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Back in February, as part of the Embodiment and New Materialism conference in Lancaster, I was part of a drama workshop which took place in Lancaster Castle.  It was somewhere that I’d been intending to visit for a long time, but had somehow never got around to it. So over the Easter break, we all went on the castle tour to get a proper look round.

 

Of course, one of the most interesting things about the castle for me is that it was where the Lancashire witches were tried.  Living near Pendle and teaching witchcraft as part of the undergraduate early modern history survey course meant that it was going to be a place I wanted to see.  Tradition has it that they were held in the medieval Well Tower before their trial.

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But there were plenty of other good reasons to go. It’s an amazing place – the most secure court in the country on account of the keep walls, which are 3 metres thick!  It’s a hotch-potch of buildings clustered on a site that was first used in the Roman period.  Several buildings date from the medieval period, while the women’s prison was built in 1821 on the panopticon design.

The tour was excellent, and although it’s forbidden to take photographs in some parts of the castle because it is a working court, the are areas where photography is allowed.  The tour was excellent, finishing in the cells, where there was a display of prison clothing designed to humiliate the inmates and make them easy to spot if they escaped.  The condemned cell was rather more luxurious than the ordinary cells.

 

Another reason for my interest in the castle, though, is that my mother lived in Lancaster as a child and walked to school alongside the castle each day.

 

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After being rather unwell at the beginning of 2016, I decided that this summer I would spend as much time on holiday as I could.  This was only made possible by the fact that we have access to a caravan that is currently in Oban, and we have a trailer tent, and it meant that the holidays were going to be in the UK.  A friend asked me if my children were happy with being forced to holiday in caravans and tents.  This got me thinking about what I gained from the holidays that I went on as a child, most of which were caravan holidays in the UK.  I decided that they are partly responsible for my interest in history – along with the folk music that I love, which I have written about before.

Glen Coe

Glen Coe

Glen Coe

I spent a lot of time at National Trust and English Heritage properties.  I spent a lot of time, therefore, in places where the present collides with the past.  I spent a lot of time in places where good stories, maybe even the best stories because they are true, come to life.  Take, for example, Glen Coe.  It’s a landscape that seems to have barely changed in hundreds of years.  You can just imagine the MacDonalds running and scrambling for their lives in February 1692.  This, for me, was always helped by knowing John McDermott’s The Massacre of Glencoe by The Corries. Somehow, it’s always made it easy for me to imagine Macbeth, too.

 

 

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Part of the beauty of Easedale Island is the pools of water left in the abandoned slate quarries.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then in Wales, we went to Harlech Castle.  It was easy to see why it was built where it was – the commanding views over the surrounding coast and countryside are hard to beat.  There were piles of cannon balls lying around, and turrets to climb.  You could see the grooves where the portcullises (is that the plural of portcullis???) were lowered and raised.

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My youngest was particularly taken with a trip to Sygun Copper Mine, a Victorian mine which closed in 1903.  We went on an underground tour, which took in some spectacular stalactites and stalagmites, accompanied by atmospheric rumblings in the audio guide.  He was IMG_20160808_142454019especially impressed when he looked across the valley to Dinas Emrys and heard the legend of the sleeping dragons in the lake below the hill.  Vortigern was trying to build a stronghold against the Saxons on the hill of Dinas Emrys, but each night the builders’ work  was mysteriously reduced to piles of rubble.  Vortigern’s magicians recommended that he sacrifice a fatherless boy, but the chosen  boy explained that two dragons lay asleep in a lake under the hill.  Vortigern’s men dug into the hill and revealed two dragons: one red, the other white.  When the two dragons  were released from their slumber, they fought each other.  The eventual winner was the red dragon, symbolic of the Welsh victory over the Saxons.  The boy who knew the dragons lay under the hill? Merlin.
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My eldest, on the other hand, was fascinated by the industrial archaeology above the ground.  We decided to walk the Fisherman’s Path at Beddgelert, and found ourselves climbing Cwm Bychan, which is scattered with the remains of copper mining pylons.

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We passed Frongoch. Almost every day, in fact. It took me several days to place the name – I knew it was something to do with the 1916 Dublin Easter Rising but I couldn’t remember what, exactly, until we pulled up on our last day to have a look at the information board. Michael Collins had been interned there.  My daughter immediately made the link between Frongoch, Michael Collins and Michael by Johnny McEvoy.

(My summer holidays this year have gone by the subtitle a tour of the UK’s highest peaks which you can’t see because they are obscured by cloud, and the answer to my friend’s question was yes, the children seem to enjoy themselves, just like I did.)

Loch Linnhe, below Ben Nevis

Loch Linnhe, below Ben Nevis

Somewhere beneath that cloud is Snowdon

Somewhere beneath that cloud is Snowdon

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This afternoon I had my mock viva, which was an interesting experience. It was reassuring, in that I survived and there was only one question that I felt I completely flunked. That said, there were several others that brought home to me the need to be certain of my own position, which of course is only possible if you’re completely in command of your material and of what others have said about it.

So I’ve come home armed with two bag-loads of books and a lot on my mind – which is not to say that it’s all bad. The first job when I got in was to have a brew (this thesis was definitely fuelled by tea and chocolate, in a way that perhaps Huw and Tony Williams would have appreciated), the second to have a chat with my Fiend to take my mind off things and the third, to write my ‘to do’ list. You can see it above. I have another Fiend (yes, I manage to have more than one Fiend despite the fact that I spend a lot of time in the company of dead people and their preoccupation with death) who is the Queen of Lists. She would approve, I’m sure. That was once the wall on which my huge list of 16th century ballads used to hang. Now it holds all the things I need to do in the next ten days. I think I’ve got my work cut out. I have to admit that they aren’t all viva-related – there’s a section on research proposals, on articles and on the lecture I’m preparing for A level students on Henry VIII’s break with Rome, as well as for the Bolton Historical Association work that I need to get on with and for family matters. Happily, the conference proposal for Reading is nearly ready and the one for Voices and Books has gone (thanks, Una!).  But I’ve certainly got plenty to keep me occupied. Which is good.

Caerlaverock Castle

Caerlaverock Castle

As we didn’t get much of a summer holiday, what with the small matter of a thesis to finish, we’ve just enjoyed a few wet and windy days in Dumfries.  We got completely soaked through at Caerlaverock Castle, the only triangular castle in Britain, went on a boat trip to Threave Castle and saw red squirrels in Dalbeattie Forest.

Dalbeattie Forest

Dalbeattie Forest

Now that we’re home, I have to make a real effort to find a job of some sort.  So priorities for this week include trying to get some school experience so that I can go back into teaching and reacquainting myself with my articles on John Roberts and the Lady Marques  ballad.

On the Galloway Kite Trail

On the Galloway Kite Trail

DSCF3258  With the children on their Easter break, work over the last couple of weeks has been rather hit and miss.  Mainly miss, to be honest.  But I have spent some time working on a short historiographical piece about the relationship between ballads and news, which I’m happy to say is nearly finished.  In the end it will form part of the final chapter of my thesis, although not the very beginning of it as I’ve found a nice piece from the State Papers to open the chapter.  The historiographical essay runs from Shaaber and Rollins through to much more recent work by Joad Raymond, Angela McShane and Adam Fox.  It looks at popular song in France, Italy and Spain as well as England.  Earlier this week I bought Andrew Pettegree’s latest book, The Invention of News, so I’ve included some of his comments too.

Last week I was lucky enough to attend two workshops in the space of two days.  DSCF3242Both held in Manchester, the first was the ‘Music, Circulation and the Public Sphere’ workshop at which I presented my first paper to an audience of musicologists, ‘Ballads and the Public Sphere in Sixteenth Century England’.  It was scary but fun, and the paper seemed to go down quite well.  On the strength of it I was invited to attend another workshop on ‘Voices and Books, 1500-1800’.  That was a very interesting day and a half, at which I found myself sitting next to a professor from Harvard!  It really brought home to me the importance of the ballads as songs.  Of course, one of the aims of my thesis is to investigate the ballads as song rather than text where it is possible, but it’s easy to forget the oral culture in which they played a part when you are working with just the words.  The workshop gave me a lot of things to think about, especially with the chapter on which I’m currently working – topical ballads performed in public spaces provoking debate about the news of the day.

Apart from the two days in Manchester, the rest of the work has been crammed in between days out to Dunham Massey, Rufford Old Hall, Fountains Abbey and Stainforth.  Lots of walking in the spring sunshine!

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This week is the first week of my children’s Easter holiday, so I am juggling childcare with work. Cramming little bits of work into wherever it will fit isn’t easy and it certainly doesn’t allow for extended research or writing, for example. But there are little things that I can do. I went through a conference paper in the bath this afternoon, without the paper notes I will use on Friday. At least now I know exactly where I need to rely on my notes more heavily and where I can afford to abandon them altogether! On Sunday afternoon I recorded a few more ballads. I’m considering an introduction and conclusion to a short piece I’m writing on the historiography of ballads and the news. In the end it will be part of my chapter on ballads as a form of news media. There is a significant majority of historians who agree that ballads could provide news as well as entertainment before the development of newspapers, but little detail on what actually constituted ‘news’ in the sixteenth century. That’s a question I’ve been trying to answer myself in the last few weeks, but one interesting theory came from a rather unexpected source. Discussing the issue of what makes something ‘news’ with my two elder children during a car journey over the weekend (and they raised it, not me!), my elder son pointed out that news DID include opinion or editorial commentary, because if we were all clones, we wouldn’t need any news because we would all think the same way about everything. Only if we were all clones who thought the same way, could news be objective. Profound, I thought, especially coming from a primary school pupil.

Last week I tried to cram in as much writing as I could because I knew I would have less time for it in the next few weeks, but the pattern was broken by a trip into Manchester to record a short video interview about my PhD for the department website. When one of my colleagues had asked me a few questions about my work, I then got to ask the questions of another friend. I found that considerably more difficult. I can talk endlessly about my work, but semi-improvised questioning was really hard.

On Friday, I go to my first music conference: Music, Circulation and the Public Sphere. It’s perfect for my research and it will be interesting, if rather nerve-wracking to talk to an audience of musicians rather than historians. I’m very much looking forward to it, as I’m hoping that I’ll get some feedback to help me answer some of the questions I raised in a previous post on Musical Musings. I’m going to talk about ballads and news, how they provoked debate among their audience, before raising some questions about the development of popular and sacred music in the Renaissance period.

DSCF3139  This week has been half term, so I’ve spent quite a bit of time playing with my children.  We’ve been on a couple of walks, one round Tarn Hows in the Lake District and one from Wrea Green on the Fylde, close to where I grew up.  But this has also been the week of my winter panel meeting and a seminar at the John Rylands Library in Manchester.

The panel meeting went well.  My supervisors commented on how much my writing has improved; it is now clear and precise, which is good to hear.  We discussed the commonwealth chapter I submitted, talked about the choice of technical language for describing my musical examples and then conversation turned to the submission process.  We discussed possible examiners and I told them that I plan to submit in September.   The meeting was over in 40 minutes.

That afternoon I took part in the Print and Materiality Seminar Series at the John Rylands Library, talking about ‘William Elerton and the Ghost of the Lady Marques’.  The topic was chosen to fit in with the seminar series’ focus on the supernatural, but it was a particularly nice subject because it allowed me to sing one of my ballads.  The other paper of the afternoon was given by my Manchester PhD candidate colleague, Sarah Fox.  Her fascinating paper was entitled ‘”Let the superstitious wife, Neer the child’s heart lay a knife”: Superstition and the domestic object in eighteenth-century England’, and I thoroughly enjoyed listening to her.

I’m looking forward to getting properly stuck in to my final chapter on ballads and the news over the next few weeks.  I’ve started doing the secondary reading for it already and I’ve even made some little notes on halved index cards for paragraph topics.  I decided that on this occasion I really needed to plan the chapter before I wrote it, which is not how I usually work.  The chapter will look at the role of sixteenth century ballads in spreading news, a role that has been contested recently.  I need to look into the differences between ‘news’, ‘newspapers’ and ‘journalism’.  I’m going to investigate the role of newspapers in later periods to see how the ballad compares, as well as looking at the evidence provided by State Papers.  I’m very much looking forward to it, after the trouble I had with the commonwealth chapter.  It’s not going to be easy, but I think it should be much more fun!

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