Happy customers at the Home, Food & Family in WW1 conference

Last month, I was delighted to be involved in the organisation of the Home, Food & Family in World War One conference at Avoncroft Museum of Historic Buildings on 5 March 2016.

The event was part of the work I am doing for the University of Worcester’s Volunteers & Voters project, and was organised by Professor Maggie Andrews for the Women’s History Network (Midlands), with financial support from AHRC Voices of War & Peace and the Economic History Society.

This conference explored how housewives, children and the home played a part in producing, preserving and preparing food during World WarOne. The Dig for Victory campaigns of the Second World War have a firm place within popular consciousness yet the similar activities engaged in by people on Britain’s Home Front in World War One, when food became a weapon of war, have hitherto received little attention.

The event brought together over 90 academics, teachers, students and those working and volunteering in heritage organisations or on community projects, to share their ideas, discoveries, interests and research. Our programme of talks was complemented by displays and exhibitions from community history groups.

The speakers were:

  • Professor Karen Hunt – University of Keele: ‘The Kitchen is the Key to Victory’: Women, Food and the Great War
  • Jennifer Doyle – Kings College, University of London: Everybody’s talking about food: food and women’s magazines in the First World War
  • Dr Stella Hockenhull– University of Wolverhampton: Everybody’s Business: Film, Food and Victory in the First World War

At the end of a day there was a panel discussion and Q&A: Researching Home, Food and Family

Panellists:

  • Dr Janis Lomas – Independent Researcher
  • Julia Letts – Oral Historian and project co-ordinator for The Great Blackberry Pick (HLF-funded project)
  • Susanne Atkin – volunteer researcher participating in WW1 in the Vale, focussing on the experience of the 9th Earl of Coventry and his tenants on the Croome Estate, Pershore (HLF-funded project)
  • Professor Maggie Andrews -University of Worcester and Voices of War andPeace Community Engagement Centre lead on Gender and the Home Front. Academic lead on WW1 in the Vale (HLF-funded project)
  • Chaired by Jenni Waugh – Community History consultant and project co-ordinator for WW1 in the Vale (HLF-funded project)

Community heritage exhibitions and contributions were provided by the following projects:

TWITTER & INSTAGRAM MESSAGES throughout the day and after. (I do love a good Storify).

All of the presentations were filmed by James MacDonald of Clear Picture Productions. They are so huge that I am uploading them one by one and will post their final weblinks shortly.

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Celebrate! £20,000 in HLF funding secured for the WW1 in the Vale project!

We’re on our way! I’ve had to be very quiet about this one, whilst it was in development, but I am now happy to report that Pershore WI and Pershore Heritage & History Group (alias the WW1 in the Vale team) are celebrating the award of £10,000 each from the Heritage Lottery Fund First World War: Then and Now programme.

Getting started! (From left to right) Back row: Professor Maggie Andrews, University of Worcester, Susanne Atkin, volunteer researcher, Audrey Whitehouse and Beth Milsom of Pershore WI Front row: Elspeth King, University of Worcester, Audrey Humberstone, Margaret Tacey and Jean Haynes from Pershore Heritage & History Society

Getting started! (From left to right)
Back row: Professor Maggie Andrews, University of Worcester, Susanne Atkin, volunteer researcher, Audrey Whitehouse and Beth Milsom of Pershore WI
Front row: Elspeth King, University of Worcester, Audrey Humberstone, Margaret Tacey and Jean Haynes from Pershore Heritage & History Society

It’s been a long journey and a lot of hard work all round since Maggie Andrews and I produced the first public consultation event back in October 2014 at the Almonry in Evesham, but this grant award means that we can now get cracking on our research and events programme to find out more about life in the Vale during World War One. 

Over the next year, each group will follow a particular theme:

Pershore WI members will celebrate the centenary of their branch, founded in November 1916 as one of the first Women’s Institutes in the county. They will uncover the lives of its original members, including Viscountess Deerhurst of Pirton, Mrs Beynon, wife of the manager of the Pomona Jam Factory, and the wives, daughters or servants of engineers, bricklayers, tradesmen and market gardeners in the area.

Pershore Heritage & History Society will be investigating ‘How the Pershore Plum Won the War’. The fruit and vegetables grown in the Vales of Evesham and Pershore were essential to the nation’s food production. Many local residents combined market gardening and fruit growing with other trades such as pub landlord or wheelwright.

The project team will be co-ordinated by Jenni Waugh Consulting Ltd (me!) and supported by Professor Maggie Andrews, students from the University of Worcester, the Voices of War and Peace World War One Engagement Centre, Pershore Library staff and Pershore Town Council,.  We will also work with artists, an oral historian and a film-maker to record our discoveries, and have a year’s worth of exciting events and activities planned.

We also plan to produce touring exhibitions, a WW1 Pershore Town Trail and films of Food Preservation Demonstrations. We will also host a number of craft activities for children in the local library and other public events.

A book based on our research, How the Pershore Plum Won the War, will be published by the History Press and available for sale in time for the Pershore Plum Festival in 2016.

For further information about World War One in the Vale or to get involved, follow the project blog or contact me directly.

More stones…

Following the fun Workshop on Newspapers and Stone, I have been commissioned to do a lovely bit of archive research for the Herefordshire & Worcestershire Earth Heritage Trust.
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St Nicholas, The Cross, Worcester

If you come along to the Archive Searchroom in the Hive on alternate Wednesday afternoons between now and the end of the year, you will find me, up to my eyes in builders’ specifications, parish records, old copies of The Builder and any other useful source that I can get my hands on…

The main focus of Trust’s work at the moment is A Thousand Years of Building with Stone, an enormous research project that now has its own brand new, freely searchable website and a growing database of more than 3000 buildings and quarries

As part of the team, I am helping to record, catalogue and untangle the history of stone use in heritage buildings across Herefordshire and Worcestershire.  We are trying to identify not only the stone from which some of our most significant buildings are constructed, but also, the quarry it came from.  Yes!  We are nothing if not ambitious!!!

It’s great to get back into the archives again and to do some focussed research.  I have been finding some fabulous stuff – too much to post here.

My thorniest problem at the moment is to identify the stone from which the ‘new’ church of St Nicholas was built in 1730. Worcester people will know the church, as it stands on The Cross and is now a Slug & Lettuce bar.  I have fond memories of this church – when I was small they used to put a nativity tableau on the steps at Christmas time.  If you put a coin in the tin, it lit up and played a carol.  I leave it to you to work out how long ago that was…

So I am slowly working through box after box of churchwardens’ accounts, trying not to get distracted by the fascinating invoices for school materials in the 1860s, or descriptions of the workhouse prior to 1836…  If anyone has a clue, do let me know

Helping the Earth Heritage Trust to do this are a wonderful and ever expanding group of dedicated volunteers. If you are interested in learning new skills and discovering more about your local area read more or contact the EHT team.

Learning from a marvellous regiment of women (or, What I Did Last Weekend)

There is something utterly exhilarating about attending a conference for, about and run predominantly by women and the Women’s History Network‘s annual conference, Home Fronts: Gender, War & Conflict, was no exception.

It took place in the former Worcester Royal Infirmary, presided over in its time by a succession of innovative Matrons, and concluded in the grounds of the former Stanbrook Abbey, built in 1871 as home for an enclosed order of Benedictine nuns, founders of the one of the oldest private presses in England.

As a member of the judging panel for the WHN Community History Prize, sponsored by the History Press, it was a privilege to congratulate the winners, St Ives Archives, for their fantastic research into the women textile workers of the town.  The judging process was a tricky job since the panel were presented with such a high calibre of community-focussed research projects carried out by and about women.  It was exciting to find such enthusiasm for uncovering the hidden stories of women’s experience, led in many cases by first-time researchers, guided or supported by professionals.  The creativity and assurance with which their findings were presented bodes well for the continued promulgation of contributions to the field.

Although the focus lay on Home Fronts of the C20th, there were a number of papers relating to earlier history that demonstrated the universality of key themes.  One such was a thread concerning the forms of relief and support for wives and families surviving during their husbands’ time away at the front.  Susan Mary Grant led, in the first keynote, with her examination of the Dislocations of the Home Front for Southern women during the American Civil War, when the Front was literally camped in some of these women’s front yards.

The next day, John Black’s paper on the influence of the Women Volunteers in the Army Pay Office at Woolwich during 1914 in distributing separation allowance and outdoor relief, demonstrated that behind every faceless administrative system, there are people who work to ensure that it is as humane as possible.  This thread was picked up in Paul Huddie’s investigation into Victims or Survivors: army wives in Ireland during the Crimean War.  Curious as to why so many Irish wives were not claiming the relief payments to which they were entitled from the Royal Patriotic Fund, Huddie uncovered evidence that some feared to apply lest their Catholic children were whisked away to be converted by the Anglican administration (not the case, protested the Bishop in the press), or were indeed making their own way by taking work in service or as shirt-makers in the army towns.

Appropriately for the location and the date (the anniversary of the Battle of Worcester falls on 3 September),  some papers examined women’s experience during the English Civil Wars.  A standout for me was Talya Housman’s paper Two English Scripts of Ravishment: Divisions between Royalist and Parliamentarian Utilisation of Rape, which focussed on the C17th legal definition of ‘ravishment’:  to seize (property) by violence.  In the Royalist scripts examined by Talya, the consent of the woman was of lesser importance than the representation of rape as theft of property from a man: a husband or father.  To the Parliamentarians, however, the scripts act as a metaphor for the polis: an emerging idea of an offence against the person, without their consent. So, just as a woman is sexually assaulted against her will, so, the Parliamentarian script reads, King Charles ruled without the consent of the people and stole their freedom of action.  The offence is still viewed through the filter of male experience, but at least a step closer to understanding that a woman might not be a mere chattel after all…

I could go on – with apologies to those whose papers I have travestied in an attempt to summarise them.  There were so many elements to take in.  I was thrilled to chair Deborah Thom’s outstanding keynote on how the Imperial War Museum has presented the Public History of Women and War since its establishment in 1917; whilst conversations over coffee cups  about Commonwealth War Graves Commission, the protocols of grief in time of war, the visual rhetoric of the women’s recruiting poster and the hierarchies of women’s work will keep me thinking for a long while yet.  I would like to say many thanks to the Women’s History Network for my bursary – I hope that the work I produce as a result will prove it was well worth the investment!