Backfilling The Blog

 

 

Book Launch 2014 8

On May 10th 2014 around 100 people gathered to celebrate the Past In Mind project and the launch of Kate Lack’s fascinating book: Past In Mind: A Heritage Project and Mental Health Recovery.

Whitbourne Village Hall was buzzing with excitement and anticipation as faces old and new filled up the room.

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Dash at book launchDash, my new guide dog, greeted people with his usual enthusiasm and helped everyone to feel at ease.

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It was very heartwarming to meet up with people we hadn’t seen since last year, and to hear their news.  Past In Mind became a very close-knit group and we all believed in the project so much that it has left a definite imprint on each of us.

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After some luxurious refreshments there were a few short presentations from a cross-section of people involved with the project.  True to the ethos of Past In Mind this included some thoughts from volunteers such as Chris, Mark, Malcolm and myself.

The book signings came next, and for many of us this meant exchanging autographs – a bit like at the end of your schooldays when you’re about to set off on new, personal adventures.

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It seems almost trivial to sum up the events of the afternoon, because what I really want to convey in this post is the electric atmosphere that purveyed the room.  There was an excitement tinged with sadness as this era of Past In Mind was about to draw to a close.  But rather than a full stop at the end of the line, there was and still is a bold question mark.  What?  Why?  Where?  Who?  When?  This particular project may have come to an end, but its spirit will never die.

 

Blog from the Bog started out as an experiment to capture snapshots of Past In Mind.  It morphed into a launchpad for ideas and a voice for volunteers and professionals.  It served as a notice board and reference.  It uncovered layers of Past In Mind and delved beneath the surface.  It yielded unexpected finds.  Now the time has come for the backfilling of the Blog.  This is not to say that Blog from the Bog will never re-emerge, but its current purpose has been fulfilled.  Just as we filled in the layers of soil after the excavation at Studmarsh, I need to fill in the layers of the Blog in order to leave it ready for another day.

Needless to say, writing this is making me very emotional.

 

Book Launch 2014 6I cannot finish this post without saying a heartfelt thank you to all my fellow volunteers, and to Kate, Ian, Chris and Dai for teaching me so much about myself and the world around me.  But most of all I want to thank Jenny who has surfed the waves of Past In Mind and risked drowning once or twice, but always managed to stay afloat in order to glimpse the next sunrise.

 

Finally, no backfilling would be complete without mentioning Fran, who loved the project and the Studmarsh field in 2012.  RIP Fran.

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Kate’s book (author name, Katherine Lack) is priced at £5.95 and is available from Amazon: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Past-Mind-Heritage-Project-Recovery/dp/0954621247/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1402360817&sr=1-1&keywords=past+in+mind+heritage+project

 

 

 

 

The Conquest

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The final celebration at Bromyard’s Conquest Theatre paid dramatic tribute to the Past In Mind project.

In the few weeks leading up to this event our stress levels were almost unbearable. We were so keen to do the project justice. The ‘Day in the Life’ idea sprung up at the end of an intense brainstorming session, dangerously close to the event itself. It kindled a fire of creativity which strayed into the realms of madness. Head rushing adrenalin which feeds the brain’s thirst for more stimuli can send the ‘possessed’ writer into an alternative reality. But the rewards are phenomenal.

On the day itself, as I sat on the theatre stage waiting to recite my piece, I felt thrilled to be taking part. Some of my close friends were among the audience and I couldn’t help feeling proud of our achievements as a team.

A year ago, many of the volunteers would have run away from a theatre costume, a script and an audience. Yet here we all were, eager to share our project with a public audience through dramatic snapshots of Studmarsh and its people moving through time.

I will shortly post the ‘Day in the Life’ pieces on the Blog along with links to some video footage of the event.

Archaeologist Ian Bapty, historian Dr. Kate Lack, and project Manager Jenny McMillan gave lively accounts of the academic and personal findings from the project.

We were offered medieval-style refreshments produced and made by locals. These were much appreciated.

Although this particular project has drawn to a close, Past in Mind lives on. The door has been opened to other opportunities linked to local heritage, volunteer work and further research.

This means that Blog from the Bog will definitely not stop here.

From a mental health point of view, volunteers have experienced ups and downs during the past year but I can safely say that no one has regretted taking part in the project. We have grown together and all participants feel justifiably proud.

I will end this post with a genuine thank you to everyone who has been involved with Past in Mind.

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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BREAKING THROUGH BRAMBLES

PIMhd20                                                                                                                                         Happy New Year everyone!  I’m very pleased to be back in the blogosphere after what seems like a decade of lying low. 

New Year always brings a wave of optimism for me, and I like turning the corner at the end of December ready to face a new leg of the journey – where anything is possible.  There is something cathartic for me in placing 2012 in the archives box.  The Past in Mind project which took off in 2012 continues to be a real treasure, and it will be featured on display later this year at the National Trust’s Brockhampton Estate.

But the latter part of 2012 became a personal struggle and there were times when I honestly thought I would never find a way out of the darkness.  During this period I lost the ability to write.  I literally shut down and became lost in a very frightening world.  But the pit I fell into wasn’t bottomless, for with help from friends and professionals I managed to cling on to a ledge and prevent myself from sinking out of reach.  I am now slowly climbing out into the open again, and glad to be alive.  January 2013 has brought me some clarity and some hope.  It has been therapeutic surveying the bleak despairing weeks of late 2012 and sending many aspects to the archives.  Having regained possession of trowel and spade, I am ready to discover what lies ahead.  I have been given another chance, which is why I genuinely mean; “Happy New Year everyone”. 

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to attend the Symposium on December 8th 2012.  This was an important moment for the Past in Mind project.  The Symposium is an annual day-long event in Hereford where all the County’s archaeological projects are shared with the public.  Archaeological finds, progress and academic interpretations are all aired with lively question and answer sessions throughout the day. 

Past in Mind was given a platform during the Symposium.  Obviously our project aims to make an academic contribution particularly in relation to (so-called) Deserted Medieval Villages, of which there is comparatively little knowledge nationally.  But Past in Mind also has a historical research strand, so the project brings together the two disciplines of history and archaeology.  Pushing further boundaries, Past in Mind is interwoven with mental health recovery and the individual odysseys of all the Community volunteers whatever their background or experience.  At times it has been challenging finding the right balance between the many strands linking the Past in Mind project, but it has always been our aim to promote inclusion and reduce some of the stigma that people with mental health troubles face in everyday Society.  This has been the underlying current running through our project and it is what makes this project very special to us.

From what I understand the Past in Mind Project caught the attention of the audience, many of whom were amateur or professional archaeologists.  The presentation was given by Jenny, Ian, Kate and the volunteers – all of whom were on the stage.  This clear demonstration of inclusion is the essence of the Past in Mind project, and it also makes it evident how archaeology, history and mental health are entwined.  It is heartening to know that many people would have gone away and given some thought to the concept of archaeology/history and mental health recovery linking together in a really positive way. 

One other significant event in December 2012 was the broadcasting of live conversations recorded during the excavation last Summer, on Radio 4’s “All in the Mind” programme hosted by Claudia Hammond.  This audio snapshot really captures the magic of Past in Mind:   http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01p71gx

The Past in Mind project has funding for a few more months.  As mentioned earlier, we will be working towards creating a display which will be housed in the Brockhampton Estate later this year.  We also have more historical research to do so that we can increase our understanding of some of the people who once lived in Studmarsh.

Please check the blog for updates as our programme of Events will be posted on here shortly.

WE WISH ALL OUR READERS A VERY HAPPY AND PEACEFUL 2013    

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Digging Through History (by Dr. Kate Lack)

A dozen people spent a large part of 18th October exploring how documentary evidence can help tell the story of the occupants of Studmarsh. We began in a café, ended in a pub, and spent a bit of time in the Record Office in between!

In many ways, historical research is like archaeology. We start by peeling off the upper layers, which seem to reveal nothing, but as we work away we begin to uncover evidence which may begin to fit together to tell a story that makes sense. The difference is that when doing historical research there are lots of different tools we have to use to get access to the buried evidence.

There are two periods of history in which we have a chance of finding specific information about Studmarsh:– just before the Reformation (the late middle ages to Tudor times), and the post-Reformation period, from about 1550 to 1750.

We began by looking at two poems by John Skelton, who lived through the transition between these two periods. Both were in English, and gave an idea of what life might have been like in late medieval Studmarsh. Mannerly Margery was wonderful when read by Jenny with her Irish accent! Eleanor Rumming was a bit harder to understand, but we still got a good idea of the power a woman could have in a small community if she brewed good ale, including plenty of detail of the household items people were willing to give her in exchange for a drink.

Tools

1.Names

Margery (or Margaret) and Eleanor were both very common names in medieval England. Name-choices can reveal a great deal about  people and societies, and we noticed that, just like in our own time, children in the post-Reformation period were being given very different names from, say, their grandparents. Partly this would have been because of changes in beliefs (fewer saints’ names, more virtues like Patience), partly because of increased literacy (many biblical names appear just after the Reformation). We also talked about how names can help us to identify people in the past.

2. Wills

By late medieval times, more people were writing wills, and they become more common later. In the Hereford Record Office, wills are indexed in three ways, and we spent some time finding out how these work. We soon discovered that it is always important to write down the information you find as you go along.

The earliest ones (from 1400 to about 1540) are listed in a book called Faraday’s Probate Index. We looked at this, and found the index by surname at the back, the list by reference number near the front, and learnt what some of the abbreviations mean.

From 1540 to 1700, wills are in a hand-written index called Woodards, which is kept in two brown boxes, subdivided alphabetically by surname. Unlike Faraday, this does NOT cross-reference by surname variant, so for Biddle, for example, you also have to look under Beedle, Byddle and so on.

The most recent wills are indexed on films which are kept in blue boxes in the last of the wills film drawers. First you have to find the right time period. Then the film gives a photograph of a big ledger-type book, with lists of wills by surname. These are in initial letter order, but if a page was filled up, the person compiling the list would have to go on to the next empty page. So often you find that after three pages of ‘B’ surnames you go onto ‘C’ and ‘D’ before coming back to ‘B’. This may happen several times in one ledger. If the person you are looking for left a will, there will be an entry like: Biddle Richard    62.  This means that in the next section of the film you will be looking for folio 62. We discover at this point that a folio has two sides, unlike our modern page numbers where each side has its own number! Folio 62 will have a short entry about Richard Biddle, including a date, his parish, key people named, and usually the total value of his wealth.

Once you have found an entry for a will which you think may be relevant, and have made a note of all the information included in the indices, you are ready to find it.

All the wills have been photographed so should be available to view on film reels. These are arranged in time order, and then in surname order, but neither system is exact, so it can take a long time to find one will. Once you have found it, the staff will help you to make a copy of it. Write its details on the back of every sheet.

3. Parish Registers

These begin in Tudor times – some as early as 1539 and all parishes were supposed to have them by the 1580s. They are extremely valuable because everyone’s name should be in them at least twice – for their baptism and burial; everyone who married had a third entry, for that.

Registers are available on film in the Record Office, in alphabetical order by parish name.

Together wills and registers help us reconstruct how wide a person’s social network was, many details of their family life, times of disease, what personal possessions they had and so on.

Using these tools, we were able to ‘dig out’ several new pieces of information while we were at the Record Office.

One group got part way through looking for a will from the 1750s which may be relevant, and they plan to go back and finish finding it soon.

For Richard Biddle whose will we began with in the spring, we found his burial record which showed that he died in summer 1674. He was described as living on Bringsty [Common] and was buried in Bromyard; in his will he described himself as ‘of Linton’. We should be able to use this information to narrow down which house he lived in.

We found the will of William Colley of Norton, a contemporary of Richard Biddle, and now we must find out what it says.

We are still trying to discover if another William Colley, who held a lot of land in Whitbourne in 1577, is recorded in the parish registers. We also want to know if this is the same William Colley who lived at Studmarsh, or another person with the same name.

We did find the will of James Biddle, and now we need to find out what this says, too.

So, we are beginning to build up a more detailed picture, and fill in some gaps.

Now we can work out what the wills we have found so far mean, and see if they fit together. We are planning another day in November when we can get together again, and in the meantime we can have a go at looking at them in small groups. I’ll post them up on the Blog in a day or two.

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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Thoughts from Mel

Greetings, me fellow cow-pat huggers!
Mel B signing in for first time.
This Project has been something I’ve dreamed of for years: I’ve often thought Archaeology might be something I would like to study formally with Geology – and so far it is living well up to expectations!  Doing the site Survey, plotting out the markers in the fields, trying to learn how to recognize – visually and ‘by foot’ – changes and indicators in the ground and landscape, learning about the selection of a ‘base line’ for orientation of the survey map, learning to understand the meaning and practical application of the long-incomprehensible “degrees/ hours, minutes and seconds”, using a protractor for the first time since 1978(fun!), trying to help complete the resulting Survey Map (!!…my contribution of wobbly lines and an arrow pointing the wrong way, is there for eternity, oh dear!), and now…………… the actual “Dig”: actually, everything has far exceeded those expectations: seeing the factors involved that helped influence where the archaeologists dug their first “test trenches”, measuring the turfs and removing them, my first find of a bit of old green glass, so early on (yee-hah!!), sifting soil – both the productive and the devoid of finds, celebrating watching other people’s joy and growth in confidence as they’ve made finds and realized their own (the team member’s) ‘value’, watching a seemingly-random heap of stones become…a random heap of stones!…Or, could it be a house wall, farm shed or barn, kiln…!, the exciting suggestion of a doorway…It’s BRILLIANT!
However, it has been far from an easy ride: I have been diagnosed with Chronic, Complex PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), which is defined as being the result of having suffered long-term multiple Trauma including all types of Abuse, and said Trauma symptoms either surfacing at a date at some distance in the future from the cause/s, or said Traumatic symptoms going formally unrecognized/ untreated for a long period. The Dig, therefore has been such a double-edged sword; since it began, I have suffering flashbacks and nightmares from the most mundane of activities (the sheer terror of sitting in the passenger seat of a car with the driver, being in any sort of vehicle near a driver (other than an anonymous public bus and train), being in country lanes and tracks, being in fields and smelling those smells (even though as an adult, I do adore the countryside), having to commit things to paper in any form (i.e. the Survey Map), ‘studying’ anything (i.e. records), in case I ‘get it wrong’, seeing the tools and the black waste buckets-like-mini-dustbins, deciding whether I have a right to take a break, having to use the bushes for the toilet (not for reasons of ‘vanity’), fearing that if I don’t work every second I will have to endure the traumatic events and the rejection once again……………….and so it goes!
I also suffer from a tendon disease and disability called Fibromyalgia, with Chronic Fatigue, the symptoms of these are chiefly triggered (in my case) by stress, and I have also been taught that I have to learn to ‘pace’ myself and my stresses and activities through every day…but it is SO HARD learning to recognize one’s own physical and emotional limits – and I was SO VERY Grateful that our leader imposed regular breaks in the day:  I never want to take a break because I’m loving it so much anyway – and I don’t want to miss a second of this privileged position! – but it also eliminates that deep-seated ‘question’ about whether you are ‘doing well enough, pulling your weight in the Group’, it’s ‘ok’ and ‘you have the right’ to rest.. I go swimming twice a week (except during Dig fortnight), which helps prevent my weight escalating, and maintain my ‘flexibility.’…
I feel sick and shaky just writing this down – but the Dig and History experiences are one’s that I’ve dreamed of for so many years, and I wouldn’t miss them for the world. I have also only now been able to begin to formulate in my own mind, an understanding of what I have been experiencing. Today just felt like ‘the right’ day for me to start writing it all down. And I also realize that, in carrying on with this Project and Dig, I am not letting the nightmare people in my past, hold me back: they are not going to win!
While committing this to the Blog, I have also worried if this is the appropriate place to write this down…but after consideration, I think that perhaps this is the correct place, because the idea of the Project was to investigate the parallels within Mental Illness and History, throughout history: I am learning so much continually throughout the Project, and
I have so treasured this experience (Dig and History.), not just as subjects that fascinate me in their own rights – but because it’s been so wonderful meeting and working with such a broad range of people, with such fascinating and diverse knowledge and experience of life, working towards a common goal, and I feel I am learning all the time.
I miss being with you all among the cowpats but look forward to being with you at our next meeting on 29th September.
All my Loveywoosams to u all! XXX