English: The courtyard of the Bodelian Library...

English: The courtyard of the Bodelian Library, looking out the north gate from the south gate. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On Monday I did a day’s work on manuscripts held in the Bodleian Library.  Particularly, of course, Ashmole 48 – Richard Sheale’s ballad collection. There is some dispute over the purpose of the collection. Sheale is known to have been a minstrel attached to the Stanley family, but interpretations over the years have described Ashmole 48 as his minstrel manuscript or a collection of ballads that he heard and perhaps sung. Most recently, Andrew Taylor has argued that the manuscript was used to collect ballads on Sheale’s travels which he then took back to printers in London for publication. Whatever its purpose when it was compiled, there seems no dispute over the fact that it contains ballads. Which is nice, because it helps me to define ‘ballad’. There were a couple of other very interesting documents too.

Finishing work in Oxford on Monday afternoon marked the end of my work for a week or two. I decided last week that juggling was wearing me out, so for the sake of my sanity and my children I would take a couple of weeks off before they go back to school. As the epitaph ballad went on holiday to Ireland with me in May, this will be the first proper break I’ve had for months.

English: Stonyhurst College, Lancashire

English: Stonyhurst College, Lancashire (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I thought I’d give you a quick update on my progress towards my summer goals:
• Definition of ‘ballad’ for introduction.  I’m part way through this, although it needs a LOT more work.  I’m discussing it with friends that I met at the Psalm Culture conference in London in July and I’ve given it a lot of thought, but so far, there’s only a little bit on paper.  This is my priority when the children go back to school before the university semester restarts.  However, I did produce a short piece on the nature of the ballad for my panel meeting, so I can count that too.

• Transcription of digital copies of ballads from MSS in the British Library, consulted last autumn.  Again, I’m part way through this.  I’ve checked the whole of one manuscript and I’m about to start work on another.  However, so that I can get my head round what I’ve completed and what I haven’t, I need to make some proper records.

• Archive visits during summer 2013: Stonyhurst College, Lancashire County Record Office, National Archives etc.  This hasn’t quite gone according to plan.  Stonyhurst College assure me that they won’t have anything of interest.  I haven’t yet made it to the county record office in Preston this summer, although I have been before.  I need to go to the British Library again, but I’m not sure how I’m going to fit that in.  I’m booked in to the Bodleian in Oxford and I’ve been to the University Archives in Cambridge and the Parker Library.  I’d like to go to Keswick and Stratford too, but again, I’m not sure how I’m going to fit it in before the end of the summer.

• Completion of article on ballad epitaph.  Yippee – something I can say I’ve completed!  This was sent off to a journal several weeks ago.

• Revise ballad flyting chapter.  Bigger yippee – something else I can say I’ve completed, at least in its first draft.

•  Knowingness, Implicitness and the Early Modern Audience.  This is a new addition to the list, and what held up work on the transcriptions.  I’m doing some background reading on the audience of cheap print in the period, which feeds in to a heavy-going (at least to write and for me to think about) piece on the use of knowingness in the sixteenth century.  This will, eventually, form part of my introduction.

•  Rewrite of chapter plan – This piece of work was set at my panel meeting, as my chapter plan still reads as if I’m just starting my research.  My supervisors suggested that I might find it helpful to rewrite my chapter plan to reflect the findings of the chapters I’ve completed.  Actually, I found it a rather soul destroying business.   I find writing abstracts extremely difficult at the best of times so writing several of them in one go was like torture.  I have to admit that I gave up.  I ought to come back to it, I suppose!

• Submission of proposals for talks – I’ve submitted an abstract for the History Lab North West interdisciplinary conference ‘Beyond History’ in November looking at music as historical evidence – the links between psalms, ballads and politics and especially melodic knowingness.  This conference was perfect for me, considering that my work is so interdisciplinary.   I was asked to take part in the Material Histories seminar series at the John Rylands University Library next academic year, so I’ve submitted a paper on ‘William Elderton and the Ghost of the Ladie Marques’.  That should be fun.  I hope that both these papers will provide an opportunity to sing some of the ballads, since that is what they were written for!

I think that covers most of what I’ve done.  When I’ve been to the Bodleian, I’m going to take a couple of weeks off so that I can spend some time with my children before they go back to school.  I haven’t had any proper time off since my interruption in February/March, which I don’t count because I was ill.  Even when we went on holiday to Donegal I worked every day because I had a deadline coming up.  I think we all deserve a break.

I spent this week in Cambridge.


I’ve not been back to Cambridge since I went to the folk festival in 1994, where I got showered in (someone else’s) beer when the Saw Doctors came on stage and everyone cheered.  That was before I got my A-level results.  At eighteen, I was offered a place at Selwyn College to read Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic with a Choral Scholarship, but I didn’t get the A-level grades that I needed so I ended up at Manchester instead.  I can honestly say that after the initial disappointment, I have never felt a moment’s regret about not getting there.  But I do have to admit that this week was a bit strange.  Life would have been very, very different if I’d gone there and not to Manchester.  For one thing, I’d have ended up as a medievalist, not an early modernist!



But I didn’t, and I was back in Cambridge to visit some archives.  I spent a happy hour or two in the Parker Library at Corpus Christi College looking at Archbishop Parker‘s corrections to his Whole Psalter, and a day in the University Library Manuscript Room looking at some bits and pieces.  I didn’t find anything earth-shattering, I don’t think, but there were one or two useful bits and bobs.






The trip was combined with a family holiday, so after my day and a half of work I was able to join my family doing a few, more touristy, things.  The weather was very, very warm, so we went swimming in the lido on Jesus Green, which was very pleasant indeed.  We went out to Wandlebury Hill Fort, Houghton Mill and Wimpole Hall, although bad planning on my part meant that the hall itself was closed on the day that we visited! The Botanic Gardens were beautiful and the children thoroughly enjoyed the activities in the explorer backpacks that they borrowed.  I think we all wished we’d had longer to spend there.



Juggling, I have discovered this week, isn’t easy.  I can only assume that this time last year I was so taken up with the prospect of moving house that the PhD took a back seat to packing boxes and playing with my children.  I didn’t have my summer panel meeting until the middle of August last year and I do remember being on holiday with my computer, but I don’t remember it being as exhausting as this.  I’ve given myself a long list of jobs to do, tidying up bits and pieces that need sorting out and visiting several archives, but I’m also trying to fit in with family life too, so somehow I have been spending half a day working and half a day doing things with the children.

On Tuesday I commuted to Manchester, had a breakfast supervision meeting and then spent an entire day in the John Rylands library on Deansgate reading a book about one of the manuscripts that I am going to see this summer.  Today I read a book and took notes while visiting family.

I’ve been re-writing my knowingness piece too.  Precision demanded in every word.

This is proving less than easy.

DSCF1150 DSCF1148

Weather-wise, it’s been a much better week.  Yesterday the weather was beautiful, but unfortunately I wasn’t in a fit state to enjoy it.  My eldest kindly brought  a bug home from school earlier in the week and having had a sleepless night on Tuesday, I wasn’t in a fit state to kick it out of the house.  So I spent most of yesterday in bed with a bug.  Anyway, the garden is looking lovely, I think.  We had the redpoll and the siskins back in the garden this week too.

Work is going slowly.  I’ve started work on my second chapter, but at the moment I’m researching rather than writing.  I have a wild theory up my sleeve that involves heraldry and ballads!   I’m in the process of comparing several ballads about Lent, which is actually proving to be a lot more interesting than it sounds!

On Wednesday I survived a lesson in how to construct a sentence!  I have an annoying habit of leaving subjects out of sentences, which is fine if you happen to be inside my brain as I know what I’m talking about, but apparently other people can find it a bit hard to follow my train of thought…!  I have been told to think about my sentences as musical phrases, in order to make them more balanced.

In other good news, I have my lovely middle-aged laptop back (as opposed to the old one that I need to get repaired next), which means that I’m back on  Windows 7 and no longer have to attempt to work round Windows 8 which, as far as I am concerned, is the stuff of nightmares.  Windows 7 works.  It just gets on with things.  Windows 8 thinks it needs to be at the forefront of your work all the time – it’s far too in your face.  Also, today I got the document reference I needed to complete my article, so it’s now all ready to go.  This feels very strange.  I think I probably feel the way a rhinoceros must do when it’s about to give birth – this article has been two years in the making!


And so a new year begins.

Ice skating at Lytham

Ice skating at Lytham

I have spent a lot of it so far cataloguing ballads, to the extent that my analysis spreadsheet is now so enormous that I am probably going to have to take it to the university print services department to get it printed out – I guess it will be bigger than a research poster and will cost me a small fortune!  Especially as I’ll probably have to get two copies of it so that I can give one to my supervisor.  I have, however, identified a nice section of wall in my study where I can stick it up.  Actually, it’s the only section of wall that’s big enough!  Still, I’ve got to finish it first, and although it’s getting there, everytime I look at anything I find more ballads that I need to add in.  There are just so many it’s amazing.

I have to say that after several days concentratedly staring at little boxes on a computer screen and tiny print  on paper, I was heartily sick of ballad analysis and ready to give it a break, so I did.   I went ice skating in Lytham with my children and had a whale of a time.  I didn’t fall over once, so I was very pleased with myself.  The next morning I spent doing more analysis and a LOT of filing, and then went up to Leighton Moss RSPB reserve with the family, which was very wet, but I saw several snipe, which was nice.  The weather wasn’t, it has to be said, as you can see from the photograph.  The snipe, which you can’t see on the photograph, were on the diagonal strip of land across the middle right.  I like snipe.  You’d think that something so stripy would stand out like a sore thumb, but it’s actually really good camouflage.

From the new Tim Jackson hide at Leighton Moss in the rain.

From the new Tim Jackson hide at Leighton Moss in the rain.

I spent an evening working on my talk for the Historical Association in Manchester, and I need to spend a bit more time on it.  It’s called ‘No Lion Wilde: Popular Depictions of Mary I’ and obviously it focuses on the ballads of the reign of Mary.  I’m quite looking forward to giving a talk to the H.A.  It’s not quite the same as one aimed directly at 6th formers, and although I gave a fairly intellectually-heavy seminar for the postgrads at university, that was only 20 minutes long – not a full 50 minutes.  So although it’s a bit scary, it’s fun.  I’m adapting the 6th form talk I gave in November to have longer excerpts of the ballads, as they, after all, are the crucial bits.  Other than that, it would involve putting in more theory, and I don’t think that’s all that appropriate.  I need to make it interesting but appreciable by a general audience.  The great thing about the Historical Association, though, is that although the audience is of the general public, they are assumed to want high quality, challenging lectures!  I suppose it’s the questions that are the really scary bit, as I can’t prepare for them.

I was instructed by my supervisor to get back into writing as soon as I could, and so far this is something I haven’t managed to do.  Instead, I generated a massive amount of ballad analysis by printing an awful lot of stuff from EEBO.  So much stuff, in fact, that I went through an entire printer cartridge in one day.  Then I had to read it.  Then I had to file it.  The trouble is that I know that there are several things that I am missing:  I haven’t read most of the Churchyard/Camel ballad flyting, and I know that I haven’t even printed several of the ballads I photographed at the Society for Antiquaries when I visited them last November.  I did, however, finally get on with ordering copies of a lot of things I saw at the British Library, so as I’d been putting that off I’m quite pleased with myself.

What else have I done?  I put several ballad tunes onto Sibelius so that I can listen to them and it makes the process of analysing them, in due course, easier.  They are now in a folder of their own, with copies of the lyrics that go with them.  I’ve read through Cheap Print and Popular Piety again too.

My plan is that next week, when the children go back to school, I will go back to my piece on the Cromwell flyting of 1540 and finish a draft of that.  It’s something to look forward to.  I’m going to give the rest of the missing ballads a break for a few days while I get stuck into writing again.  Should be fun.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time in the last couple of weeks planning my trip to London. I’ve made arrangements to go to the British Library, the Society of Antiquaries and the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library, and although I’m a bit nervous (I’ve never done anything like this before), I’m also very excited.

This week I’m also giving my first seminar, ‘Ballads and the Public Sphere in the Reign of Mary I’, which will be an interesting experience. I wrote it at the beginning of September, but I haven’t given it as much practice as I would/should have done. Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been extremely busy, because two of my children have had birthdays. My kitchen has been rather like that of someone practising for the Great British Bake Off – there have been lots and lots of cakes!

In other news I attended a course on writing abstracts/proposals for conference papers on Wednesday morning. Considering my somewhat lacking skills in this area, it should have been quite useful, and I suppose in a way it was. The trouble is that I know in theory how to write an abstract, I just can’t quite make it happen. I have also put together a proposal for my new panel to change the thrust of my topic (again!) as the ballads are something I would really like to take further.  I have a completely new panel now, set up by my supervisor especially for their skills:  Sasha Handley from the History Department and Rebecca Herissone from Music.  Work is good fun at the moment.

I’ve also been to my first Historical Association Trustees meeting, which was quite eye-opening.  I think it’s a role I’m going to grow into: at the moment I feel a bit out of my depth but now that I’ve been to one meeting I’ll have more idea about what’s going on at the next one!

I’ve just read the interview with Lucy Worsley printed in this week’s Radio Times.  I should make it clear now that I haven’t, to the best of my knowledge, seen any of her television work.  I don’t watch much television, and even less history on television, as it tends to get on my nerves.  I once spent the length of an entire programme commenting on my own comments on Facebook, ranting about something on a historical theme that I did watch, pulling it to pieces as it unfolded in front of me.  And don’t even think about mentioning ‘Horrible Histories’…

Anyway, back to the point.  She comes across as a nice, bubbly sort of person with a good line in self-deprecating humour, which is something I always enjoy.   A quick look at her website confirms this.  It was the business about children in the interview that grabbed me though.  Or rather, her lack of them.  She’s a year or two older than me, and she has none and I have three.  My reaction was rather mixed.  For one thing, I couldn’t really understand why it was of interest to the interviewer.  I can’t ever remember reading an interview with a man that commented on his decision to have children, or not to have children.  Why is it considered important when a woman doesn’t want children?  The assumption is always that a woman must want a child.  It wasn’t me that wanted children; it was my husband.  In fact, for many years, I actively didn’t want them.  I was persuaded, and most of the time I am very, very glad.

But if I’m totally honest, especially after the few weeks I’ve had lately, reading the lines “I had other priorities with what I wanted to do with my time” and “I get to spend my time doing things I enjoy”  did make me slightly envious.   If I didn’t have children, I would have a lot more money and a lot more time.  I’d have a lot less ties and a lot less pressure.  I’d be able to go off to the other side or end of the country to do research whenever I needed to.  But I do have children, and as such I am tied to Manchester.

The most telling line in the entire piece, as far as I was concerned, was “I have been educated out of the natural reproductive function”.   One of the reasons I’m doing my PhD is to prove to myself that I am able. My mum always said that the drawback of educating women is that they then get stuck with the children.  I have the equivalent of two degrees and a teaching certificate.  I had earned my own money.  Then I had children and instead of having intelligent conversations with people with similar interests and intelligence, I was stuck at home talking to babies and toddlers and the four walls.  It can be mind-bendingly boring, even when you believe that you are the best person to bring up your children and you have no wish to send them to a nursery or childminder.  There is also the change in other people’s perception of you:  to most people, a stay at home mum must be incapable of framing an inteligent sentence.  I was lucky in having a few friends that were available during the day to talk to (over the internet, at any rate) who never stopped treating me as an intelligent human being.  And it’s partly because of them that I am now doing my PhD and thoroughly enjoying myself.

But there’s the real irony:  I suspect that the real reason I’m doing the PhD is precisely because I have children.  I needed to prove to myself that I could be as good as all those other doctors of philosophy.  And the motivation wouldn’t have been there without the children that make it so much more difficult!