A hole in the ground in Newcastle, not round.

In 1973 the Department of History helped celebrate the 800th anniversary of the borough of Newcastle by publishing a history of the Borough. 1173 was the date of the now lost first charter which called Newcastle a borough. What might also have been lost is just reappearing under excavations in advance of development adjacent to the former Maxim’s nightclub in Lower Street. Staffordshire’s principal archaeologist, Stephen Dean, is supervising the archaeological exploration which can easily be viewed from the car park at Lidl.We are here on the margins between the castle site to the right of this photograph and the church of St Giles to the left. The principal entrance to the castle site is thought to be some distance behind us in this image, and we are close to the old street-name Holborn, ‘the street in a hollow’ on the line where the Lyme Brook entered the castle pool.


So, what is to be made of the large sandstone blocks to left of the site? What piece of Newcastle’s history is currently being revealed?

Maxims Excavation - 20052016 - Large sandstone wall at S end of site with floor surface and layers of charcoal evident in section (1).-1



Study Day First World War tribunals

Professor Karen Hunt’s collaboration with the Staffordshire Record Office involved work on the evidence from Military Appeals Tribunal records from the First World War. An early insight into the records will feature as a part of an upcoming study day.

Study day poster A4


How to write your History dissertation

Late Spring is always dissertation season, the moment when final-year students submit the longest and most personal of their pieces of work for assessment, and when second-year students begin to think of their special subjects and theBeth Brown daunting  prospect of a dissertation for next year.  Here, Beth Brown, a 2016 finalist, reflects on the process of dissertation research and writing as she waits anxiously for her final grades. One or two clear pieces of advice emerge. If you are doing dual honours then explore the possibilities of inter disciplinarity; always think about comparative history as a method; ask what kind of original sources you nmight be able to use. There are also several dissertation prizes on offer in History. Watch this space to see how Beth does! [We can now reveal that Beth graduated with a good 2i in History and Music in July. Our congratulations to her.]

John Potter says that ‘singing moves and excites people, often in very large numbers.’ My dissertation also excited me as I was able to tie together my two disciplines; history and music. This was not planned. My landlady acquired a collection of choir music from Dagfields Crafts and Antiques Centre near Nantwich in September 2014. She passed these onto me and they sat on my shelf for a year before I decided to look at them. This is when I discovered that a lot of them contained the name ‘D Lester’ whilst a few had a stamp from a music shop in Oswestry, Shropshire. An online database of marriages uncovered that this collection had belonged to Dilys Lester (née Williams) who married her husband in 1954. This was extremely exciting and this is how my dissertation project developed.

My title became ‘women’s engagement with music as leisure in the mid-twentieth century, with reference to the Oswestry Choral Society.’ I then began to trace Dilys. The Oswestry Choral Society was formed in 1888 and evolved into the Oswestry Ladies Choir in 2015. I contacted the choir and they asked past choir members if they knew Dilys. One of the people who was asked happened to be Dilys’ cousin and bridesmaid! Sadly Dilys had died just before I acquired the sheet music, suggesting that her house was emptied of her possessions after her death. However, I was able to speak to the Oswestry Choral Society and Dilys’ cousin to research the history of the choir and Dilys’ involvement.

In my dissertation I compared the Oswestry Choral Society to the Paignton Choral Society and the Liverpool Welsh Choral Union which were also established at the end of the nineteenth-century. I found similarities between the choirs and the problems that they all encountered such as financial difficulties and a lack of members. There was an increase in choirs in this period and they became more institutionalised with membership fees and esteemed members of the community leading the choirs. The choirs gave men and women the opportunity to socialise with each other which was unusual due to contremporary social restrictions.

My next chapter compared the market town of Oswestry on the Welsh border with Newark on Trent, a similar sized market town in Nottinghamshire. I attempted to provide context for the formation of the Oswestry Choral Society in the second half of the nineteenth-century. Both towns were positively influenced by the expansion of the railways and held regular markets. There was also an increase in libraries and public buildings to hold social activities in this period. Golf and bowling were also popular.

The third chapter analysed the eighty-seven pieces of sheet music that I acquired. A lot of the pieces had a copyright date between 1930 and 1969. However it does not tell us when these pieces were sung. Most of the pieces contained Dilys’ married name suggesting that these pieces were sung Beth Brown docswhen she moved to Chester after her marriage. However, she was a member of the Oswestry Choral Society before this and therefore she bought the music before her marriage. It was found that Dilys sang new and older arrangements of choral pieces by well-known composers such as George Handel but also lesser known composers such as George Dyson. The music also highlighted popular publishing companies in this period, popular arrangers, trends over the price of the music and it was evident that the music was well used due to creases and rips. Cataloguing a large amount of primary sources is time consuming and hard to decide which information should be recorded. However it was a rewarding process and it provided meaning to the music.

My final chapter explored women’s leisure between 1945-1960. It found that dancing and the cinema were very popular for young women as they were cheap and allowed women to meet men. Dilys’ life supports this as she met her husband at a dance. Music and drama societies also existed and were often run by women, although more research is needed in this area. When women became married, their leisure activities appeared to decline due to their extra responsibilities.

My dissertation took me to the Shropshire archives, Oswestry Town Museum, Newark Town Hall & Art Gallery, Oswestry Library and Nottingham Library. It used a variety of sources ranging from manuscripts to trade directories to secondary sources. Both the Oswestry Choral Society and the Oswestry Town Museum have requested a copy of my dissertation. This is rewarding as I have contributed to local history. I thoroughly enjoyed researching and writing my dissertation because it was personal to my interests.

Addendum: As a result of this post Dilys Lester’s daughter contacted Beth. So, perhaps the story of this little archive doesn’t end there!


The 22nd annual conference of the International Intelligence History Association

Harry Richards, a postgraduate in History, recently attended the 22nd annual conference of the International Intelligence History Association  at the Museum of Military History in Dresden. This is his report.

It’s perhaps the only event in the world where I, a lowly PhD student, can enjoy dinner seated alongside a former Secretary of the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC), a former Director of the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), and the former Director of Intelligence operations in Afghanistan. Conversation at the table was engaging and thought provoking, but of course, was not without the stereotypical retort; ‘I’m afraid that’s classified’.

The paper sessions were equally fascinating. Given by a mixture of academics and former practitioners, they covered modern intelligence practices throughout the twentieth century from the First World War to the conflict in the Balkans during the 1990s, from signals intelligence to imagery intelligence, and not without the obvious inclusion of traditional cloaks and daggers, so characteristic of the genre. In what was probably a very deliberately chosen theme, the conference heavily focused on operational intelligence histories that, although interesting, obscured some of the wider developments being made in intelligence history more generally. Sitting through the conference, one might be excused for believing that the social turn of the 1960s had completely bypassed this association of historians, despite much work taking place connecting social and cultural histories with the study of intelligence. Perhaps a separate platform is needed for this type of work.

On another sour note, the gender imbalance was rather disconcerting. Among twenty-five papers, there was only one female panellist. Whilst there were more women in the audience than I had perhaps anticipated, especially in consideration of the conference programme, there clearly needs to be more encouragement given to female intelligence historians. What was perhaps more discouraging, however, was the dismissal of expressed concerns towards this disparity. But insularity appeared to be a fairly common theme within the association. When seeking counsel as to how best to expand and grow as a society, the appeal was circumscribed by the assertion that ‘we only want intelligence people’, whatever ‘intelligence people’ are. It seems like the world of intelligence history will continue to be as distant and detached from the mainstream as the original discipline that inspires it for some time to come.

The city of Dresden, it must be said, provides a beautiful and historic environment to host a conference. The architecture remarkably reflects the deluge of historical change that beset the twentieth century. Around the corner from a modern shopping complex, full of vibrant colour and capitalist consumerism, are the surviving remnants of the old, brutal Soviet housing structures that are hastily being allowed  to fall into ruin. The pastoral German villas hidden amongst the sloping greenery of suburban Dresden are sharply juxtaposed with the blackness of the scorched city centre that was rebuilt using much of the original burnt stone.

As my first international conference, it was an incredibly exciting and rewarding affair. I made a host of useful contacts, ranging from other PhD students, established academics, publishers, and former practitioners. I began to share my research with scholars from across Europe and absorb various ideas and perspectives otherwise inaccessible from the Keele bubble. Overall, I think the event was an incredibly informative and stimulating event. And of course, the renowned German beer went down quite nicely on the Saturday night, which always ensures a thoroughly enjoyable experience.

 Photograph credit:
By Bundeswehr-Fotos Wir.Dienen.Deutschland. – Flickr: Militärhistorisches Museum in Dresden, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17804258


Dr Anthony Mansfield wins Royal Historical Society Research Award

In July 2016 the University of Oxford will host  ‘Conquest 1016/1066,’ a conference which will mark the 1000 year anniversary of Cnut’s conquest of England and the 950 year anniversary of Duke William’s victory at Hastings.

Anthony Mansfield, a Sessional Tutor at Keele, has been fortunate enough to win a Research Award from the Royal Historical Society, which will enable him to attend and present at the  conference. The award is designed to meet travel costs and conference registration in order to assist early career researchers to present their research. Applications are assessed by the society’s Research Support Committee and consider  the historical significance of the wider project and how the research award will contribute to the applicant’s ongoing work

Anthony will also join the Royal Historical Society Postgraduate Speaker Series, which allows UK history departments outside of London to invite him to present a seminar paper at that host institution expenses free. Certainly, this will provide an excellent opportunity to disseminate research findings and enhance scholarly recognition in the future.

Anthony will present a paper titled ‘Essex: A North-Sea Lordship?’ In the paper he will discuss how the regional identity of the Anglo-Saxon aristocracy in eastern England may have been tied to a North-Sea network of aristocracies between the late tenth and the early eleventh centuries.

An Interdisciplinary Anniversary Conference

Ioannou Centre Oxford, 21-24 July 2016