CLOTHING THE PAST
In July two years ago we spent a fortnight's summer holiday in central Scotland. One rather grey, cool and showery day in St Andrews I was standing outside a large, extremely overheated and very highly-perfumed emporium specialising in gifts and souvenirs while, inside, my children made characteristically unwise and regrettable purchases and my beloved made every effort, quite without success, to restrain their eagerness to 'Spend! Spend! Spend!'. Standing there, opting out of my parental responsibilities and watching the world go by, expecting at any moment to see the heir-but-one to the throne emerge from Tesco Metro, I was fascinated to observe a Japanese gentleman walking down the street, clad in full 'Highland' costume—kilt, sporran, plaid, dirk, tam o'shanter. Miss Jean Brodie (or one of her very close relatives) was idling away a moment or two next to me. She watched for half a minute or so, her beautifully shaped eyebrows raised high and her lips pursed, and then said to her friend, in tones of purest crystalline Morningside, 'Weeell, and which clan d'ye think he's from then?'. Her friend mutely shook her head. I found it surreal, and mused upon the bizarre sequence of historical processes which had produced this interesting sight, from Walter Scott's 1819 fakery, through the opening up of Japan in the 1860s and the country's post-1945 transformation, to the extraordinary impact of international tourism on a grand scale. Later I wondered why most historians seem to pay so little attention to costume, and why those who do are usually considered eccentric. The subject has hardly touched upon in the pages of The Local Historian during its 53 years. Why do we not give it more thought and more coverage? Many historians, local and otherwise, have long been gainfully employed on investigating topics to do with housing and employment, and increasingly they have considered the crucial dimensions of family life and relationships, the history of childhood and old age … but dress and costume have rarely been the subject of really detailed scholarly analysis in our branch of history. Furthermore, it is the subject of so much myth and nonsense that it might mislead us into thinking that all 'folk' costume is tourist fakery. Go to Wales today and you can hardly escape the postcards of women looking awkward in tall black hats and red shawls, while countless little plastic dolls are in similar garb, though they don't feel silly about it. As a cynic (surely not!) I used to think 'Faugh! It's all made up' … but knowing Wales much better now, and seeing the genuine images of the women of fishing communities in Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire, those hauntingly beautiful black and white photographs taken a century and a quarter ago showing them in tall hats, shawls and long skirts, I know I was wrong. They were genuine costumes and they served a practical as well as a decorative purpose—they had a history, a local history, and they were an integral part of the daily lives and lifestyles of the communities where they were found. Local historians could pay more attention to this vital element of human history, considering local clothing styles and types, the costume distinctive to particular trades, and the dialect and vernacular terms for items of costume. There are, of course, experts in this field, but it is surprising how little of their work has impinged on our consciousness. In a recent article which I found fascinating (Northern Historyvol.37, 2000) Katrina Honeyman investigated the rise and power of the off-the-peg clothing industry in Leeds between the wars, and it occurred to me again, as I read it, that food and clothes are wrongly perceived as frivolous or lightweight subjects by many historians. I greatly enjoy my occasional readings of the admirable, amazing, heavyweight and deeply esoteric journalCostume, published by the Costume Society. There one can find numerous articles which have a local history dimension—a recent issue (no.37, 2003) included, among other items, papers on the institutional clothing worn by the children of the Kirkdale Industrial Schools in Liverpool in the nineteenth century (I declare an interest—that one was written by one of my MA students); the English commercial dressmaking pattern industry; the city of London's tailoring trade in the 17th century; and Samuel Pepys' clothes. The 2004 issue has a glorious collection of articles on clothing and recreational activities—women's bathing dress in England 1850-1900; women's ski outfits 1880-1930; male dress and decorum on the tennis courts of inter-war Britain; and the dress of early women mountaineers … maybe that's not strictly local history but who cares!
ENGLAND'S PAST FOR EVERYONE
'The biggest shot in the arm for English local history since the founding of the VCH itself', was how one person described England's Past for Everyone (EPE), the Heritage Lottery Fund supported project launched by Sir Graeme Davies, vice chancellor of the University of London on 5 May 2005. EPE has been years in the making, but finally it has happened. With funding from the HLF, and from local trusts and universities, this brand new VCH driven project will see various new local history initiatives taken in ten different places. Some of these are traditional VCH areas, including Oxfordshire, where studies of Burford and Henley will be undertaken, Sussex and Wiltshire, but others are happening in counties where the VCH has been dormant for years: Cornwall, Derbyshire, Herefordshire and Kent, while the Durham project builds on work in a county which recently restarted its VCH. And, finally, some of the projects ignore counties altogether, in a real break with the old traditions, including studies of Exmoor and Bristol. To fund the projects, new trusts have had to be set up, and fund raising has been in progress for years. The work now underway will involve volunteers, and it will have a strong educational side to it, ranging from primary school children to life long learners in their maturer years. And it will be a huge challenge in terms of satisfying the HLF, but the results must surely help to drive the VCH forwards for a 21st century audience. Readers will know that the VCH was founded in 1899 with the intention of providing general histories of each county, and an encyclopaedic coverage of every parish across England. At that time, it was part of a phalanx of such optimistic, jointly researched and authored schemes, which also gave us the DNB and the OED. It struggled after a bright beginning, and some counties have been dormant since before 1914, while two (Westmorland and the West Riding of Yorkshire – both abolished in 1974) have never even started. Since 1933 it has been owned, organised and run by the University of London, and has been best known for its 'big red books'. Every county with an active VCH is grateful for the work being undertaken, and those without one would like to have one. But, of course, it all costs a great deal of money, which is why the VCH is active only in a handful of places, and why it always seems to be on the verge of a crisis. EPE is a new initiative, worked out with the HLF, to fund projects which will be published as (paperback) books, and as website material. The conference which preceded the official launch on 5 May heard about the new projects, and about some of the mechanisms for undertaking the new schemes. It all promises a bright new start for the VCH, and the opportunity to raise the profile of local history more generally. Doubtless Local History News will be reporting progress as it occurs; after all, the overall funding for the project is about £6m, and it is a long time since anyone thought of English Local History in those sort of terms! John Beckett is Professor of English Regional History at the University of Nottingham. From September 2005 he is seconded to the University of London to be Director of the Victoria County History. Since 2001 he has been involved with the Derbyshire VCH Trust which has been responsible for re-starting the VCH in that county and is one of the EPE projects mentioned here.
THE BALH PUBLICATIONS AWARDS 2005
One of the most enjoyable tasks in my editorial year is reading and helping to assess the shortlisted candidates for the BALH Publications Awards. In 2005, for the last time, the articles were selected by Peter Christie, the Reviews Editor of The Local Historian, who retired from this role just before Christmas 2004. The catchment is extremely wide, because the articles are selected from over 150 different issues of journals which are received for listing in The Local Historian. They come from all parts of the British Isles and this wealth of material relate to all sorts of periods, subjects and approaches to local history. Shortlisting is therefore a hard task, but choosing the winners is no less difficult. There are usually eight on the shortlist, from which we (a panel of assessors who include professional and non-professional local historians from different areas of the country) select four or five. We always seek to ensure that the articles display special qualities—they should be readable, informed, well-referenced, maybe considering an unusual topic, or taking a new look at a familiar but controversial theme, or analysing a new or little-used source. I think I also speak for the other members of the panel when I say that we do not have any preconceptions about what subject to go for, because in fact those of us with particular interests or specialisms find a great deal of interest and enjoyment in reading about topics and places of which we know little. We are enlightened! This year the winning article was by Bryan Jerrard, one of the best-known names in Gloucestershire local history. For over twenty years he has been working on the perennially interesting and important subject of crime, and in his article 'Crime in Gloucestershire 1805 to 1833' (Gloucestershire History no.18, 2004) he uses a range of contemporary sources, including the statistics which are available—more or less for the first time—in this period, to look at trends in crime, in the context of policing and the economic and social changes in the county. Bryan's article demonstrated how careful use of sources can produce evidence of revealing trends and we all felt that it was a valuable contribution to the understanding of the changing nature of local society in this turbulent period. Shirley Neale wrote about a local example of another widespread nineteenth-century phenomenon (like crime and poverty, always with us), namely the exploitation of the gullible, the credulous and the desperate by 'medical men'. The article ('Quackery at King's Cross: James Morison and the British College of Health',Camden History Review no.28, 2004) tells in full, and occasionally disagreeable, detail of the activities of James Morison, who made a lot of money out of pills and remedies, and was both famous and notorious in his lifetime—Thomas Carlyle alleged that all he needed was one of Morison's pills to cure the maladies of society! Shirley commented that her interest in the subject was prompted by an earlier article in CHR which referred to the Wellcome Library, and that she chose 'quacks' as a research topic because 'With doctors abounding in my family, how could I resist them. The Wellcome's fabulous cataloguing system disgorged James Morison of Camden in no time, and I was hooked'. In 'King's Lynn in 1764-6: the evidence of the Water-Rate Assessment' (The Annual: the bulletin of the Norfolk Archaeological and Historical Research Group no.12, 2003) Peter Sykes chose a different approach. Using a source of exceptional quality and completeness, the sort of which most local historians can only dream, he undertook a meticulous analysis of the social and economic geography of the mid-eighteenth century town, mapping the patterns of wealth and poverty and reconstructing the ownership and occupation of properties using detailed plans of individual streets. This was an exemplary case study, which contributes greatly to understanding of this middle-ranking provincial town and will surely have a wider relevance to studies of eighteenth-century urban history. Jonathan Reinarz, in 'Healthcare and the Second City' (>Birmingham Historian no.26, 2004), provided an overview of how teaching hospitals, of national as well as local and regional significance, developed in Birmingham during the nineteenth century. In the article, which is a distillation of a three-year research project on the subject, Reinarz shows how, paralleling the city's major general purpose hospitals, specialised facilities (such as the eye, ear and orthopaedic hospitals) were gradually provided as medical knowledge and the understanding of anatomy improved. This article was an excellent general account of an aspect of nineteenth-century urban history which is often overlooked. Finally, back to Gloucestershire (clearly a very productive county!). Martin Holt's article, '"Irresponsible and Self Seeking Faddists": Tewkesbury and the unpopular practice of vaccination' (>Tewkesbury Historical Society Bulletin no.13, 2004), had an enticing title and was based on an undergraduate dissertation. It discusses at vaccination, a subject of special relevance to Gloucestershire since that was Edward Jenner's own county, but the study looked not at Jenner's day (the years around 1800) but almost a century later. Compulsory vaccination of children was being debated in the Tewkesbury Poor Law Union in the late 1890s, following a major smallpox epidemic in Gloucester in 1895. The article discusses the prejudices against and hostility towards the idea, and traces the arguments which raged in the town. It is a small-scale study which undoubtedly reflects much wider attitudes and arguments in late Victorian England. With all these articles, we not only felt that knowledge of the locality and its history was enhanced, but that light was shed on issues and themes in history in a broader sense. Any of these articles could not only be used to gain greater understanding of what was happening in the district or the county, but could also be used as examples to illustrate broad-based studies. That, I think, is one of the hallmarks of successful local history writing. Next year's shortlist will be drawn up in the autumn, and I am looking forward to improving my own knowledge when I come to read the articles selected.
AGM, AWARDS AND PHILLIMORE LECTURE
Annual General Meeting, Awards and Phillimore Lecture The focal day of the year for the Association is always the first Saturday in June, in London, when we hold the AGM, make the annual Local History Awards, and invite a distinguished historian to deliver our Annual Lecture. In 2005 it fell on 4 June, at the Friends Meeting House. ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING Some seventy members and guests attended the meeting, a number much augmented later for the Awards and Lecture. The formal minutes will be published in Local History News 78, next February, together with notice of the 2006 meeting. This informal record is to provide members with a more timely report. The chair was, sadly, taken for the last time by the President, Dr Joe Bettey whose retirement was recognized by a suitable tribute. Council will consider the appointment of a successor. Dr Margaret O'Sullivan stood down as Chairman, and was presented with a small gift from Council members and staff. The following were elected to the Council of the Association and thus as trustees of the charity; new elections this year are marked *: Chairman - *Dr Claire Cross: Professor of Medieval History, University of York; member of Royal Historical Society and the Ecclesiastical History Society. Professor Cross is a leading authority on medieval and early modern ecclesiastical history, and has been a longstanding supporter of the work of BALH. Her most recent publication, with colleagues at York, is Mass and Parish in late Medieval England: The Use of York Hon Secretary – vacant (filled de facto by the Business Manager, Mrs Annmaire Jones) Hon Treasurer – vacant (responsibilities undertaken by trustees nominated by Council, meeting as the Finance Committee) Dr Paul Carter The National Archives *Mrs Susan Clayton Tutor in Local History, University of Nottingham; editor of East Midlands Historian, volunteer curator of Flintham village museum (rural life as seen by the village shopkeeper) *Lt Col (retd) Michael Cowan Wiltshire local historian and former General Secretary of the Association Dr David Dymond a Vice-President of the Association, formerly University of Cambridge Mr Michael Farrar formerly Cambridgeshire county archivist Dr Tim LomasLincolnshire County Council Education Service; Vice-Chairman of the Association *Dr Jo Mattingly Research fellow, University of Exeter, team leader for Penwith Project, VCH Cornwall EPE; extensive experience of local history and museums Dr Ruth Paley History of ParliamentDr Edward Royle formerly Professor of History, University of York *Dr Nigel Tringham editor Victoria County History of Staffordshire, and a leading member of the local history community in the North Midlands AWARDS FOR LOCAL HISTORIANS Mr Noel Osborne, Managing Director of Phillimore & Co Ltd, presented the certificates. The award winners are listed in the Supplement of this issue of Local History News (see What's New page of website). Alan Crosby discusses above the articles shortlisted for the award made 'to encourage research and publication'. Bryan Jerrard was placed at the top of the list this year, and his article will be reprinted in The Local Historian in November. The recipients of awards made 'to recognise other kinds of personal achievement' will be profiled in the next three issues of Local History News.THE PHILLIMORE LECTURE Eamon Duffy, Professor of the History of Christianity at the University of Cambridge delivered this year's lecture: Hearing Voices: on writing the history of Reformation Morebath. Illustrated by the buildings and landscape of Morebath, as well as images of the unique churchwarden's accounts which formed the basis of this research, the lecture stimulated some searching questions from the appreciative audience. An edited version will be published in the November 2005 issue of The Local Historian. Saturday 3 June 2006 The next Phillimore Lecture will be given by Professor Steve Hindle, University of Warwick, who will talk about his work on poverty and the 18th century community.
THE LOCAL HISTORY RECORDER SCHEME
In 1989 the BALH published a small booklet calledRecording the Present, in which the basic guidelines to the Local History Recorders' scheme were explained. This scheme initially came into being in order to record the present, but has since also encompassed preserving the past. It is of course not a new idea for local historians to go on recording current events in their localities, but from about the 1950s, an attempt was made to get this concept into an organised format. The pioneers were the Suffolk Local History Council who set up a county-wide network of Recorders, their task being seen as a sort of watchdog over threats to heritage, and to collect documents, artefacts, photographs etc and also take before and after pictures of developments. Often it takes 10-20 years before we realise the extent of change, by which time much of the relevant material has been lost. Therefore Local History Recorders try to collect and preserve what will ultimately become historical archives and artefacts; act as a point of contact for everything to do with the history of a locality; and help enquirers such as visiting family historians wanting to know about village history. Recorders are the unsung heroes in their communities, beavering away to answer questions (no fees paid of course), transcribing and cataloguing growing amounts of material, and still finding time to pursue particular projects. A favourite one is oral history, and it hardly needs saying that recording the memories of elderly inhabitants remains an urgent task, likewise the recording of gravestone inscriptions before they fade away or the headstone is removed in one of those churchyard tidy-up operations! The contemporary record can take any form, from a brief annual diary of village happenings to a vast collection of scrapbooks, objects and ephemera. Many Recorders combine their work with a local history group, which shares the load and makes it more fun. Eventually the collection may lead on to talks, articles for newsletters or exhibitions, maybe even a village museum. As Recorders become better known in their localities, more things come their way: for instance when an elderly resident dies, it is very easy for much of their lifetime collection of apparent 'junk' to go into a skip – Recorders have rescued many such potential archives. On the other hand, if relatives quite naturally wish to keep old photographs, they may be willing for Recorders to quickly scan copies for the local archives. If you have, like me, been able to do research only because the Victorians were such hoarders and compilers, you will appreciate how much future historians will rely on us continuing this work of recording the present. In Essex, where I live, a similar project was set up in 1981, initially helped by the Rural Community Council, but is now independent, although represented on the county Congress of local history groups and carried out with the co-operation of Essex Record Office. The idea was to have a Local History Recorder in every parish, but it proved difficult to organise this on a county basis, and about six years ago separate groups were set up in each of the districts. Some of these failed to thrive, however, and there are currently only three or four district groups operating. The one I am involved in is in Uttlesford District (north-west Essex), with over 50 parishes in a wide rural area. Our group has managed to find Recorders in about 40 of the parishes, many of the others being only small hamlets. We keep the organisation low-key, since everyone is already busy in their own villages, but aim to get together once or twice a year and offer useful resources and support. We have forged a close relationship with the local museum, who gave us a free morning of expert tuition in how to preserve and package the large variety of objects and documents that might come our way. We also keep in touch with the county record office and send them the annual village reports – it is very important to stress that the Recorders are not aiming to compete with their archival function, but to add to it. In practice much of the ephemera that comes the Recorder's way is not of great interest to record offices, but may still be valued locally. Where important documents come to light, however, it is also advantageous to have an alert Recorder to spot their existence. Before sending to the record office, they can then with permission obtain a photocopy, scan or digital photograph to keep locally, then send them on to the record office. This is particularly important if those archives are so fragile that the record office quite naturally cannot allow their scrutiny until conservation work has taken place. This may mean that it will be a long time before anyone gets to look at them again, and a local copy will be useful. For many rural counties, the county RO is many miles away and having local copies of archives makes sense in the promotion of local history. One drawback is that over time the collections of local material can become huge – some Recorders have literally hundreds of files, and keeping an index, or preferably a descriptive catalogue, becomes vital. We felt that a district group was best placed to help with this, so we are working to provide a computerised catalogue of materials held by Recorders, which will eventually be put on the internet through the local museum website. We have been successful in obtaining a grant from the Local Heritage Initiative to pay for this database to be professionally constructed, and also to obtain digital equipment which can be loaned to Recorders who have no computer, so that they can catalogue their collections, and also for scanning and presenting their material locally. Our database, entitled RUTH (Recording Uttlesford History) will be launched as a pilot project among a few Recorders in the autumn, then when all the problems have been ironed out, it will be released generally to all the district Recorders to use. Our grant also includes some training sessions. To pave the way for the use of this database of village collections, we have already given Recorders paper datasheets, so that they can be getting on with cataloguing and someone else can transfer the information to computer later on. This gets over the problem of those Recorders who want to catalogue their material but have no interest in using computers. It is amazing how much material remains in villages and yet is never discovered by those researching particular topics! The Uttlesford Recorders also have an annual newsletter and frequent E-news bulletins to publicise information that would be useful to their role. Borrowing an idea from Suffolk Recorders, each one has been given a substantial information pack with useful material on all sorts of projects – oral history, house history, gravestone recording, war memorials, field name recording, archival storage, as well as a map of the district and useful addresses. We also try to organise an annual workshop – useful subjects included oral history techniques, and the use of IT for history purposes, for instance. For some time, I have wondered why the Local History Recorder scheme does not seem to exist more widely. I know it runs in Suffolk, Norfolk and Hertfordshire, as well as Essex, and that there is a similar scheme, but with a different name in Devon, but beyond that have not found any others through an internet search. It would be very interesting to hear of any other such schemes, which may perhaps run under different names in other parts of the country, to see how the scheme operates and share information. One advantage now, that did not exist in the 1950s or even in 1989, is the advent of email which has proved a boon in keeping far-flung Recorders in closer touch. Readers who have never heard of this scheme, but think it a good idea, could considering setting one up in their area. Jacqueline Cooper Chairman, Uttlesford Local History Recorders email: email@example.com * Norrington, V. (1989) Recording the present Chichester: BALH Guide No. 2, The Local Historian at Work series
WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?
The television series WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE? and the accompanying book were an undoubted success in terms of viewing figures and sales but what was the impact upon the Cumbria Archive Service and its record offices at Carlisle and Whitehaven, which were visited by researchers involved in the family histories of Sue Johnston and Lesley Garrett respectively. The initial research was conducted by people working on behalf of the BBC to ensure that the programmes could be made. As the two programmes progressed some further research was conducted by record office staff but this was not burdensome – it was mostly checking information and providing details about other locations. The most time-consuming element was the discussion with Wall To Wall TV Production Company over the location agreements. Particular sticking-points were the fee (£1 was the original offer!) and their right to use fictitious names for the record offices! Since the raison d'etre for cooperating was to publicise the Record Offices and their work we did not want to appear under a pseudonym. In the finished programme, Sue Johnston was shown fleetingly standing by the notice board next to our front door in order to establish location, but an on-screen sub-title would have been even better! The Carlisle filming sessions passed off successfully although the producer/director was unhappy with the room we had assigned. She felt that our Education Room was too dark and that the acoustics were not good enough so we used one of the searchrooms instead. It took 90 minutes to produce 90 seconds of broadcast material. Sue Johnston (probably best known as Mam in The Royle Family) was very unassuming and seemed to be genuinely interested in her family history; the only bit of celebrity gossip I was able to extract from her was that she and Lesley Garrett are close neighbours in north London! Lesley Garrett was filmed at our Whitehaven office where she was researching a musical ancestor with links to the iron ore mining communities in Egremont and Millom. The Whitehaven filming session ultimately produced no broadcast material because the wealth of information discovered about Lesley Garrett's ancestors dictated that all Cumbrian footage was cut from the episode. This was very disappointing for the staff but the location agreement did reserve the right not to use material in the final programme. As part of the Archives Awareness Campaign, three of the offices collaborated with BBC Radio Cumbria in organising events in the record offices for absolute beginners in family history. As a Service we decided to target new users rather than the 'usual suspects'. The BBC undertook all the administration, all the events were quickly fully booked and a whole new audience was reached. BBC Radio Cumbria have always been very supportive of whatever the Archive Service is promoting; it has always been much more difficult to engage with other local branches of the media. The local press were keen to discover who the mystery celebrities were but we had been sworn to secrecy until the BBC publicity campaign began. However it did generate some useful column inches. Similar collaboration by two of the record offices with the Cumbria Library Service using its mobile library vans was less successful – probably because of a lack of publicity and choice of site: a supermarket car park in Whitehaven attracted more people than an off-licence in Workington and the city centre in Carlisle. So what was the impact of all this effort? Strangely, there was no overall pattern. The impact at our Kendal office appears to be fairly minimal with only a few searchers identifying the programmes as their reason for visiting, but the sessions organised for National Family History Weekend were so successful that the office is considering repeating the exercise on a regular basis. Searchroom figures increased significantly at our Barrow office although it was regular users who mentioned watching the programme rather than new users. At Carlisle, reception and searchroom staff report a lot of positive feedback about the programmes and a considerable change in our customer base. Unusually, visitor numbers in the October-December quarter decreased by 11% - were our regulars staying away because of the influx of new readers? Some of the new readers used the office as their first port of call before being referred to offices as far away as Derbyshire and Cornwall. Those who did have Cumbrian ancestors had little or no idea how to start and needed a great deal of initial assistance in the searchroom. There was also increased interest in our regular autumn adult education series of talks Family History for Beginners but this had been fully booked long before the Archives Awareness Campaign had been finalised. The Whitehaven Record Office and Local Studies Library report an impact amongst visitors and remote enquirers, being cited frequently in the preamble of many researchers' conversations. Visitor figures for November (when the impact of the programmes was probably at its height) increased by 20% compared with 2003. So, was it worth all the effort? On balance, I think it was. If the exercise were to be repeated I would insist on a proper on-screen credit for the Record Office and ask that the reasons for using a particular source were made explicit to the viewers. In the final analysis, we have succeeded in reaching a new family history audience and in the words of one of my colleagues “we … showed some people who we are." A quick word from Wall to Wall: Sometimes dealing with production companies can be time consuming – our obligations to broadcasters are such that we have to have location agreements and unfortunately our production budgets are such that we can't afford to pay for locations (the £1 is a standard contractual necessity, as is the terms concerning fictitious names!). At times material doesn't get used and we realise this can be disappointing, but in the edit it was the story that emerged about the family involved that dictated content. We aim to be easy and professional to deal withi n order to make the filming process fun and rewarding for all involved. David Bowcock is Assistant County Archivist at Cumbria Record Office, Carlisle. This article first appeared in In Focus, the magazine of MLA North West, no 2 Spring 2005 and is reproduced with permission.
NEWS FROM SOCIETIES, MUSEUMS, ARCHIVES, EDUCATION
In Cornwall, a village has recently opened its own local museum. The new Constantine Heritage Centre near Falmouth is housed in the Tolmen Centre which is already established as a focus of the community with a varied arts programme, Kid's Club, IT and keep-fit classes, the library plus the recent addition of a cafÃ© serving home-cooked food. Now there is display space for their local history collection, as the parish magazine says 'originally one man's dream, latterly many people's hard work is now a delight for everyone'. www.constantinecornwall.com/village/tolmen.htmHorsham Museum Society publishes Horsham Heritage. In issue No 12 articles explore details in the town's turbulent past. Nearly 500 years ago plans to build a Tudor town in St Leonard's Forest were thwarted by the execution of the developer. The nineteenth century entrepreneurs of Horsham New Town were more fortunate. London foundling children were brought to this country area in the 18th century, though their mortality rate remained high. The editor firstname.lastname@example.org or Horsham Museum Society, 9 The causeway, Horsham RH12 1HE Hall and Duck Trust own a historic collection of lawnmowers. Rather than run a buildings based museum, the trust takes its exhibits to outdoor events when some are demonstrated in working order. They will be able to continue this practice now a problem with insurance has been solved. Their insurers had decided they could no longer cover 'ride on mowers' as these machines should be considered as motor vehicles under the Road Traffic Act. www.hdtrust.co.uk The Hunterian Museum, Royal College of Surgeons of England, is running a lecture series about surgeons' experience of war over the last 200 years, on the frontline and the homefront: on 6 October 'Surgery in Nelson's navy: the death of an Admiral'; 26 October 'Medicine and surgery in the Crimea'; 9 November 'Sir Harold Gillies and the treatment of First World War soldiers, with project FaÃ§ade'; 30 November 'The Reconstruction of Warriors: Archibald McIndoe and the Guinea Pig Club'; and 8 December 'Life in a Field Hospital 2003: the T.A. surgeon's experience'. Lectures begin at 7 pm but the museum will be open to visitors attending the lectures from 5.30 pm. Tickets cost £8 and include refreshments. Further details from J Crispin, Hunterian Museum, 35-43 Lincoln's Inn Fields, London WC2A 3PE or phone 020 7869 6560 Museum of London has enlisted the help of local people to investigate a Second World War bombsite in Hackney, East London. Individuals, community groups and schools were invited to work alongside professionals, picking up archaeological techniques while learning about their local history and the lifestyles of former neighbours. The dig was run with the support of the London Archaeological Archive and Rescue Centre in Eagle Wharf Road, whose collection of London finds dates from the pre-Roman era. This initiative will extend their role by excavating a post-Victorian site and asking questions about London's more recent history. The Museum of London curates the largest collection of post-medieval urban archaeological material in the world, held at the LAARC. www.museumoflondon.org.uk The Anson Engine Museum, Pynton, Cheshire has won a coveted Engineering Heritage Hallmark Scheme Award from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers for the restoration of its Gardner 4L2, the first consistently reliable high-speed direct injection diesel engine. Its fuel efficiency, total reliability and longevity was to transform road transport. The museum is dedicated to the restoration and preseravtion of the internal combustion engine and to Poynton local history. Open to the public since 1989, it has developed 'without a penny of public funds' and now has more than 180 engines. www.enginemuseum.org
LOCAL HISTORY NEWS FROM EIRE
Free admission to some historic sites In mid May the Office of Public Works (OPW) announced that admission charges to certain historic sites would be dropped in an effort to increase visitor numbers and to take pressure off some of the country's most popular sites, which are unable to cope with the rising numbers of visitors. The four most popular attractions in 2004 were the Rock of Cashel, Bru na Boinne [the Boyne valley sites'>more..., Kilkenny House and Muckross House and Gardens (Killarney) which between them accounted for some 822,000 visitors out of a total number of 2.2 million visitors to the 60 historic sites under the control of the OPW. For example, the Rock of Cashel had 251.615 visitors, an increase of 6000 on 2003, and Bru Na Boinne had 213,674 - it is now felt that these two locations have reached saturation point, as has Kilmainham Jail in Dublin (168,000 visitors, an increase of 13,000 on the previous year). Locations which have been earmarked for free admission include St. Audeon's Church in Dublin, the only remaining medieval parish church in the city; Ferns Castle (Co. Wexford), Maynooth Castle (Co. Kildare), Desmond Hall in Limerick, and the Corlea prehistoric trackway and visitor centre. Ballyfermot Castle Dublin City Council has been urged to acquire the site of a medieval castle and graveyard in the Dublin suburb of Ballyfermot as it is in danger of being destroyed to facilitate construction of an apartment complex. Dublin City archaeologist, Dr. Ruth Johnson has described the site, which is privately owned, as a medieval settlement of high status and the only historic monument in the entire Ballyfermot area. Dublin City Lord Mayor Michael Conaghan has supported calls that a heritage garden should be created at the site known as 'The Lawns', the area that includes the remains of Ballyfermot Castle. The castle dates from the 15th century, and was a two and three storeyed crenellated tower house with adjoining turret. It was partly demolished in the 1850s. Another building which stood on the site was a 13th century medieval church dedicated to St. Laurence. Once linked to the Knights Templar in Kilmainham, the church was still is use 100 years ago, along with an adjacent graveyard, but it eventually fell into ruin and many of the gravestones (which remained until the 1970s) were removed or buried by the local authority at that time to protect them from vandalism. The ruins of the castle are protected under the National Monuments Act, 1994 while the area has been classed in the 1999 Dublin City Development Plan as an archaeological zone The current site owner has made a number of planning applications to develop the site and while a number of these have been refused in the past, local residents believe that it is only a matter of time before planning permission is granted for a development on the site. New attraction for Dublin? The replica famine ship Jeanie Johnson has had a chequered history. It cost £11 million to build, and made several transatlantic crossings, but was then threatened with destruction. This troubled ship has also sailed around Ireland and to La Corunna in Spain. Currently it is owned by Kerry Group plc, but Shannon Development, Kerry County Council and Tralee Town Council bore the costs of the ship's construction and their debt will not be paid off for another 15 years. In mid May it was reported that the Dublin Docklands Development Authority was in discussion with the Kerry Group to acquire this vessel as a visitor attraction on the River Liffey. A leading maritime conservation expert has pointed out that if the application is successful, it is essential that the ship is kept afloat to avoid long-term maintenance problems. He cited the difficulties faced in England with the Cutty Sark, which will cost £6 million to restore because it was kept in a dry dock and the timber allowed to dry out. In contrast, HMS Discovery is kept in a wet dock in Dundee and is not subject to such deterioration. Important find among Council archivesTwo years ago, Ms Roisin Berry, the archivist to Clare County Council archivist, found a cache of 50 letters written by Sir Roger Casement, the Anglo-Irish patriot, which had been stored among the administrative records and other archives of the Council. The letters covered the final three years of his life, from arrival in Germany in 1914 to his sailing for Ireland in 1916 on the submarine U-19. He was arrested on landing in County Kerry and hanged in Dublin for high treason. The letters were written to Count Gerhart Blucher, an old German friend from Casement's days in Africa (when he exposed the evils of the Belgian colonial regime in the Congo). The letters had been among the Council's archives since the early 1960s, when they were donated by the late Ignatius M. Houlihan who had received them as a gift from a member of the Blucher family. Unusual future for historic castle The £2.8 million restoration of Blackrock Castle in Cork is nearing completion. The castle was built in the 16th century to repel pirates and other potential invaders, after the citizens of Cork City petitioned Queen Elizabeth I. It is on the southern side of the River Lee and is one of the major historic landmarks of the city. The current building is neo-gothic in style and dates from the 1830s. After many years in private ownership, the building lay idle for three years and had fallen into serious disrepair. Cork City Council decided to acquire it, and has created an exhibition centre, astronomy centre, restaurant and pub at the site. The castle will reopen to the public in September 2005, housing a robotic observatory operated by the Cork Institute of Technology and featuring two high powered telescopes, an optical telescope which will be located on the top tower, and a radio telescope which will located over the gallery room. A fully equipped operations room will be created where experts will be able to download and interpret the telescope data while the observatory will be linked with other observatories all around the world.
HISTORY IS ABOUT CONJECTURES ...
Two issues ago, I referred in a footnote to that fascinating article by out Trustee, Tony Martin, entitled 'Bombs in College Road' to the local myth that that German bomber pilot who attacked Framlingham in 1940 was in fact a former student at Framlingham College who was attempting to destroy the place where he had suffered as a schoolboy! Several years ago, in an occasional series that I wrote for Fram 3rd Series, 'Popular Legends', I looked at the tradition that the railway from Campsea Ashe to Framlingham was originally intended to be the first part of a much grander scheme going westward to Laxfield and beyond. In a second item I questioned whether the Assembly Hall in Church Street, Framlingham had really been built (as had been claimed by, among others, an eminent local historian) to accommodate troops returning from the Wetsern Front in the First World War. Looking back to my youth in my own home town, Waltham Abbey, there is in the Abbey Fields there an ancient stone bridge over a little river that has been referred to by countless generations of local people as Harold's Bridge, even though it is an established fact, on the basis of physical evidence, that the bridge was built several hundred years after King Harold caught it in the eye at the Battle of Hastings. All this is emphatically not to belittle the value and relevance to us as historians and students of history of popular myth and legend, but rather to assert the contrary, that those 'folk memories' have immense value and relevance in the history of a community, as a part of its collective consciousness as a perception of its past. In contrast to this, the historical researcher (particularly, until quite recently, the academic researcher) may at times have been rather too credulous, even precious, as to the definitive value of primary documentary evidence, that is data derived from archives generated at the time that events, discussions, decisions occurred. It is all too easy to go on from this to assume that 'facts' derived from sources such as these are the only valid working materials for serious historical research. In this context it can be all too easy to forget that 'primary source material' would itself have been created by an individual person and thus its contents and import might well have been coloured (corrupted?) by that person's own individual perceptions, loyalties, and prejudices, A decade or two ago surprise was expressed by researchers about the figures quoted in certain UK Census Statistical Tables for a certain geographical area, in relation to the number of households stated to have indoor toilets (the figure had certainly shot up in comparison with that gieb ten years before). It transpired that an over-zealous census enumerator had decided that information provided to him by local inhabitants cold hardly have been true - 'obviously they misunderstood the question' he would have said – so he conscientiously doctored the figures accordingly. Much more recently, questions have been raised about the accuracy of figures generated by the latest UK Census, other local factors may have corrupted these in certain areas. In my own sphere of interest, the history of the City of London, I have significant doubts about factual details given in certain Livery Company and Ward Club minutes from years long past. In each case the minute-taker had his own pre-conceptions and prejudices. He wrote down what he wished to believe has been said, and when those same minutes were considered in draft, amended and approved by other members of the Company or Club a further, collective, agenda came into play. All this meditation is not intended to denigrate the written testimony that has come down to us, or indeed historical evidence as a whole, as a vehicle for our understanding of what happened and why. It is merely to suggest that that understanding should of necessity be derived from many sources, verbal and written, all with their own validity, their own parameters (defined or implicit), and their own limitations. None is a pronouncement ex cathedra but all have value to historian and student. And by no means the least of these inputs are the beliefs/legends of individuals and communities, 'true' or 'false'. Pontius Pilate asked 'what is truth?' If we are exploring the evolution of a community over time, what were its driving forces, what did it feel like to live within it, we become immersed in a process of assimilating, combining, and second-guessing from so many disparate sources – a process of conjecture. M V Roberts is editor of Fram, from The Framlingham and District Local History and Preservation Society. This article originally appeared in the issue of December 2004, 4th Series Number 11 and is reproduced here with permission.
BRACKNELL FOREST HERITAGE ONLINE
Established by Bracknell Forest Borough Council and supported by The Heritage Lottery Fund, Bracknell Forest Heritage Online is a new website dedicated to bringing together the history, memories and people of Bracknell Forest Borough- past and present. Vast redevelopment planned for Bracknell just 50 years after it was transformed into Bracknell New Town has created a period of uncertainty for many local residents. This coupled with the absense of a dedicated museum or heritage centre led to the councils wish to provide borough residents with a forum to tell their story and express their views about the rich heritage which exists in Bracknell Forest. This exciting project has resulted in the creation of a dynamic, interactive and easily accessible website which focuses on how the borough's history has and continues to be shaped by the people who live there. Working in partnership with local organisations and societies a vast amount of historical information has been gathered. In addition, local residents were interviewed for the web site, providing their own perspectives on Bracknell Forest's past. Special features of the site include a stunning interactive map with links that take you to historical photographs, stories and even audio clips of the memories of local people. Visitors can find out about Bracknell Forests' famous brick industry, trace events that led to Bracknell becoming a New Town and much more. The 'Noticeboard' provides up-to-date information about heritage events happening in Bracknell Forest, while the 'Links' section details other interesting history websites and institutions. The website will continue to expand and develop over time as residents are invited to contribute their own memories, stories and photographs. The website will become a treasure trove of fascinating information which can constantly be added to and updated thus enabling the memories and stories of Bracknell Forest to be shared with other people and future generations. To visit the site, go to: www.bfheritage.org.uk For more information please contact: The Heritage On-line Project Officer Telephone: 01344 351754 email: email@example.com
REVIEWS EDITORS PAST AND PRESENT
Local historians never really retire The Editor has asked me to 'write a piece about yourself, and your work, as a local historian and related enterprises and activities..' This vague remit means, as far as I can see, that I can write about anything that even tangentially touches on our subject. Well here goes. My interest in local history began very early and sprang from two of my great grandmothers both of whom were the repositories of family lore. One lived to be 96 and the other 106 so merely talking to them provided a link to a long distant England. One in Norfolk, for example, recounted being paid 1d by a grandmother, along with the rest of the village children, to stone a local Parliamentary candidate when he came to address a public meeting – can one imagine this happening today? I began, aged about 11 to draw up family trees and form my own 'museum' of bits and pieces collected from the Suffolk countryside in which I was growing up. These interests were strengthened when I met Basil Brown the man who discovered the ship burial at Sutton Hoo in Suffolk in 1939. Basil was a self-taught archaeologist with an encyclopaedic knowledge of the local landscape and a natural 'eye' for archaeological sites. Even then, in the 1960s, he was elderly but he had immense patience where teenage would-be archaeologists were concerned and I learnt a lot from him. He was also in the habit of giving artefacts to friends and I was delighted just last year to pass on several items connected with Sutton Hoo to the Visitors' Centre that now exists on the site of his discovery. I also made the acquaintance of David Dymond the long time leading light of the BALH who was then working for Cambridge University providing Extra-Mural classes all over Suffolk. I joined him on a dig of a threatened tumulus and, being totally 'green', was put to work trowelling on the least promising section of the ploughed out mound – only to unearth some very rare Neolithic pottery – at which David very wisely moved me on to washing finds. With such guides, however, I was hooked on history for life. Leaving school in 1969 I took, for that date, a very unusual step of taking a 'gap year'. In fact I joined the Merchant Navy and ended up going to South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Tahiti and the Caribbean – an experience which brought home just how rich the history of Britain actually was. After some desultory archaeological work I then went to Portsmouth to study Geography. Here, after reading W.G.Hoskins' The Making of the English Landscape, I specialised in Historical Geography and went on to do a MPhil research degree in local history, my thesis being on occupations in Portsmouth over the years 1550 to 1851. Not very groundbreaking but it allowed me to visit local Record Offices and the PRO as often as I wished. These were still early days for Record Offices and I well recall going to the Suffolk office in Bury St.Edmunds and transcribing and indexing a long series of 18th century court depositions only to find that at the end of each day my desk was covered in the original sand used to dry the ink All my data for my MPhil was processed using punched computer cards which I eventually donated to the Portsmouth Record Office and you can imagine my surprise when I was contacted last year to ask if I minded the information being transferred to CD Rom. I understood this was a 'last gasp' preservation exercise for the information and only made possible by a salvaged piece of early computer hardware. The story is, of course, an object lesson in the transitory nature of electronically stored reference material and should give all local historians pause for thought. In 1974 I helped co-found the Hampshire Genealogical Society becoming its first editor – aged just 24 and knowing nothing about magazine production. I still belong to the Society and notice the latest recruit has the membership number 11,500 odd - a sign of a very healthy group and a reflection of the massive growth in family history as a hobby. Sadly even in those days one couldn't stay a student forever and off I went to King Alfred's College in Winchester to do my PGCE teacher's certificate – and transcribe all the Elizabethan period wills for Portsmouth held in the County Record Office. Luck being on my side I was offered a job at North Devon College, a tertiary college where I have stayed ever since – and who in their right mind would want to leave one of the three places in England still deemed 'peaceful', where the surf waves are 5 minutes away and local history is everywhere? A family soon followed and naturally it wasn't until some years later I could think about local history again. This took the form of articles in various genealogical and 'county' magazines the latter of whom, to my amazement, actually paid me money. Emboldened by this I put together some articles for my local newspaper and publication began in 1981 – since when, with some breaks, I have been producing a weekly piece on the history of North Devon's people and places ever since – as well as 10 books on aspects of the area's history plus some 'serious' pieces in theTransactions of the Devonshire Association. Also in the mid-80s I was successful in obtaining funding from the Manpower Services Commission to hire 6 people over two years to help index the nineteenth century files of theNorth Devon Journal – a scheme repeated a short time later for the Bideford Gazette. I took my prompt here from Hoskins who, in 1959, had written in his Local History in England 'One of the greatest obstacles to their [newspapers'>more... use is the lack of any index to their contents, and to search them blindly is a formidable task.' In 1991 David Dymond, whom I had often met in the Suffolk Record Office, surprised me by asking if I would be interested in taking over the post of Reviews Editor on The Local Historian as Angus Winchester was stepping down. As usual not having any idea what I was letting myself in for I said yes and after a slightly clandestine meeting in a car park where Angus loaded my car up with unreviewed books I was on my own. Little did I, or my postman, know what was in store. Books and magazines began to arrive with every post and for years I was in Local History heaven. Seeing the full range of publications which ranged from the sumptuous professional printing of the Victoria County Histories to the duplicated sheets from individuals made me realise just how vibrant are discipline is – whether we be amateurs or professionals. Local history does matter to a huge number of people – and over my 40 or so years of being involved I have seen this interest grow In 1983 I had joined the Bideford town council as a Green Party councillor and in 1985 I became Mayor – the first Green Mayor in Britain and the youngest ever for Bideford. Some 6 years later I became a district councillor as well and when I was asked to be Mayor again in 2004 I decided it was about time someone else became Reviews Editor – hence my replacement by Dr.Evelyn Lord. I am sure she will enjoy her tenure as much as I did. Local historians, however, never really retire and I am now considering transcribing and indexing a second tranche of the records of the Bideford Bridge Trust. One of only three such organisations in Britain I have been a member for the last 20 years. I am also preparing articles for publication on prostitution in nineteenth century North Devon and the fascinating local career of the Reverend Jerome Clapp, father of Jerome K. Jerome. In addition I will keep running my second hand book and record shop and endeavour one day to sort out the mass of local ephemera that somehow seems to have accumulated in my house and, if Dr.Lord asks, to provide more reviews of new books. Welcome to Evelyn Lord Dr Evelyn Lord is Course Director for the M.St. in Local and Regional History, and Staff Tutor in Local History for the Institute of Continuing Education at the University of Cambridge. Her Ph.D. was awarded by the Department of English Local History of the University of Leicester, and she had a post-doctoral research post at the University of Manchester, working on the family papers in the John Rylands Library in Deansgate. This was followed by a post as lecturer in local history at the University of Derby. As she has moved around the country she has worked on the local history of where ever she has been living at the time (including the Netherlands). So unlike some local historians she is not tied to any one place, but she does intend to return to work on her native county of Surrey in the future. She has published widely in journals in this country and on the continent, and her books include Investigating the Twentieth Century: Sources for Local Historians, The Knights Templar in Britain and The Stuarts' Secret Army: English Jacobites. She is interested in voluntary associations including friendly societies, and because she is living in Cambridge is working on a long-term study of a Fenland Town. Outside local history her main interest is her allotment.
A LASTING VISUAL PRESENCE
The Stained Glass Windows of A J Davies of the Bromsgrove Guild, Worcestershire Roy Albutt 11 Great Calcroft, Pershore, Worcestershire WR10 1QS ISBN 0 9543566 1 6 2005 The work of Archibald John Davies decorated transatlantic liners, council offices, private homes, and a cinema, as well as churches and cathedrals in the UK and overseas. At first glance a book about stained glass might not appear of immediate interest to local historians unless, of course, you have a particularly lovely window in your parish church. However this beautifully illustrated volume reveals the links with education, commerce, industry, art, patronage, the Empire, and much more. It is a labour of love on the part of author Roy Albutt who hopes to bring greater recognition to the artistic talent and craftsmanship of Davies. The research was undertaken for an MPhil at the University of Manchester, begun after retirement as a headmaster. Davies attended King Edward VI Camp Hill School for Boys, where he excelled at sport and drawing. Staff from the Birmingham Municipal School of Art examined the drawing at Camp Hill, and it is likely that this contact encouraged Davies to enrol there. He joined a college with an established reputation in the Arts and Crafts movement. It was an institution that appreciated the importance of both design and construction, where practical craft workshops known as 'Art Laboratories' were built and, in 1901, Henry Payne set up a stained glass department. During the later years of his time as a student Davis, as was customary, worked as a teacher in several of the 15 Branch Schools in the Birmingham suburbs. By 1904 he had established his own studio, probably at the family home, and a few years later he accepted an offer from Walter Gilbert to join the Bromsgrove Guild of Applied Arts. Davies' studio there was closed shortly after his death in 1953. Davies soon gained a reputation, exhibiting at the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society in London amongst illustrious company, and receiving commissions that made his work known further afield. As the business grew who was in a position to employ assistants, and his daughter Barbara was apprenticed in her father's studio. The processes employed in making stained glass windows in the early 20th century were basically the same as those used by medieval craftsmen, and this book provides a clear picture of what was done. Davies bought glass from Portobello Glass Works in Sunderland, and pigments from Heaton & Sons, Berniers St, London. Davies' designs display his own distinctive style while remaining true to his Arts and Crafts training at Birmingham School of Art. Many commissions for churches depicted Biblical stories, scenes from the lives of saints, angels, and other appropriate images. At Worcester, in the 1930s, he illustrated the history of the English church with reference to the cathedral there. The two world wars during his working life resulted in numerous memorials, many using the Holy Grail theme. Local features such as rivers, buildings, animals and plants often appeared. Occupations are there, including a miner, a nurse and a ploughman at Hamstead. Ten windows depicting Shakespearean characters were installed in the West End Picture House, and are now stored in the Worcester County Museum, Hartlebury. The Shire Hall, Warwick, has a window commemorating the work of two clerks at Warwickshire County Council, both named Clarke. It is tantalising to think how many panels of leaded lights still grace homes in the Bromsgrove area, unidentified by their residents. Roy Albutt has traced many of the several hundred windows produced by Davies' studio, and would be interested to hear of any more known to readers. His book contains an extensive gazetteer, and county-by-county list, together with some 50 illustrations, of whole windows and close-up details. This book will naturally appeal to anyone concerned with stained glass and church and secular decoration, its design and production. It should also be read by anyone with an interest in Birmingham School of Art and Bromsgrove Guild of Applied Art, and everyone anywhere with a Davies window.
My television appearances have not been numerous. They can be counted on two fingers. One was a couple of years ago, when I appeared in several programmes about the industrial revolution in Lancashire, produced for Granada TV—more of that, perhaps, another time. But something, I can't recall what, recently reminded me of the other occasion, in 2002 during the Queen's Golden Jubilee. I was asked to appear on the BBC'sNorth-West Tonight, which was doing a special edition covering the various celebrations and events in the region. My role was to be that of a local history expert (what else?) who could talk about how people in the North West had celebrated royal occasions in the past. Interesting idea, I thought, so I went along to the studios in Manchester, having refreshed my memory about ox-roasts, processions, bell-ringing, proclamations, and street parties, and feeling confident that I had plenty of really fascinating material on which I could wax lyrical. The BBC's hospitality room was … spartan. The refreshment on offer was similarly limited (a cup of cold water from one of those machines). There was another interviewee present, a delightful lady from Wigan who had won a ticket in the ballot for a place at the Buckingham Palace outdoor concert. She was wearing a costume in a cruel and inhuman shade of vivid lemon yellow, whereas I had a subtle and appropriate dull green shirt (suits the local historian image, I thought). Unfortunately the lady in consequence resembled a giant banana and in the studio the unearthly glow from her clothes cast a sickly hue across the surroundings, including me. Into the studio we went. Those of you who know me or have seen me will realise that age has led to a marked reduction in the abundance of my formerly luxuriant tresses, so the top of my head was much too shiny and reflected the arc-lights in dazzling fashion. They brought in Donna, the studio girl, who came with a very large powder-puff. 'Take off your glasses', she ordered, and then proceeded to dust my entire head and face very liberally with white non-reflective powder. We took our places, and the presenter then introduced the session. Film-clips of celebrations that had just finished or were still in progress were shown. The lady from Wigan was interviewed at length about the concert (what music did you like best? what food did you eat? did you see the Queen? how did you feel? were you proud?). More clips of the day's celebrations. No local history, so far. Then it was my turn. Would it be the ox-roasts at Clitheroe for Edward VII and Alexandra, the processions in Preston for Victoria's Diamond Jubilee, the street parties in Manchester for 1937, or the austerity coronation teas of 1953? Well, it was none of those. The first question was 'Do you think Prince Charles will ever become king?' Can local historians predict the future? The second and third were no better. 'Are people going to be as loyal to Charles III as they are to Elizabeth II'? 'How do you think we'll be celebrating the next coronation'? I'm a mind-reader! I am Nostradamus! I waffled, I blathered, I uttered a string of seriously fatuous phrases which I'm ashamed even to try to recall. Ox-roasts (all that fascinating detail) and street parties (all that superb social commentary) were evidently not of the slightest interest. Why, I wondered as I twittered at the camera, didn't they ask a soothsayer or clairvoyant. The suffering came to an end, and we went out into the Manchester sunshine. I was disgruntled. David Starkey gets £75,000 an episode, and the BBC North-West didn't even offer to pay my train fare. Going home on the busy train I wondered why people seemed reluctant to sit next to me. The programme had gone out live, but surely they hadn't been SO offended by my remarks? I wiped my brow, and understood why I had several seats to myself. I hadn't washed off the thick layer of powder applied by Donna's giant puff, so I looked like a rather bedraggled mime artist. What price local history expertise!