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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.

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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:

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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 https://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.

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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.

. 164rabbits

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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Hand Axis

Archaeology – and matters related to it, have been in the news this week. With the death of Mick Aston, we have lost someone who knew how to communicate his passion for several layers of informative dirt piled on top of each other to the public, in a way they found engaging and interesting.

Mick was part of a team, and we should remember that many of us in the profession have been involved with at least one show during its long run in one capacity or another. We, and the watching public are all part of that team and must continue to keep archaeology in the minds of the public, in whatever form it may take.

Announced in the Government Spending Review was that £80 million pounds will be provided by the Government to establish a charity to care for the historic properties in the National Heritage Collection of English Heritage on a self-financing basis http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/about/news/80million-boost-heritage/.

Also announced was £100 billion pounds to be spent on infrastructure improvements http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-23080965 including upgrades to the A14, a new Mersey Gateway Bridge and the first stages of work on the HS2 rail link.

By association, some of this money will have to be spent on the archaeology effected by these announcements. We should embrace the opportunity to do justice to whatever is found, whichever archaeological units secures the contracts.

At the same time as the commercial units will be opening up swathes of countryside in advance of the road and rail building programmes, or working with the new charity to better interpret the properties in their care, Heritage Lottery Funded archaeological projects will be opening their own smaller, but no less important holes in their towns and villages.

Answering specific research questions and aided by professional archaeologists, these focused pieces of work will in essence, fill gaps which the commercial units will never be able to reach. http://www.hlf.org.uk/HowToApply/whatwefund/Pages/Archaeology.aspx.

Publicising the findings, whether through personal Twitter accounts, newspaper articles or television programmes, we must demonstrate that this money was well spent and increased our knowledge of the island palimpsest we live on.