Wednesday, 27 January 2016

The 'Barbarous Foes' of Bryant Lewis


In the middle of a day full of meetings, I decided to listen to my own advice and take some quality time doing some informal learning. Given that Norwich has the largest collection of urban medieval churches in northern Europe it isn't difficult to wander in, explore and learn something new. And so it proved when I visited St George's Colegate...

There are many wonderful things within this lovely well-lit church. On this occasion the thing which grabbed my attention, and stretched my imagination, was the ledger slab (grave stone) just inside the nave entrance...


The first thing that seized my attention was the simple skull and crossbones. Just to make sure we get the message, the crossed bones over the hourglass speak of the sands of time and mortality. And in the centre is a death shroud - "Remember death for you shall die". 

When I read the inscription I was fascinated to learn that this is the memorial to a man - Bryant Lewis - who, on September 13th 1698, was murdered on a heath near Thetford, having been stabbed fifteen times. 

There's a story here, and I would love to discover more about it. But, even if we are not able to establish any further facts about this case, we can imagine...

... We can imagine:

* The shock and pain of his loved ones upon hearing the news of his murder
* The tears that splashed down on the cold church floor as his body was lowered into the earth
* The sense of vengeance his surviving relatives must've have felt
* The desperation of the perpetrator - or perpetrators - of this terrible crime, to cover their tracks and escape the hangman's rope

And reading the epitaph on this monument one is struck by the searing anger felt by Bryant's loved ones:

'"Fifteen wide wounds this stone veils from thine eyes,
But reader, hark their voice doth pierce the skies.
Vengeance, cried Abel’s blood against cursed Cain,
But better things spake Christ when he was slain.
Both, both, cries Lewis ’gainst his barbarous foes,
Blood, Lord, for blood, but save his soul from woe.'

Be curious - explore

Colin Howey

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Heritage: the Power of Playfulness

© Ragged Society of Antiquarian Ramblers, 2002
Eek! Young people at a heritage site! The Gunton Dandy

As those of you who have been attending the Magdalen Walks project will have gathered by now, I like to be relaxed and playful (in the right places) in my approach to heritage. Because of my personal story, I am interested in outreach and engagement, and it is my view that too much of the heritage sector is too earnest, elitist and pompous. Because some of my work has been around engaging young offenders and excluded pupils units with history, I know something about the challenges of relating something that can seem abstract and 'stuffy' to people. I don't dumb down the ideas, but I will invent games, activities and use humour to relate the past with the present. Being playful isn't only about energising and engaging audiences, it is - in my view - a key part of wellbeing. Over the past few years I have taken this philosophy and made some new things; heritage-inspired ventures that have taken on a life of their own and seem to be meaningful and fulfilling to people. 

One of these 'projects' is The Ragged Society of Antiquarian Ramblers: 'a creative collective of friends who are inspired by historic sites, quirky spaces, a love of laughter - and cake!' I have been told that our blog is one of the most popular heritage blogs in Britain, with around a quarter a million hits thus far. 

I am a writer for the Heritage Open Days national blog and wrote a piece about the background to the Ragged Ramblers and thought that you Magdalen Walkers might be interested in taking a glimpse into this world:

Playful Heritage

I'm not proposing that the Magdalen Walks project takes the Ragged Ramblers' model as its template, but I would encourage people to experiment and be playful with the heritage in our community. I can tell you, it can be a very rewarding experience! 

My friend Paul as Queen Victoria in Stiffkey Church, Norfolk


Saturday, 16 January 2016

Spreading Our Wings Along Magpie Road

Why is this building curved?
A large group of Magdalen Walks members went exploring along Magpie Road today. As I suspected, we didn't get very far because of two main reasons: there is actually a lot to be discovered wherever you go. Also, in a group like ours - full of lively minds and generous souls - there is a lot of knowledge and insight to be shared. Looking at a locality, by prioritising depth over breadth, is necessarily eclectic. However, as we cover more ground we can begin to relate things thematically and chronologically, as well as in relation to wider events. 

From my perspective, the thing that pleases me most is the feeling of a group being excited by collective discovery. Also, our emerging 'style' isn't too earnest - we can be playful and creative as we seek to interpret the history, heritage and archaeology of the inner north of the city. 

Thanks to everyone who came along today! 

Colin

Friday, 15 January 2016

Memories of Bells & Beaky


Here, Magdalen Walks member, Mike Beardwood, shares his childhood memories about Canon Gilbert Thurlow and St Clement's and St George's Churches along Colegate - part of our patch. 


"My memories of St. Clements starts as a typical Beardwood tale! I went to the Cathedral to try and get a place in their choir. I was rejected but Rev. Gilbert Thurlow* - known as 'Beaky' for obvious reasons i.e. his nose - asked me to join his choir at St. Clements. It was a pleasant little church but very much dominated by St. Georges, Colegate, both of which had 'Beaky' as vicar. Most of my memories are of St. Georges where Gilbert decided to re-install the bells, which had been taken and melted down for the war effort. He was very much an expert in bells - somewhere I have his book on bells and bell ringing -  and arranged for a new set of bells to  be cast at Bow. I went there to see the (6) bells being cast. We had a service at which the bells were stood in the chancel and we, the choristers, struck the bells with rubber mallets in time with the organ playing. The bells were hung in tower and I became a (incompetent) bell ringer - if you ever want to hear the presence of the devil in church, go into the bell chamber when someone has missed a call from the bell master and just listen to his  words! 


'Beaky' lived in a flat, just across the road from St. Clements, where we often met to practice hand bell ringing. Not as exciting as real bells, but less stressful."


Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Mapping Our Area


In the immediate run-up to Christmas Magdalen Walks members gathered at St Augustine's Church Hall and we were delighted at the turn-out, especially given the seasonal distractions AND a soggy, grey day. 

During the session, we had a think about our personal experiences of heritage tours: both, good and bad. Our purpose in doing this was to reflect on the elements that go to make a positive experience for audiences. Among our many thoughts, was the importance of feeling welcomed, valued and included. Orientation is also important: people like to know how long a walk will be (in duration and distance) as well as a broad overview of what is to be covered. In addition, folk don't like to be bombarded with facts, facts - FACTS!! Much better, therefore, to have coherent themes and tell a 'story' that people are able to comprehend and engage with. Crucial also, to relate what you are talking about to the people in front of you. There was more, but that gives you a flavour. 

After that we had a tea break and a good old chin-wag, before taking a look at some maps of our area drawn up in during the 18th and 19th centuries. I'm a big fan of maps as historical sources: they potentially reveal so much about the development of an area. Thus, for instance, we noted that the parish of St Clement's not only includes the church on the north of the river Wensum, it also encompasses an area beyond the medieval city wall (modern day Magpie Road). The question we asked was, 'Why?' The most plausible explanation is, because this church was almost certainly the earliest foundation (dating from the Anglo-Saxon/Scandanavian period), with a huge original parish. Known as a proto-parish church, the subsequent church parishes - St Margaret's etc - were 'carved' out of this original one. There is supporting archival evidence for this, in fact, as the medieval tithing records show that churches in this area were paying fees to the 'mother' church of St Clement's. 

Among the many other things prompted by this exercise were areas of potential future research. For instance, one member noted with interest the presence on these maps of various green spaces in the north of the city that no longer exist. Another, was interested in finding out more about the 'lunatic' asylum that existed near the junction of modern-day Waterloo and Magpie Roads during the 19th century. 

In terms of developing our research skills, we have booked a session at the Millennium Library on Saturday February 13th, on the second floor (gathering near the reception desk at 10:30 on that day). Here, we will be having a tour of the remarkable Norfolk Heritage Collection, which is held at the library. It contains around half a million Norfolk-related items: photographs, books, maps, postcards - there is even an early 15th century Wycliffite bible, once owned by the Boleyn family and probably read by Anne Boleyn herself! 

Please do come along Magdalen Walkers - you're in for a real treat, and it will be so useful for you to be introduced to such a treasure trove of potential sources. 

NOTE: we next meet at The Stage on St Augustine's on Saturday 16th at 10:30. After a quick cuppa and catch-up we will brave the elements and going for a walk - a Magdalen Walk in fact! Time to start exploring our area together. This one will be going along Magdalen Street itself, via St Augustines and Magpie Road, so it's right at the heart of our project. Look forward to seeing you on the day! 

FINALLY, if you read this and are interested in joining the project, please email Niki Taigel via magdalenprojects@gmail.com. Thanks!