Church visit: St Margaret’s

This was the final of the three churches I visited on 17th July 2017. St. Margarets parish is near Clodock – it took around 20 minutes to drive there via winding narrow country lanes – and is a beautiful small two-cell church. The main reason for visiting was the ‘deliciously carved’ rood screen/loft¹. As with the previous blogs in this series, the remainder of this blog is focused on a few of the photographs that I took that day, with some explanatory text beneath each one.

If you’d like to visit St Margaret’s church, then more information can be found here.

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The sixteenth-century south porch doorway to St Margaret’s church

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Church visit: St Clydawg

Another one of the churches that I visited on 17th July 2017. St. Clydawg lies in the parish of Clodock and Longtown in Herefordshire, not far from Abbey Dore (still in the Golden Valley). It is an early church; a church has stood here to St. Clydawg from around 500 A.D. The unusual name is for one Clydawg, the son of Cledwyn, King of Ewias, who was murdered; when he was buried, the oxen pulling the cart refused to cross the river Monnow, so he was buried near the river bank. He was regarded as a martyr and people began to worship at his tomb; the church was built and a settlement grew up around it, called Llan (enclosure) Y Merthyr Clydawg, or Clodock. The church was restored in the seventeenth century, and today has a lot of seventeenth-century surviving material, hence my visit. As with my previous Abbey Dore blog post, the rest of this is primarily photographs with the occasional explanatory text.

If you’d like to visit St Clydawg, then the details can be found here.

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The path leading up to St Clydawg, or St Clydog, from the road and Lychgate (which is a modern reproduction of the original).

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Church visit: Holy Trinity and St Mary, Abbey Dore

Dore Abbey, one of only two former Cistercian Abbeys still used as a parish church in England (the other is Holme Cultram, or Abbey Town in Cumberland, according to Pevsner’s book on Herefordshire), was the first on the list of churches that I visited on 17th July 2017. The Abbey suffered the usual dissolution on March 1, 1537, being bought primarily by John Scudamore. It was his great-great-grandson, John Viscount Scudamore who restored the church in 1632-33. What remains today is what was the presbytery, crossing and transepts (the nave has largely gone), although ruins around the church allow the visitor, with the help of the guidebook and map, to work out what would have been where. Scudamore was a friend of William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury, and the church was rebuilt in ‘Laudian’ style. As such, it was one of the first to go onto my list of churches to visit in Herefordshire. My visit was primarily focused on the seventeenth century elements (as that is where my PhD is focused) but archaeological digs took place around the church either side of the turn of the 20th century and the items dug up then have been placed inside the church and are available to view by visitors. I also took photographs of some of the other, non-seventeenth-century elements. The remainder of this blog is focused on a few of the photographs that I took that day, with some explanatory text beneath each one.

If you’d like to visit Dore Abbey, or would like more information, then their website can be found here, or a website on the churches of Herefordshire can be found here.

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The church, seen from the main path leading down from the road. This was not the original, pre-reformation approach to the church but has been put in later, after the 1632-33 restoration.

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time management: the bullet journal

One of the most important skills that a student has to learn, ANY student, at any level, is that of time management, and a PhD student is not particularly unique in that. Where we differ from undergraduate or even masters students, however, is in the time we have available to us with little in the way of specific externally imposed goals. Most of us will have two, absolute goals that have to be met: the Thesis and the Viva, and most, if not all, will have to meet targets imposed by their university: reviews, supervisions, reports and so on.

That means there are large blocks of time where there is little external pressure to achieve things. New students are warned, going into a PhD, that we have to be responsible for driving our PhD forward, managing it ourselves, and not relying on our supervisors to do it for us. That sort of discipline can be difficult to learn.

 

What can also be difficult is in balancing and driving forward the different parts of the PhD, particularly the parts that ‘feel’ less urgent (e.g. the bits that don’t have an externally imposed deadline). It’s always easy to let secondary reading slide, for example. And while there are a number of different tools and methodologies for managing different projects which can be useful to the PhD student, different projects and balancing them also very much impact on our time management… or at least, have the potential to cause problems there.

Eighteen months ago, I stumbled across something called Bullet Journalling. I’m not alone in this: any number of students around the world have discovered it and are using it to aid and manage their studies. One of the key strengths of this system lies in the fact that it can be tailored to suit you, the user. Another, is in its simplicity. All you need is a notebook, and a pen. Actually, scratch that. All you really need is something to write on, and something to write with. you write the date at the top of your page. then you list what you’re going to do that day, your tasks, like this. You can use a series of ‘bullets’ – that’s the various squiggles on the left of the right page – as signifiers, or a key to the different items, and there’s no limit on space. If you want to list 3 pages worth of bullets, you can (although I would question whether you’d get them all done!). I’m sure some of you are thinking “sounds like a to-do list to me” … and yes, to a certain extent, it may be that, although it’s more than that: you can record other things too, appointments/events, and you can make notes. So that killer quote you overheard in the library cafe: pull out your journal and jot it down on the next available line. You see a fab chart that just happens to explain the balance between primary sources and secondary sources in a dissertation and when you should be using each in which bits of it (that actually happened to me!) … you can devote the next page to copying it down. The kind of stuff you’d record on post-it notes and lose – no longer. Now, stick ’em in your bullet journal.

It gets more complex than that, however. Obviously, you’re going to want to remember this killer quote when you’re writing your thesis…. so you need an index. and you need page numbers. And, since you write this journal as you go (remember, each day has as much space as you need?) how do you handle appointments in the future?

The inventor of bullet journalling has a great starting point here, but as I said, one of the key strengths of this system is that you can adapt this to make it work for you. If you hate the idea of using a dot to signify a task, fine. I have boxes, myself (colouring them in to say they’re done makes me *ridiculously* happy and it is embarrassing how much of a motivator that is for getting things done. My one solace is that I’m not alone in this). If you find that their suggested way of recording appointments in the future just doesn’t work for you, great. Use a different way. [Myself, I record appointments in google calendar – it means this stuff is managed on my smartphone and goes everywhere with me (even if my journal stays at home), and my partner can see it too.]  If you like systems with different coloured pens and diagrams and you like drawing and doodling… oh man. Bullet journalling is TOTALLY for you!

Even better … there’s a huge, and I do mean HUGE community out there on the internet of other people using bullet journals to manage their lives in a myriad of different ways. If you’re new to it, I would recommend holding off on going that route – and for heaven’s sake, please do NOT google image search bullet journal or Pinterest it – going that route is well and truly a major and very deep rabbit hole and this is meant to be about improving your efficiency and time management not distracting you from your PhD…! There are a lot of very highly decorated, artistic journals out there and for some that can be intimidating and off-putting. However, if (despite what I said), you looked anyway … I think its important to reitirate that bullet journalling is not about having a highly decorated, very colourful journal, necessarily: at its core, it’s a pen, and a notebook. Nothing more, nothing less.

That caveat aside, the community is useful because that ability to tailor your journal means that you can steal ideas from everywhere. There are a LOT of other PhD students – hell, even some academics – using Bullet Jouralling to manage their time and their work, and some of them generously share how they do this, so that people like you and I can learn from them, and sometimes their ideas are really useful ones. Things like, for example, the Research Pipeline that Dr Ellie Mackin developed. Ellie has a number of really useful and interesting videos on YouTube about how she uses the bullet journal to manage her work. There are facebook groups galore: I’m not going to mention specific names because 1) most of these are closed groups anyway and 2) because of that rabbit hole thing I mentioned earlier. [But if you are very keen for a recommendation for a  bullet journalling students group, please contact me and I will try to help.]

But I can hear you ask: … if bullet journalling is such a rabbit hole, why should I start?

Well, here’s what it’s done for me. Since I discovered it, I’ve graduated from my MA, pulled together a PhD application and won funding for it, written and delivered 6 conference papers, written and delivered 5 public history talks and won a general essay prize. I’ve started my PhD, which is going well. My productivity has gone from strength to strength, but more importantly, I feel confident that I’m able to remember things when I said I will do them. I’m managing my goals and my projects. Things in my life are getting done, and I’m happier than I have been in years, mostly because I also use my journal for self-reflection. My physical health is better than it has been in a long time. I’m not alone in noting all this. Many people have noted that keeping some form of paper and pen-based record improves their lives, that the act of putting pen to paper aids in so many ways.  Bullet Journalling specifically has many benefits; creativity; better mental health; productivity; for us students, there are so many articles out there.

The more astute amongst you may note that although I’ve extolled the virtues (many) of the bullet journal, I’ve not said a great deal about how I use it. That’s quite deliberate. My journal is highly personal, and also very unique to me. And I suppose I also don’t want anyone reading this to take away the message that my way is the right way. It is – for ME, but not necessarily for anyone else. There are no shortcuts to this: You have to read the inventor’s website (bulletjournal.com). Go on! grab a pen. grab a notebook. get going! Try the system, make changes. You won’t get it right immediately – there’s a process, over several months, of trying things, seeing what works, scrapping what doesn’t.  You may conclude, at the end of the day, that this system is not for you, and that’s perfectly fine – it won’t suit everyone. But I’m willing to bet that there are many people who will like it, and who will find it something completely lifechanging. And if you do try it, even if you conclude that it’s not for you I’m also willing to bet that you’ll come out of it with a better understanding of how you work, what you need and what you don’t need. All of which is good stuff to have.

So… go for it. What have you got to lose?

Passion & ikigai

The word ‘passion’ is overused in many ways. Does anyone remember a few years back, in Masterchef? The contestants would be asked why they want to go through the competition. Not just in interview as they were cooking, but as a key stage (usually at around the same time as the skills test). Almost invariably the phrase ‘I have a real passion for cooking’ would be trotted out. Admission tutors see it too – enough that prospective undergrads are warned not to use the word in their personal statements.  Almost invariably, people are told not to use the word; to show it instead. And yet, a conversation that I’ve been having online in the last 24 hours with a variety of people has shown me that to study at PhD level, perhaps even Master’s degree level, it really is essential to have a passion for the subject at hand.

I’m still working on my MA dissertation which I wrote about a few days ago, transcribing depositions – witness statements, in other words – and one particular one described the night that Foulkes completely lost it. I don’t mean the event in London, where he murdered his newborn child (1679), but earlier, around the end of July 1676. Foulkes had had gone for a drink in what may have been the nearest alehouse. There, the vicar of the neighbouring parish had talked with him, reporting the rumours he had heard about Foulkes and Ann, his lover, and trying, gently, to warn Foulkes of what was being said about him. Foulkes initially seemed to have taken the warning ‘very kindly and quietly’, but later became angry, and returned home somewhat drunk. He sent for two neighbours and their wives and after drinking more, a fight ensued. The neighbours promptly left, and Foulkes turned on his wife. This whole evening was described in the first (secondary) source that I found on Foulkes, Peter Klein’s book The Temptation and Downfall of the Vicar of Stanton Lacy (if anyone has it, and would like to read the relevant section, then see pages 47-50). The particular deposition that I was working on was the statement by William Hopton. While – as I said before, he most certainly had an axe to grind against Foulkes – transcribing the document proved to be difficult.

This was not because the handwriting was bad or it was full of latin or abbreviations – I don’t mean that kind of difficulty. It was emotionally difficult. When I came to the section where Hopton described that the neighbours had left, and ‘the said Robt Foulkes did fall out with his wife againe & beat her soe violently that she did cry out 3 times’, and when the neighbours – who were still outside, along with others who had gathered, drawn by the noise – tried to calm Foulkes, his wife, Isabella, was seen to be lying on a bed, bleeding (it did not say from where), complaining about Foulkes and asking the neighbours to stay with her till morning, ‘to save her life for that she was in danger to be murthered by her husband’. Crying out three times may not seem so much to modern eyes – or ears – but to contextualise this; early modern husbands were allowed, encouraged, even, to discipline their wives (to a certain extent, at least). Just as with those people in modern day abuse situations, a great deal of shame would probably have accompanied these disciplinary occasions, shame that the husband thought it necessary that the wife be punished. The average early modern woman being punished by her husband, even legitimately (the rod no wider than a thumb is a rule oft bandied), would probably have tried to keep any involuntary sounds to a minimum, to keep the neighbours from knowing that she was being disciplined. That Isabella was unable – or unwilling, in fear of her life – to do this indicated to me either how violent Foulkes was being towards her; or how afraid she was. Either way, it was disturbing.

When I had typed the transcription, I sat back in my chair and found tears creeping down my cheek at the plight of Isabella. Now… I’d be the first to admit that I can be a right old soppy sod. I regularly cry at movies, anything to do with the queen or royal family (a republican I am not) or weddings or mushy stuff. Its a family trait – I blame my maternal grandfather, he did the same thing. But really? Crying over something that had happened not quite 340 years earlier, where the participants were long since dead and buried and not so much as dust in the ground? But it really did disturb me. I finished transcribing the page, then went for a turn around the garden and a cup of coffee, and then turned to my colleagues and discussed my disquiet with them. And I was surprised to find that I was by no means alone in finding primary sources emotionally disturbing, to the point of needing a break from the material.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have been. One colleague, working on records that detailed historical instances of racial abuse said that they saw the cup of tea, the break afterwards, as an integral, necessary part of transcription work (and I think they’re right about that; something I will have to mentally account for when calculating transcription time in future). Others described sitting in archives and openly crying over what they were reading, the strong emotions, primarily pain, recorded by people in the past. I don’t think this is something that is readily discussed amongst historians, except perhaps those who routinely work with material that would – by almost anyone – be described as ’emotionally distressing’. It certainly isn’t something that we’re taught how to handle at either BA or MA level: we’re left to find our own methods of dealing with this kind of emotional upheaval.

But something else someone said to me also resonated. They said I cry, because I’m passionate about my research, about history, and also observed that if people don’t have that passion, they don’t get far as historians. And I realised they’re right. In all the people I’ve met, whether already qualified and practising academics in one university or another, or those of us who are still studying to get there (MA and PhD students), the one thing we’ve all shared, regardless of actual subject, is that passion. It’s not enough to find history interesting. That’s like me enjoying cooking enough that I enjoy – when I’m not tired and stressed – creating a meal for family or friends, or a cake for our local history group at Uni. That doesn’t make me a chef, even a trainee one. I think too often people confuse an interest with a passion. It’s perfectly okay to have an interest, to want to practise something, even to want to practice it a lot. I have to eat every day, after all! But its still only an interest, and having a passion, I can see the difference. People envy me sometimes, they say, because I seem to have such a clear idea of where I want to go, what I want to do, but I think sometimes there is too much emphasis laid on the quest to identify one’s passion, right now, right this minute, instead of waiting for it to come to you, quietly and in the fullness of time.

The Japanese have it right, I think. There, the quest for ‘ikigai’ is a deep, extensive search of self, the quest to identify what you love; what you’re good at; what the world needs; and what you can be paid for. Where what you love and what you’re good at overlap, is your passion. Where what you love, and what the world needs overlap, is your mission. Where what the world needs overlaps with what you can be paid for, is your vocation. Where what you’re good at overlaps with what you can be paid for, is your profession. Where all four overlap, is your ikigai. It is your reason for being, your reason for getting up in the morning. The French might refer to it as one’s raison d’être.

I count myself fortunate to have found my ikigai, and if it means occasionally sitting at my desk, weeping as I cry for the fate of a woman who was violently beaten by her philandering husband 340 years ago, then so be it. I don’t think its a cost that I would ever pass up, and I doubt many other historians would disagree.

Nose to the grindstone

My supervisor fired the gun on the MA dissertation last week; he wants a draft chapter by 5th July (and its been suggested that we submit our worst chapter). Erk. Note to self: next time he asks me when I’m thinking of submitting… say the deadline, idiot, not the middle of August!

[although, seriously, I do want a break before the PhD kicks off; I’ve got a talk to give in early September which I have to write, and a wedding to attend (not mine) as well as a 2 day training course at the end of September – I think a break will be much needed and highly valued. And if I’m honest with myself, this deadline is what I need. I work better to deadlines.]

So I’ve dusted off my PDFs of primary sources that I collected ages ago and taken an evaluative look at them. These are consistory court records from Herefordshire (from Herefordshire Archive and Record Centre or HARC, to be specific), from the 1670s, where a number of Foulkes’s parishioners took him to court over his affair with Ann Atkinson – this was in the years before the calamitous events that occurred in London and which led to Foulkes’ execution. There are ten PDFs altogether; the largest has 120 or so pages, the smallest just one. Altogether, there are something like 800 pages, which is an awful lot to try to read in a short space of time (especially given that they are handwritten). However, I do have some advantages; some 100 or so pages are in Latin and are likely to be official court documents. These I will leave for now, because a) my latin is pretty awful (at the moment) and b) I’m not sure how much is to be gained by wading through them that I cannot get from the other documents, which are all in English. These are things like lawyer’s records, notes that were passed between various people in the court (quite a few from Foulkes himself) and many, many depositions. The writing is pretty awful – I’d post a sample, but copyright does apply and I’d need to get permission from HARC – so, I thought, time to brush off the palaeography how-to notes from a module I did last year with the MA.

Surprisingly, I found that I could read something like 75-80% of the clearest document  (start with the easier one, always – it takes time and practice to ‘get the eye in’). I’ve worked through a couple of lengthy depositions from that collection, which is twenty six pages of depositions by eight people. These are what we would today call ‘statements’, with a few latin phrases, dated and signed in some way by the person giving the deposition. The first, by a chap called Richard Hopton, was one of the members of the ‘combinators’ (as they called themselves) bringing the case against Foulkes. He refers to Foulkes as ‘very contentious and quarrellsom’, says that Foulkes ‘disturb[s] their peass and quiett’. He goes on to say that Foulkes ‘had a bastard’, which was ‘begotten by him on the body of Ann Atkinson’. The second, that I have worked through so far, was by William Hopton, younger brother of Richard. He starts out by referring, like his brother, to Foulkes as ‘a quarrellsom and contentious spirit’ who was ‘endeavouring to disturb the peace and quiet of this neighbourhood and parish by threatening and abusive words’. He said that Foulkes called him ‘a sonne of a whore’, and that Foulkes would often refer to Ann’s mother, Elizabeth, as a whore and an old baud. Lovely!

There’s no real conclusion to this; other than that to reflect that the Hopton brothers seem determined to paint Foulkes in the worst terms possible (perhaps understandable, given that they were part of the conspiracy against Foulkes). There’s a but, though. There are words that I am currently unable to read; and because of that, I don’t fully understand everything that has been said in the statement. Less than ideal, obviously and a situation that I have to correct, fairly urgently.

I’ve arranged a meeting with my supervisor early next week because I think many of the words I can’t read are either abbreviations (Early Modern clerks adored abbreviations – it saved paper and ink!) or latin phrases, and I think he’ll be able to help with that. Beyond that though, its a case of nose to the grindstone to try to get some of these documents read. Not necessarily transcribed, just read. At the moment I am, of course, making notes as I go along, but that’s different to transcription, which is a word for word, letter for letter copy of exactly what is on the page but in a print format (some of the conventions adhered to by transcribers can be seen here). Transcription will have to be done eventually, as I think I will return to this case again and again – the material from this case can be used in a number of different ways. But for now, with that deadline looming, its a case of getting as much read as I can, so that in a few weeks, I can crack my knuckles and bash out a draft chapter of my dissertation.

So for now, keep reading, trying to make sense of what I can, and make notes as to the bits that I can’t read. It keeps life interesting, anyway!

The Household Accounts of Joyce Jeffreys

One of the best things about the taught MA is that, like a BA, you get to work on a number of smaller projects in the run up to the mighty dissertation (a meaty 20,000 words rather than the 10,000 at BA level). This introduces a level of variety that I, for one, really enjoy. In the last two years I’ve worked on the medieval landscapes of Ludlow and its environs; the relationship between Thomas, Lord Coningsby and the town of Leominster; a project evaluating what a small country churchyard in the south of Shropshire can reveal about the community and culture of the parish it serves; and finally, a project asking what Joyce Jeffrey’s Household Accounts could reveal about her local identity. Each of these has resulted in a document numbering around 5,000 words and each one has been great fun to research and write – the bigger word count means there’s more room to play with and to explore complex themes. Continue reading