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) 

 

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).