Antics

Making My Own Museum Display

So I landed a six-week Roman Society placement at the Corinium Museum. Three weeks in, and I have learnt an awful lot about the runnings of a small but successful museum, battling the modern day struggles ‘loss-making’ public buildings face. In my time so far, I have helped with Roman and prehistory workshops (from Roman board games and mosaic making, to stone age painting); handled collections data; made all important space in the resource centre; but perhaps most excitingly, made my own display.

The Corinium is currently undergoing massive HLF funded construction work for a new gallery: ‘Stone Age to Corinium’. In order to preset this, I created a preceding temporary display about the ‘Pre-Roman Corinium’. It was once thought that Cirencester existed before the Romans invaded Britain, but little did they know…

Bagendon is today a village 3 miles north of modern day Cirencester, however in the Late Iron Age it was an oppidum inhabited by a tribe called the Dobunni. Essentially, when the Romans settled at their Leaholme Fort set in new, straight roads (the basis of Cirencester), the Dobunni and the Romans hit it off. This was unusual, but there is no archaeological evidence of conflict. Therefore, the precise nature of their relationship is speculation: mainly around whether the tribe conducted trade with the Romans. Regardless, it is clear that Corinium was a via media between both the tribe’s and the Roman’s idea of a good town. Buildings such as houses, the amphitheatre, bathhouses and the Forum, arose around the Fort, so that when the Romans left, a town remained in its place.

Me setting up the objects in the display case ft. my weirdly oval head (10 points if you can spot the heist style plungers!)

After a good deal of research, I selected objects that reflected this story. I chose coin moulds that prove Bagendon was an administrative tribal capital. Gold, silver and bronze Dobunnic coins were found at the site, so I selected a silver coin with a three-tailed horse on one side, a symbol of Belgic tradition (following the Germanic invasion of Britain) . Additionally, pottery sherds were significant finds at both Bagendon and the Leaholme Fort. Samian ware was particularly interesting, as this is a distinctly Roman: The red, glazed decorative pieces would be used to show off at dinner parties. However, samian ware was also found at Bagendon; an insight into the kind of relationship the tribe and Romans shared. Moreover, small finds, such as nails, a tiny iron knife, and an intricate bronze pendant, physically show key objects the Dobunni would have handled day-to-day.

The final thing!

With a terrain map and a carefully selected text I put together, my display is now complete and (hopefully), being looked at by the public. The idea that my insight to the Pre-Roman Corinium is being taken in by interested people is highly exciting, and has reaffirmed why I chose to study history at university.

Miscellaneous

The Reality of Teaching

Whilst I am approaching my final year of my degree, the sudden reality that all too soon I will be working in a ‘real’ job contributing to a ‘real’ career is striking me. Therefore, I organised a few days experience at a school in order to grapple with what it would mean to be teacher. I observed a variety of ages and abilities facing internal end of year exams and looking towards the next new year of school. It was a fantastic experience and gave me hope that this might be the route for me. However, it stirred something in me. Something underlying in the teaching profession that never seems to be fully acknowledged: strap your seat belts in, I feel a rant brewing…

“Don’t go into teaching for the money”. “Think of the holidays”. “It’s the only route for humanity degrees”. These are all preconceptions that have been blasted at me everytime I mention going into teaching. So when I found myself in an English staffroom listening to a lunchtime discussion on how it would take 15 years to save up for a house deposit on teachers wages, the reality of this beautiful, nurturing and under-appreciated profession hit me. ‘Skilled’ jobs are defined as paying over £30,000 per annum. The starting salary of a teacher is £23,000: which would only just cover the cost of the tuition fees and maintenance loan required for a degree over a year. Teachers (on the traditional PGCE route) spend a minimum of four years at university. And for what? An ‘unskilled’ job?

With the recent revelation that headteachers have to reduce the number of teachers in a school to breaking point in order to pay for basic equipment, such as tables and chairs, it is evident that schools are in a crisis. This comes after schools have been flogged off to businesses and other companies to become academies. Giving hope for improvement and survival of OFSTED inspections. This may seem a dramatic view; an exaggerated reality, however I, myself, saw the reality of this firsthand as a student. My secondary school was a failing institution placed in special measures for a number of years, spot inspections happening every few months. But nothing ever changed. Even with a proactive new headteacher who pushed the school to the national list of top ten most improved schools, the school remained in special measures. Only when it was converted to an academy that any real change happened. Through a series of harsh but necessary changes to secure a sustainable future for the school, it made a ‘good’ OFSTED rating.

So what does this say about the state of state schools? Is it condemned by its limited financial resources, like the NHS? Maybe. Undeniably, schools reaching out to former pupils with lists of what donations of well over £1,000 could buy for the school, such as interactive whiteboards and library computers, sounds too much like charity fundraising for crisises in other countries. But the issue is very much present in our local communities.

So where does this place teaching? From what I learnt at my invaluable few days placed in the heart of a growing academy trust that aims to expand into a cluster of local schools over the area, teaching is a necessary and potent career that will enrich your life by inspiring others. The teachers I had growing up caught my respect because of how hard they worked to make a difference to our lives. The tireless nights, the lesson plans, the unseen ‘behind-the-scenes’ work that goes into each lesson; the years of study prior to even setting foot into the classroom. It all contributes towards something significant and under-appreciated in not only pay but the overall system of things.

Perhaps it is true that teaching is more than a pay check, but why should the two be so dramatically separated? Certainly, impacting on young people’s lives in a classroom every day beats sitting at a desk in an office; so why can’t that be celebrated in the way it should be? It would change the negative perception that for humanity students particula rly, teaching is an inevitability. Something drastically needs to change for schools. As a prospective teacher facing a world where academies are breaking finanical constraints, I want to ride the wave to creating something better.

Antics

Why you should visit ruin sites…

Three reasons you should visit a ruin site near you this summer:

  • They are usually free!
  • You will learn something new
  • It is a brilliant way to unwind

As a history undergrad, one of the ways I like to relax is by visiting local ruins. You’ll be surprised by how many historical sites reside unnoticed near you: monasteries, castles and estates lying fornlorn from their former glory. They can be a beautiful way to unwind and remember the past of the place you live. These are my top three ruins sites I have visited this year:

Netley Abbey

13th century monastery and church in the village of Netley placed in the Royal Victoria Country Park. It is neatly set next to the Southampton Water estuary and proves for a neat place to sit after walking around the abbey.

Changes are mainly in brick, whilst the original abbey is in stone

Founded in 1239 by the Bishop of Winchester as a home for the Cistercian order, it currently stands as the most complete surviving abbey. Almost all the walls of its impressive church at the back remain, alongside its monastic buidings. Henry III was patron of the abbey. It was home to 15 monks and 30 lay brothers, officials and servants.

The building was converted to a fashionable Tudor house after the Dissolution of the Monasteries by Sir William Paulet, 1st Marquess of Winchester. Reusing the abbey ruins, he built a Tudor courtyard house fit for his standing. The courtyard replaced the cloister, and Paulet demolished the monk’s refectory for a grand turreted entrance. These changes are mainly in brick, whilst the original abbey is in stone. Most of the brick renovations were removed by the Romantics.

The Gothic ivy-covered church at the back of the former abbey inspired Romantic figures

This conversion was stripped back as in the 19th century the abbey in the woods became a celebrated medieval ruin by Romatic writers and poets. The ivy-covered abandoned site inspired authors and artists such as John Constable, Horace Warpole and even Jane Austen, who is said to have drawn her ideas for Northanger Abbey here.

Minster Lovell Hall and Dovecote

The ruins of the Tudor Manor House in Minster Lovell along the River Windrush

These Oxfordshire ruins of a 15th century Manor House stand besides the River Windrush. The traces of the impressive fine hall, dovecote and four-storey tower remain. This makes for a picturesque walk through the beautiful thatched roofs of the Minster Lovell village, the church, and along the wooded bank of the Windrush.

The impressive ruins of the four-story tower

Built in 1430s by the wealthy Baron of Lovell and Holland, the house was a manifestation of his good fortune. After the defeat of the House of York at the 1485 Battle of Bosworth, it was owned by Richard III’s ally, Francis, Viscount of Lovell. After renovations, the hall was neglected and later demolished in the 18th century for building stone.

The East and West kitchen wings were demolished for building stone

Titchfield Abbey

Wroithesley’s gatehouse across the monastery’s front

Located in Farnham, Hampshire, Titchfield is a medieval abbey, later used as a country house by the 1st Earl of Southampton. Built in the 13th century, the abbey housed Premonstretensian canons. They served the local community as priests and lived communally like monks. Henry V stopped here in 1415 prior to his famous expedition to France. This dissolved in the 1536 Suppression of the Monasteries.

Henry VIII gave the abbey to Sir Thomas Wroithesley as a reward for his key part in enacting his Protestant policy. who transformed the building into a grand mansion, Place House, in 1537. He notably built the large nave as a gatehouse across the front (pictured). It hosted numerous impressive guests, including Edward VI, Elizabeth I, Charles I and wife Henriette Maria. Henry, 3rd Earl of Southampton, was Shakespeare’s patron and some of his plays might have been first performed here.

Archaeological excavations revealing the monastery’s layout

After the death of the 4th earl of Southampton, Titchfield passed through several families. However in 1781, most of the building was demolished for stone. 20th century archaeological excavations revealed the original layout of the monastery.

So, grab your coat and see what your area has to offer!

Antics

Hay Festival: 25th May 2019

Running from the 23rd May to 2nd June 2019, the picturesque market town Hay-On-Wye is hosting the Hay Festival for the 32rd time. This year notable appearances include Stephen Fry reading from his Mythos book; Maxine Peake reading The Mask of Anarchy; Lucy Worsley on her new book, Queen Victoria: Daughter, Wife, Mother, Widow; and Ian McEwan considering his new novel, Machines Like Me. However, my visit entailed two unlikely events that centred on unusual subjects that enlightened me in ways unexpected.

The distinctive white tents and colourful flags

The first event was from the man, the myth, the legend: Simon Schama. In a warm Ballie Gifford Stage, Schama looking into Rembrandt’s Eyes. He guided us through the 17th century Dutch painter’s landmark on art history in a lively and illuminating talk. Taking us through the peak and eventual trough of his life, we saw his generosity in art grow in the forms of a multitude of subjects: from his wife Saskia until her death, dissections and the nature of mortality, and the tortures of the female body.

Image result for rembrandt winter landscape
Winter Landscape, 1646

However, one particularly captivating piece has stuck with me. The first work Schama introduced his talk with was Rembrandt’s Winter Landscape. Admist the heat of the tent, the audience was transported to a chilly Dutch farmyard blanketd in snow. Working from sketches inside his studio, the movements of ink and a stick presents Rembrandt aptly; his simplicity in places, in the face of unconvinced critics.

Simon Schama at the Ballie Gifford Stage

Whilst I went into the Ballie Gifford Stage largely ignorant of Rembrandt, I left informed, inspired and a little in awe of Schama.

The second event I attended was hosted by cartoonist Chris Riddell and former laureates Julia Donaldson (known for Zog and the Gruffalo), and the one and only Michael Rosen. Having taken a Children’s Literature module last semester and coming out all the wiser for it, I listened to their spell-binding approaches to engage young children to literature. Riddell drew highly entertaining picture to illustrate his talking, Donaldson and her husband drew the audience together with musical sign language and Rosen’s familar voice ensnared the room with his entertaining stories.

Whilst this event concerned children’s literature, naturally there were many issues raises for adult consideration: the political hold over education. All three enthused their frustration over sharing ideas with numerous Secretaries for Education, albeit it falling on deaf ears. They believe exam questions are set up wrongly, especially from SAT level. They ask why an author writes about their character in such a way, when at A level or degree level, the author is detached from the work and it is only the persona that must be considered. Riddell being a political cartoonist made light of this, and the other recent events of late…

Chris Riddell, Michael Rosen and Julia Donaldson at the Wales Stage

In all, the Hay Festival once again succeeded in opening my mind to the importance of things I had been closed off to. I left the maze of tents and flags feeling inspired and invigorated by the voices of passionate people raising important points. I cannot recommend this literary festival enough: an unusual and eye-opening array of events. It has to date been attended by two American presidents over its three decades of running, it’s iconic white tents now host to over 250,000 visitors over its ten days.

creative writing

The Poison Bed: Book Review

Whether we fall by ambition, blood, or lust,

Like diamonds, we are cut with our own dust. –The Duchess of Malfi

Love, politics, truth and lies: E.C. Fremantle’s newly released book ‘The Poison Bed’ is ravelled around the secretive nature of the 1615 Jacobean court. Frances, from the old and prestigious Howard family, has been raised to survive the politics of power. Robert, her husband, has the influence and trust of the king. So as the story unfurls the backlash of stepping too close the flame of King James, the stakes of the couple’s lives get higher. They are accused of murder and someone will pay the price.

‘Love, Politics, Truth and Lies’

At first sceptical of a fictional historical book, my doubts were soon ridiculed as Fremantle takes you by the hand and introduces you through life under James I and VI like you have never seen it before. Following the recent troupe of opening the female narrative of Early Modern history, Fremantle gives us the spectacular character of Frances. She is strong, the victim of her great-uncle’s survival training. Echoing Philippa Gregory’s eye-opening ‘The White Queen’ series, it is refreshing to see women’s history reaching the fiction shelves. Moreover, Robert’s homosexual character and lucrative relationship with James reaffirms LGBTQ+ history. Fremantle delicately hits a lot of literary considerations, without disrupting the carefully laid out historical aspect of her book.

‘With every page I turned, I found myself becoming more and more glued’

As an English and History BA student, this is something I can really sink my teeth into. With each page I turned, I found myself become more and more glued, the stakes getting higher, and the extent of the threat Frances and Robert are under becoming more increased. It was pleasing that Fremantle nurtures historically accurate, or at least plausible, narrative and provides a satisfying scope of aristocratic life in 1615: unlike the modern twists that somewhat tainted Reign.

With desire, fear, and threat running throughout the increasing tense plot, I feel that we have a lot to learn from this book, Brexit considered. How close dare you stand to flame of power without getting burned?

Miscellaneous

Diary 2.0: A Fresh Page

Hi! Nice to make your acquaintance! You can call me Captain Hetty. Welcome to my blog.

I am in no sense pretentious

Over the past few years, I have been trying to keep a diary, but between university work, a part-time job and pretending to keep a social life of sorts, I have failed miserably. So what better way to keep up with recording my life than a blog? (Famous last words?)

“Who I am?” I hear you ask! Well, like any other sane being, I am a big fan of cats. And dogs. I grew up with three cats and later a dog. Since our yorkie sadly passed away, I am ‘pet-broody’, so there is a 99% chance I will steal your pets if you’re not careful!

This is Maurice, he will probably crop up now and again

Kidnapping threat aside, I am also from the South West and have moved down even further South to study English and History at undergraduate: Don’t worry though, I am in no sense pretentious. In the same way Hamlet’s inability to act was his fatal flaw, writing is mine. I know, who takes humanities and can’t even write? Well, that would apparently be me. It is true, ever since I first encountered exams, my love for writing and reading has been very much neglected, I am ashamed to say. But have no fear, this semester I am going through a spiritual quest to find my inner writer again.

Talking about my inner writer, this semester I am taking creative writing. By accident. Turns out selecting a ‘Short Stories’ module because you think there will be less reading has its comeuppance when you’re the one writing the stories! As I haven’t done creative writing in half a decade, I need all the practise I can get my hands on. Therefore, I hope to use this blog as a diary, place to air some stories, rants alike. And I hope you will join me on the way!

Short stories? What could go wrong!