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Exploring Late Medieval Links Across the Seas at Exeter

This week we have a guest post from Sheila Sweetinburgh at Canterbury Christ Church University, who is reporting on the Fifteenth Century conference, held in Exeter last week, with a good showing of Centre staff and PhD students.  The post first appeared on Canterbury Christ Church University’s Centre for Kent History and Heritage blog here and is reproduced in full here with permission and many thanks. Please consider following their blog!

Catherine Rider

This week is more of a brief note in that Professor Louise Wilkinson has been very busy writing the report on History’s impact work over the last few years, including the activities of the Centre, as well as getting matters organised for the new undergraduates, while Dr Diane Heath has also been busy working on her ‘Medieval Animals’ application. She has also been getting ready for the Canterbury Education Day where the Centre is one of the places involved. The initiative is organised by The Canterbury Tales, and St Augustine’s Abbey is another of the venues where activities take place.

In contrast to these Canterbury-based activities, I have been away from Kent having been at ‘The Fifteenth Century’ conference in Exeter. Among the plenary speakers was Professor Caroline Barron, whom some of you may remember will be coming to Canterbury in April 2020 to speak at the Medieval Canterbury Weekend. Next April she will be talking about Thomas Becket as a Londoner and his legacy within his native city, for the influence of St Thomas permeated city life in medieval London until Henry VIII ordered the destruction of his shrine and the removal of his name from all liturgical books. However, for the Exeter conference, Professor Barron chose to investigate the chronicle accounts of The English Rising (Peasants’ Revolt) of 1381. She was especially keen to compare Jean Froissart’s Chronicle, which is often quoted by historians but not seen as accurate regarding the Rising, to that of the Anonimalle Chronicle, whose author is thought to have been an eyewitness of events in June 1381, regarding their descriptions of who was in the Tower of London on the night of Wednesday 12 June and who was also with the young Richard II at Mile End on the following Friday. For as she said, there is considerable correlation between the two accounts and where they differ is very informative and may include the names of those Froissart consulted for his work.

West front of Exeter Cathedral

After outlining the ways Froissart’s Chronicle has come down to us, she gave a short account of his career. In particular, she noted how he moved in aristocratic circles in Flanders and France and how he seems to have sort out information on events, especially from the various heralds, as a means to gain eyewitness accounts, albeit he is envisaged as viewing matters through a chivalric lens. Her candidates for his informants about the situation in the Tower that night are two among the four Flemish nobles that Froissart mentions as being there.

As well as proposing that Froissart’s Chronicle should be seen as more reliable than it has been given credit for in the past, Professor Barron was keen to highlight the importance for Froissart of the urban dimension, especially the role of the Londoners, but equally that he appears to have had a deep concern about the problems of serfdom in England. Thus, in terms of the theme of the conference – the British Isles and their mainland European neighbours – Froissart may be offering a more European perspective on events in 1381, as mediated in the first place through the eyes of these Flemish noblemen.

Bishop Oldham founder of Manchester Grammar School, funeral monument in Exeter Cathedral

The two other plenary lectures by Dr John Goodall (English Heritage) on Europe and the Perpendicular Style and Dr Malcolm Vale (St John’s College, Oxford) on ‘political nostalgia’ in terms of England and its continental neighbours between 1450 and 1520 were similarly fascinating. Nevertheless, I’m going to leave them aside and instead just give you a taster of one of the other sessions entitled ‘Alien Communities in England’. This was chaired by Susan Maddock (UEA) who had previously given us a great paper on the two-way relationship respecting merchants from Lynn in Danzig and vice versa. Among these exchanges, in addition to goods passing backwards and forwards between the Baltic and the North Sea, were the merchants themselves, certain apprentices and various types of craftsmen. Interestingly, there seemed to be more official structures to support the aliens in place at Danzig compared to Lynn, including a court held fortnightly. Nonetheless, those from Danzig apparently generally faced little if any hostility in Lynn, apart from the actions of a very few individuals, but in this case the town authorities were keen to stop such matters in favour of the foreigners.

This idea of how far and in what ways these aliens had a sense of belonging was important for all three papers in the session Susan chaired. Indeed, it might be said to be central to Joshua Ravenhill’s presentation. Joshua is a doctoral student at the University of York who is working on aliens in 15th-century London, and in the first part of his paper he explored why he thinks words such as integration and assimilation aren’t helpful when we are thinking about immigrant experiences. For not only was/is the situation not a binary between ‘foreigners’ and ‘natives’ but in many ways such concepts fail to take account of the ways immigrants become/wish to remain part of some ‘communities’ and not others. Such ideas may be seen in the works of social anthropologists such as Anthony Cohen and they offer a useful perspective, and one that Joshua sought to illustrate using wills made by aliens in London.

Great hall – St Nicholas’ Priory, Exeter

Paul Williams, another doctoral student and this time from the University of Exeter, gave us ideas about the alien community in Exeter in the late 15th and early 16th centuries. Using various national subsidies and Exeter corporation shop fines for his analysis, among the criteria Paul investigated were the types of occupation these people engaged in, whereabouts in Exeter they seemed to congregate, whether they only took service in their countrymen’s households and were they able to become freeman and hold civic and/or parish office. In many ways the picture Paul provided was one where it would seem such markers of belonging were taken up by at least a proportion of these aliens, and issues such as office holding would have been out of reach of many Exeter men anyway. Paul felt that this generally positive scenario was predicated on Exeter’s buoyant economy during this period, and that this was certainly a significant factor.

To take us to another provincial city, I took the audience to 15th-century Canterbury. Like Paul I deployed national and local records to explore even if only tentatively the lives of those below many of Joshua’s and some of Paul’s respective (merchant) aliens. To keep this brief, I just want to give a resume of a single individual to highlight the value of bring together these records, as well as the problems of identification.

Powderham Castle – built by Sir Philip Courtenay (d. 1406)

The man in question is Gylkyn Goodknight who, even if he wasn’t operating as an independent craftsman making caps until 1472, still may have been in Canterbury during the previous decade. The most tentative identification is from the 1463 alien list because in that year the royal clerk recorded the presence of Gilderkyn Ducheman, who was ‘Dutch’, suggesting he was from somewhere in the Low Countries. Two years later the clerk noted a Gilderkyn Goodknyght among the Canterbury aliens and he was again listed in 1466, although interestingly not in 1467 or 68. Provided this in the same man who then became an intrant (independent, licenced producer/trader), he worked as a capper for six years, residing in Newingate ward. His business appears to have been on a relatively small scale in that the Canterbury chamberlains never expected more than 10d annually, the fee having started at 6d. Whether he had married in Canterbury or the couple had come to the city together is unknown but in 1478 it was Katherine his widow who paid the licence fee of 6d, although she was unable to continue making caps after that, unless, of course, she remarried, but either way she disappears from the civic records.

Yet even these examples can only offer a partial sense of their time in Canterbury, by looking at a range of these immigrant ‘biographies’ and bringing them together, I think this approach provides a means to explore notions of longevity, a sense of belonging, social mobility, the presence/absence of ethnic/craft enclaves, as well as any evidence of hostility or opposition and their sense of place within the complex networks of ties to be found in late medieval Canterbury society.

As I hope you can tell, it was a very enjoyable and thought-provoking conference, so many thanks to the organisers and everyone who took part, and it probably resonated even more due to events that were unfolding concurrently at Westminster and beyond.

Sheila Sweetinburgh, Canterbury Christ Church University

Announcing a New Project: Warhorse: The Archaeology of a Military Revolution?

We’re happy to announce that the new Warhorse project in Archaeology, led by Prof. Oliver Creighton, now has a website and blog up and running.

‘Warhorse: the Archaeology of a Military Revolution?’ is a three-year project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.  For the project the team of archaeologists and historians will be conducting the first ever integrated and systematic study of that most characteristic beast of the Middle Ages — the warhorse.  As well as being a famed weapon of war, the medieval horse was an unmistakable symbol of elite social status closely bound up with the development of knighthood, chivalry and aristocratic culture. Crucially, in developing a new archaeological approach to the subject, the project hopes to add something different and distinctive to our understanding of horses but also, by extension, to speak to some of these other intriguing and much-debated topics.

For the first post on the project blog, see here.  Please do have a look and follow it over what should be an exciting few years.

Oliver Creighton, Archaeology

 

Two Exeter books shortlisted for 2019 Current Archaeology Awards

We’re pleased to announce that two books with medieval themes written by Exeter academics have been shortlisted for the 2019 Current Archaeology Awards, in the ‘Book of the Year’ category – see here. Nick Holder (Honorary Research Fellow, History, and English Heritage) has The Friaries of Medieval London, a survey of these important religious houses; Professor Stephen Rippon (Archaeology) has Kingdom, Civitas and County, an examination of the longue durée of British landscape.  Do have a look at the eight nominations and perhaps vote for one of the two Exeter books, or for one of the other excellent books on the shortlist. Voting closes on 11 February 2019 so don’t delay!

Nick Holder writes about his book: “As a crossover historian-archaeologist I set out to write a book about the lost religious landscape of medieval London. On the face of it the subject wasn’t very promising: there are very few documents surviving from the friaries’ archives and there’s barely a friary wall surviving above ground in London. But with some patient searching in traditional archives such as The National Archives at Kew, and in newer institutions such as the London Archaeological Archive of the Museum of London, I was able to piece together a substantial body of evidence about what the friaries looked like and how the friars used their London bases. I also asked four colleagues to help me out in the areas where they had particular expertise: Ian Betts (floor tiles), Jens Röhrkasten (spiritual life), Mark Samuel (architectural fragments) and Christian Steer (burials). We try to move beyond the ‘local history’ of London and consider wider themes such as the way that the mendicant orders seem to reinvent themselves as more traditional monastic orders after the shock of the Second Council of Lyon in 1274, which, in effect, closed down several small religious groups.”

Stephen Rippon writes about his nomination: “Too much research is constrained by traditional periodization, and this inhibits our understanding of the past. In Kingdom, Civitas, and County I have therefore taken one topic – the development of territorial organisation within the landscape – and mapped this across three periods that have traditionally been studied quite separately: the Iron Age, Roman, and early medieval periods. I hope that I show far greater continuities within the landscape than have been previously identified, which mean that our countryside of today has roots that go back several millennia.”

Best of luck to both!

Fifteenth Century Conference 2019: Calling Academics and PhD Students with 15th-Century Interests

Exeter will be hosting the Fifteenth Century Conference this September, an annual conference for anyone with interests in the Fifteenth Century. This has come about mainly because of the hard work of PhD student Des Atkinson, assisted by me, James Clark, Eddie Jones and our Hon Research Fellow Jonathan Hughes.  The theme will be ‘England and Mainland Europe in the Fifteenth Century’, which we’re interpreting very broadly to include a range of topics and disciplines.  I’ve posted the call for papers below. If you have fifteenth-century interest please consider sending in an abstract, and please also draw other people’s attention to it.

Catherine Rider, Director, Centre for Medieval Studies

Call For Papers: Fifteenth Century Conference, University of Exeter, 5th-7th September, 2019

England and mainland Europe in the fifteenth century

Poggio Bracciolini, the Tuscan Papal Secretary, after meeting Henry Beaufort at the Council of Constance, followed the bishop of Winchester to England to serve as his Latin secretary between 1419 and February 1423. Poggio was critical of the English climate and the preoccupation of English bishops with politics at the expense of learning, and during this period he offered the following assessment of this country in a letter to the Florentine humanist Niccolo de Niccoli:

‘I began travelling with my lord; but there was no great pleasure in the travelling, since I could find no books. Monasteries here are very rich but of new foundation; they have been built no more than four hundred years ago. If older ones survive they have no secular books, but are full of the most recent works of the doctors of the church and especially the ecclesiastics. I also saw carefully compiled inventories in which there was nothing of worth of humanist studies. And nothing interesting indeed.’

Poggio Bracciolini, Lettere, vol. I, ed. H. Harth (Firenze, Olschki, 1984), translated in A. Petrina, Cultural Politics in Fifteenth-Century England: The Case of Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester (2004), p. 62.

Poggio’s dismissal of English intellectual culture points to a wide range of interactions between fifteenth-century England and its neighbours in continental Europe, and it raises many questions that have interested scholars in recent years. What was the nature of interaction between England and continental Europe? What kinds of exchange (political, economic, cultural) took place, when, and how? What was the role of courts, cities, and the Church, as well as individuals, in this process?  How was England perceived elsewhere in Europe, and how did the English perceive Europe and the wider world in their turn?  How did cultural and intellectual exchange with continental Europe interact with the growing body of vernacular writing, in many genres, being produced in England, and with local and national senses of identity?

At a time when this country’s relationship with Europe is once again uncertain it seems appropriate to use Poggio’s comments to host a conference that considers this same question during another period of doubt and transition. This conference aims to address, however broadly, the different ways in which the late medieval kingdom of England could be considered in religious, political, social, economic and cultural terms as either a part of Europe, or apart from Europe – a nation with a separate identity.

This year’s Fifteenth Century Conference will be hosted by the University of Exeter, which is home to a community of late medievalists across several disciplines. We welcome papers from scholars at all career stages from PhD students to established academics, on any theme connected to this subject, from any discipline working on the fifteenth century.  This may include, but is not limited to, papers on local, national and European identities and myths; cultural exchange; the transmission of knowledge (including vernacular culture); political, social and intellectual networks; trade; the Church; heresy; social unrest; travel and perceptions of the wider world.

Please submit abstracts of up to 200 words, and a short biography, to Professor Catherine Rider (Director, Centre for Medieval Studies, University of Exeter) at c.r.rider@exeter.ac.uk by 28th February 2019.

 

PhD Students Wanted Again: Funding Opportunities at Exeter

It’s that time of year again – funding deadlines for students applying for PhD study are coming up.  Staff at the Centre for Medieval Studies are always keen to hear from prospective students.  Have a look at the tips and information that Helen Birkett and I posted last year in our post on ‘PhD Students Wanted’. I won’t repeat them all here, though there are new links for general information on our research and research degrees on our website. The main point is to start talking to prospective supervisors, if you haven’t done so already – see here for the list of Exeter medievalists, in History, English, Modern Languages, Archaeology and other disciplines.

But, obviously, there are new deadlines.  Here are the funding opportunities on offer this year, along with links for further information. Closing dates are quite soon!

We invite applications for several funding schemes, for entry in September 2019:

AHRC South West and Wales Doctoral Training Partnership 2. Closing date for applications – 18 January 2018.

Exeter University is part of the AHRC South West and Wales Doctoral Training Partnership, a collaboration between the universities of Aberystwyth, Bath Spa, Bristol, Cardiff, Cranfield, Exeter, Reading, Southampton, and UWE, and the Amgueddfa Cymru-National Museum of Wales. For 2019 entry this scheme is offering up to 30 fully-funded awards. We invite high-quality applications from prospective students who wish to propose their own research project. In order to apply, your preferred supervisors (across two institutions) must have agreed to supervise your project. Please find further details here.

ESRC South West Doctoral Training Partnership – +3 or 1+3 Doctoral Studentship – Economic and Social History. Please find further details here. Closing deadline – 29 January 2018. Queries about whether a project fits within the ‘Economic & Social History’ remit can be addressed to either Jane Whittle or Stacey Hynd .

College of Humanities Home/EU Doctoral Studentships – up to 2 fully funded studentships. Further information here. Closing date for applications 11 February 2019.

College of Humanities Global Excellence International Doctoral Studentships – up to 2 fully funded studentships for international candidates. Further information here. Closing date for applications 11 February 2019.

China Scholarship Council and University of Exeter PhD Scholarships – Exeter offers up to 10 scholarships across all disciplines for Chinese students. Further information here. Closing Date – 7 January 2018.

Further information about funding for students from particular countries, PhDs associated with research grants, and the University’s Sanctuary Scholarship for refugees and individuals seeking asylum can be found here.

Links to external funding for Home and International students here.

So if you’re thinking about a medieval PhD, please do explore the links and get in touch!

Catherine Rider, Director, Centre for Medieval Studies

 

Ex Historia – Call for Papers

This week, we’re advertising a call for papers for Exeter’s postgraduate history journal, Ex Historia.  Over the years quite a few of our medieval PhD students have been involved with Ex Historia and it’s published several medieval articles and reviews, so if there are medieval postgraduates out there (at Exeter or elsewhere) who want to submit something, then please get in touch with the journal team!

Please refer to MRHA Style Guide for style requirements and use British spellings in all cases except for direct quotations which use alternative spellings.

Please email all submissions as Word attachments to exhistoria@exeter.ac.uk, ensuring that your name is not written anywhere on your document in order to ensure that the refereeing process is blind. If you have any questions about the process or the journal, please do not hesitate to email the address above.

The deadline for submissions is Friday 14 December 2018 for original articles and review articles and Monday 28 January 2019 for book reviews, but we would certainly appreciate any early submissions.

 

Researching with the Exeter Cathedral Library & Archives: Making a Student’s Guide

In June and July 2018, Julia Hopkin, an MA student in experimental archaeology at Exeter, spent some time in Exeter Cathedral Library and Archives, funded by the university as part of the College of Humanities’ student internship scheme.  Her job was to create a guide for students (at all levels) who might be interested in using the Library and Archives for research. Here she talks about her experience.

We’ll be putting copies of the guide on the module webpages for the History dissertations other modules but otherwise for a copy please contact Catherine Rider (c.r.rider@exeter.ac.uk). For more information on the Cathedral Library and Archives see their website.

The entrance hallway to the Cathedral Library and Archives

Most people are completely unaware that Exeter Cathedral has a library or an archives, and to those unfamiliar with it, it might sound like a rather intimidating place, full of dust and uninspiring tomes. These ideas couldn’t be further from my experiences there and in my recent role putting together a guide to the Library and Archives’ collections, my aim was to debunk some of these misconceptions and make the extensive collections as accessible and unintimidating as possible, especially to students who may not have much experience with research outside the university.

The earliest contributions to the library date to the mid eleventh century, with the first books brought to the Cathedral by Bishop Leofric in 1050, and the archival documents have been accumulating from around the same time. Records and acquisitions in both areas are ongoing, and the topics covered by the material are almost bewildering in their scope. This makes them a gold mine for researchers in all sorts of subject areas – from Anglo-Saxon literature to local genealogy, 17th century medicine and medieval land ownership – but something of a daunting prospect for an undergraduate and for anyone (i.e. me!) trying to put together a brief summary of the collections. The L&A staff were as helpful and knowledgeable as always, however, and with their help I managed to find a handful of broad themes that represented the main bulk of the collections while appealing to student interests.

An early Chapter seal (D&C 0296)

From there it wasn’t difficult to find examples from both the Library and Archive collections to illustrate the wide range of topics represented in the collections. Famous volumes such as the Exeter Book (a unique collection of Anglo-Saxon poetry) and Exon Domesday (a rare survival of local data collected for the Domesday book) were obvious choices, but other types of sources such as photographs, newspaper cuttings, and even the books and Cathedral buildings in themselves, as records of historical craft techniques and heritage conservation, also provide a vast supply of research opportunities. Many sources are also sadly under-investigated and could benefit considerably from research being done on them – the wax seals of bishops, monarchs and dignitaries from around the country attached to early charters being a particularly promising example.

I also made an effort to emphasise that there really might be something for everyone at the Cathedral and to highlight sources that people might not expect. Students primarily interested in international history might assume there was little for them, but when the library includes a whole range of bibles translated into Native American languages, relics of 19th century Christian missionary efforts, who knows what other research topics the collections can cater to? To combat the misconception that all historical material is dry and boring, I also included my favourite group of Cathedral sources, the Chapter Act books. Kept continuously from 1385 to the present day, these record Cathedral decisions and payments, often in minute detail. The records vividly illustrate life in the past in all its wonderful mundanity, from the orders of new hymn sheets and repairs to almshouses to the misbehaviour of choristers and organists – such as the fines given to Richard Dickinson, bellringer, who ‘through his own fault’ managed to break some of the Cathedral windows during a funeral in 1619.

One of the earliest maps of Exeter, from the late 16th century, showing the Cathedral in the centre (D&C 3530)

As I began my research it became clear that not only was there entirely too much material to create anything more than a very brief guide, but also that introducing students to the process of researching in the Library and Archives was just as important as giving an insight into the collections themselves. Having volunteered there in the past, I was familiar with the peaceful location behind the Cathedral, the wall displays in the entrance hall interpreting the history of the Library and Archives and some of its treasures, and the quiet, book-lined reading room, but introducing it for other students has helped me to appreciate it in a new light. I suddenly noticed features like the wheelchair ramp and the browsing mode of the online catalogue, as well as all the potential research opportunities that appeared when I started looking at them from the perspective of other researchers coming for the first time. Describing the process of making an enquiry and trying to emphasise how welcoming and knowledgeable the staff are has made me realize how lucky we are as Exeter students and residents to have such an amazing resource freely available to all of us and right on our doorstep.

I hope that the guide will make the Library and Archives’ material more widely used by Exeter students. There is a huge amount of material that could not only really enhance student’s work, but also would benefit from more attention and research work done with it. There is so much to be gained on both sides and both I and the Library and Archives’ staff would be delighted if even a handful of students turned their interest and expertise to these collections. This has been an extremely rewarding project for me, and I hope it continues to be of value to others for the years to come.

Julia Hopkin, MA Experimental Archaeology

Sharing Medieval Research with the Community

A couple of weeks ago, on Saturday 17th March, a few staff in the Centre had a stall at the University’s Community Day to showcase some of the research we do relating to Exeter Cathedral.  We had interest from people of all ages, asking questions about our projects, the pictures and maps we were showing, and about life in medieval Exeter more generally.  Here is a short taster of the research by Sarah Hamilton, Oliver Creighton and me that was on display. We’re also in the early stages of planning a larger scale project which looks at the history, archaeology and manuscripts of Exeter Cathedral, and if you’d be interested in hearing more please feel free to get in touch with me.

Exeter Cathedral and its World: Sarah Hamilton focused on Cathedral MS 3518, a liturgical manuscript which lists, among other things, the saints commemorated by the Cathedral community each day. This includes the major Christian saints as one would expect but it also includes a number of more local saints from the South West of England, such as Nectan of Hartland and Petroc of Bodmin. Looking at these saints is one way to understand how the medieval clergy of Exeter Cathedral thought about their local history, and people had fun trying to spot the saints’ names in the images of the manuscript (surprisingly tricky: I never did find Rumon of Tavistock…).

Medieval Medicine in Exeter Manuscripts: I was looking at Cathedral MS 3519, a collection of medical treatises and recipes from the early fifteenth century, particularly some of the ones relating to pregnancy and fertility. Recipes like these are often striking for their weirdness (at least to modern eyes) – eating animals’ reproductive organs to stimulate men’s and women’s fertility, for example – but they are also a fascinating way to think about medieval people’s health concerns.

What Lies Beneath? A Geophysical Survey of Cathedral Green, Exeter: Oliver Creighton contributed some images from a geophysical survey of the Cathedral Green that he undertook last year with other staff and students from Archaeology. This was probably the most popular part of our stall, as people tried to interpret the black and white images and work out if there was a Roman road underneath the cloisters.

And if anyone wants to hear more about one of Exeter Cathedral’s most famous manuscripts, the Cathedral is holding an afternoon event celebrating the Exon Domesday on 17th April: see their website here for more details and to book.

 

Catherine Rider

Senior Lecturer in History

The Devon and Exeter Institution and its Medieval Resources

Last July Cheryl Cooper, who had just completed a History degree at Exeter, did a student internship (funded by the College of Humanities and the Widening Participation scheme) looking at resources for medieval research in the Devon and Exeter Institution.  She sums up her findings here.  Now that we’re gearing up for the new academic year it might particularly interest returning undergraduates and MA students who are thinking about possible dissertation topics.  For Exeter students and staff, Cheryl’s full report will shortly be put on the undergraduate and MA history dissertation ELE sites.

 

The DEI is one of Exeter’s hidden gems. A perfect paradise of calm and tranquillity for writers, historians and anyone looking to escape the hustle and bustle of the city. Tucked away in the historic centre of Exeter, the DEI, from the outside, looks like many of the quaint buildings in Exeter Cathedral quarter, boasting beautiful cathedral views but you would be remiss to believe that this is where the magnificence of the DEI ends. The real treasures of the DEI are located just behind the historic front doors. Founded in 1813 for ‘promoting the general diffusion of Science, Literature and the Arts, and for illustrating the natural and Civil History of the county of Devon and the History of the City of Exeter’, the DEI holds over thirty-thousand volumes and thousands of maps, prints and pamphlets and continues to be a ‘living library’ in which new acquisitions continue to be sourced. Students of Exeter University are automatically eligible for membership of the DEI for the duration of their degree, but unfortunately (or fortunately depending on your point of view) the DEI is a place that stays undiscovered for many students at Exeter. This may be partly due to the fact that many students, myself included, were/are unaware they are members of this hidden gem. As well as boasting a rather grand and peaceful reading room there are a number of study desks located in the library itself. The DEI makes a welcome change to the hustle and bustle of the campus library, and whether you choose to study in the library itself or in the reading room under the shadow of the cathedral, you will not be disappointed spending a few hours in this beautiful building – in fact as historians, the environment may even add some extra flair to your historical writing, as it certainly transported me back a few decades!

Cheryl image 1

Medieval Resources at the DEI

Last July I was delighted to accept an internship with Exeter University cataloguing the medieval material held at the DEI – rifling through old books in a beautiful historic building did not seem like a bad way to spend a few weeks of my summer. The aim of the role was to try and get a clearer idea of what medieval materials the DEI possessed and to organize and present my findings in a way that would be useful for medievalists. Professor Henry French and Dr Catherine Rider had informed me at interview stage that to date, there was no comprehensive list of medieval materials held at the DEI so there was no way of knowing how long this task would take. It was a case of digging through the materials and finding a way of making it accessible to future researchers. I found this an exciting prospect, if not a little daunting. It was a project which I could fully co-ordinate and organise myself and one in which no one was sure what I might find hidden in the depths of the DEI. Of course as an historian the dream of finding a rare, undiscovered manuscript, hiding, untouched on a dusty shelf was never far away. Alas, this did not happen, but I did discover that the DEI holds a wealth of resources for medievalists, in particular for those wanting to research the history of the local area and contemporary views on medieval life.  

Cheryl image 2

The DEI (for those yet to visit) consists of two large rooms downstairs (The Inner Library and The Outer Library) and the Gallery situated upstairs. With over thirty-thousand volumes held within these rooms it was almost impossible to know where to begin. However, for this I must thank Paul and Derek from the DEI library team, who sat with me and explained how the library catalogue worked, where the most likely places to find medieval resources were and certain books of interest. Without their help I think I may have been unintentionally trapped in the DEI forever examining each book in turn! With their advice, as well as help and advice from Dr Catherine Rider, I identified the following categories as areas of interest: the Rolls Series, Local History, Wider Local History, Royal History and General History. These five areas are the ones which are covered in the most depth in my catalogue. The aim is to help medievalists who are researching the local area and students who are embarking on a research project and who want to use this local collection of sources.

Cheryl image 3

Working through the areas identified produced a surprisingly large amount of medieval material; so much so, that it was impossible within this internship to list every individual resource. The catalogue produced is intended to give the researcher an idea of what type of material is held in each category and list examples from each. I have also included material that I found to be the most interesting, for example The Alchemical Testament of John Gybbys, translated from a 1423 ms held at the Bodleian Library and a wardrobe account from Edward I. I have tried to select a wide range of material to showcase just how useful the DEI library can be to medievalists.

This project has highlighted the medieval resources held at the DEI and has hopefully catalogued them in way which proves useful for medievalists. I would highly recommend the DEI as a place to study for Exeter students and hopefully this guide will show that it holds potential for medieval researchers. There are still areas yet to be covered in the hunt for medieval material, so who knows that medieval manuscript or unpublished source may be hiding in the DEI waiting for you to find it! Happy researching!

Cheryl Cooper, BA History Graduate and MA Student, University of Exeter

 

Exeter’s Hotel Fire and Historians: A Different Kind of Impact

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Fire takes hold of the Royal Clarence

Mid-morning on 28 October I received an urgent request from BBC Spotlight to provide historical background on an emerging news story in Exeter: the Royal Clarence Hotel had just caught fire.  Within a few minutes I was in Cathedral Yard and watched in despair as the flames spread across the building.  More than 150 fire-fighters, police and ambulance crews had already filled Cathedral Green.  Over the next hour the knot of journalists increased to several dozen and I remained there for most of the following four days as the fire took hold of the building and refused to be put out.  Requests by other journalists increased and I eventually gave more than 50 interviews to local, regional, national and international media in print, radio and television.  These began at 7am on site but the latest one, at 10.30 pm, took place at home when the BBC organised it so I could Skype.  However, the chaos of papers in my study was picked up upon by the engineer who suggested that I should tidy the background – I hadn’t the heart to point out that I had spent 10 minutes to make it, as I thought, look respectable.

The story had a tag which gave it national status: the fire was destroying ‘England’s First Hotel’.  It seemed inappropriate in the midst of a disaster to nit-pick and state that this might not be the case, so I had to carefully note the Royal Clarence as being ‘long known as England’s first hotel’.

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Todd being interviewed at the scene

It transpired that I was in an advantageous position (situated within the police cordon and placed in the media area) and it was an ITN reporter who realised that only I had any knowledge of the historic nature of the buildings.  In that opening hour I was given access to senior fire officers and relayed details of the buildings’ physical constructions and histories – I was able to draw upon the investigations which had been made by the now defunct Exeter Archaeology Unit.  On one side of the main hotel building lies two merchant town houses of the early 1600s and behind the hotel block is a range of other similar buildings in the High Street, one at least of which was built in about 1500 or earlier, and these are more significant architecturally than the hotel itself.  To my great relief the fire service stressed the saving of these merchant houses – these men and women achieved a near miraculous survival as the backs of the buildings, which adjoin the hotel, were already alight.  Even so, while these fires were largely put out by Saturday, they continued to flare up and smoulder for the following few days.

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High Street buildings that backed onto the Royal Clarence

By chance it was only a few months ago that I had acted as general editor for Jannine Crocker’s Elizabethan Inventories & Wills of the Exeter Orphan Accounts, a two-volume collection of documents published by the Devon & Cornwall Record Society (currently available by request through www.stevensbooks.co.uk) and it appears as though two of these High Street buildings have extensive inventories of the late 1500s.  These provide a sense of use which bring alive these magnificent buildings – Exeter at its best.  The publication of these documents is timely in that they will be useful in the imminent reinvestigation of these buildings.

On the second day of the fire, while the buildings were still burning, I was asked by Exeter City Council (ECC) to give a lecture on the disaster in the following week.  Media appearances had made me a familiar face and I had previously worked with ECC on a number of projects.  The council identified a public need to gather and a lecture would give a focus to this.  Instead I suggested that I contribute to a session in which I would invite those building archaeologists who had extensive understandings of the buildings.  I organised the event, all the speakers volunteered their time, and the venue, the Barnfield Theatre, was filled to capacity (300 seats).  Another 150 people were turned away.  A repeat event was similar.  The first session was filmed by the council and is online via youtube. What has emerged is a passionate interest and support amongst the public for the city’s built heritage.  I have rebranded the bloc of buildings ‘St Martin’s Island’ and this has been widely taken up.

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The site of the Royal Clarence on Cathedral Green and the extent of the damage revealed

This past fortnight Exeter experienced a palpable sense of shock and loss; the Clarence was a familiar building located in the most prominent part of the city.  Until now the city’s most famous fire had been that of its theatre in 1887. This was followed by German bombing in WWII that destroyed more than a thousand buildings and killed hundreds of people. The fire at the Clarence, as traumatic as it was, gives just of what the loss must have felt like for Exonians two generations ago.

The experience has raised questions, for me personally, beyond merely the use of the present to understand the past.  It became obvious that a historian’s presence at the fire was important but it required putting aside all other commitments and dedicating nearly a fortnight entirely to it.  I was aware that Exeter University recieved a considerable boost in its media presence during this fortnight but also that it was taking a different form to that in which impact is normally measured.  Perhaps what the experience has most clearly shown is one way in which historians can make a tangible contribution in terms beyond standard academic considerations.

Dr Todd Gray, Honory Research Fellow in History at Exeter

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