013 I am a mere fragment of my former self. Yet last year a piece of me was found near an inner wall of the great stone house, and since then I have been properly cleaned and cared for. Humans in strange attire seem fascinated by me. If Walter Potter could see me now, even as a fragment, he would be immensely proud.

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A Day in the Life of William Colley

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William Colley is my name.  Born in this fair Herefordshire land in 1638 and passed before my sixtieth year was seen.

I am a man of truth and faith.  My bible is my guide – God’s law I do uphold.

I have been blessed – the Lord gave me a good and loving wife and 7 children too; Timothy is my eldest boy and Ann my youngest girl.

Many changes and hardships I have borne in this my earthly world.  I remain a puritan, a loyalist, Orangeman  – so God be my judge.

I leave this will in 1695 –

In the name of God Amen I William Colley of Norton in the parish of Bromyard in the county of Hereford gent being well in Body and of sound and perfect mind, memory and understanding (thanks be given to God Almighty for the same)

And calling to mind the uncertainty of this life and that all flesh must yield unto death when it shall please God to call doe make this my last will and testament ………………………………

I  Bequeath my Soul into the hands of God Almighty my maker trusting in and through the merits of my Lord  and Saviour Jesus Christ to have full and free pardon and Remission for all my sins and to inherit everlasting life ………………………………………………….

I give and bequeath unto my eldest son Timothy Colley the Bedd and Beddstead together with all the furniture and appurtenances whatsoever thereunto belonging being in the Bedd chamber of my said son Timothy.

I give and bequeath unto my son William Colley the sum of twenty shillings to be paid by my Executrix hereafter named. I give and bequeath unto my loving wife Elizabeth Colley the Bedd and Beddstead with all the furniture thereunto belonging in the Chamber over the Hall being a lodging Chamber and wherein we usually lie

I William Colley have put my hand and seal this 17th July in the 7th year of the reign

of our Sovereign Lord William 3rd by the grace of God of England, Scotland,

France and Ireland……………..year of our Lord one thousand six hundred and

ninety five. 

A Day in the Life of Doug (the Ancient oak)

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I am the Pedunculate oak tree, guardian of the Studmarsh field. Five
centuries of life have passed beneath my branches. There have been
occasions when my leaves have wilted under the weight of local gossip. Yet a well-bred Pedunculate, such as I, must always be discreet!

This probably makes me the best diplomat in Herefordshire. But really, when the Bloody Assizes are leaving a trail of broken necks across the country, does it matter who kissed the farm boy on the Common?

I’ve had five centuries to put things in perspective. A secret, lies, confessions, promises – I have witnessed them all.  I’ve comforted the sick and lonely, and given young lovers my blessing.  I have also showered acorns on the heads of drunkards who use my trunk as a chamber pot! Even a diplomat such as I, has limits.

It is the Summer of 2012 and a motley group has arrived in Studmarsh field.
With the utmost dignity I’m embracing my new role as the resident coat, hat
and bag stand.  They appear to like me, these transient diggers.  As for me,
I’m far too old to have opinions. I am trying to remain undisturbed, but
someone is measuring my girth with a tape measure.  No one has measured the Pedunculate of Studmarsh before!

It seems that for the first time in nearly five centuries I am to be given a reference number. I almost decayed on the spot when I overheard this (for no one tells me anything directly).

My formal identity is Pedunculate of Studmarsh, Sir Douglas Quercus – or
Doug for short. I rather like it. How many Pedunculates do you know who are
listed as a veteran on the Internet?

http://www.ancient-tree-hunt.org.uk/recording/tree?tree=WRbknGHzCkKsr7L%2bjicHpw

A Day in the Life of a Visitor to Studmarsh  By Christopher Skinner

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My name and what people call me is Adam Vinetree, and this is the tale of my travels Northwest from Dorset (My place of birth) to find work and seek employment. I will undertake any task and put my hands to whatever job will pay enough to shelter me, buy me food and find a wench so that I can finally settle down.

I had tried to settle in many different places, but alas, could not stay long for the Plague ever seemed to be round the corner taking the friends I had in my youth and the few that I had made on my journey. In my experience of work I have cared for livestock, can use horse and plough and I learn very quickly. I have sheared sheep and picked up the art of the blacksmith, the locals in villages I have passed and stayed in are attracted to the blacksmith for he is the local place for talk and news.

I entered a small village signposted with the name of Studmarsh; this seems to be a name describing the large number of cut tree-bases and wet-ground beneath me. I entered the village and headed for the plume of smoke and hubbub surrounding a hut with a large chimney, there were a few locals and my eyes were attracted to a pretty young girl who stood out as the most attractive girl I had ever seen! Tearing my eyes away, I pushed through the crowd to talk directly with the big man holding great metal pincers and throwing logs on the fire.

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“Scuse me sir, is there anywhere local I can work? I can fetch timbers for the fire, push the bellows and make and repair horse-shoes.” – I also said to him, “I am new in town and need a hot dinner and a place to sleep.” The blacksmith stopped what he was doing and scratched his chin. -” I can spread the word about, stick around the area and I’ll see what I can do.”

I thanked him and turned to leave, and there was the beautiful girl I saw earlier – approaching me!

She stopped in front of me and said; “Hello, my name is Alice and I overheard your conversation. My Father is looking for an extra man to till our land for grain. I think I could persuade him to let you sleep in the cleaner part of the goat shed, there is plenty of bedding and Daisy is pretty good, even with strangers. ”

I cannot believe my ears! I know that Alice had not asked her Father yet, but I was quietly confident that I had found a place to work, sleep and the chance of finding a wife within thirty minutes of entering the village!

Alice gave me such a coy look; I could not help but smile. She took my hand and led me through the village to where she pointed to the raised flat area at the top of the valley. There was a large settlement to the right of the track, at the top of the valley, Alice told me that this was her home – I could see that this family were not stuck for a coin or two, so we headed for the large gates to the property and as we were to push them open, something caught my eye.

Festooned upon several of the village doors was the dreaded sign of a red cross painted in crude, hurried strokes.

I stood there and took it all in, sure as sure the village was slowly becoming doomed, Alice started to cry in the background, saying “You will stay here with us – won’t you? “ My heart almost gave way at that point this girl was at the end of her tether, her risk of infection was almost a certainty.  The plague itself was seething through the large towns and settlements and people were dying in no particular order, if I stayed here I would almost certainly succumb to Black Death, if I leave I would never see this pretty a face and the wealth this family had, ever again.

Maybe I stay and barricade Alice and I both in together – maybe I run and die a slow, horrible Death…The End

A Day in the Life of – The Black Death

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I am the Black Death. I hover near a labourer’s sick bed and embrace the physician who tends the dying man. I breathe over the Vicar as he hurries in with oil and prayer book.  I tiptoe round the maidens who are weeping outside, and two of them I kiss. And finally I whisper into grandfather’s ear that I shall see him tomorrow.  My work is done at this small cottage in Studmarsh.

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Sweeping my black cloak along the grass I stride onwards towards the mighty house of stone. I am the Black Death.  I do not discriminate. Rich or poor, strong or infirm, rosy wench or fair-haired lad – I see no difference between them.  Thus half the population of Studmarsh I carry off to the graveyard. And half I leave behind in mourning.

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Ah – They were the days! For indeed fifty years have passed since I first visited Studmarsh. I am but a spectre now, leaning on a broken gate. The windows of the building have been smashed in. Half the roof is missing and rain tumbles into the empty chamber. I am the Black Death. Decay and disorder are my legacy.  I rip up social fabric and toss the rags to the four winds.

As I turn away I spy a drunken cleric slumped on the grass – flagon in his left hand, ripped prayer book in his right. Some of the torn pages are flitting across the meadow like wingless butterflies.

But who really cares?

Who has enough stamina to protest?  Has anyone even noticed?

Who in Studmarsh is still intact?

I am the Black Death. It’s 1397 and decaying Studmarsh is still mine.

A day in the Life of Abigail

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My name is Abigail. I flutter through time, passing through Studmarsh from
age to age. One moment I am picking flowers in the meadow. Next I am
watching through an upstairs window; watching you. You are trying to capture me – but I am the elusive Abigail.

Elusive Abigail, I run through Studmarsh tossing my hair and laughing as it
glistens in the golden light.  Then I am wailing, for my father has just died
in his bed.

This is grieving Abigail.

This is a finely dressed Abigail drowned in a black cape of loss.  The Abigail who makes you shudder on a windswept night at the thought of ghosts. Yes, I am that ghost you thought you saw by the oak tree. Yet before you catch me I am galloping away on a black-maned mare, breaking through time into new pastures. It is my wedding day now.  Listen to the peeling bells!

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This is time for more laughter on Studmarsh.

Perhaps on a summer evening you might hear me making merry just as I did on that joyful day.

I am the woman who holds all the memories. They are my secrets. If you
listen carefully you may hear whispers in the water. Bond’s Dingle or the
watery marsh – who knows? Elusive Abigail likes to tease. She jumps out
and surprises you. She lies in dusty books then runs away when you open the
page. Abigail flies through time, neither young nor old. You think you know
her, but you merely know her name. Abigail: “joy of my father”.

I am elusive Abigail, the unknown woman of Studmarsh. You will never catch
me, for you will never know me. Strange, as I am standing right behind you,
giggling because you’re reluctant to turn round.

A Day in the life of A student on Past in Mind

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I am a student

I come in many forms –

I am the archaeology undergraduate on fieldwork practice

I am the sixth former not yet decided

I am her friend from an African conflict where education stopped

I am Benjamin, in my the third year of a nursing degree

I am all of these and more ………and…….  I am now a volunteer in Studmarsh excavating the past!

What did I expect? I didn’t know.

Should I be here?  I have no experience of surveying or excavating!

Should I be here with people from Mind? I didn’t know.

Who is a volunteer and who is not? Who is an archaeologist and who is not?

Who has mental health problems and who has not?

When you look at me, the student what do you see? Do I wear a hoodie and do drugs? You’re not sure?

Do you know I’m shy and want to find my way in the world?

Will I be accepted on this dig? Will I feel different? Will I stand out? How will I know what to do? What will I learn?         PAUSE

This is what I learned –

We were all nervous and unsure and excited and a little lost …and… eager to gain knowledge and skills…….and we all had fun and shared jokes with Chris and Dai and with each other. We found pottery and uncovered walls and ……….felt just a little in touch with the young and the old……the women and the men from all those years ago and …. with each other as volunteers………………….. all of whom became students of discovery at this place called Studmarsh.

A Day in the life of a real-life child of Studmarsh (Mandy Palmer)

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My memories of Studmarsh go back to the hot summer of 1976, when the spring in Bond’s Dingle was the ideal place for cooling off in the hot summer sun. It set me wondering if the Biddle children of Studmarsh and the Colley Children of Studcroft, used it during the hot summers of the 1670s.

Three hundred years had passed, had this place really changed that much in that time?

Just a few years after the Battle of Worcester, Elizabeth Biddle was born in 1662 and sister Abigail in 1663, the youngest of a large family, and may well have played in that same spring at Bond’s Dingle as teenagers. Their parents Richard and Mary, just like my own, didn’t have to worry that they would come to any harm but would return home as soon as they were tired and hungry.

Fifty years before them, Plague had caused twenty-five deaths in the Bromyard area.

During the harsh Winter of 1977/78 we sledged down Studmarsh bank on empty fertilisers bags, I wonder what the children of Studcroft, Alice, Roger, Ann and Eleanor Colley, would have used as sledges four hundred years previously when in 1577 there is alliance between England and the  Netherlands and Francis Drake sails around the world.

I’d like to think that their father William would have made them a makeshift sledge!

Did they let the much younger Biddle children from Studmarsh, James and John, with the toddlers Roger and Margaret, join in their fun?

Annoyingly for myself and my siblings, school got in the way of these activities; however this was not the case for the children of Studmarsh and Studcroft all those years ago. The girls would have been raised to marry well and the boys educated at home in book-keeping and farm business.

I suppose we will never know for sure whether we played the same on Studmarsh but I’m sure that we would all agree on one thing, be it four or five hundred years ago or just yesterday, Studmarsh was the ideal place to grow up.

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A Day in the Life of a Blind Storyteller

That winter of 1435 I saw the trees standing tall and stark, but I never saw

them glisten in the Spring.  For many months I lay in a fever, caught between
heaven and earth in a world of ice and fire. Many people would arrive with
baskets of herbs and leave with the smell of death lingering on their
clothes.

It is said that Robert the cleric begged The Lord Jesus to carry me away in his arms, for he could not bear to hear my cries of anguish. But The Lord Jesus shook his head and sent an Angel to sit beside me. When the fever finally left me, I woke to find my eyes in darkness.

Such a darkness it was, that it left a cold imprint on my soul. It is true
that I cursed my fate, and some believed I was born of the devil. But what
The Lord takes away with one hand, He gives with another.
I was given the freedom to wander into many different worlds, and a tongue
to describe my adventures. You are trapped in a world where trees have green leaves and brown trunks. But I see trees in thousands of different colours.

You have to travel on foot or by horse. But I have wings that let me fly. I
can go anywhere without moving from this room.
Travellers come from afar to hear my tales. They bring baskets of bread, or
kindle for the fire. Even when melancholia steals my wings, I find herbs and
fruit outside my door. When I feel my wings pinned once more against my
back ready for another journey, the colours I see are even brighter and the
lands I visit are more enchanting.

Many people ask me what it is like to be blind. But I reply that I am not
blind, for I see far more than they do.

A Day in The Life of a Volunteer in ‘The Volley’

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I have just entered The Volunteer Inn, Harold Street, Hereford.  Brimming with people, bursting with chatter its strong current sweeps me inside – I almost feel as if I am drowning.  The wooden floorboards seem to be harbouring a multitude of toads.  I listen to them creaking and croaking as I make my way to the back room.

Sitting in the back room of the aptly named Volunteer Inn, are a sizeable group of volunteers.  There is tangible excitement and expectancy. We are beginning our research today. No one knows where this might take us. I am already captivated by the idea of exploring unchartered territory. The sense of adventure helps me to overcome the claustrophobia which is starting to smother me in this crowded room.

Good research techniques are vital, and I eagerly digest the information being given to us. I can feel the dust that has gathered since my University days. It forms a furry film across my grey matter, and I have an overwhelming urge to shake my head in order to disperse it.
But the old thrill of those bookworm days comes leaping back as I realise that this Project is seriously Academic. We are visiting the Records Office in a minute, and I am carried away by a wave of childish excitement at the thought. Then my stomach drops as anxiety gnaws away inside me. I might not be up for this. My brain could have eroded from twenty years of rust for all I know. At least I am not short of enthusiasm, and this eases my apprehension.

Once in the Records Office the enormity of the Past in Mind Project hits me. This Victorian building is stuffed with ancient maps and manuscripts dating back centuries. Everyone in here right now is a mere pin point on the landscape of time. I wonder if anyone will come across my name in a few centuries from now, when I am but an archive. It makes me realise just how mortal we all are.

I feel privileged to be a volunteer. This is giving me the chance to make a genuine contribution – to the National Archive, to the local community, to our group.

I am spurred on by this thought, and I know that the other volunteers are driven in a similar way. I cannot help feeling exhilarated and optimistic. This feels really, really good.

A day in the Life of One in Four

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One in four people will experience mental ill-health at some point during their lifetime. The following account is experienced by an ordinary person leading an ordinary life- Someone who happens to be ‘one in four’.

Today I have an interview for a place at University.
When I try to go out, the front door is no longer a door.  It is a griffin preventing me from leaving the house.  If I fight it there will be more of them waiting for me outside, but I want to  be an archaeologist, and all the griffins in England won’t stop me getting there.   have to fight it now.  I make it outside. There is a cold wind and people walk past me shivering or blowing into their hands. I hold my head down, for I cannot tell if they are friendly or hostile. Someone is talking on their mobile.  Does this mean there will be people waiting for me round the corner? Ready to hurt me like they did before – I must change my route. They’ll be expecting me to go past the park. I decide to cut through town but this means I have to walk faster, always making sure I keep my head down so no one can catch my eye.

Then it dawns on me that I have forgotten my gloves. I am exposed. I stand out. I am a target. I thrust my hands deep inside my pockets, hoping that no one has seen. Suddenly I hear my name. I spin round, expecting an attack. I am totally defenceless; I shut my eyes and prepare to take a hit. But no one is there, only a river of faceless people. One of these faceless people has been watching me since I left the house.  Any minute I might feel a hand on my shoulder or a knife in my back.  My heart tries to clamber through my chest.    I freeze with fear, and my whole body crawls with cold sweat. “Who called my name?” I call out in panic but no one answers.  A few people stare and then edge away from me. I know those surreptitious glances.

They think I am mad. I am a threat to them. I might harm their children. I want to yell out that I am the one who is afraid.  I forgot my gloves this morning – I am the one in danger!

I’ve got to get home. I feel outnumbered in this unfriendly town. But my legs are now blocks of wood holding me to the ground.

I scream inside, unable to move forward. I ask a passer-by to call me a taxi but she hurries on, pretending she never heard me.  Like other people, she sees my agitation but fails to see the human being inside.  No one wants to help me.  People are really staring now. I feel so alone in this crowd.  I hold my head, unsure what to do. I start willing my body to move from this place. Very, very slowly, I am able to inch forward but I cannot go back the way I came, for it is too dangerous.

Two hours later I am quivering outside my front door. The familiar front door is no longer a griffin but an ally.  He pulls me inside and then shields me from the outside world.

I am listening to a message on my answer phone informing me that as I failed to make my Interview they cannot offer me a University place. The caller wishes me well and adds that I may apply again in a year’s time.

A Day in the Life of ‘Making our Mark’

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Waddling……walking…….sensing…seeing…

Reading the landscape

Orientation…….

Plotting out the markers in the field

Maps…. Patterns……perspectives

Changes

Indicators

Base lines

Angles of photos taken…from the North, the South, the sky above………

Degrees……… minutes……… seconds…

The protractor moves by my hand……. yes my hand!  (Suddenly, and for the first time I know how to navigate the World!)

Clayey…..silty…….. grainy…. brown -… no, brown with reddish tints

Colours, hues… (I’d never noticed or…. known how to notice until now…)

Taste it…….. feel it…… sense it………

…001, 002, and 003…Context…… bedding planes…….. bedrock…..’getting your eye in’ as Dai would say…..

Make a mark……….make a judgement………… watch the trowel……. gently does it…………..

Sparkling Quartz – like shiny, tiny sharks’ teeth or little baby milk teeth – looking up at us from the soil…”

Walls emerge, doorways too?

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Now walking, not waddling respectively through people s’ front rooms…… seeing their crockery……sensing their lives….

What did they eat?

High/low/middle fortune in life?…did they ‘keep up with the Jones’?

Did they grow up with their husbands-to-be…?

Did the fields feel as long and treacherous, come winter or summer………..How far was ‘far’ to them

Did they have the same dreams…see the next parish, town……… country – or were they too bogged-down by life & making ends meet

…did the plague come knocking?

Boggy, uneven, hard to till land… ……….. that today sees cattle graze…….. so warm & peacefully

They left us their Horse shoes, cooking pots – blackened in production & from making wholesome, hard-toiled-for, food for their Precious Families…….. Nails…. glass……..shards……. such ‘treasures’ that saw so much life & passed down through the years and generations…

Did they experience the same emotional ‘rush’ when they found something washed exposed by rain and brook – nestling the pieces of their ancestors’ lives, treasuring, dreaming…

Reworking them, knowing how precious they were to their makers – & knowing that such things should never be discarded so lightly…

They will never be forgotten, they have made their mark in a settlement that will now never pass out of history because of what they have shared so preciously with us.”

They have made their mark and we the volunteers of Past in Mind have made a mark and it has made a mark on us!

A Day in the Life of an archaeologist’s trowel

My old trowel.

It’s a rainy day in August and I’m sliding into the Earth. Clumps of mud cling to my back. I go under, diving beneath a long stretch of rock.

It feels good to rustle the soil again and give the worms a rude awakening. My handler is experienced which helps me glide smoothly.

Down, down I go; flipping over as I hit a large stone. I surprise a centipede whilst I right myself, but I plunge past him without an apology. (A trowel’s prerogative!)

The world beneath is still and silent. I am disturbing the sacred calm with
my weaving metal nose. In front of me is a tiny blue sherd which I gently
tease from its bed. As I do so, the soil rolls down my back in slimy lumps.

As I become accustomed to the darkness I begin to hear the slow heartbeat of the Earth.  It sounds like a pendulum patiently marking time. Then her
heaving lungs cough out the dust of former centuries. Suddenly I tap against
a pewter ornament which fuels excitement from the world above. Staring up I
glimpse the mottled sky.  Those grey clouds look ready to burst. Several
faces peer down at my trophy and I take a few deep breaths as it leaves its
resting place for good. There are gasps of approval. “She’s a beauty!” I
hear someone say.  I flutter my handle self-consciously.

Then I slice down to the hole where the pewter ornament once lay, and inhale its lingering residue. Beatles scurry forward across my nose which makes me want to sneeze. This is turning out to be a good day.

A Day in the life of the prayer of Edward III, King of England 1375 

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(To be read leisurely)

This land is cursed!

Dear God, what mortal sin have I committed to deserve such wrath?

My farms and orchards lie in fallow or in ruin, for want of hands to tend them.

My servants and my lackeys all dead or fled to the wildest reaches of my kingdom and the villages barricade themselves against my tax-collectors, for fear they will bring the murderous pestilence with them.  And so my coffers run dry.  Is there no respite from this Breath of Beelzebub?

This horror – inflicted on us they say by the heathen Turk from the East – respects not rank, nor blood, nor cloth. It slaughters the high-born and the peasant with equal relish and turns both to stinking putrescence. They say there are not enough living to tend the sick nor bury the dead and so the corpses pile high at village edge, groaning for Christian burial.

They say the North country has blocked its roads to travellers. They say the Midlands are ravaged beyond repair. They say the Cornishmen flee to their ancient forebears in Bretagne, where they may or may not be granted entrance.  The world is on the move and only we, trapped in our castle-keep are forbidden flight; for if we flee, the kingdom will fall into ancient, pagan chaos and the rule of law will be forgot.

The Death returns again and again and our villages lie now like dead cabbages that drowned in flood or were o’rwhelmed by disease. The cows scream for milking. The young suckling pigs die for lack of milk from feed-starved sows. The people cower in dark corners of fear and ignorance.  But they WILL rise again, like the Saviour himself and they will spring to newer, richer life, like green shoots after wildfire.

How then will the country recover its strength and its wealth?  There will be few hands to tend the fields and build the towns. Those who survive will demand a high price for their craft and we may well see the dawn of a new age, when the tradesman holds sway over the duke. Our age of chivalry and aristocratic privilege may well die by the hand of plague and the demands of the working man.  The lord will go cap in hand before the workman and bargain for his services until, bloated with his new-found wealth, the harvester becomes the squire.

Can the Lord God Almighty have envisioned the overturn of the rightful order of society when he launched this creeping death upon the land?  Can he have intended it?  Does he mean for the children of the peasants who succumbed to this plague to become the rulers of the land?  Maybe THAT is the real plague. The humbling of the aristocracy and finally ……. the KING!

Come what may, the land WILL live again, but it will be a different land.  Not the land of The Lion-heart or the all-conquering Longshanks. Not the land of The Holy Grail and the sacred relic. Not the England of old. It will be the land of the wool-merchant. The domain of the hops-grower – the country of the carpenter, the banker and the playwright.

We are the last of the old order.  This pestilence is not sent from the Turk, but directly from the Lord himself.  Like the plagues of old Egypt, he has sent the Death to cleanse the land and change it. To free a people that were imprisoned – to start anew.

All I know is this land is cursed.

Our Final Celebration

On Saturday April 6th we are staging our final celebration of the Past in Mind project at the Conquest Theatre, Bromyard.

No one can doubt that this project has been a success. When we started out a year ago we had no idea what to expect.

Everyone involved has faced challenges along the way, but the project has continued to thrive. I have learned so much academically and personally. Like many other volunteers I have discovered that I can do tasks (such as sieving the topsoil of an archaeological trench). In most cases there is a way round things. This has greatly increased my confidence and self belief.

The final celebration on Saturday aims to showcase what we have learned about Studmarsh and its inhabitants. Archaeologist Ian Bapty and historian Dr. Kate Lack will be presenting our discoveries to the public.

We wanted to do something different from the average symposium, so we are bringing to life certain people, objects and elements of nature through a series of short monologues. All of these will have a connection with Studmarsh. Some of the historical characters will be dressed in period costume, provided by the Conquest Theatre.

All the monologues have been written by volunteers and staff who have worked on the Past in Mind project throughout the year.

I am reciting a monologue myself, and as always with public speaking, I am struggling to contain my nerves. Thankfully we set a two-minute time limit for each monologue so it will be the shortest “speech” I’ve ever made in public! I will be speaking as a blind story-teller living in the 15th century. Those attending the event can expect to hear and see wenches, Labourers, a Studmarsh ghost and even the Grim Reaper himself….

We have been working towards our final celebration for several weeks now, and the air has often become taut with tension. It feels so important to convey the essence of the project to the audience, as well as our findings. As a group we have grown together, which is one of the reasons Past in Mind has worked so well.

The event is open to the public so if you are interested please come along. Most of the people who have been involved with Past in Mind will be there on Saturday.

We look forward to seeing you!

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Why The Rain Didn’t Drown My Summer

It’s almost a month since we finished the Studmarsh dig. I can honestly say that it was one of the best Summers of my life.  Coming back down to earth has been incredibly hard, hence a bad dose of Blogger’s Block.

We are meeting tomorrow at Whitbourne, near Bromyard, to discuss the findings of the dig and the next phase of the Past in Mind project.  This has really made me realise that I can’t put off writing any longer. I want to capture the Studmarsh Summer before it becomes obscured by Autumn mist. 

Weather-wise we faced many endurance tests throughout August.  Twice we had to abandon the site altogether because of thunderstorms and torrential rain.  It was the kind of penetrating rain that seems to make your insides wet.  But at least it showed me that “Blog from the Bog” is an apt name.  The Studmarsh site is literally a bog – and its watery underside is one reason why it was favoured by our ancestors.  We did have some days where the sun shone for us so that we could dry out before the next downpour.  These days were golden nuggets.

As time went on the daily trek to reach the site became more enjoyable.  I can’t say that for the trek back at the end of the day.  The track was uphill on the way back, and we all felt it.  But I think everyone became very attached to the field which saw most trowel activity.  It was flanked by a herd of benign cows and a seriously macho bull.  They watched us go past twice a day and even escorted us to the gate on one occasion.  (Being seen off the premises by a herd of cows is where I draw the line regarding new challenges).

In the Studmarsh field there is a huge oak tree which became our lunchtime focal point and often served as an impromptu shelter.  The oak tree (informally known as Doug) must have seen so much.  When we had a site visit from the Herefordshire Parklands project manager, Lewis Goldwater, it became clear just how ancient the oak tree is.  It has never been recorded until now, and is thought to be around 450 years old.   http://www.ancient-tree-hunt.org.uk/recording/tree?tree=WRbknGHzCkKsr7L%2bjicHpw 

One of the aspects of the dig which I enjoyed most was the time spent with archaeologists and fellow volunteers.  I loved the mix of banter and informative conversation.  Right from the start there was so much to learn.  Sieving and trowelling were just the start… The site archaeologists, Chris and Dai, are both talented teachers although they might not realise it.  I never thought that I’d be asked to taste and smell mud and soil to identify them – yet by using taste and smell you really can identify some of their properties.  Sometimes I found it difficult to tell the difference between silted rock and earthenware, and at first I was having many pseudo “Eureka” moments.  But I was taught how to feel the difference between them and this helped me to home in on a couple of finds.

This hands-on approach quadrupled my self-esteem.  I thought my lack of sight would be an impediment in archaeology, but we found a way round everything except how to code the colour of soil on the Munsell chart.  Even this obstacle could be overcome with the help of technology – a University Lecturer who visited the site, is on the case!

The trench that most of the volunteers worked in revealed part of a Medieval building which probably belonged to a local official.  The size of the stone, as well as the dimensions of the “rooms”, indicate considerable wealth.

At the time of the dig the theory was that the Studmarsh site had been abandoned in the 14th century.  The Black Death, political unrest and local famine would all have played their part.  As we slowly uncovered the huge stones until we reached bed rock, I felt a real sense of sadness for the people who had first placed those stones and lived in the Studmarsh field.  No matter how many centuries have gone by, when you’re removing layers of someone’s home it still feels intrusive.  That’s why I was so pleased to take part in the backfilling work at the end of the dig.  It felt like a mark of respect to place the stones back in the earth where we had found them.

Entwined in the long grass of Studmarsh there is undoubtedly personal tragedy.  This had a very profound effect on me at the time and it has not left me completely.  Having said that, this huge boggy field with the Pedunculate oak tree is one of the most peaceful places I have visited.

Many volunteers who participated in the dig are recovering from mental health troubles.  It was so refreshing to take part in a challenging physical activity with no hint of Day Care about it.  Although every part of me ached,  I felt proud of my exhaustion at the end of each day because I had earned it.  Being outdoors with a very eclectic group was so beneficial, and I relished the fact that community spirit brought everyone together no matter what their background.    It was invigorating having such a specific focus – i.e. discovering the secrets of Studmarsh.  At the point of slicing your trowel into the earth and loosening a piece of pottery there is little room for mental distress.  That has got to be worth savouring.

The Studmarsh dig has given me an archaeological bug which is not likely to diminish.  Now I know how much clout depends on the size of an archaeologist’s trowel I hope I’ll get the chance to volunteer at least once a year. 

Thank you to archaeologists Ian Bapty, Dai Williams and Chris Atkinson for giving us volunteers a Summer which the rain didn’t drown.

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Our Next Event

Dear All,
 
I am writing to invite you to the next event on our Past in Mind calendar following the excavation.
We had a very successful and enjoyable time during the dig despite the weather. I hope you managed to catch the press coverage in the Herefordshire times, Journal and on BBC Hereford and Worcester.
 
We had a great response to the Visitor days that the National Trust kindly organised for us – we had over 150 people visiting over the course of the two days and Ian Bapty rose to the occasion and gave a very informative talk to all those present on the two days. The feedback from the public has been very good with a lot of interest shown in the project overall which is encouraging.
 
So we are moving on now to look at the initial results and to planning our winter programme. I do hope you can come and share in the discussion and get involved in the next stages. 
 
Here are the details:
 

PAST IN MIND RESULTS WORKSHOP EVENT: Saturday 29th September 10am – 2pm

Venue: Whitbourne Village Hall. WR6 5RR

Programme 10am – 2pm.

  • Coffee/tea
  • An overview and celebration of the success of the project to date
  • Initial results from the archaeological excavation
  • Plans for writing up the results and recording the wider aspects of the project
  • Museum opportunity – work on the finds and displays
  • Historical update from Dr Kate Lack
  • Planning for the winter programme
  • 1pm Lunch will be provided
  • 2pm close 

Mind volunteers transport arrangements: –

Minibus will leave Heffernan at 9.15am sharp.

Leominster volunteers – Jenny will pick you up at 9.15am at Co-op carpark.

Please let me know if you are attending and if you are staying for lunch so I can make the necessary catering arrangements. There is good parking outside the hall and for those who do not know Whitbourne, the hall is at the heart of the village but I have provided the postcode for those of you using satnavs etc.

I am really looking forward to seeing you and to hopefully capturing a little of our Studmarsh spirit again so I do hope you can come.

Regards,

Jenny

Jenny McMillan

Project Manager

Past in Mind

jenny.mcmillan@herefordshire-mind.org.uk

https://pastinmindproject.wordpress.com/

Mob: 07812370553

 

The Notice Board: General Information

Past in Mind Archaeological Excavation Project (Monday August 13th to Sunday August 26th, Public visit days August 27th/28th, Backfilling August 29th– 30th)

 

General Briefing Information

Introducing the Past in Mind Project

Past in Mind is a Heritage Lottery ‘Your Heritage’ funded project run by the mental health charity Herefordshire Mind, and is an innovative heritage, community learning and mental health support project. It is running from June 2012 to June 2013, and is undertaking an exciting new historical and archaeological investigation of the lost settlement at the Studmarsh/Grove (located on the National Trust’s Brockhampton Estate, Herefordshire).

The project is being undertaken by volunteers including people recovering from mental health problems. With professional support and training, volunteer opportunities will include historical research, archaeological survey and ‘digging’, finds and results analysis and the development of displays and other information resources.

The Grove archaeological investigation

The Studmarsh/Grove site today consists of enigmatic patterns of ‘humps and bumps’ spread across a grazed field. Although the site – first recognised on aerial photographs in the 1970s – would generally be described as a ‘DesertedMedievalVillage’ (or ‘DMV’ for short) the truth is we don’t know what is really represented by these remains.  Questions such as what the settlement looked like, when and how it began, how big it is, what life was like there, how it changed through the centuries, why it declined, and how it relates to the origins of local life today, all remain to be answered.

These questions are particularly interesting because the Studmarsh/Grove is just one of hundreds of similar sites across Herefordshire and the West Midlands. This vast lost story of rural life stretching back over hundreds of years has been little investigated, and the Studmarsh/Grove investigation will also shed important new light on the archaeological potential and importance of many similar sites.

The archaeological excavation (August 13th to August 26th)

The aim of the excavation is dig into some of the platforms, ditches, banks and other features which make up the site (which we previously mapped during the survey work in July), and to try and find out what lies beneath these features. Although archaeology often produces the unexpected, we are fairly confident we will find building remains, and finds such as old pottery. We hope this information will link with the ongoing historical research to reveal something both of the lost story of Studmarsh/The Grove through time, and allow a direct glimpse of the lives of the people who once lived there.  However, excavation does not produce instant answers, and the real objective of the two week digging project is to produce a detailed record of everything we find supported by plans, drawings and photographs. At the next ‘post excavation’ stage all this information will then be subject to further analysis to being to understand what we have really found.

What is involved

We will be begin by digging a series of small square test pits across the site to establish the nature of the archaeological remains in different places, and the potential for further excavation. We will then expand two of those text pit excavations into larger trenches to more fully explore the remains in those areas. These larger excavations will involve careful investigation of the buried layers and features such as stone walls, pits, postholes etc which we may find.

Although there will be a degree of physical work in all of this – removing turf, using tools such as mattocks, spades, wheelbarrows and trowels to gradually uncover buried features – there is much more to excavation than that. Producing section drawings and plans at each stage of the process, keeping written records, cleaning and recording finds, and taking photographs are all essential parts of the process, so there will be plenty to get involved with, and you don’t need to be an Olympic endurance athlete to take part!

Dai Williams and Chris Atkinson from Herefordshire Archaeology will be on hand to give all the necessary support and training, and no prior experience is required.

Public Visit Days Monday August 27th and Tuesday August 28th

Working with the National Trust, we are very keen that the results of the work are made publicly available. The excavation will therefore be open for public visits over the August Bank Holiday Monday (August 27th)  and Tuesday August 26th. The visit process is being coordinated with the help of the National Trust, and will include the option for visitors to join morning and afternoon guided tours or to drop into the site as and when during those days.

We very much hope that at least some of the volunteer team who have been involved in the excavation project will be available on those days to help explain the discoveries we have made to the visitors, and this is another opportunity to get involved in the project.

Backfilling and ground restoration August 29th and August 30th

The final stage of the excavation is to restore the holes we have dug. This is important because we have only been given permission to dig via the National Trust and the farmer on strict condition that we properly reinstate the excavated areas. Moreover,  it is crucial for the long term future of the remaining archaeological deposits that the ground is maintained in good condition.

Essentially backfilling will involve replacing the soil we have removed back into the excavation trenches, ensuring that the ground profile of the ‘humps and bumps’ we have dug into is restored during this process, and then that the turf is carefully replaced so that the grass will rapidly re-grow and recover. The aim is to make sure the site will soon look as if we had never been there.

Obviously, the ground restoration will involve physical work and might not sound terribly glamorous. However, it is an important part of the project, and we would very much welcome volunteer help with this final stage of the excavation.

(Prepared by Ian Bapty)

Ye Olde Snapshot

After spending much of the previous night indulging in the Olympics Opening Ceremony, I was not feeling my shiniest on Saturday July 28th.  But by the time I was sitting on the bus chugging off to Bromyard my “left over night” feeling had disappeared.  I like the spirited journeys out to Bromyard and Brockhampton, and this one did not disappoint.

The purpose of the day was to give an overview of what we have learned so far about the Studmarsh site.  We also had to decide where to dig the archaeological trenches.  The Studmarsh site has many “humps and bumps” beneath its long grass, so we need to target the dig carefully given the fact that we only have two weeks to complete it.

Archaeologists Ian and Chris discussed the results of the Site Survey carried out in the rainy season of June/July, and showed off their new gadget, affectionately referred to as Lidar Duck.  For the more serious-minded, LIDAR is an acronym for Light Detection and Ranging.    http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/professional/research/landscapes-and-areas/aerial-survey/archaeology/lidar/

This impressive piece of kit gives incredibly accurate (within 2m) measurements of land surface from an aerial view, so in an area like Studmarsh where the grass is long and there are many uneven areas of ground, the humps and bumps can be properly mapped out.

Historian Kate Lack gave a detailed overview of the relevant finds from our historical research groups. Please refer to the History Page for Kate’s written update, including extracts from the “Tabloid” headlines associated with Cradley Parish in 1397!  (Not for the prudish).  When I translated the Latin from the Visitation records for Cradley I was struck by the scene of desolation and desperation reaped by the Black Death.  Beneath the salacious headlines which would embarrass most daily Red Tops, there is a sense of hellish suffering in the day-to-day lives of local inhabitants.

 One of the strands of the Past in Mind project is to explore mental health within the framework of archaeology and history.  Many volunteers in the group, including myself, experience or have experienced times of mental distress.  Although this is not the focus of the project, it is important that we acknowledge it. 

With this in mind I was asked to begin a general discussion about the project and how volunteers are finding it in relation to their every day lives.   What follows is a snapshot of Past in Mind volunteers glimpsed through some individual responses.

 

Mark: “It’s given me the confidence to open up and talk in front of others about mental health”.

Chris said that the project has opened things up for him which he has not tried before, such as studying history.  Although his father has always been keen on metal detecting, the Past in Mind project is a new experience for him.  Chris feels enabled to do more things on his own since becoming a volunteer.

Mark said that it is good to be with others again and he is glad there are some service users he knows among the volunteers.  Mark mentioned the leaning castle of Bridge North which once featured on Time Team, one of his favourite TV programmes.   Ian commented that it was surprising how little had been found during the Bridge North excavation despite the famous “leaning castle”.

Helen admitted she feels a bit worn out, but she really enjoyed the Site Survey in June/July – particularly the hands-on use of archaeological equipment such as the Prism and Total Station.

Jenny said that when she began this project she didn’t know much about history or archaeology and she has enjoyed exploring new ideas. 

Kate stated that all the volunteers are on the same level no matter what their level of expertise, as we do not know what we might discover in relation to the Studmarsh site.  She enjoys channelling the group to try to find answers.

Helen likened the project to the TV programme “Deal or no Deal”, explaining that when we dig the archaeological trenches in August we do not know which trench, if any, will yield something valuable.

Mel said that she has found the project double-edged.   She has had to confront some personal past experiences which have been quite emotional.  It has been exhausting for her, although she has also found it a very positive thing to do. Mel said that she had not expected the project to have this effect on her.

Judith sometimes finds it difficult to concentrate as her attention is often caught by interesting but irrelevant details when she is researching texts.  It is easy to lose focus as there are so many details she wishes to pursue.

Claire said that she too has experienced mixed emotions through being involved with this project, although it has been an exciting challenge.

Mel claimed that when she first started out with this project all its strands seemed very separate and she couldn’t see the relevance of some of the earlier research.  But now the content is overlapping more and the project makes sense.  Today (July 28th) is the first day that it all seems to fit together.

Trudy the project Labrador, moaned and grumbled throughout the discussion as she was not the topic of conversation.

 

We talked about many other things including the role of technology and communication, but I would never finish this Blog post if I detailed everyone’s contributions!  This snapshot account captures the project and its volunteers before the eagerly anticipated dig, which is scheduled to start on August 13th.

Please refer to the Contacts Page if you wish to find out more or get involved.

A Sunday Snippet

Volunteer Helen Dean gives her own account of what the Past in Mind project has to offer. 

Well, that was a busy 2 weeks. I have learned a lot, especially about surveying the land with the ‘total station‘ and prism (equipment to take the measurements to hopefully get our measurement right when mapping it down on paper). It’s all new and very interesting, and VERY WET.  It gave me a lot thinking and pondering about what we will think or find out about Studmarsh, and whose and which guesses and ideas will be right.

It has also stirred up some thoughts about my past, some thoughts I could do without and some good. After more churning my thoughts, I have generally found the past in mind project very good for me and also seen others gaining positive thinking, and smiles and jokes about it all, from us as a group. We all seem to have got the bug now, with an aim to find out what mysteries and secrets Studmarsh and the areas around might hold.