After an excellent buffet lunch and the opportunity to explore the state rooms and the gardens of Stoneleigh Abbey, members reconvened in the Saloon to hear an inspiring talk by Michael Wood, Professor of Public History at the University of Manchester. He needed no real introduction, after his many appearances on television, where he has shared his knowledge of history from Alexander the Great to William Shakespeare, and enthused many people in the process. He began his talk by quoting that Stratford lad, saying, ‘I have many good friends in Warwickshire’. He explained that his history teacher at school had inspired him, and instilled a respect for going back to the sources. He referred to W. G. Hoskins quoting William Bake, in the dedication to Provincial England (London, 1963): ‘To Generalise is to be an Idiot. To Particularise is the Alone Distinction of Merit’. This study of the particular and local has informed the broad and deep understandings of historians from Maitland and Stenton to Eamon Duffy and Chris Dyer, and Wood himself, who went on to discuss his recent television broadcast about Mary Arden, emphasising the important contributions of Drs Bob Bearman and Nat Alcock (members of the WLHS committee) in recently identifying the true ‘Mary Arden’s House’ in Wilmcote.
Queen Elizabeth I
Following Professor Wood, the assembly were graced by the presence of Gloriana herself (Queen Elizabeth I, embodied by Lesley Smith, Curator of Tutbury Castle in Staffordshire). During this lively audience the persona switched between the Queen, presenting her viewpoint on her life and times, and that of Lesley Smith, early-modern historian and expert in gynaecology. She answered a wide range of questions from the floor in both characters, informing and amusing the audience in equal measure.
Afterwards, everyone repaired to the conservatory, overlooking the Avon, for afternoon tea. At the invitation of Dr John Bland (former chairman of WLHS), Lady Hamilton cut the birthday cake, with its splendid depiction of the map of the (whole) county of Warwickshire. Everyone enjoyed a slice, as they continued the happy and animated conversations that had punctuated the day.
The future of the WLHS looks assured for the next 50 years. As part of the 50th anniversary celebrations, an essay competition on any subject of Warwickshire history was held. Professor Wood presented the first prize to Dr Angela Nicholls, for her essay exploring housing for the poor in 17thC Warwickshire, ‘A convenient habitation fit for Christians to dwell in’. A very close second, awarded a proxime accesit prize, was Dr Maureen Harris with her essay on a 17thC clergyman, ‘The “Captain of Oliver’s Army” and the Wixford Catholics: … 1640-1674’. These, with other competition entries, will fill the next two editions of Warwickshire History.
The programme of lectures and visits continues throughout the autumn, with, on 20 October Mark Booth, The Manorial Rolls of Warwickshire and on 17 November Dr Nat Alcock, “On the Road”: Travelling in Warwickshire and beyond before the Railway Age. These meetings will be at the Friends’ Meeting House in Warwick at 8.00pm. The Christmas visit will be on the afternoon of the 5th December, to the Yeomanry Museum in Warwick, followed by afternoon tea in the Ball Room of the Court House. See the Warwickshire Local History Society website for more details.