Finding things you did not really know existed.

It is nice going to archives. These places always make me feel like a ‘proper’ historian, I love the smell of medieval manuscripts, the sense of unfurling a court roll from the 13th or 14th century, the tense and excited anticipation on what one might (or might not) find. It is a connection to the past, a link, like a precious artifact retrieved from the soil in an archaeological excavation. The feeling of touching the past, the parchment once touched by a scribe, whose quill scraped the once soft, and rather precious vellum, to record daily dealings at the latest manorial court or many pages of detailed accounts recording the lord’s profits and expenses, how many sheep were lost to murrain that year, how many mares had foals, how many bushels of grain were sold and what price the fleeces fetched that year. It is precious to touch the past in this way, precious, and I feel so privileged to be able to spend so much of my time peering into the past, into other people’s lives. Almost like an an intruder, who I can only hope would not be wholly unwelcome, but rather seen as a surprise visitor who will do their best to give as honest an account as possible of the place they visited and the people who inhabited it. The Archive therefore is a gate to another world. My heart always races when I order a document to view in the manuscript room,  When I went to the British Library a couple of week – ends ago however, I did not expect to find much of interest, but since I was there to discuss research with a colleague I ordered a book of rentals and customs of the Abbey of Glastonbury, one of the richest ecclesiastical landlord’s in medieval England, While I was not sure that I would find much, if anything,on the Glastonbury manor I am working on, Longbridge Deverill, I was utterly delighted to find instead a very detailed account of an early 13th century rental and the customary arrangements for the many unfree, and the handful of free, tenants at the manor.Another wonderful little keyhole through which to spy on the past…

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