From Psychiatrists to Peter Rabbit

My apologies for not putting up a blog post in quite a while, so I hope you will read this one in its entirety, and if you think someone else should read it, please pass it on.

On the 6th of December 2013 I was at work when I suffered what can best be described as the mother and father of depressive panic attacks. It really frightened me and thinking of the consequences of what I might do to myself in this mood, I drove myself straight to my Doctor’s Surgery and asked to see someone. The receptionist was really patient with me, especially after she told me there was no Dr. available to see me and I pointed out I wasn’t leaving, because I was scared of walking away from a situation where I would receive help.

The Dr. who saw me took one look at me, asked me a couple of questions and immediately phoned to make me an appointment with the mental health team at one of the major hospitals. I was taken there and after a brief conversation with a nurse was put in a quiet ‘special’ room to wait for a full assessment. The room had very heavy furniture with rounded edges and no easy way to get your fingers underneath to lift any of it up. The windows were bolted shut, the pictures screwed to the wall and a panic button fitted behind where the assessor was to sit. I suppose people had been there in far angrier moods than me.

The assessment was an opportunity to talk. I was allowed to ramble on, follow tangents and let everything tumble out of my mouth in an unfocussed narrative. Much is written about how writing a PhD can be detrimental to your mental health, but not much is written about when a PhD is the glue that binds your mental health together. I have a good life, as many people do who suffer mental health issues, but when that indefinable something gets in under your skin and the tiny problems you are experiencing start to expand and fill your every thought. Well, you get the picture.

I’ve been ill before, and I mean physically ill. I’ve had a couple of operations on my kidneys and my gall bladder out. Add to that some other scars from various other adventures and I have parts of my skin that look like a dog chew toy. Physical pain I can handle, junior doctors at the end of my bed staring at my testicles I can handle, but letting someone look inside your head is a very different experience indeed. In one sense, writing these blog posts are letting people inside my head, by explaining the inner workings of how I come to work out various concepts and points of my thesis. In another sense, many of you don’t know me as a person and form your opinions of me from what I write on here, and my writing has meant that my first term was funded by you, and I in turn am inspired by your faith in me.

After the assessment by a psychiatrist I was allowed home and this was the start of my recovery. In order to recover from something like this you have to admit that you understand that there are problems, and that you need to address each one as an individual rather than screw them up into one big ball which is then juggled around as one big worry. Making sure I fulfilled my obligations to you, the people who support me by reading the blog and contributing to my PhD fee payment fund http://www.gofundme.com/medievalgardensandparks is something which I have to admit worried me and was rolled up in my big ball.

Thanks to the dispassionate honesty of my psychiatrist, the love of my family and the support of three friends in particular – you know who you are – I’ve been able to work through my problems and I’m now well enough, both physically and mentally, to be able to continue with the writing process and to able to talk about my latest discovery, which all starts with the ‘The Tale of Peter Rabbit’ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Tale_of_Peter_Rabbit by Beatrix Potter.

One of my friends has just given birth, and she and her husband have decorated the nursery. They chose to put up illustrations from ‘The Tale of Peter Rabbit’. I remembered that the illustrations were drawn in the garden of Gwaynynog Hall near Denbigh (Latitude 53.177178; Longitude -3.445713) and so posted a link to the BBC News article http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/wales/north_east/4441615.stm to show her.

Galch Hill

And then I thought. Hang on a minute. Where exactly is Gwaynynog Hall? So, I checked my maps and it lies within one of Denbigh’s medieval parks. Which then made me think that Peter Rabbit, or at least the rabbits that Beatrix Potter was inspired by when she created Peter Rabbit, arrived in the area during the medieval period. Whether these were imported by English or Welsh royalty is a little bit more difficult to establish without archaeological excavation of the medieval rabbit warren locations, but it is an important step forward in understanding the landscape. And I’ll be sure to tell my friends’s newborn daughter someday how she helped me start writing again.

If anything in the first part of this blog post struck a chord, you could try the following websites:

http://www.mind.org.uk

http://bemindful.co.uk

Edits and Contracts

Just to let everyone know I’m completing the edits on a paper for ‘Mining History’ (which I mentioned last week), and I’ve got a contract to read and sign for a book contribution. Normal service will be resumed next week. In the mean time, please have a look at previous blog entries and if you feel inclined, contribute to my PhD research fund.

Pond Life…

My PhD isn’t all about animals that can walk or fly…it also has fish in it. Medieval Fish Ponds were an important part of the lord of the manor’s resources, and there is still evidence of their fishponds visible.

On the western outskirts of Holt (Latitude 53.078597; Longitude -2.8907025) are a series of fishponds. They no longer contain any water, so you might not have noticed them when you drive past – those of you who aren’t local – the ‘maps’ provider of your choice is always available.

This is them today:

Holt FP

Holt FPAP

Notice it is ‘Fish Ponds’ in the plural. Not just one big pond, but a series of smaller subdivided ones. This is so that fish can be bred in one fishpond, and when they are the right size for eating, they can be transferred to another fishpond to make their catching easier.

fishing

So examining medieval fishing and fishponds seems quite straightforward.

However. There are some problems. Fish bones are invariably incredibly small and so finding them in the first instance requires the archaeologist to be aware that they are looking for them. If they are suspected, then the soil being excavated will be sieved, using a method like that shown below:

flotank2

But, let’s be honest…it usually ends up looking something like this once in use…

Flotation1

And then you have to have the collected evidence over to a specialist…

fischbestimmung_sw

Who works out what has been found.

But I’m getting ahead of myself here. My research is looking for the fishponds themselves, which don’t all have ‘Fish Ponds’ written across them on the map like the examples at Holt.

So. How to find them? Well, sometimes the medieval documentary records say there was a fishpond which belonged to a certain lord, but won’t always say exactly where it was – because of course at the time – everybody knew where it was.

As an example – here is a case from the Ruthin (Latitude 53.114477; Longitude -3.310576) Court Rolls in 1324: The son of notable Ruthin burgess Cynwrig Scissor and his wife Isabel was indicted for fowling by night with John Trigomide’s son in the park of Ruthin and fined 40s, with 30s of this suspended for good behaviour.

No indication is provided of where the ‘park of Ruthin’ is, but we do know that it had ducks on it, and it was these the two men were attempting to catch when they were caught. The fishponds, with their ducks were here – in the field under the ‘Nantclwyd y Dre’ sign.

RuthinFP

Ruthin FPAP

The idea with my research is that once sites have been identified and plotted, other archaeologists can carry out the research of what the ponds contained – meaning that all the ponds can be examined as one distinct group and their contents compared to each other.

Tell me about it, stud.

The medieval horse.

Most people when they see those words tend to have something like this in mind.

Copyright THoog

Copyright THoog

A knight and his similarly armoured stallion.

But how often did the stallion end up in all his armour? And what did he do on his day off? Which sounds ridiculous, but is a valid point.

Most of the time he would have being doing this:

3765021094_f47dba227b_z

Or making foals…but you don’t need a picture of that…

Part of my research is looking for the evidence for the medieval horse studs – The word “stud” comes from the Old English ‘stod’ meaning “herd of horses, place where horses are kept for breeding” – within my study area of North Wales and North West Shropshire. There are several sources of evidence that I’ve been using and I thought I’d discuss them this week.

Firstly, there is the archaeological evidence – and this can be divided into the skeletal evidence for the horses themselves and the evidence for their horse ‘furniture’, pieces like reins, saddles and horseshoes. Skeletal evidence is, unfortunately, a bit thin on the ground, and where it does exist, for example at Aldford Castle in Cheshire (Longitude:53.130188; Latitude:-2.870270) it was very badly ‘smashed’ – that is to say, it was in pieces big enough to know it was a horse, but too small to be able to estimate the size of the horse.

I’ve previously discussed the loss of the site of Parc-y-Meirch (The Horse Park) in the blog post http://medievalparksgardensanddesignedlandscapes.wordpress.com/2013/07/08/archaeological-arrogance/ but fortunately during the rescue excavations medieval horseshoes were recovered from the site – which helped corroborate the second strand of evidence I want to discuss – the historical evidence.

Again, it is possible to divide the historical evidence into two sections, that is evidence for specific sites – such as the evidence from ‘The Survey of the Honour of Denbigh’ taken in 1334 which lists Parc-y-Meirch. The other section is the historical evidence which is non-site specific. An example of this can be found in the writings of Giraldus Cambrensis / Gerald of Wales:

“There are some excellent stud-farms. A superb race of blood-stock is now bred there, tracing its descent from the Spanish horses which Robert de Bellême, Earl of Shrewsbury, had gone to some pains to have imported long ago. The horses which are sent out from Powys are greatly prized: they are extremely handsome and nature reproduces in them the same majestic proportions and incomparable speed.”

Welsh poetry of the medieval period can also help understand the breeding programme. The poet Cynddelw Brydydd Mawr described Madog ap Maredudd (Prince of Powys from 1132-1160) as a ‘companion of Gascon horses’ and the poet Llywarch ap Llywelyn says that Llywelyn ap Iorwerth (Prince of Gwynedd 1195-1240) had Gascon horses. Gascony is in south west France (Longitude:43.763138; Latitude:-0.046619), so the importation of the horses appears to have gone on for at least a century.

Finally there is the pictorial evidence for horses in the Welsh Law Books – in Peniarth MS.28 on folio 24v there is a picture of a horse within the section of the law on horses:

mrw 090

So, as you can see from this small selection of sources, the study of horses and where they were kept and bred is full of variety and I’m really enjoying the research to find out more.

My Story: Why I’m blogging about my Research

For those of you new to the blog I thought I’d recap the who / what / where / when / why and how I write something every Sunday and post it on the Internet, with links through to some of my previous posts and other related pages.

My name is Spencer Gavin Smith, and I’m from the town of Wrexham in North East Wales (Latitude 53.045083; Longitude -2.9931521) and I’m writing my PhD on the topic of ‘Parks, Gardens and Designed Landscapes of Medieval North Wales and North West Shropshire’ part-time at Manchester Metropolitan University.

This is me.

This is me.

I began this research back as an undergraduate in 1997: http://medievalparksgardensanddesignedlandscapes.wordpress.com/2013/04/28/to-begin-at-the-beginning-or-has-anyone-seen-that-confounded-bridge/ and was fortunate to receive the support of Dr. Enid Roberts – one of the specialists in the field, at a lecture I gave in 2003 http://medievalparksgardensanddesignedlandscapes.wordpress.com/2013/05/02/standing-on-the-toes-of-giants/ – and had a Rock and Roll legend in the audience to boot!

My research covers the disciplines of archaeology, history, literature and the visual arts. I’m trying to identify through these sources of evidence, the creation and use of medieval parks, gardens and designed landscapes of Medieval North Wales and North West Shropshire. This topic has not been covered in any great detail previously, with http://medievalparksgardensanddesignedlandscapes.wordpress.com/2013/06/23/si-longtemps-et-merci-pour-le-poisson/ and http://medievalparksgardensanddesignedlandscapes.wordpress.com/2013/07/21/an-attempt-to-buck-the-trend/ giving you some idea of the cutting edge research I’m undertaking.

Even though this research is cutting edge http://medievalparksgardensanddesignedlandscapes.wordpress.com/2013/07/14/please-fund-my-cutting-edge-phd-research/ I’ve had problems convincing charities and other organisations to fund it because it is multidisciplinary. I wrote to 123 charities, and not one them felt able to fund me – some didn’t even bother to reply to me.

I consequently set up a Crowd Funding page at: http://www.gofundme.com/medievalgardensandparks and thanks to the kindness of strangers and one or two friends they provided enough funding in the space of a month to cover my first terms fees http://medievalparksgardensanddesignedlandscapes.wordpress.com/2013/08/18/taking-stock/

I’m now enrolled at University http://medievalparksgardensanddesignedlandscapes.wordpress.com/2013/10/13/enroled-thank-you-so-much-lets-keep-the-adventure-going/ under the academic care of a supervisor I have a great deal of personal and professional respect for and the writing is going really well http://medievalparksgardensanddesignedlandscapes.wordpress.com/2013/08/26/patterns-in-the-palimpsest/ and http://medievalparksgardensanddesignedlandscapes.wordpress.com/2013/09/15/shropshire-and-everything-after/ give you some idea of this.

I’m still looking for funding – and here is what’s in it for you.

· I’ll include your name in my PhD acknowledgements.
· Answer any questions you have about what I’m writing about.
· Give you a real or virtual tour of any of the sites I’m writing about.
· I’ll give a real or virtual talk about my research to a group of people you think would be interested.
· If I get a book deal when I’ve finished the PhD, I’ll put your name in the acknowledgements.
· If I get a book deal when I’ve finished the PhD, the person who provides the greatest amount of funding will receive a free signed copy of the finished book.

Thank you and I hope you enjoy the blog.