Category Archives: Archaeology

Dunstable Medieval Weekend with Brother William

Medieval Dunstable.Ye Scriptorium. Img.jpg

After a week of making up bookmarks, wall-plates etc. and framing of prints, we loaded the scriptorium into the car and headed off to wildest Medieval Dunstable. Only four miles down the road but eight hundred years on the time scale.

We were greeted at the entrance of Priory House by one of what seemed to be a whole battalion of immaculately turned out Army Cadets. We were shown to our tent by Lisa the event organiser and, helped by half a dozen Cadets, unloaded everything into a marquee that had been erected onto the rain-soaked grass. At that time, in the totally empty space which was to house us, The Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Records Service, The Dunstable History Society and The Manshead Archaeological  Society, were about six large, soaking wet tables. Three of these were quickly dried off for us  by the cadets and placed in what I thought would be the prime spot. I left Gill to arrange the stall while I went off to park the car. The idea was to have one table as a work bench, one for our wares, and another, spread with paper and scattered with double pencils and coloured felt tips, for anyone to try their hand at calligraphy. When I returned it was looking like this.

Medieval Dunstable. Our stall. img. jpg.

Then after setting up my writing slope and trying out the pens and coloured inks, I found that due to the humidity, the colours were feathering on the card and though I could get some quite pretty effects, it was not a good representation of the lettering arts. Luckily I found that gold and silver worked quite well, so by the time our first customers appeared I had my mind made up for me that the metallic inks  were the best alternative.

Brother William at Medieval Dunstable.img. jpg

Here I am with one of the first of many customers which became a steady stream throughout the day.

Lady Gillian at Medieval Dunstable. img. jpg.

Lady Gillian taking her shift.

Brother William and lady Gillian at Medieval Dunstable.img. jpg

A break in proceedings while all visitors were watching the battles or the jousts,  punctuated by the roar of cannon fire and the shouts of the combatants. These occurred at intervals during each day and were performed by the Medieval Siege Society. We were pleased to meet a number of the S0ciety members.

Gill gets in some practice and then has a wander round with the camera,

Medieval instrument maker. img.jpg.

and finds Trevor James of Beccles playing an assortment of hand made medieval musical instruments.

It was good to see so many people, both young and old, taking an interest in the calligraphy demonstrations and getting the hang of using double pencils.

Youngsters with double pencils.img. jpg.

Over the two days we used about 30 metres of lining paper and only had to scrap one sheet, because it had been covered in obscenities by one youngster who had been told “Anything you like” in answer to his question, “What shall I put on here?” He then ran off laughing. Gill was very quick to remove the offending piece before it was noticed by anyone else.

We used up all but one of the bookmarks and had only two or three wall-plates to take home with us. It was good also, that a few people liked the prints, both framed and unframed, enough to buy them.

It was a joy for us both to work with these budding scribes, most of whom were eager to blow a little magic into the bottle, because it “made the pen work” and then watch it swirling around in the ink. Truth be told, watching their faces, the adults also thought this might be true.

Brother William at Medieval Dunstable. img .jpg.

This young lady took lots of snaps. When I commented on her really tasty camera, she hugged it and laughed and said, “It is my baby”.

Brother William at Medieval Dunstable.img.jpg.

I was pleased so many friends came to say hello. Some of whom we had lost contact with.  It was really good to see you.  Gill, a Dunstablian, was recognised by a neighbour she had not seen since childhood, and people she used to work alongside at the L&D hospital. Heheh!  Fame at last.

Brother William at Medieval Dunstable. img.jpg

These two days have flown by. We have made another load of friends and contacts. There are promises of intended commissions, and invitations to similar events all over the country. The weather has been great in spite of the downpour the night before we arrived, and in spite of the “doom and gloom” forecast for the weekend.

Many thanks to Jean Yates, the Project Officer, and Dunstable Town Council for inviting us. To the Army Cadets for brightening up a really gloomy start, all the cheerful faces of the St John’s Ambulance Brigade who came to see us throughout the weekend, (luckily, it seems there were no major incidents for them to deal with).  And mostly to Lisa, the Event Organiser and her assistant, Lauren, for all you did for us before and during the event. You are a great team.


By the bye.


Dunstable War Memorial. WWII.  C.C Stenning

Just a few yards from where we were working.  On the war memorial, Stenning, C.C. Gill’s uncle, who lied about his age to join the RAF. Became a rear gunner and was shot down, aged 18. RIP.

Strangely enough, next year’s event, on the centenary of the 1st World War, will be remembering Dunstable during WW I. Those who know me well will have an idea of what or whom I shall be portraying, if, indeed, I am invited.

Keep Watching this space.

Cheers.   Bill.

GODIVA AWAKES, BRADWELL ABBEY, ME, and thousands of others.

A strange title for a blog here on Bill’s Space. It is a long story with a few twists and turns, so, to set the scene, a few videos of the journey from Coventry to London by Godiva and her amazing cyclopedia.

At about the same time this project was in its early stages, my friend Cadfan and I took a trip to Milton Keynes to have a look at what up ’til then had just been something I had spotted on the MK street map, Bradwell Abbey . Our first glimpse across the fields was of what we later found out to be St. Mary’s Chapel. Most incongruously, we found, in a car park adjacent to the site, a mobile cafe which was doing a roaring trade serving the workforce of a large industrial park. Excellent bacon sarnies!

As usual, two clicks on all images to magnify.

Following the signs to enquiries / reception we found ourselves at the offices, cum display area of the Milton Keynes City Development Centre. Lots of information gathered here about the abbey and surrounding area. Anyway, we were given the go ahead to look around the site. Anyone who knows Cadfan and I, will know that we have spent an awful lot of time wandering around old ruins!  We were surprised to find this site was really well looked after and visitors well informed .

We bumped into this gentleman soon after we started our exploration.

He didn’t seem at all bothered about our presence but kept his beady eye on us until we were out of sight.

Rounding the pond, we caught our first sight of the Chapel, specially built circa 1140s  to cater for the many pilgrims visiting during their journeys up and down Watling Street, now the A5 . Seeming to sit amidst a maze of gravelled pathways that mark the archaeology of the abbey church  and some of the surrounding buildings that have been demolished over the years, the east end of the chapel to the right as seen here was, in fact, joined as an afterthought to the main abbey church.

Since that visit there have been more excavations and at present the roof is covered in scaffolding and tarpaulin while repair and conservation work is being addressed to the interior plasterwork and extensive wall-paintings.

We did not get to see the interior on that visit but just a couple of months ago during another of Cadfan’s forays into Beds, Bucks and Herts we, along with Gill this time, paid another visit and were able to have a good look inside.  My camera suddenly decided it was not going to play, so I was unable to take any pics.  My thanks to Kim, the Educational Officer and Henk the director of MKCDC for sending these two.  For many more plus a wealth of information, the guidebook is indispensible.

So, you are asking yourself, what has all this to do with Lady Godiva?  Well, on the journey from Coventry to London, ‘Godiva Awakes’ will be visiting Bradwell Abbey on Wednesday 1st August and whilst there will be presented with a gift, commissioned from local artist Nicholas Packham.  I am very pleased to have been asked to inscribe an explanation of the thinking behind this gift to accompany it on its travels.

More on this after the presentation, but here is a little something I was playing with while I awaited the final draft.

Taken from from the account of Richard Grafton (d.1572) MP for Coventry, but written in a more 11th century style using ordinary black and gold inks and acrylic vermilion on Artistico + Fabriano paper A3 size.  After writing it out I felt it looked a little too pristine, but as you can see, I went a bit too far, distressing with Tea, Coffee, and Turmeric.  The black ink didn’t take too kindly to the soaking, the red acrylic however, stood up well to the treatment.  The gold was added when the whole thing dried out.
More after the presentation.  ’til then keep watching this space.