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Nigel Harrison Earns PhD on Clough Williams-Ellis

NPG P780; Sir (Bertram) Clough Williams-Ellis by John HedgecoeThe School, and History in particular, is very pleased to announce that late last week Nigel Harrison successfully defended his PhD thesis on the architect Clough Williams-Ellis. CW-E (as Nigel came rather fondly to know him) is best known for being the architect behind Portmeirion of the The Prisoner fame, but as Nigel convincingly demonstrated, there was much more to the man than this. And this despite the fact that his Welsh-Mediterranean fantasy can be successfully cited as one of the influences behind Prince Charles’s Poundbury.

CW-E was one of the breed of early twentieth century architect/planners, having an influence on Stevenage new town and the redevelopment of Weston Super Mare. He was also a prolific writer (England and the Octopus being his most important work), campaigner and conservationist. In all of this and with his links to Morris and Ruskin, to the Arts and Crafts more generally and with his legacy to be found in the careers of a number of influential neo-classical architects, Nigel successfully argued that CW-E has been an important missing link in the development of the modern heritage industry.

These observations, the quality and weight of his illustrations and his sheer hard work were all singled out by his examiners. This became something of a labour of love for Nigel and he is to be warmly congratulated on his achievement. We also hope that Nigel will be around the School for some time to come as he follows up the recommendation of his examiners to turn this into a book!

Black History Month

BHM-wordsBlack history is a subject we deal with in several modules, particularly in British and US history. However, Black History will be a theme in our blogs next month because every October Black History Month (BHM) is celebrated in the UK. BHM began originally in the USA and was instigated by an African American historian, and son of a slave, Dr. Carter G. Woodson. He established the Association for the Study of Negro (subsequently African American) Life and History in 1925 and began Negro History Week in 1926. This later changed to Negro History Month and then in 1976 became Black History Month. President Jimmy Carter gave it official recognition in 1978 and it has continued ever since. In the USA and Canada BHM is celebrated in February, the month of Abraham Lincoln’s and Frederick Douglass’s birth.

The celebration did not come to the UK until 1987 when Akyaada Addai-Sebo, a special projects worker at the GLC in London, began it. This reflected the growth in the British black population after World War II, and was also perhaps a response to some of the tensions of the 1980s. Addai-Sebbo chose October as it coincided with Marcus Garvey’s centenary – and also because it followed shortly after the start of the school year. The event was endorsed by the then mayor of London, Ken Livingstone who declared that ‘In order to further enrich the cultural diversity of the Greater London area, it is imperative that Londoners know more about African influences on medieval and renaissance European music and more about the roots of Greek music so that accepted ideas about European music is changed. Despite the significant role that Africa and its Diaspora has played in the world civilization since thebeginning of time, Africa’s contribution has been omitted or distorted in most history books’.

This was of course true in for most parts of Britain, and BHM has since become well established and spread beyond London. Intended to widen British appreciation of the historical and cultural contributions of members of the African Diaspora, it has now become a celebration of key individuals, events, and movements in black life and history and the black contributions to our history and heritage. Locally, BHM will be celebrated by a series of events – all open to the public – organised by the Cheltenham West End Partnership: details can be found here.

There is also a lecture organised by the Historical Association on “Africans in Tudor and Stuart Britain” by Dr Miranda Kaufman at 7.30 pm at Friends Meeting Hose, Greyfriars, Gloucester. Entrance is free for all members of the university. And watch our blogs on various aspects of the theme through October!

Welcome to (Old) Cheltenham!

This week, we welcome our new first years. Induction week is always an exciting time for everyone – but perhaps also a little daunting. As a way of easing our students into the facilities they enjoy here at Gloucestershire, and the ways in which they might make use of them during their studies, this year we’re asking our new students to investigate the history of the town which for many of them is a total stranger. Cheltenham’s past is all around us in so well-preserved a Regency town, so we thought we’d delve a little deeper with a visit to the FCH archive, a tour around the town, and a treasure hunt ending in a pop quiz!.

By way of introduction, here’s a great video via the excellent Twitter account, Old Cheltenham: rare footage of the town from 1910. Call it a game of spot the difference.


Competition in Socialist Society

competitioninsocialistsocietyMy latest collection of essays, co-edited with Katalin Miklossy (University of Helsinki, Finland) was published by Routledge in August. The book is one of the outcomes of a three-year international collaborative project funded by the Academy of Finland from 2010 to 2012, and supported by the University of Helsinki. The project was hosted at the Aleksanteri Institute (the Finnish Centre for Russian and East European Studies in Helsinki). Contributors to the project are based not only in Finland and the UK, but also in France, Germany and Romania.

The book examines the ways in which competitive practices, more often associated with capitalist market economies, operated in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe during the Cold War. Individual chapters look at indigenous forms of ‘socialist’ competition as well as the ways in which market strategies and ‘competition’ were adopted and adapted in the Eastern bloc countries. Contributions look at the outcomes of economic reform and modernisation strategies, and the ways in which ‘competition’ operated in the international cultural sphere during the Cold War.

My own chapter explores the Soviet-era beauty contests that took place during the years of Gorbachev’s opening of the Soviet Union to Western influences in the late 1980s. With the advent of glasnost’, there also came a series of regional and national beauty contests. The most widely publicised of these internationally was the first ‘Moscow Beauty’ contest staged in 1988, though a number of local competitions had already taken place the previous year. Before the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, three ‘Miss USSR’ winners were crowned, with competitors going on to represent the Soviet Union in, amongst others, the Miss World and Miss Universe contests.

This has been a fascinating topic for me to research, and, I’m pleased to report, it offers a great deal of scope for future development!


Crucible2, Gloucester Cathedral, and the Godly

I spent some wonderful hours on Sunday at Gloucester Cathedral, taking in the Crucible2 exhibition which is on display there until October 31st. As well as a veritable who’s who of contemporary British sculpture, it’s also a fascinating study in how art and the spaces which contain art interact – the hundred sculptures are located quite carefully throughout the cathedral’s buildings and grounds, and that makes for some really interesting juxtapositions. It was exciting both to see such artwork in the wild (Damien Hirst’s Fallen Angel, for instance, has not previously been exhibited in public), but also to see so ancient a venue energised and re-contextualised in this way.

On the other hand, one of the effects of the statues is to direct visitors’ attentions back to the cathedral itself: as you inspect the walls and the floors for pieces of art (some are fairly squirrelled away in apses and chapels), you see again the fabric of the building itself, and it was great to see people inspecting the monuments and windows of the cathedral with as much interest as they took in a Chadwick or a Lucas.

machenmonumentFor instance, my eye was drawn to the mortuary monument of three-time early modern mayor of Gloucester, Thomas Machen. Graduating from the position of Sheriff (which his father Henry had also held), Machen was mayor in 1579, 1588 and 1601. He is depicted in the monument wearing his mayoral robes and accompanied by his wife and thirteen children. What was interesting about this monument was the way in which the family were depicted: all were in pious poses and dressed in black, the colour of choice of the godly, those hotter kinds of Protestant posterity knows most popularly as the Puritans. Indeed, along with his son-in-law, Thomas Rich (who succeeded Machen as mayor), he was the leader of Gloucester’s godly faction: for instance, during the election for James I’s first parliament in 1604, Machen and Rich were arrayed against another alderman, John Jones, whom was described by Rich as being “dependent upon the bishop” – a sorry state of affairs for any self-respecting Puritan.

Machen was a merchant dealing in wheat and malt, and Puritans have long been seen as associated with the burgeoning ranks of the ‘middling sort’ in this period. He was, however, conspiciously successful: his trade was so good that he maintained a farm at Crickley (where UoG students can today enjoy a walk in the country park), purchased the substantial manor of Condicote, not far from Stow-on-the-Wold in 1599 – and had a yearly income of £400, with between £5000 and £10,000 in assets. Perhaps this explains the detail of the monument that most struck me: his family’s elaborate ruffs. These fashionable neck decorations were often condemned by godly preachers as a sign of vanity, and in my own work I consider how popular prophets and so-called ‘monstrous births’ alike were often interpreted as offering evidence of divine disfavour for the frilly fashions of the day.

So: what was a good, godly merchant like Machen doing wearing a ruff for all eternity on his sober and pious monument? We might reflect that even godly factions had their spectrums of belief and practice, or that allegiance in the period wasn’t so easy to unpick (after all, Machen was an pro-corporation candidate for the 1604 Parliament, and an anti-corporation candidate in 1614!). These are some of the themes of my third-year module on Puritanism which is set to start in the next few weeks. Such, then, are the thoughts that can come to us about the past even when we’re only a little down the road from home.

I can really recommend a visit to Gloucester in the next few months – visit the statues, and Henry Machen!

The Independence Referendum

FlagsExciting isn’t it? And of deep interest to all historians we’d hope. Just recently the expertise we have here at UoG was recognised by our local radio station (Radio Gloucestershire) when I was invited onto the breakfast show, just after 7.30am, to talk very briefly about the historical roots to the often fraught relationship between Scotland and England. Or, as the Scots put it, ‘the Auld Enemy’.

And brief it was! I was just getting into my stride, having talked about tribal warlords, territorial struggles and the fact that the border doesn’t get fixed until 1552, and was just settling down for a nice natter about the battles of Bannockburn and Flodden (James IV of Scotland becomes the last British king to be killed in battle) when my time was up! So, I guess Radio Gloucestershire’s listeners will now know that tensions between the two countries (discuss) goes back a long way but will think it all a blood and guts Horrible Histories type-story. No mention of how much benefit Empire brought to Scotland or the links between Irish and Scottish Home Rule debates. Oh well!

I guess that if people want to learn more of this then they will need to take our modules. Anna French, for instance, covers Scotland’s very important role in the British Civil Wars, Vicky Morrisroe talks about Gladstone and Home Rule, whilst Iain has a second year module which explores Scottish, Irish and Welsh history in some depth!

Gloucestershire Historical Association 2014-15


A new academic year is upon us, and that also means a new round of fascinating talks from the Gloucestershire Historical Association. Topics include Africans in Tudor and Stuart Britain, the Napoleonic Prussian General Marshal Blucher, pilgrimage in Spain and William Gladstone. There are plenty more besides, so do download the programme – this year, all meetings are taking place on University grounds, at Park Campus, so we’ll see you there!


This blog provides a forum for the students and staff of History at the University of Gloucestershire. Here, we’ll post news on our teaching, student experiences, research, publications, resources, events, and anything else even remotely connected to studying history at Gloucestershire.

There are also short bios of our teaching staff, along with some contact details, and a whole bunch of useful links. Enjoy, and please don’t hesitate to leave a comment!


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