Friday, 29 March 2019

Singing the News: Ballads in mid-Tudor England (Thursday 25 April)

For the first lecture at our new venue - Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution at 16-18 Queen Square - I am particularly pleased that the branch will welcome Dr Jenni Hyde. Jenni is an academic, working mainly at Lancaster University, secretary of the Bolton branch of the Historical Association, and deputy chair of the HA's Branches and Members Committee, of which I am the chairman. She is also a musician, and the confluence of history and music has been a focus of her research.

Today we are bombarded by news, on television and radio, in newspapers, online. In the sixteenth century news travelled slowly, most artisans and labourers and many others could not read, and censorship and spying in an era of cataclysmic change were rife. Yet people were curious, they wanted to know what was going on, they had opinions and no doubt prejudices, and they wanted to express them.

One way in which ideas could be expressed and information passed on was through singing and listening to popular songs. The vernacular words and memorable tunes of sixteenth-century ballads made them accessible to everyone. For us they are an important resource for understanding the views and attitudes of the common people as Henry VIII broke with Rome and divorced or beheaded his wives, as Protestants, Catholics, Anglicans and Puritans vied for ascendancy or asserted freedom of conscience, as England faced the might of Spain. Rhyme and melody became keys for passing on news, stories and ideas.

In her lecture Jenni Hyde will use live musical examples to demonstrate how the singing of ballads enabled the people of mid-Tudor England to make their own contributions to debates about the issues of the day whatever the restrictions the powerful sought to impose on freedom of speech.

Jenni Hyde's lecture will be followed by a brief Annual General Meeting at which those attending will be presented with the branch's annual report and accounts and details of the programme for the 2019-20 season.

Mike Short 

Tuesday, 12 March 2019

New ways of 'reading' and contextualising the Lindisfarne Gospels (Thursday 28 March)

The British Library is one of our greatest cultural repositories. It houses more than 150 million books, manuscripts, newspapers, magazines, prints, drawings, maps and other items, adding 3 million more every year. Its recent major exhibitions have included Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy (2015) and Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths (2017). From October 2018 until last month it presented Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms: Art, Word, War. It was a superb exhibition of varied artefacts, many beautifully crafted in clay or metal or jewels or hide with ink and paint and demonstrating yet again how inappropriate the term 'Dark Ages' is when applied to the early medieval period.

One of the many wonderful artefacts displayed in the British Library exhibition was the Lindisfarne Gospels, produced around 715-720 in the monastery at Lindisfarne and arguably the most spectacular manuscript to survive from Anglo-Saxon England.

We know that the scribe and artist of the Gospels and the texts that accompany them (eg the letters of St Jerome) was Eadfrith, 'bishop of the Church of Lindisfarne' from 698 to 722. He did this 'for God and St Cuthbert'. The work was bound and given its cover by Ethilwald, 'bishop of the Lindisfarne-islanders'. Billfrith 'the anchorite' added rich decoration to both the cover and the text, creating a case or binding of jewels and precious metals. These latter have gone, probably taken during the Viking raids on Holy Island.

We know about the creators of the Lindisfarne Gospels from an inscription written by Aldred, a monk of the late tenth century who was based at Chester-le-Street, near Durham. Aldred also added, in Old English, some annotations and a word-by-word 'translation' of the Latin text - the earliest such rendering of the Gospels in English.

The Lindisfarne Gospels fulfil an exceptional role in our cultural heritage: as a treasure for historians, theologians and anyone who appreciates beautiful things produced with consummate skill and craftsmanship. But how are we to understand the circumstances in which they were created 1,300 years ago, the motivations of Eadfrith and his colleagues and Aldred, the audience for which they were intended, the reasons why they have survived for us to study, wonder at and treasure? Our guide for this month's lecture on the Lindisfarne Gospels in Michelle Brown, Professor Emerita of Medieval Manuscript Studies at the School of Advanced Study, University of London. Professor Brown summarises her research interests and expertise as 'The role of the book as a cultural medium. The palaeography, codicology, art history and socio-historical context of medieval manuscripts. Late antique and early medieval history, archaeology and the material culture of Europe and the Levant. Art and spirituality, historic and contemporary'. It is our good fortune that she is coming to share with us some of her insights into an early medieval cultural landmark that continues to intrigue, fascinate and delight.

Mike Short

Thursday, 7 February 2019

Modernising Calcutta: Technology, the Spectacular and the Unexpected (Thursday 28 February)

Calcutta - the official name of Kolkata until 2001 - is the capital of the Indian state of West Bengal. It is the principal commercial, cultural and educational centre of East India and India's oldest operating port. During the eighteenth century the British East India Company traded there, developed a fortified trading post and eventually assumed full sovereignty of the region.

Under East India Company rule and, from 1858, the British Raj Calcutta served as the capital of British-held territories in India.

Professor Anindita Ghosh's background, career and current activities are summarised on the home page of this website. Her recent work, funded by a major grant from the British Academy, examined the city of Calcutta during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

In the late nineteenth century Calcutta was a melting pot of migrant workers, artisans, servants, boatmen, labourers, petty traders and shopkeepers and an army of clerks, apart from the educated Bengali classes who served in the various colonial and mercantile establishments in the city. As the administrative and commercial capital of British India, Calcutta was the quintessential harbinger of modernity in the subcontinent. And yet we know rather little of the responses of its inhabitants to these tumultuous developments.

Professor Ghosh's lecture will explore urban experiences in the colonial metropolis as articulated in its street songs, newspapers, memoirs and images. It will examine how print and performance in Calcutta in the late nineteenth century animated the urban domain with widely shared discourses on the city, on material changes and shifting conceptions of space and technology, giving insight into the experience of a recently urbanised world.

Mike Short 

Wednesday, 2 January 2019

The Reformation: how Bath Abbey survived it (Thursday 24 January)

Bath Abbey as we know it is the third church to stand on its current site. Begun by Bishop Oliver King in 1499, it was not complete when King Henry VIII ordered the dissolution of the monasteries in 1539.

The monks were forced to leave, and the building was offered to the city authorities at a very low price. So far had the abbey's prestige declined that the offer was refused. The church's valuables, including stained glass windows and lead from the roof, were removed. In 1542 the empty shell and the monastery were sold to Humphrey Colles. Colles then sold them to Matthew Colthurst.

In 1572 Colthurst's son Edmund gave what remained of the church to the mayor and citizens of Bath for use as a parish church. Restoration work began, supported by Queen Elizabeth I. Thomas Bellot, one of the wealthy citizens who contributed to the work, had been steward to Lord Burghley (William Cecil). Bellot used his bequest from Burghley as well as his own money to give generous support to the restoration. The appointment of James Montagu as Bishop of Bath and Wells in 1608 added further impetus. By 1616 Bath Abbey was repaired and in use.

Jeremy Key-Pugh describes himself on social media as 'retired teacher, grandfather to Sam and Leo, keen historian and churchwarden'. His association with Bath Abbey is longstanding. In his lecture The Reformation: how Bath Abbey survived it Jeremy will take us through the turbulent events of the sixteenth century and explain how Oliver King's great church came through the tumult to begin the path that would lead to today's splendour.

Mike Short