Thursday, 28 December 2017

In the Shadow of Franco: The ongoing battle in Spain over its dark past (Thursday 25 January)

Spain is a large country with a long, rich and eventful history. For the people of Spain the dominant event of the twentieth century was the Civil War, 1936 to 1939. The Republicans, who were loyal to the democratic, left-leaning and relatively urban Second Spanish Republic, formed an alliance of convenience with the Anarchists to fight against the Nationalists, a Falangist, Carlist, Catholic and largely aristocratic conservative group led by General Francisco Franco. After two years and eight months of bitter conflict the Nationalists emerged as the victors and Franco became ruler of Spain for 36 years until his death in 1975. Few would deny that the war itself and the 36 years of Nationalist rule that followed it have left deep scars and that even 42 years after his death Franco's legacy casts a long shadow over the Spanish people.

Our first guest speaker of 2018 is Dr Peter Anderson, Associate Professor in Twentieth Century European History at the University of Leeds. Peter's lecture, entitled In the Shadow of Franco: The ongoing battle in Spain over its dark past, will examine how and why the Spanish Civil War continues to divide society. It will explore the long-silenced history of the Francoist repression and examine more recent efforts to come to terms with this violent past. These efforts include demands for the dignified reburial of the remains of those murdered, justice for the families of thousands of children removed from opponents, the return of property and the renaming of streets.

It is often the case that the most recent history is the most uncomfortable, that the closer we are to events the more difficult it is to achieve an accurate understanding of them. Eighty years on from the Spanish Civil War Spain has come very far, but Franco's shadow is a long one and few of the people of Spain are untouched by it.

Mike Short

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Long Shadows: The Memory and the Legacy of the Crusades in the Modern World (Thursday 23 November)

Speaking after the attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon on 11 September 2001 US President George W Bush promised a war against the terrorists. He said 'This crusade, this war on terrorism is going to take a while.' Bush's ill-considered use of the word 'crusade' evoked little comment in the United States. In Europe and the Middle East many recognised the resonance of the 'holy war' conducted by the Christian powers of Europe between 1095 and 1291 to seek to recapture the Holy Land from the Muslims.

Jonathan Phillips, our speaker this month, is Professor of History of the Crusades at Royal Holloway University of London. He is a leading expert on the Crusades and their legacy. As well as publishing the results of his research in numerous books and papers Professor Phillips has appeared in, presented and acted as consultant for television and radio programmes and a play, Holy Warriors, performed at Shakespeare's Globe.

Professor Phillips's talk will explore the contrasting memories and legacies of the Crusades in the modern age. It will examine nineteenth-century Europe's revived interest in crusading through literature and art, coupled with a growing Western presence in the Near or Middle East. Alongside this, Napoleon's invasion of Egypt (1798) sparked powerful memories of the Crusades in the Muslim world. The apparent continuation of earlier holy wars emerged as an important theme in resisting the West, finding clearer form in the twentieth century through Arab Nationalism (with Nasser and Assad) and also Islamism, moving down to the present-day rhetoric of Islamic State or Daesh.

Members' Christmas Visit and Buffet at the Victoria Art Gallery

As usual there will not be a lecture during the month of December. Instead members will be able to enjoy a visit to the Victoria Art Gallery on Thursday 14 December. As I write 35 members have already reserved places at this event, paying £20 each. More information is available from me (

Mike Short

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

The 'Golden Age' of Women in Medieval London (Thursday 26 October)

What would constitute a 'golden age' for economic prosperity, science, the arts, manufacturing, transport or for one group of people or another? Surely a 'golden age' would be a time when conditions were significantly better than normal.

In her lecture at the Friends Meeting House on 26 October Professor Caroline Barron will discuss why she considers the period from about the time of the Black Death (1348) until the reign of King Henry VII (1485-1509) a time of exceptional freedom and opportunity for single women, married women and widows in London. At that time the range of options and prospects for women differed only slightly from those of men whose level of prosperity they shared.

In the fourteenth century women in England had few rights and freedoms. They were somebody's daughter or somebody's wife and subject to the control of men. Widows were often better placed than married women to exercise rights over land, goods and chattels, but their position too was subject to laws instituted by men for men.

In London conditions for women were significantly better. Freemen or citizens of London enjoyed privileges not normally allowed by the common law of England. Their widows could claim a similar status, and city custom secured for a freeman's widow a home, income from property and a considerable share of her husband's movable wealth. A woman trading as a femme sole could run a business, rent a shop, accumulate money, pay taxes and train apprentices and servants. In fact single women and widows had more freedom to dispose of assets as they saw fit than did men.

A 'golden age' implies not only a beginning but also an end. Just as a diminished population following the Black Death created opportunities for women so the subsequent recovery - coupled, perhaps, with the increasing gentrification of many merchants and their wives - reduced them.

Although many women exercised economic power during the 'golden age' there is no evidence that they gained either a public or a political role.

Caroline Barron's lecture will illuminate both a time and a place experiencing economic and social change.

Mike Short

Monday, 4 September 2017

Forgotten Ally: Why China's World War II Matters (Thursday 28 September)

As we look back to events that occurred more than 70 years ago it is too easy to recall the famous photographs of Roosevelt, Stalin and Churchill and to overlook a fourth major ally, the Republic of China led by Chiang Kai-shek. China was at war with Japan from July 1937. What is sometimes called the Second Sino-Japanese War was the largest Asian war of the twentieth century. It accounted for the majority of civilian and military casualties in the Pacific War with between 10 and 25 million Chinese civilians and more than 4 million Chinese and Japanese military personnel dying from war-related violence, famine and other causes.

What impact did China's war have on the Second World War as a whole? How do we evaluate the contribution of China to the Allied campaign against the Axis powers? How did the battered China of 1937-1945 become today's superpower in the making, and why? There are few, if any, better qualified to guide us through these questions than this month's speaker, Rana Mitter, Professor of the History and Politics of Modern China at the Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Oxford, Deutsche Bank Director of the Dickson Poon China Centre, and a Fellow and Vice-Master of St Cross College. Professor Mitter's book China's War with Japan, 1937-1945: The Struggle for Survival was published in 2013. Professor Mitter is also a regular presenter of Night Waves on BBC Radio 3.

Mike Short   

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

The lecture programme for 2017-18 and four visits

As I write I am looking forward to attending, on Friday and Saturday this week (12 and 13 May), this year's Historical Association Conference in Manchester. Two days of high-quality lectures, with Michael Wood as the keynote speaker on Saturday morning, should provide plenty of inspiration for the planning of future HA Bath programmes.

Sticking strictly to chronological order, I will mention next our forthcoming members' visits to Great Chalfield Manor (on Friday 19 May) and Owlpen Manor (on Thursday 15 June). At Great Chalfield our guides will be Robert and Patsy Floyd, whose family have lived at the manor house since 1878. The owners of Owlpen Manor, Sir Nicholas and Lady Mander, will be our guides to the house and garden there. Each visit will finish with afternoon tea. There are currently four spare places available for each visit. If you are interested in going, please call me (01225 812945) or email

And so to the lecture programme for 2017-18, which was unveiled at last month's Annual General Meeting. The seven lectures will be given by academic historians from Oxford, London, Leeds, Leicester and Glasgow and our local friend Adrian Tinniswood. I have included in the programme below two important visits. The first is a morning visit (not afternoon as stated previously) to St John's Hospital, Bath, on Thursday 12 October. The second is our annual Christmas visit and buffet in the evening of Thursday 14 December at the Victoria Art Gallery. Members will receive details and application forms for these two visits during August.

This is the programme ...

28 September 2017
Forgotten Ally: Why China's World War II Matters
Professor Rana Mitter (St Cross College, University of Oxford)

12 October 2017
Members' Visit to St John's Hospital, Bath

26 October 2017
The 'Golden Age' of Women in Medieval London
Professor Caroline Barron (Royal Holloway University of London)

23 November 2017
Long Shadows: The Memory and the Legacy of the Crusades in the Modern World
Professor Jonathan Phillips (Royal Holloway University of London)

14 December 2017
Members' Christmas Visit and Buffet at the Victoria Art Gallery, Bath

25 January 2018
In the Shadow of Franco: The ongoing battle in Spain over its dark past
Dr Peter Anderson (University of Leeds)

22 February 2018
The Long Weekend: Life in the Country House Between the Wars
Adrian Tinniswood (Writer and historian)

22 March 2018
The Secret Diaries of William Wilberforce
Professor John Coffey (University of Leicester)

26 April 2018
'Clothes for the people': dressing slaves in eighteenth-century Virginia
Dr Sally Tuckett (University of Glasgow)

All lectures will take place on Thursday evenings at 7.30 in the Friends Meeting House, York Street. I plan to introduce each one in this diary.

Mike Short 

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Hogarth, Handel and the Foundling Hospital: a Story of Creative Philanthropy (Thursday 27 April)

As we approach the last of the current season of seven lectures it seems that the whole series has passed very quickly. It surprises me that it is a year since 60 members listened to Dr Anna Keay, Director of the Landmark Trust, speaking with authority and enthusiasm about James, Duke of Monmouth. This season ends with a lecture that promises to be just as stimulating. Caro Howell is the Director of the Foundling Museum in Brunswick Square, central London. The museum stands on the site of the former Foundling Hospital, some of the features of which are preserved in the current building. Caro's lecture will focus on the establishment of the hospital - a home for abandoned children - in the eighteenth century and the roles played in it by the great painter and engraver William Hogarth and the equally great composer George Frideric Handel.

Thomas Coram (c1668-1751) came from a seafaring family. Born at Lyme Regis, he went to sea while still a child, spent a decade as a young man in Massachusetts and returned to England in 1704 already an experienced campaigner on social and political issues. He was appalled by the large number of babies abandoned on the streets of London and conceived the idea of a hospital or home where such children could be cared for, educated and prepared to support themselves in society.

For 17 years Coram campaigned to be granted a Royal Charter to enable him to set up a hospital for foundlings. This was granted by King George II in 1739. It was Britain's first children's charity. The first babies were admitted to the first Foundling Hospital in 1741. The institution continued to operate for more than 200 years, its last pupil being placed in foster care in 1954. In that time it had cared for and educated about 25,000 abandoned children.

The first two celebrities to become involved in supporting and running the Foundling Hospital were William Hogarth (1697-1764), who encouraged leading artists to donate work and in doing so established the UK's first public art gallery within the hospital, and G F Handel (1685-1759), who donated an organ and conducted his Messiah in annual benefit concerts in the hospital's chapel.

This is the story that Caro Howell has to tell: Hogarth, Handel and the Foundling Hospital: a Story of Creative Philanthropy. We live in troubled times now. Nobody should pretend that life for most in eighteenth-century London was anything other than challenging. I hope that we will be able to leave this last lecture of the season with raised awareness of how the determination, hard work and generosity of good people can transform lives that might otherwise have seemed worthless. 'A good deed in a naughty world' indeed.

Mike Short

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Dissenting, Methodist and Evangelical Literary Culture in England, 1720-1800 (Thursday 23 March) and another date for your diary

Having spent the early part of my life in London and Sussex I came to the Bath area, via a brief spell in Hampshire, forty years ago. One thing I soon noted about my new home region was the large number of nonconformist chapels and meeting houses that speckle its towns and villages. Even in the 1970s some had already been converted into private homes or secular community facilities. But the names 'Ebenezer', 'Wesleyan', 'Unitarian' and several others remain carved into the fabric of the buildings.

Many of these places of meeting and worship also display dates from the late seventeenth century to the nineteenth. Reformation, Civil War, Enlightenment and industrialisation all contributed to a ferment of thoughts, ideas and arguments about religion and belief, religious practice and the relationship of the church and the individual.

Our speaker this month is Isabel Rivers, Professor of Eighteenth-Century English Literature and Culture at Queen Mary University of London. Professor Rivers is also Director of the Dissenting Academies Project. Her research interests focus on intellectual and religious history and the history of the book from 1660 to 1830. Her current project is a book whose title will be Vanity Fair and the Celestial City and its subtitle that of this month's lecture: Dissenting, Methodist and Evangelical Literary Culture in England, 1720-1800. It will make reference to religious publishing, societies for distributing books, advice about reading, seventeenth-century nonconformist and episcopalian inheritances, Roman Catholic influences, North American connections, interpreting the Bible, practical works, lives, letters, the uses of poetry, hymn collections and magazines. Among the key personalities featured in Professor Rivers's book will be John Bunyan, Henry Scougal, Philip Doddridge, William Law, George Whitefield and John Wesley.

Isabel Rivers's most substantial publication to date has been Reason, Grace and Sentiment: A Study of the Language of Religion and Ethics in England, 1660-1780, published in two volumes in 1991 and 2000. More recently she has published Joseph Priestley, Scientist, Philosopher, and Theologian (2008) and Dissenting Praise: Religious Dissent and the Hymn in England and Wales (2011).

Another date for your diary

My diary entry for 27 January (below) referred to HA Bath Branch members' visits in May and June and our Christmas event. I now have another date that you may want to note: the afternoon of Thursday 12 October, when a party of members will be able to visit St John's Hospital, founded in Bath by Bishop Reginald Fitzjocelyn in 1174 beside the hot springs of the Cross Bath to provide healing and shelter for the poor infirm. Rebuilt in the eighteenth century by a young John Wood the Elder, St John's has continued to provide for the poor of Bath for more than 800 years. More information and booking forms will be issued in the coming weeks.

Mike Short

Friday, 27 January 2017

Democracy and Despotism in British India (Thursday 23 February) and dates for your diary

I am writing this on the day after Professor Roey Sweet's excellent lecture on The Ladies' Grand Tour and the day before I leave for my first ever visit to India.

Indian civilisation dates back 4000 years and more to the Harappan settlements along the River Indus. In the following millennia various waves of invaders and settlers occupied and changed the subcontinent. In the north, where I will be going, Rajput clans rose to prominence from the late seventh century AD. Muslim invaders established a series of dynasties from the early thirteenth century. In 1526 the victory in battle of Babur marked the beginning of the great Mughal era, a time of prosperity and cultural excellence.

My visit will take me to the 'pink city' of Jaipur and to Agra, where the outstanding symbol of Mughal culture is Shah Jahan's exquisite Taj Mahal. In Delhi, where my visit begins, the centuries and cultures should converge, with New Delhi, built by the British between 1911 and 1931, representing the period between the decline of the Mughals and the bloody birth of independent India in 1947. The last few days of my visit will be spent in Shimla, the summer capital of the British Raj from 1863 to 1947, in the lower ranges of the Himalayas.

Fortuitously, since our planning isn't that good, the British Raj is the subject of our lecture 13 days after my return. The title is Democracy and Despotism in British India. Did the long period of British domination in India bring benefits, either transient or lasting, to the Indian people? Do we underestimate or overestimate their exploitation by their British masters? Historians are bound to want to debate such issues.

To guide us through the thicket on this occasion we are pleased to welcome Dr Sean Lang, Senior Lecturer in History at Anglia Ruskin University, a specialist in the history of the British Empire.

Dates for your diary in May, June and December

We have organised two visits during the summer break in our programme of lectures: on Friday 19 May to Great Chalfield Manor near Bradford-on-Avon and on Thursday 15 June to Owlpen Manor near Dursley. Each is a private visit - Owlpen Manor is not open to the general public - and will be guided by members of the families who live there. Each will include tours of the house and garden and will end with afternoon tea. Full details and application forms will be circulated to members and available at lectures from March.

Our members' Christmas visit and buffet will be held at the Victoria Art Gallery, Bath, on the evening of Thursday 14 December. The details and application forms for this will be send to members during August.

Mike Short