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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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

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.

Making Our Mark

On Thursday (July 19th) we convened  at the Museum and Resource centre in Friars Street, Hereford.  Our task was to draw up the archaeological plan of the Lower Brockhampton site survey.  Everyone involved with the site survey was still talking about the rain, which the sky had tipped out almost every day for ten days.

Before we set to work we were given a lightning tour of the museum stores.  The entire building is temperature-controlled to preserve the artefacts, but the store-room itself is engineering genius.  The containers were massive and stacked on runners which ran the length of the floor.  There was every conceivable artefact including bones, manuscripts, ceramics and tools.  I was drawn to a huge iron key which belonged to the old Hereford gaol, and some medieval dice that bear no resemblance to the little plastic cubes used in today’s board games.   

 I didn’t take Trudy down the corridoor that housed all the bone archives, just in case her snout got the better of her.  Having never ventured into the bowels of a museum archives store-room before, I was engrossed.    Not for the first time, many people in the group were stirred by the incredible sense of history around us.    

Once back in our study room it was time to do some work.  Chris, one of the archaeologists, displayed limitless patience throughout the day as he proceeded to teach everyone the techniques of drawing an archaeological map.  I sat back and enjoyed taking in the industrious atmosphere.  Collective concentration hovered over the room like a powerful orb.  Trudy lay beside me eyeing up the chocolate Digestives which had found their way onto the table.

The reason why we need to draw an archaeological map is partly for our own benefit.  When we start the excavation in August, this map will show the physical layout of the site and it will help to determine where to dig the trenches.  But it is also greatly important for posterity.  We have to produce a Master copy which will be the official document for this particular excavation, and will be permanently preserved in local records.

That sense of “making history” caused great excitement and a general feeling of pride.  Even those who had found drawing the practise maps a little daunting came to life when Chris displayed the Master copy and told us that everyone was going to make a contribution to this.  One of our long-standing project volunteers, Mark, was first to add to the Master copy map.  By this point everyone was in really good spirits and there was a great deal of support for each other.  

Having ruled myself out of all map-related matters I was very moved when the group encouraged me to make my own mark on the Master copy   I was terrified at the thought of making a mistake and ruining it!  I wonder if this is how novice monks felt when they were presented with their first manuscript to copy?  I’m pleased to say that under Chris’ direction my North arrow on the map (completed by fellow volunteer Margaret), did not ruin the document.  (No thanks to Trudy, who  chose that exact moment to get up and have a long, Labrador stretch.   Her lead was wrapped round my wrist!) 

Everyone in the group “made their mark” yesterday.  The Master copy of the archaeological map for the Lower Brockhampton site will be a true team effort when it is completed.  I know my self-esteem quadrupled and I could sense other people feeling very upbeat as they left for home at the end of the workshop.       

Our next public event is on Saturday July 28th at the Falcon Hotel in Bromyard (Please refer to the Dates and Events page for further details).  The theme is “What do we know so far?”   Please bring your friends and family along as it promises to be a really great day.  Anybody requiring transport or further information please contact Jenny McMillan by July 25th: Jenny.McMillan@herefordshire-mind.org.uk

 

 

 

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.