People Like Us

(by Dr. Kate Lack)

The historical research for this project is suddenly taking off! We are now planning a display of progress so far, for the next public event on 28th July.

Although there are signs of Ancient British and Roman activity in the vicinity, the place-name Studmarsh is Anglo-Saxon in origin. So a good place to begin seems to be an attempt to visualise the landscape as its Saxon farmers and families knew and understood it. How much woodland was there? What wild animals existed – and how dangerous were they? How many settlements, and of what size, might there have been? Were these people farmers, and if so what were they growing? Do we know any of their names? How did they travel to their neighbours? We are already able to answer many of these questions, and a group of volunteers is starting to make a map of the area, populated with the things that were important to the Saxon residents.

Other volunteers are finding out about Studmarsh and the Bromyard district in the Middle Ages (between the Norman Conquest and the Reformation). Some of this work involves translating texts from Latin. From these documents we are discovering how densely populated the area was, if either the Black Death or one of the occasional famines reduced the population, and whether these people were poor or relatively rich.

By the late Tudor period, we are discovering that it is possible to fill in quite a lot of detail about the lives of individual local people. We have known since the taster day that a man called Richard Beadle owned a meadow called Studmarsh in 1674, and now we are more confident that this is our site. Two groups are exploring the surviving records from this period, and finding out about the Beadle family and their neighbours – what land they owned, who they married, even something about what they had in their houses. Richard Beadle, for example, ate off pewter (at least on special occasions) and had three beds in the house (two with feather mattresses); on his farm land he had seven acres of grain in the fields as well as his meadows, and a cider mill for his personal use.

BeedleInventory   (View PDF of Richard Beadle’s inventory) 

 

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Every Cloud…..

I think that everyone will agree we have not had our fair share of sun this Summer in Britain.  The sky is just a grey skin sagging over the earth.  The sun is generally elusive.   Like many other people, I am someone who is greatly affected by the quality of light.  When the sky is dark grey, so is my mood.  When the sun is on fire, so am I.

In my world, energy and motivation do not arrive on cue each morning.  I am fortunate in that I have a bouncy Labrador who wakes me up every day fearful lest I forget her breakfast.  Perish the thought!  The food-obsessed Hereford Hoover will never go hungry.

At 6.30am I do not really appreciate a warm tongue, nudging snout and heavy paws forcing me to greet the morning.  But I know that Trudy gives me a daily routine that I would not otherwise have.  It would be so easy to hibernate, to sink deeper inside my duvet and to dwindle into oblivion.

At a very basic level Trudy provides me with a reason to go out every day.  Even when I have no incentive and no inclination to do so, I have to take her outside to the grass.  Having this tenuous framework has given many ominous days an uplift.  If you venture out for five minutes there is every chance that something will inspire you or shift your focus.   A shard of sun piercing through an otherwise black sky, a cheerful greeting from a neighbour, a huge Tom cat rubbing against your shins…  There have been many times when I have gone back inside with a fresh outlook.  It is like being given a second chance to start the day feeling positive.

Being involved with the Past in Mind project has lifted my life out of the everyday.   I feel an enthusiasm for this project which propels me along and gives me purpose.  The duvet is well and truly at bay.    

 I have been asked to translate some Medieval Latin as part of the historical research.  Many people might be grimacing when they read this, but I feel as though I have been given the key to a treasure chest.  If you picture a mad boffin chancing upon a rare species of butterfly  – that is me at the moment!  I seriously never thought that I would ever be translating again.  My Classics career came to such a sudden end when my eyesight plummeted in 1989 – it seemed unthinkable that I would ever be reunited with Latin or Greek. 

When Kate Lack the Project Historian asked me to steer the “Latin translation” group for the Past in Mind project, I was very apprehensive.   To say that my Latin is rusty is an understatement.  But I was keen to give it a go.   Our first piece of text was from the Bishop’s register in 1397.  It took me many hours to click my brain back into Latin thinking.  I had some valuable assistance from a fellow volunteer who looked up the vocabulary in the dictionary, and this sparked my enthusiasm into a real flame.  Although I am full of cobwebs and can no longer call myself a Classicist, Latin text still gives me an incredible thrill.   It is like solving a Sudoku puzzle or completing the Times crossword; when you think you have got it right there is immense satisfaction.   The struggle and sweat suddenly seem worthwhile.  Wanting to improve and do better next time makes me eager for more. 

Twenty years ago I thought I would have a career in Classics.  Even when the dream disappeared, the Classics geek inside me never completely died.  So to be given this chance is a small miracle. 

Everyone taking part in the project will have their own reasons for getting involved.  Many will be facing daily battles which might ordinarily prevent them from venturing out.  Even if someone just attends one day of the dig or one group meeting, it is an achievement for them.  Past in Mind is a valuable research project but it is also a personal journey, and I feel confident that everyone who joins us along the way will be enriched in some way.

The Studmarsh site survey has begun today and continues for ten days (please refer to Ian Bapty’s post).  Although I am not participating in this part of the project I have been there in spirit and cannot wait to learn the results of the survey!  This will determine the position of the first archaeological trenches when we start the dig in August.  Whatever the weather, inside and out, we will be there.

 

To Belong

Our slowly increasing band of volunteers met last week in the aptly named Volunteer Inn in Harold Street, Hereford.  We took over an inside corner of the pub, which was already filling up with dogs and humans by 4.45pm.  The atmosphere was genial and I felt heartened that so many people had turned up.

The project historian, Dr Kate Lack, gave an engaging introductory talk about how to approach historical research.  Much of our research will involve accessing County records such as the Bishop’s Register and Parish Records, and most of the volunteers have never done anything like this before.  Kate demonstrated (with the aid of an eider duck drawing) some basic principles in processing and recording information as our research progresses.  The male eider duck has unwittingly become a motif for the Past in Mind project.  Since his appearance (photographically) at the volunteer Taster Day in Bromyard, he has ventured into many conversations and demonstrations.  If I learn nothing else from this project, I hope that I shall be able to distinguish an eider duck from a mallard.

Hereford Records Office is a short walk from the Volunteer Inn.  I have never been there before and was excited at the prospect of being amongst so many ancient documents.  Once inside, it was as if we had entered an Argos store in the middle of Diagon Alley.  Now I know where Harry Potter really bought his “Magical Drafts and Potions” text-book for Hogwarts school..

This Victorian warehouse is stacked with documents, maps and historical records.  I could lose myself there quite happily and emerge in twenty years time.  We were given a talk about how the records are stored and what types of documents are kept.  So much history: so much to discover.

We came across a Record book relating to Brockhampton, which detailed all the different occupations of residents from the mid 1800’s until 2004.  In beautifully scripted handwriting the entries slowly changed from wagoners, farm labourers, millers and the odd butler – to motor vehicle drivers (1920’s) and computer analysts (post 2000).  This was an incredibly rich source of social history.  For me the thrill was intense.

Some volunteers were mesmerised by antiquarian maps of the Brockhampton area.  Everyone was starting to find their personal preferences as regards research.  I felt really at peace in the Records Office.  When you’re standing amid centuries of historical records in one sense you feel very mortal and quite vulnerable, yet in another you feel grounded.  It is strangely comforting to feel so insignificant and so human.

The historical research for the Past in Mind project will be carried out by five different groups under Kate Lack’s supervision.  Having studied Classics in the past I have agreed to assist with translating the Latin entries in the Bishop’s Register.  I am so glad I still have my Lewis and Short dictionary from the days of yore..  Although I have not done any serious translating for over twenty years, I can feel a rush of adrenalin at the thought of being reunited with Latin text (albeit Medieval).  In all seriousness, I never thought I would be translating again.  It is both daunting and exciting. 

The other groups will be studying records and documents from the Medieval, Tudor and Victorian periods.  And finally, one group will concentrate on historical maps.

It is amazing to think that this is just one aspect of the project.  Already I can feel it gathering momentum.  Today Hereford and Worcester Radio’s Andrew Easton interviewed our Project Manager Jenny McMillan, and the Senior Archaeologist Ian Bapty.  http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p00sqc35/Andrew_Easton_06_06_2012/ 

BBC Hereford and Worcester will be covering Past in Mind’s official Launch this coming Saturday.  Anyone interested in registering as a volunteer or in finding out more, is welcome to attend the Launch which will take place from 10.30am – 4pm at the Brockhampton Estate (situated on the A44 near Bromyard).

 

  

The Beginning

English: Bromyard from Bromyard Downs: Looking...

English: Bromyard from Bromyard Downs: Looking westwards from Bromyard Downs provides a view of the whole town. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you were asked to depict a historian, what would you say? If you were asked to depict an archaeologist, what springs to mind? If you were asked to depict a person with bipolar disorder, would you have an image in your head?

Humans are very good at stereotyping. We like people to fit into neat boxes and categories. When someone doesn’t quite fit into any box or category, it often causes discomfort – even annoyance.

A Past in Mind is a community project which has an inclusive approach. Accepting that some volunteers may be experiencing mental health problems has meant that everyone is tolerant of others in the group. There is no “them and us” theme. We’re a group of people interested in history and archaeology.

We had our volunteer Taster Day two weeks ago. The sun was shining and this made the general mood even more exuberant. I must confess that I did not know what to expect. I knew that we were going to be given a general introduction to studying historical records, but that was it.

We virtually hijacked the archives research room in the Bromyard Records Office. It’s a room that is not accustomed to general chatter, and at first the creaky floorboards seemed disgruntled at our noisy intrusion. After a while though, I felt the building relax enough to give us its blessing. After all, the disruption was academically inclined.

At the beginning of this post I mentioned stereotypes. I quickly realised that no one in the group could be summed up or categorised. This was brilliant! One volunteer possessed incredible knowledge about eider ducks (hence the header picture – as the eider duck was integral to our brainstorming session). Others volunteered historical facts and dates, general knowledge and local history expertise. It was clear that each person in the room had something to contribute, and the mix of skills and knowledge created such a fusion of brain-sparks that I literally felt my head buzzing. Speaking more generally, it is important not to have preconceived boxes ready to house this project’s discoveries. An open mind is key to our success.

By the end of the two hours the group was united in its passion for discovery. Our starting point had been one man, a Yeoman who owned land in the area and had made a Will in 1674. From this single Will, we could glean information about what type of person he was, what he may have been through during his lifetime and how it may relate to the events occurring in Britain at the time.

In effect, history became real and touchingly human. I felt that I’d become intrinsically connected with the local area and the people who once tilled its soil. Our Yeoman was no longer just an entry in local records, he was alive in our discussions to the extent that he was almost tangible. I cannot wait to explore further. Not only that, we gelled as a group and this helped us to work together creatively. The feel-good factor was second-to-none. I knew that I would get absolutely no sleep that night – my brain was electric.

This Taster Day was a great beginning for the Past in Mind project. The most gratifying thing was that everyone present was eager to find out more and to continue with the project.

We meet again on Thursday May 31st at the Volunteer Inn, Harold Street, Hereford (4.30/4.45pm). We’ll be visiting the nearby Hereford Records Office to study relevant documents that might help us to understand more about the Brockhampton site. Anyone who is interested in participating in the project is welcome to contact our Project Manager, Jenny McMillan: Jenny.McMillan@herefordshire-mind.org.uk