Imagining an unquiet country

I wouldn’t normally get into the business of recommending a ‘good summer read’ - but the book I have just finished chimes so well with the aims of the Imagined Land project, I feel compelled to share it.

Unquiet Country: Voices of the Rural Poor 1820-1880 (1) is a brilliantly executed example of how historical sources can bring alive the voices of people from the past.  The author, Robert Lee, was from Norwich (co-incidentally he went to the same school as me) and the source material is all from Norfolk. The familiarity of the settings – the cottages at Heydon, Attleborough churchyard, Gressenhall  workhouse – adds an extra colour to the stories that emerge.

Lee’s initial inspiration was the blur of a boy captured in an otherwise stilted 19th century group photograph. He writes:

For an instant that blurred boy reanimated the entire scene for me. It was as if I could hear the birdsong, the rustle of stiff clothing, the murmur of conversation, the instructions – half deferential, half frustrated – of the photographer…Last to arrive – cajoled, implored and threatened away from his game – had been a reluctant young cricketer for whom summer days existed to be filled with action and adventure…(Lee 2005 p.ix)

The book consists of a series of short chapters which start with what Lee describes as ‘a little imaginative licence’ as he voices the thoughts of John Mumford, victim of a session of ‘rough music’ provided by his disgruntled neighbours; a rector beleaguered by angry farm labourers demanding a living wage and farmers complaining about tithes; and the disturbed minds of two women in Banham who believe their neighbours are practising black magic against them. This latter section is particularly striking as the original letter brings their voices directly to us, with the ring of a strong Norfolk dialect: ‘My Brother His agoing to Hast Mr Hastriler Neave to stand Haur Frend…’ (Lee 2005 p150).

These imaginings are followed by short scholarly essays which provide context for the material; and excerpts of the original sources in the appendices.

The book is only short – 162 pages – but is rich with inspiration for those of us who, over the next few weeks, will be using the detailed research produced by the first part of the Imagined Land project to bring to life the voices of the people who have lived in and around the earthworks at Tasburgh over the centuries. 

In July, an exhibition based on the research so far was launched at a lively evening at Preston Primary School. At the same time the summer programme of free creative workshops was launched. Read just a part of Robert Lee’s book and you will not be able to resist getting involved in imagining the voice of your own ‘blurred boy’ - details below.

1 Lee, Robert (2005) Unquiet Country: Voices of the Rural Poor 1820-1880 Windgather Press. (Available for loan at Norwich Millennium and Wymondham Libraries)

News in brief

Imagined Land events

  • Saturday August 5th, 10 to 11 am: OPEN MEETING at Tasburgh Village Hall to hear about and help shape our plans for turning history into celebration with the making of the Imagined Land Historical Pageant and Procession on September 16th.  All welcome

As programmed it is followed by a day of making music and village banners in first preparation.  So if you feel inclined or curious bring yourself along, and an instrument or a sewing machine if you have one!

WORKSHOPS IN AUGUST:

  • Tues 1st 10am to 4 pm Making Lanterns (School)
  • Thurs 3rd 7pm to 9 pm Writing History (Church Rooms)
  • Sat 5th 10am to 4pm Making Banners (Village Hall)
  • Sat 5th 1030am to 330pm Music - Get Started (Village Hall)
  • Weds 9th 7pm to 9 pm Keep Writing! (Village Hall)
  • Sat 12th 10 to 4 pm Making Lanterns (School)
  • Four Thursdays 10th, 17th, 24th, 31st 7pm to 9 pm Singing Together x 4 (Church)

For details, and to keep up to date visit the project website at https://sites.google.com/site/imaginedlandprojectnorfolk

or visit us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/imaginedland/

  • Sunday 6th August. TFOSBA Boat trip to Bishops’ Service at St Benet’s Abbey: Some tickets left for this year’s riverboat trip to St Benet’s Abbey for the open-air service led by the Bishop of Norwich. Boarding will be from Swan Green Horning at 1.15pm. Tickets £10.00. Email tfosba@gmail.com to request tickets and more details.
  • Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays from 26th July to 8th September 10am – 4pm (Aug 7th – 12th open every day) Burgh Castle Village Hall. Church fundraisers will be at the village hall with refreshments, stalls, a chance to have a quiet sit down, cup of tea and chat. While you’re there you can visit the church to see the updated ‘Life outside the walls’ exhibition with finds from the test pits on display.
  • Summer guided tours at St Benet’s Abbey and Burgh Castle Roman Fort:
    The Friends of St Benet’s Abbey guided tours run until the end of September Saturday & Sunday 3pm, Wednesday 2pm; starting at the Abbey Gatehouse/Mill on site. No need to book.
    Burgh Castle Roman Fort NAT volunteer-led tours continue through August, 2.30 pm on Sundays, weather permitting. No need to book: meet your volunteer guide at the interpretation shelter next to the main car park.