As always when planning outside events, the British weather was doing its utmost to cause disruption right up until the morning of the launch. Thankfully we were spared the wet stuff, which kept spirits very much alive throughout the day.
The venue was Lower Brockhampton Estate just outside Bromyard, which is owned by the National Trust. Brockhampton literally means “the farm of the dwellers by the brook”, and the 1680 acres of parkland, woodland and fields create a tremendous feeling of continuity. This beautiful place has remained relatively unchanged for hundreds of years. The first owners of the estate, the Brockhampton family (who took their name from the place) built the Norman chapel which now stands as a ruin in the grounds. The manor, Lower Brockhampton House, was built in the 14th century by John Domulton, and although by modern standards it does not seem extravagant or luxurious, at the time of construction it was an ostentatious display of wealth and status. Similarly the moat which once surrounded the manor was intended more as a status symbol than a defence.
The Studmarsh site which we will be excavating is not far from the Brockhampton Estate and visiting it really helped me to connect with the location. I was struck by its remoteness. Even the National Trust ticket kiosk was a considerable distance from the manor. As we trundled down the lengthy drive, I thought of the people who had made the same journey in previous centuries before the luxuries of cars and concrete paths. Their world must have been a local world. This time next year we may know more.
For the project launch a huge tent had been erected to house the displays and information stands of the various Organisations supporting Past in Mind. I thought it was impressive – but then I didn’t have the logistical headache of negotiating tent pegs, poles and limited time. Once again I was pleasantly surprised by the high turn-out, and there were some new people in the group which was encouraging. We began with a short talk by the Project Manager Jenny McMillan, who outlined the ethos of the project and the idea behind Past in Mind. I still have to pinch myself every now and then to remind myself that only a few months ago we were waiting to see if Heritage Lottery would provide funding.
Ian Bapty the senior archaeologist gave a guided tour around the Brockhampton Estate. It was a very useful exercise as it enabled us to get the feel of the area and to put the Studmarsh site into local context. I enjoyed simply standing still and absorbing the peaceful surroundings. My Guide dog enjoyed sniffing the green grass and watching the ducks (mallards not eider ducks) out of the corner of her eye.
Obviously the main focus of this project is to carry out historical research and the excavation in August. However alongside that we are aiming to eradicate the stigma surrounding mental illness. I believe that an effective way to reduce and ultimately remove stigma is to talk about seemingly taboo subjects. So often stigma arises out of fear and common misconceptions, so open discussion is a positive step forward. Quite apart from anything else, sitting down and talking puts most people at ease. One of the highlights of the launch event for me was a lively post-lunch discussion about mental health recovery in relation to the Past in Mind project.
All the volunteers took part in the discussion regardless of their background. It was fascinating to listen to the breadth of knowledge and experience expressed by so many different people. Topics ranged from mental health recovery, perceptions of reality, Nature versus Nurture, history (including mental health in historical context), and archaeology. There was an Olympic-style academic debate between the history and archaeology experts about their different approaches. Game on!
I felt really positive after this discussion and easily could have stayed for another hour. One of the things I like about the Past in Mind group is that everyone is very accepting of each other regardless of differing opinions (academic or otherwise). It is a diverse group, but a united one.
A positive result for the launch was that many more volunteers signed up for the project and I can now declare Lift Off for Past in Mind.
The next important part of the project is the Studmarsh site survey which will take place from June 25th – June 30th. Ian Bapty has provided details about how to get involved with this aspect of the project – please refer to his post, “Site Survey”. As usual, anyone is welcome to join but please register as soon as possible as numbers are limited.