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.
There is no blog post this week. I’m completing the writing of a paper entitled ‘Deer, Disparkment and Diversity’ for a special edition of ‘Mining History’, to be published by ‘The National Association of Mining History Organisations’ in December 2014.
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:
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.
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:
But, let’s be honest…it usually ends up looking something like this once in use…
And then you have to have the collected evidence over to a specialist…
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.
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.
The medieval horse.
Most people when they see those words tend to have something like this in mind.
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:
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:
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.
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.
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.
The first draft of Chapter One has been returned. And so begins the process of listening to your head (your Supervisor) and not your heart (you). I read through the feedback, took it in and feel pretty good about what it says. Of course, there is the word ‘CUT’ written in places, which you come to expect having spoken to other PhD students who have gone before you, but overall it’s all pretty positive.
I’m a lot less defensive about my work now. I remember when I started by PhD in 2004 I was very protective of what I had written. I was right, of course I was right, I knew the material better than anyone! And maybe I did, but being able to tell the story on paper is a completely different thing. Standing in front of an audience, speaking without notes and weaving all my story threads together I’m very good at what I do. Writing it down is an art you learn and I’m glad to be learning.
It’s quite easy to feel like a rabbit in the headlights at the moment. The donations to http://www.gofundme.com/medievalgardensandparks have stopped – although I have more twitter followers than I did when I started the campaign and about a twentieth of my followers are still tweeting my message. Is this normal? To be honest I don’t know the answer, and seeing as no one else I’ve ever spoken to is doing something like this, I don’t know who to ask or where to turn to.
But I’m not giving up on getting this research completed am I? No. As those of you who have signed up to receive the updates of the blog will know – I’m comfortable with the material, and know where my lack of knowledge needs to be improved. Importantly, I think – and so do the people who have been kind enough to fund me – that this research needs to reach a wider audience. So, I have a study plan, and I’ve entered all the important dates into my ‘generic online character’ (other ‘generic online calendars’ are available) so I know where I am in keeping to the timetable I’m allowed.
There hasn’t been much in the way of research to be able to talk about this week, as I’ve been preparing to make a research trip to Shropshire Archives to try and complete the documentary study of the landscapes in that part of the world. I’m fortunate that the archive in Shrewsbury is a lovely, bright and comfortable place to work and the staff are excellent, so a visit there always manages to be a worthwhile trip…whether I leave with one reference or a ream of maps…to be honest, it tends to be the latter!
So. If you’ll excuse me, I have forms to fill in for the University, and thank you for your support.
Two sides of my academic coin this week.
I regularly contribute to BBC Radio Cymru (Welsh language service) and BBC Radio Wales (English Language service) programmes. Usually it is to provide expert comment on an archaeological story which is in the news, and that has some kind of Welsh perspective or angle. This week, however, was a little bit special as on BBC Radio Cymru on Thursday morning I got to comment on a story which has a family connection.
My great-great Uncle was Edward John Smith – Captain of the RMS Titanic.
In 2012 I was fortunate to be asked to contribute to several news items, and a programme for the Welsh language television broadcaster S4C on the Welsh people connected to the story of the famous steamship.
This week, one of the most iconic items connected with the events of the 15th of April 1912 was auctioned after its provenance had been authenticated. The item was the violin played by RMS Titanic bandleader Wallace Hartley as the ship sank with the loss of 1,517 lives, including Hartley’s and my Great-Great-Uncle.
The violin sold for £900,000.
Personally, I find it comforting that Captain Smith may just have heard this instrument being played that night, and that a tangible archaeological artifact floated rather than sank, safe in its protective cocoon and strapped to its owner, who unfortunately did not survive the experience.
This week I also collected my University identification card.
Which makes it all official really doesn’t it?
To that end, Chapter 1 has gone off to my Supervisor for her to cast her expert eye over it…let’s see what polishing and preening, nipping and tucking, and padding and fleshing my draft requires.