I admit it, I am a local historian and a history addict. Always feels good to say it out loud! (I also teach, and I am a mum, but my two boys will tell you I am history obsessed!)
I never planned on being a local historian. I had always wanted to study history and do something with it, but was never quite sure what, teaching was always something I hoped to do. I grew up in a house surrounded by history books, antiques and discussions. The usual trips to castles, museums and stately homes, based on some battle or other. Military history was my passion, no particular era, battles and warfare was the way I thought I would go. My first website was about the Homefront in WWI wingatwar. I had no idea I would end up doing what I do now.
It all began in a Parish Council meeting in 2011. The Neighbourhood Planning Policy Framework had just been published and we knew our village was at risk of major development. So, we took the decision to protect ourselves. I was in the middle of my history degree, so it fell to me to deal with the heritage and ecology side of things. I had two weeks to prepare a display. There was hardly anything. Old photos in a book published in the 1980s, and some interesting claims. I knew about the Saxon church, and the Saxon burials that had been on Meet the Ancestors, but that is sort of where it stopped. Would people actually be interested anyway? Luckily our Historic Environment Record (HER) were all online and that is where I started. I then had a huge map where I plotted all these wonderful finds and listed buildings, hoping it would grab people’s attention. It did. I spoke almost non-stop for two days. My mind was buzzing and racing all the way through. It seemed clear that people wanted to know about their house, the history, their identity. We needed a history group.
In 2012, with my, also history obsessed friend, Elaine, we decided to do a walk around the village, to find out what people actually knew! One of those walks turned out to be the start of another project, as a voice from behind called out ‘I’m an archaeologist and looking for a community project’ to which I replied ‘I’m training to be a historian and in need of a community archaeologist’. In 2013, our Archaeology Project started, with 46 test pits in the intervening 6 years. In 2014, I became the Project Director. Thousands of finds (sitting in my house), has given the village a true sense of history around it. We even managed to complete our original task and find the location of the elusive Saxon village.
By 2014, we had become so successful we set up a group. I have an amazing committee, a brilliant dig team, made new friends, and found family (but that is another story!).
In those 9 years, I have learnt so much, not just about history, but what local history really means. It is about building a community, giving people a chance to share family stories, encouraging an identity and relationship with where people live. I have lost track of the amount of pub nights, coffee mornings, conferences, displays, talks, walks, though my super secretary and friend, Sally, will have it all minuted!
This lockdown has made me re-evaluate what it really means to be a local historian, it is the people. Countless hours of research means nothing without being able to share it. My favourite part is sharing our material and finds, whether it be in the village or in the next towns and city. Local history isn’t just about one time period either, I find myself in one conversation talking about Saxon burials, turn around to discuss our local WWII RAF base. When I first started I thought I would end up being a ‘Jack of all trades and master of none’, I now know I have to be conversant in all time periods, people want detail. Local history fits into the national picture, and vice versa. Every conversation, display, each talk we have is teaching history, imparting knowledge and helping people understand each other, and themselves, better. I am a local historian, and proud of it.