In the run up to Christmas, I taught for four weeks on Liverpool Hope’s second year witchcraft and witch-hunting course.  It was interesting to look into the subject in more depth than we do on the first year survey course, especially as I had lectures to write as well as seminars and tutorials to run.  I covered aspects of the Lancashire witch trials (very appropriate given how close I live to Pendle!), the East Anglia witch hunt and Matthew Hopkins, witchcraft in North America, the Salem witch trials and finally, the decline of witch beliefs, which meant that I was able to finish with my favourite image – one that serendipitously appeared on Twitter just as I was writing the lectures:


We had some very interesting discussions, most notably about the seventeenth-century belief in predestination and how it would affect the way you lived your life, but also about the nature of evidence that historians use to back up their claims.  The students gave some very good presentations on book chapters that they had read, identifying the key arguments and how they fitted in to wider scholarship.

All in all, it was a great experience.  I even got to pretend I had a ‘proper’ job, as I had an office to disappear to between lectures!


Langden Brook, Trough of Bowland By Alexander P Kapp, CC BY-SA 2.0,

When your wheels are burning up the miles and you’re wearing down shoe leather,

When your face is frozen in a smile and the road goes on forever,

Forever, forever, the road goes on forever,

Over the next hill maybe there’s good weather.”

(Steve Tilston)

That song seemed to have been specially written for the busiest 4 weeks I think I’ve ever had.  At the end of November and beginning of December last year, I was working all over the place.  In one week, I taught in Liverpool, Birmingham, Bury, Manchester, back to Liverpool, Longridge and finally Garstang.  The quick-witted among you will have spotted that it meant two places in one day.  There was a lot of driving, and a lot of travelling on trains.  On some days I felt like I was meeting myself coming back.  I certainly started counting up the hours to see whether I was spending more time travelling than actually teaching.

There are several good things to be said for this it.  First off, the weather was mainly good.  It was cold, but it would have been a nightmare if there had been 4 weeks of torrential rain.  Secondly, it meant I was actually working and therefore I had money coming in. It was just that everything seemed to come at once.  I had my normal tutoring and my class for Liverpool Hope in Bury, as well as some A-level lectures for Sovereign Education.  On top of that, I was asked to cover a few weeks of a course on witchcraft and witch hunting for Hope in Liverpool.  Then, into the middle of it all, some podcasts to write and the copy edits of the book to respond to.

Busy, busy, busy.  But also, the exhaustion. With several long days (and I mean long!) each week, I was tired out by Christmas.  Just in time for the proofs of my book to arrive for me to check and write the index…

Amazon page capture

1st January 2018. The start of the year when my first book will be published.  And it came as something of a surprise to me to see that Amazon is telling me it will be released on 22 February, as I was expecting it to be March, and what’s more, I am still checking the page proofs!

I’ve got several plans for 2018.  The first is to record all the musical examples featured in the book.  I’m going to post the recordings on this website.  I’ve also got a big funding application to work on and some smaller ideas to knock into shape.  And of course, there is the Pilgrimage of Grace article to revise and submit to another journal.

That should all keep me busy.



My portfolio career is such that among my teaching is an introductory module for Liverpool Hope University on twentieth century Europe. This is ‘flipped learning’ course, where the students access recorded lectures and course materials via the course moodle and then attend seminars and tutorials ready to discuss the issues that they’ve come across.

Last year, I enjoyed teaching in a maths classroom.  The benefit of this was that the walls were covered in huge whiteboards, which I used frequently to brainstorm ideas and, for example, to get students to create composite drawings which reflected their understanding of the issues that led to the civil war.  This year, to my horror, I am teaching in a psychology room.  The whiteboard is minute and placed directly behind the teacher’s desk.  Well, I wasn’t prepared to jettisone those carefully prepared activities that get students talking, thinking and creating.  How then to solve the problem of classroom activities that required those whiteboards?

In the first instance, I decided to use post-it notes.

2017-10-10 19.11.35

The task was for students to brainstorm aspects of European society c1900, writing each one on a post-it note and placing it in a ring around the central idea.  From there, the students had to break those aspects down into their component parts, and place them down as spokes coming off the ring.  It wasn’t perfect, but it did get the students (who at that stage didn’t really know one another) out of their seats, talking to one another and discussing the different angles and issues that Europe faced at the turn of the century.


At the end of September I went down to London to hear a paper by Chris Marsh at the Royal Historical Society, so I took the opportunity to travel down a bit ahead of time and spend the afternoon in the British Library.  This is something I haven’t done for a couple of years, for one thing because it isn’t all that easy for me to get down there, but also because up to now I’ve been working mainly on the documents that I found while I was carrying out my doctoral research.  But with the submission of the manuscript to Routledge, the time has come to move on.  This post is less about what I found when I was there and more about the process of carrying out the research itself.  It’s about how I work.


I only knew that I would be going to London a couple of days in advance, so I had to drop everything and start finding something to look at when I was there.  The first job, in fact, was to check up on how to renew my reader’s pass, as it had expired since I last went.  Once I’d got that sorted out, I knew that I would only have a few hours in the library itself. This affects the way I work, I think: I need to make sure that I am well prepared with a list of exactly what I want to look at.

I ran a search on the British Library Archives and Manuscripts catalogue for ‘ballad’, up to the mid-seventeenth century, and read through the descriptions of each result (of which there were many).  If I thought it looked potentially interesting, I copied the entry into Word, making each manuscript number a heading and including the descriptions for each entry.  It makes for a long document (at the moment, it’s 45 pages long!), but at least every item was easily accessible and the descriptions mean that when I’m in the library I know what I’m looking for and where to find it in the manuscript itself.  Next, I sorted the descriptions into the order that I wanted to look at them – by which I mean I put the materials I wanted to see first at the top of my list, running right down to the ones I considered to be less urgent.  Finally, I logged into my British Library account and pre-ordered as many as I could for the day of my visit.

way I work image 1


IMG_20170922_211455954When I arrived at the library I renewed my reader pass, had a quick brew and then settled myself into the Western Manuscript Reading Room with my tablet (much easier to carry than my laptop), my camera, notepad and pencil.  My trips to the British Library are a bit like a smash and grab…  metaphorically-speaking, of course.   This visit was going to be a particularly short one.  My priority is to accumulate as much evidence as I can, so that I can then work on it at home.  I looked at the documents that I ordered ahead of my visit and made notes on their features which I added to my Archive Research Document.  Then I photographed the relevant parts of the manucript. Often, I took several photos of the same folios, showing the overall layout on one and the detail on others. For each document that I’d looked at, I added a tick before its title in my list.

IMG_20170922_125155155What I didn’t do much of when I was in the library itself was to make transcriptions.   As I mainly work on 16th century documents, they are often in secretary hand, which can take a bit of deciphering at times (and yes, I suffer palaeographic jealousy when I look at the people working on beautiful italic hands!). I usually do my transcribing at home.  So when I’d looked at all the ones I’d pre-ordered, I prioritised working on what I thought was the most useful manuscript.  I kept this out, sent the others back to storage and called up some more.  While I waited for them to arrive, I started to transcribe the document that I’d kept, making the transcription in the big document but in a different colour of text so that I knew that it was my own transcription.  I then repeated the process until I’d looked at as many items as I could that afternoon – it was the bell that stopped me!

Once I got home, I transferred my archive photographs to dropbox and a mobile hard drive, putting each document into a separate folder under the heading Archives/British Library. Then I spent a relentlessy boring day renaming each individual file by the name of its folio number – I have learned in the past how difficult it is to find the relevant image of a particular folio later if I don’t do this.

I’m now in the process of transcribing the document in which I was most interested – I open the image on one screen and use another, usually my tablet, to make the transcription, making sure that I mark any words about which I’m uncertain with a question mark and each new folio with it’s number.  I am doing this in a new document, which I save alongside the images in the relevant folder.