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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: https://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 https://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 https://medievalparksgardensanddesignedlandscapes.wordpress.com/2013/06/23/si-longtemps-et-merci-pour-le-poisson/ and https://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 https://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 https://medievalparksgardensanddesignedlandscapes.wordpress.com/2013/08/18/taking-stock/

I’m now enrolled at University https://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 https://medievalparksgardensanddesignedlandscapes.wordpress.com/2013/08/26/patterns-in-the-palimpsest/ and https://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.

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Don’t Panic!…It’s only a first draft…

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.

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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!

The-entrance-of-Shropshire-Archives

So. If you’ll excuse me, I have forms to fill in for the University, and thank you for your support.

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Enroled…Thank you so much! Let’s keep the adventure going…

So now I’m back in the fold of the academic community.

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And I wouldn’t be here with the help of the online community of people who may never have met me, but have read my posts on this blog and felt able to contribute to funding my research.

Am I nervous about restarting? Yes. But, having been able to keep a toe in academia through attending conferences and seeing material published in books and journals whilst I have been a little bit out of the loop is very comforting.

Time I feel to provide a comprehensive update of what I am writing about and why it needs to be done.

My PhD will consist of four chapters when completed. These will be:

1. Introduction to the topic and previous research undertaken.

2. Parks

3. Gardens

4. Temporary and Permanent Designed Landscapes

In addition to these, there is a Bibliography and a Gazetteer – created so each landscape component can be entered onto either a regional or national archaeological database.

Some of the people mentioned in the research will be be very familiar to you. The ‘big’ names like Owain Glyn Dŵr or Edward I make an appearance, but not as the leader of a rebellion, or as ‘The Hammer of the Scots’, but rather as men who created landscapes to enjoy with their families and utilise for economic gain.

I’m also writing about men like Reginald Balle, who lived in the village of Hope in north east Wales (Longitude: 53.118235; Latitude: -3.0328984) during the middle of the fourteenth century and how he profited from the creation of a brand new park just outside the village. And the numerous un-named servants who for 15 days in May, for at least a century and probably much longer, would have to climb trees to capture fledgling sparrowhawks in Pennant Lliw, near Llanuwchllyn in central north Wales (Longitude: 52.876692; Latitude: -3.744210).

aerialphoto

You may have visited some the places I’m writing about, for example Conwy castle (Longitude: 53.280082; Latitude: -3.825695) on the shore of the Conwy Estuary and the River Gyffin. Others, however are a bit further off the beaten track, like Hornspike on the Wales-England border Longitude: 52.903693; Latitude: -2.775291).

This research needs to be done for the simple reason that it has never been done before in a complete way. This research pulls together information from many different sources in three different languages and helps archaeologists, historians and literature specialists all work together to look at this area of the country.

So, please, if you enjoy my blog and would like to help. Either share the link for my blog, or if you are able to contribute then you can do so at: http://www.gofundme.com/medievalgardensandparks

Thank you…and enjoy watching the work unfold here.

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Back in the saddle…or at least, writing about saddles…and other stuff as well…

Hello. I am back. Did you miss me?

The last few weeks have been – well – interesting…

I’ve not been well. I’ve got ‘some kind’ of problem with my sinus / ear / nose. I say ‘some kind’ of problem because my own Doctor hasn’t been too sure what to do with me. I’ve been getting infections, mostly somewhere between the outside of my ear and the tip of my nose via my sinus cavities. When it kicks in, wherever the infection decides it wants to infect, it means I can’t write because either:

a) My nose is perpetually running and my face hurts.

b) My ear is perpetually whistling and my face hurts.

c) My sinus is perpetually throbbing and my face hurts.

It’s got bad enough for me to go have to have an MRI scan of my head…and I get the results tomorrow (10th of October 2013).

In the meantime – I’ve been trying to write these pithy blog posts, and sort out my PhD application and funding and hold down a full time job without taking too much time off from any of these responsibilities.

Well, I’m not going to disappoint the people who have contributed to crowd funding my PhD through: http://www.gofundme.com/medievalgardensandparks

PhD research wise I’ve got nothing but good news. I’ve identified another medieval park on the south coast of the Llŷn Peninsula near Abererch (Latitude 52.904838; Longitude -4.3640184). Interestingly, this park is superficially similar to some of the other parks I’ve found – but this one is the first one I’ve found with a specific reference to Crane Hunting – something I’d only ever read about in the theoretical framework of the Welsh Laws – not actually expected to find happening in the real world.

That’s it for now. More about my writing experience next week.

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Our Dark Garden

With due deference to everyone who has tweeted, retweeted, donated or sent best wishes to me and my quest for PhD funding, I thought that this blog post should talk about some of the medieval gardens I’ve been researching, and the variety of sources available for such a study.

The earliest contemporary written evidence for the creation of gardens in Wales is to be found in the biography of a twelfth century king, Gruffydd ap Cynan, of the Welsh kingdom of Gwynedd. The Historia Gruffud vab Kenan says:

‘Then he increased all manner of good in Gwynedd, and the inhabitants began to build churches in every direction therein, and to plant the old woods and to make orchards and gardens, and surround them with walls and ditches, and to construct walled buildings, and to support themselves from the fruit of the earth after the fashion of the Romans’.

Some evidence for this reorganisation and improvement of Gwynedd has been identified, most recently by David Longley, and his research into the medieval landscape of the island of Anglesey. However, there are problems which mean that further work is still needed.

Archaeological excavations of medieval high status sites in Wales have tended to be small in scale, and to date very few high-status Llys (Royal Court) sites have been excavated. Exacerbating this is the fact that only some of the Llys site locations are known, as they fell out of use during the fourteenth century because they were no longer needed by the new administration.

The Edwardian castle at Rhuddlan (Latitude 53.288595; Longitude -3.463749) serves to highlight some of the issues which I have encountered during my research.

This castle was constructed from 1277 onwards to replace an earlier motte and bailey castle on a nearby site to the south, which in turn replaced a Llys, the location of which is most probably under the motte and bailey earthworks.

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Crown Copyright DI2010_1781
The motte and bailey castle is in the trees to the right of the image.

Edward I, as part of the provision for his wife, Eleanor of Castile, and her household, had constructed for her a garden within the castle precinct between July 1282 and March 1284. The location for this has been suggested as within the inner courtyard of the castle, where it would have been overlooked by the Royal apartments.

The documentation states that encircling the head of the castle well (which had a boarded roof), a little fishpond lined with four cartloads of clay brought from the nearby Rhuddlan marsh was created and set around with seats. The adjacent courtyard was laid with 6000 turves and the lawn fenced with the staves of discarded casks.

Rhuddlan Castle was taken into state care in the twentieth century and following World War II conservation works were carried out. As part of the conservation works the moat was emptied:

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Crown Copyright DI2010_2242
Excavation of the moat in 1949.

Unfortunately I have not been able to find any archaeological documentation to accompany the photographs taken, meaning any environmental evidence, including medieval plants, which may have existed within the moat has now been lost. In addition, there has been no programme of survey or excavation within the inner courtyard of castle, meaning that the location of the garden and fishpond is not conclusively identified.

During my research, I re-examined the historical sources, and found mention of a second garden at Rhuddlan Castle in 1285. This was described as a herber (a pleasure garden) opposite the north gate of the castle, and significantly, outside of the castle precinct. Fieldwork I undertook earlier this year suggests that this herber lay within the ditch to the north of the castle and may well have been accessible from the River Clwyd immediately to the west. The location of the herber is at the bottom left of the first photograph under the trees.

Further research of sites such as the Edwardian Castle of Rhuddlan will revolve around planning the best recording strategies for these two garden locations, whether that is deemed to be survey or excavation. Given that there is in close proximity an earlier motte and bailey and a Llys site, both of which are likely to have gardens of one form or another associated with them, there is exceptional potential for understanding the change and development of Royal gardening taste of both English and Welsh Royalty during the medieval period.

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Please fund my Cutting Edge PhD Research…

Funding. Apparently even in these times of austerity it is available for cutting edge research…unless of course the people holding the purse strings don’t realise what you are researching is cutting edge.

And that is my problem in a nutshell.

I’m working on a topic which straddles the disciplines of archaeology, history, literature and art. It is also designed to enhance the information about some of the most iconic castles and landscapes which dot North Wales and the borderlands. I’ve written, so far, 122 letters to charities and other bodies asking for financial assistance.

So far, nothing.

All of the letters were speculative, and aimed at organisations I thought either would, should or may have an interest in my research. Attached to the letter I e-mailed was my most recent published article on my research and my CV to show my publication record.

Some e-mails went unanswered, even after three attempts, (once a week to ensure that they were not missed in the volume of other e-mails that might have been arriving in the same inbox). Some replies were perfunctory, stating simply they did not fund individuals, others more generous with encouragement to complete my research in their refusals to assist.

Others provided links to other organisations which they thought might be able to assist, and these were dutifully followed up – although to no avail.

Which all leaves me in an odd situation. I can stand in a room of my peers and relate my research – to which I invariably receive the question “You honestly can’t find funding!”. Which suggests that there is funding out there for this kind of multi-disciplinary work, but that for some reason I’ve yet to find out who controls it.

I’m signed up to restart my PhD this September at Manchester Metropolitan University, and I could of course borrow the money as a Career Development Loan – which is fine in theory – but if money like this is available as a loan – then where is the equivalent grant for researchers in situations like me.

I’m not saying my research is the most worthwhile cause that could be funded, but I’m certain that what I’m working on will have long term repercussions for the discipline as a whole. And if future generations of archaeologists can look at my work and build upon it, I’ve done the best I can.

If you think you can assist or if you think you know someone who can and you pass this on to them. Thank You.