Leicester and Richard III

Saturday began our last full day in England, and we caught the train to Leicester on the way back to London so I could see my favorite monarch of English/British history: Richard III. If you follow my Instagram you may have seen my epic r3 Halloween costume, and if you’re on Twitter, you’ll know fake r3chard has retweeted me like 3 times now. We’re basically best internet friends.

Mom and I got into Leicester and decided to try to find a place to leave our luggage. If anyone is looking for a lucrative business to open: start a found luggage in Leicester. We carried our giant bags all over the town with no luck. The Visitors Center couldn’t help us; the museum couldn’t store bags for insurance reasons (fair). We had already bought our tickets, I was tired and hangry, and nothing was going our way. My mom, saint that she is, decided to hole up in a café with tea and cake and babysit our bags while I went to the museum. Not ideal, but at least I got to see what there was to see.

The Richard III Visitor Center is built around the archaeological site where in 2012, archaeologists found the remains of the last Plantagenet. The archaeological story itself is fascinating, because it is not at all usual for an archaeological investigation to find exactly what it is looking for on the first try; but that’s just what happened in this case. There is a Smithsonian documentary all about the discovery available on YouTube here.

The visitor begins in a display about the history of the War of the Roses, family lines, and the reasons for the turmoil that surrounded Richard III’s reign. From there, you travel through the War of the Roses, RIII’s short reign, and his burial at Grey Friar’s Priory. Heading upstairs, visitors encounter a display that discusses the portrayals of Richard as a villain throughout popular culture, from Shakespeare to the recent Benedict Cumberbatch portrayal.

Next, the display walks the visitor through the entire story of the dig from its beginning through to the discovery and analysis of the Richard’s remains. This was great! The timeline included artifacts from the dig, video interviews with the archaeologists and others involved in the venture, and diagrams. The exhibit then represents scientists’ analysis of Richard’s bones through medical testing and forensic recreations. One controversy was that of Richard’s scoliosis; many proponents of R3 have relegated the story of the hunchback king to a tale made up by Shakespeare and other detractors to vilify and lessen the monarch in some way.  When the skeleton was uncovered, it was obvious that the scoliosis was a fact after all.

The visitor center experience ends with a visit to the site where the bones were found in the parking lot that used to house the church. The websitedescribes it as, “the site of King Richard’s burial, preserved in a quiet, respectful setting and with a contemplative atmosphere, fitting for the last resting place of a slain warrior and anointed monarch.” The room is quiet and simple, and a hologram shows where the bones were found within the unit. The volunteer in the room when I visited was incredibly knowledgeable and helpful, pointing out features in the dig that helped to date the remains.

Across the courtyard from the visitor center stand Leicester Cathedral, where the remains of Richard are interred. The church also has a display about Richard and his discovery and subsequent reburial (and a giftshop, too!).

Behind the church another gem is hidden: The Guildhouse. This is a medieval timbered building dating back to 1390 in its oldest part. The architecture and features throughout are gorgeous, from the soaring timbered ceiling to the mantels to the upstairs library. The site is also supposed to be one of the most haunted buildings in Britain, as the helpful museum employee told me as I walked through the building on my own. I managed to scare myself nearly to death when I looked into an old jail cell and saw a mannequin in the darkness.

Through hordes of football fans on their way to a match, we made our way back to the train station and headed back to London, content with our few days in Yorkshire and our day in Leciester. We were back to London for one more night, a classy McDonald’s dinner, and a trip to the Sainsbury for a literal duffel bag full of candies and presents (yet I still managed to forget a can of treacle). Mom and I made it back to South Carolina with no issues, and are already planning our next trip together!

York, UK: Harry Potter, Chocolate, and Richard III

sdfg.jpgYork and our journey there was a study in all of my favorite things: Harry Potter, train travel, that famous glorious son of York, chocolate, tea, and gorgeous architecture. We started our day with time to spare at Kings Cross so we could visit Platform 9 ¾, the start of one’s journey to Hogwarts. My mom and I started reading the Harry Potter books when I was a sophomore in high school, and we loved them and shared them throughout my time in college. Mom is a textbook Hufflepuff, while I am a stalwart Syltherin. How the two biggest hufflepuffs to ever hufflepuff created a Slytherin is anyone’s guess.  Anyway. Platform 9 ¾ was everything we hoped it would be, and the photographers in the line that day were superb and so fun. Even though they made me hold Voldy’s wand since I’m a Slytherin. Obviously we bought all 4 photos, and I got my mom some Hedwig souvenirs, because it was her birthday!

20180905_141107-01Then we hopped on the train and headed north to Yorkshire, home of my boy Richard III. Once we got to York, we dropped off our bags and headed into the ancient town. We started with tea at Earl Grey’s in the Shambles, which was delicious and perfect. I couldn’t finish my caramel cake, but the treats were superb. We wandered around the Shambles and downtown, then headed into York’s Chocolate Story to purchase our tickets.

20180905_141728York has a great history of chocolate and candy making, which automatically puts it high up on my list of favorite places. York’s Chocolate Story is a great example of the interactive, technological, and innovative types of exhibits that money can buy. All tours are fully guided and seem to be heavily scripted, but our guide was a delight. The tour starts with a ride in the elevator to the top floor where you enter a recreated street scene from York’s past.  We had an opportunity to taste chocolate made from one of York’s earliest recipes, and it wasn’t half bad. From there, we headed into a multimedia experience to tell the story of the discovery of cacao beans in the South American rainforests (without glossing over colonialism and the horrors the invaders brought with them). Then we learned about the families of York who founded candy and chocolate making empires in Yorkshire through a multimedia presentation. The next part was the best, though…

20180905_152047On the first floor there is a recreated chocolate factory, where visitors learn the entire process of creating consumable chocolates from processing to wrapping. We tried our hand at tasting the many flavors in chocolate and learned about the science of chocolate as well. Next, we got to decorate our own chocolate lollies! Chocolatiers were also on hand to show the process of making candies and truffles from the chocolate, and of course we got to taste, as well. I’m only sad that we had just had a large tea before our tour. We exited through the gift shop, as per usual, and brought home many treats for our friends and families (and ourselves). This museum really did have it all from multimedia displays, to sensory experiences, to the best possible interactives. I highly recommend it, even though it is totally touristy. We decided to walk off our chocolate and tea for the rest of the afternoon, and we saw all the major sites such as the York Minster church, the York walls, the Norman Clifford’s Tower, and even a pub named for r3.

20180905_161838We headed to our guesthouse and I got mom settled in, and I headed back out for a pub game night with the Death and Culture Net folks at the Eagle and Child. I knew I was in the right place when I walked in and heard people asking, “Are you here for death??” I didn’t end up playing any games, but I met all kinds of people from all over the world working broadly with death; Maggie, a doula and activist from the Bay area, Ruth from York who studies sociological aspects of death and criminology, Janieke from the Netherlands who studies funereal music… and so many more. My next will be all about DacNet, so tune in next time for more!

Café In the Crypt and The Roman Dead @ Museum of London: Docklands

IMG_20180904_133032_729From the British Museum, mom and I headed back to Trafalgar Square to finally visit the Café in the Crypt at St. Martin’s in the Field. I previously visited the café on my New Years trip to London and loved it. The café is located, as the name implies, in the old crypt of the church. The space and all of its associations truly deserve a blog all their own on death tourism and dark histories. Tables are located on top of grave stones and the crypt is surrounded by memento mori and memorial stones. Income from the café helps fund preservation and outreach programs at the church. When I told my students about this café, they were horrified at the thought of eating on graves and saw it as disrespectful, yet they were all about some ghost tours… as I said, lots more for another blog. All in all, the cafe made a mean scone and pot of tea, and the cakes looked to die for (lol see what I did there?).20180904_151621

We ubered on over to the East Side of London, which I was visiting for the first time, to the Museum of London: Docklands to see the Roman Dead exhibit that I had been looking forward to for months. The museum is located in the industrialized docks of the East End on Canary Wharf and the Isle of Dogs. The landscape is an interesting mix of industrial, commercial, and new sleek business buildings along the high-tech docks.  As a huge fan of Call the Midwife, set in this area of London, it was a bit shocking to see modern Poplar compared to 1950s and 1960s Poplar of the TV show.

DSC03390~2Our welcome at the museum was superb, and the FOH staff member we spoke with was a graduate of UNC, just a few hours from home; small world! We first went to see the Roman Dead exhibit before exploring the rest of this excellent museum. According to their website,  “Last year, a Roman sarcophagus was found near to Harper Road in Southwark. What does this unique find tells us about the ancient city that 8 million people now call home? We’ve displayed the sarcophagus alongside the skeletons and cremated remains of 28 Roman Londoners found during archaeological excavations of ancient cemeteries. The exhibition also features over 200 objects from burials in Roman London, exploring how people dealt with death in Londinium. Many items were brought here from across the Empire, showing the extent of London’s international connections, even at this early time in its history.”DSC03401~2

The exhibit also, “uses these grave goods and the results of scientific analysis of ancient Londoners’ skeletons to explore who Roman Londoners were, and show the surprising diversity of the ancient city.”One of the coolest aspects is an online interactive display available here: “Take a closer look at the exhibition’s most fascinating objects by exploring our interactive display.”

DSC03405~2I loved this exhibit. From the warning at the beginning about he display of human remains, to the treatment and interpretation of remains and funerary objects including cremated remains, full skeletons, childrens’ remains, and even animal and pet remains.

One of the best parts was the diversity (sex , age, and race/ethnicity) of these skeletons, all found in London from the Roman periods of history.   The museum did a great job of connecting the diverse history of London to its current status as one of the most diverse cities in Europe. Additionally, the connection between people 2000 years ago to modern people was presented with ease; people cared about their pets as family members, were sometimes buried with treasured belongings, and worried about the afterlife and what comes next, in many of the same ways that people do today.

DSC03393~2Soft lighting, quiet space, and layout of the exhibit seemed respectful and somber as was fitting for a room full of human remains. The interpretation of these people and their funerary objects, as well as the context of Roman Britain was explained well through text panels and multimedia displays. While I was in the exhibit, several families with children came through, and the children all seemed very engaged by the video, and also the remains themselves.

There were interactives, multimedia, opportunities to find more information, and all the things that make a modern museum exhibit great. I can’t say enough good things about it, and I’m only sad to report that it closed in October of 2018.

DSC03411After some time spent with the dead Romans, I had some time to visit the rest of the Docklands museum to learn the history of the area and people of the East End. This museum is awesome. Not only is it housed in a historic building that shows the connection of the location to industry and the local communities, but they have some very progressive interpretation (especially on colonialism and a surprisingly critical view of the UK’s role in the slave trade) and great interactive opportunities.

20180904_155650One of my favorite parts was the hamster-wheel like recreation of a pulley system from ye olde dockland days (see the photo my mom captured here), and the recreation of a London dock street, “Sailortown” was way too much fun. There were also myriad opportunities for children to play and learn throughout the museum from dress-up corners, to a mining set-up, and interactive recreated living spaces from throughout the decades. I started to get museum fatigue towards the end of our visit, but I really plan to make it back here for another visit on my next trip to London (and the regular Museum of London, too!). From the museum, mom and I headed back to Covent Garden where we ended the night with the traditional cheeky Nandos chicken and British television.

Next: Platform 9 ¾, York, York’s Chocolate Story, and more!

British Museum 2.0

DSC03355~2I’ve often said since my first trip that I didn’t love the British Museum, much to the surprise of everyone who knows me and loves museums. I said in a previous post from 2014 that: “I’ve recently come to realize that I just don’t love huge museums.  I didn’t really like the Met, I really didn’t like the Tate, and the Natural History Museum in NYC was just ok for me.  Why is this?  I’m a museum person! I’m still thinking it all out, but I think it might have to do with the exhaustion of vacation, the sheer size of the places, my feeling that I NEED to see everything, and the amount of people there.  Also, they seem like spaces for rich, old, white people most of the time.  It’s kind of like that feeling I get sometimes at big parties, where I’d rather talk to the wait staff.  Maybe I’ve just built them up so big for so many years that they couldn’t possibly live up to the hype in my mind.”

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Me with my girl Sekhmet; best of the Egyptian pantheon

My second trip in September 2018 was much better. I went in this time with a goal to see the Egyptian and Greek sections, the Sutton Hoo, all the bodies I could, and enough to give my mom a good sense of the museum. My mom was an excellent sport, playing along every time I started in with, “Did you know…” as we traveled through ancient world history. We saw the Assyrian reliefs, including what we decided is probably the first recorded dog blep (good catch, mom!), Rosetta stone, a bevy of Sekhmets, a small bit of the Parthenon Marbles, one of the best papyri representing the Egyptian afterlife, and the Paulos/Saulos spoons of the Sutton Hoo. So many amazing things.

DSC03312~2My main goal in this visit was to examine the display of human remains in the museum. Throughout the Egyptian section, the human remains of mummies and Predynastic skeletal burials abound. One section explored diet and daily life through human remains from dentition to bone structure. The typical wrapped Egyptian mummies were on full display, mummified remains out of wrappings, and skeletal remains from children and adults serve to show changes over time and by class or age or diet or a myriad of other things. Since only about 1% of the British Museum’s collection is on display, I wonder about the variety of individuals not on display. Their catalog lists the various human remains on their website: from cremated remains to hair to mummies and skeletons the variety is endless.

DSC03332~2One of the most interesting interactives that was new to me on this visit was the “autopsy table” for 5,500 year old “Gebelein Man A.” This was an interesting look inside the mummy, and the exhibit gives visitors a chance to investigate the scientific information gleaned from research on the mummy over the past few years. Signage throughout the area explained the scientific value of researching this body, and new evidence shows that Gebelein Man A has some of the oldest tattoos ever found preserved on human skin.

DSC03342~2Moving on from the Egyptian section, I found other remains in the Neolithic Britain area of the museum. A recreation of a burial from Stonehenge was on full display in the room, and around a corner I found “Lindow Man”, one of the famous bog bodies found throughout Northwest Europe. The contrast between the display of local remains in the National Museum of Ireland and those of England offer an interesting contrast. In Ireland, the bodies are displayed in small, private, quiet, and softly lift areas for each body. In England, Lindow Man was tucked around a corner, not in full view, but seemingly stuck amongst the rest of the detritus of the Neolithic and early Bronze Age. I have more thoughts on this that I am still fully fleshing (lol) out.

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my “well actually” historian face

After a few hours of jetting through to see as much as possible, and buying all of the tea towels in the shop, my general thoughts on the British Museum remain, “…thrilling to see, and … a testament to colonial conquests,” but I am happy I got to revisit, and I hope to be back again soon!

Next up: more human remains at the Museum of London: Docklands Roman Dead exhibit and some death tourism at the Café in the Crypt in St. Martin’s-in-the-Field in Trafalgar.

Fall 2017 Student Blog: Museums and the Male Gaze

This is the seventh in a series of Tuesday re-blogs of my student work from our HIST395 course. Please enjoy these blogs written by Coastal Carolina University students.

This blog is by student Javon Blain about Women’s Museums and the Male Gaze. 

By Javon Blain Around the world there are museums dedicated to almost everything. You have the Air and Space Museum, the African-American History Museum, the Holocaust Museum, and many others. These museums are very beneficial and it can teach everyone at least one thing about the past and present. This blog will focus on women’s […]

via Women’s Museum and the Male Gaze — Journey into Public History

Fall 2017 Student Blog: Museum Management

This is the third in a series of Tuesday re-blogs of my student work from our HIST395 course. Please enjoy these blogs written by Coastal Carolina University students.

This blog is by student Morgan Condrey about the organizational structure of museums.

By Morgan Condrey When you walk into a museum or historic house you always note the cleanliness as well how everything is in a specific order or place. Both are known for their attention to detail in regards to both the exhibits as well as the official structure of the operations. So what keeps […]

via The Structure & Organization of Museums and Historic Houses — Journey into Public History

Kilmainham Gaol: Tragic Tales & Purposeful Preservation

 

Our entrance into Kilmainham Gaol

Our entrance into Kilmainham Gaol

On our first full day in Dublin, after a long walk through the city in the rain, we ended up at the forbidding Heritage Ireland site, Kilmainham Gaol. We walked through the gates and into the castle-like structure, and we were thrilled to have made it in time for the next tour.  We still had plenty of time to warm up, dry off, and visit the museum before our guided tour began.

The museum was fantastic, and surpassed only by that feeling one gets while walking in the exact space where history happened.  There were several interactives, artifacts, videos, and images to tell the story of the Gaol as a prelude to the tour.  One of the most impactful displays was that of a log book that dated to the time of the Great Famine; in the book, names were recorded with an offense, as well as the punishment incurred.  Men, women, or children who stole even a loaf of bread were subject to imprisonment or even disfigurement in some cases.  Rioting or horse theivery brought on even harsher punishments.  BEcause of the famine, cells became overcrowded, and often cells designed for 1 person housed 5.

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“Beware the risen people…”

The Kilmainham Gaol has a horrific and tragic history.  The oldest section opened in 1796, and windows contained no glass and there was no other lighting within the prison. This made for a dark, damp, and cold abode for those imprisoned there, especially since a prisoner was only given one small candle every two weeks.  The people who called the prison “home” for any amount of time really tell the story of the Gaol, and Ireland as a whole.  Political prisoners, often designated as such by English soldiers,  were some of the most notable prisoners, with the first detained in 1796 when the Gaol was just opened.

Cells along the older section of the gaol.

Cells along the older section of the gaol.

Robert Emmet was another early political prisoner, along with his housekeeper, Anne Devlin. Emmet was executed for treason, but Anne’s story was possibly even sadder than his death.  Anne’s story has stayed with me even now, and I would love to learn more about it.  Essentially, Anne was jailed for carrying information for Emmet’s uprising in the early 1800s.  She was imprisoned in one of these tiny, dark, damp cells and questioned endlessly for the information she had.  She did not give any of the other conspirators up, and eventually she was released.  However, not only did they imprison Anne, they also put her younger brother and many other family members in jail to try to influence her tongue.  Her brother fell victim to disease from the open sewers, and died in the jail.  Even after Anne was released, the police followed her, and she was unable to hold a steady job due to their harassment.  She died alone and without much of anything because of this.  All for the cause of Irish Independence (Éirinn go Brách!).

As we walked through the gaol, already feeling cold and damp from our walk, the walls of prison did nothing to put us at ease or comfort.  I think that this really impacted the tour as a whole, since we saw the dark and felt the cold, much like prisoners would at that time.  Especially in the older sections of the jail, where many of the political prisoners were held. This again proves that, though you may be able to see so many things online and have a virtual experience, there is something about being IN the historic space, where you can TOUCH the history, and FEEL the atmosphere.  This also calls for accessibility for all, to bring this back to my larger research projects.

The beautiful Victorian Wing

The beautiful Victorian Wing

Once we got to the Victorian Wing, the brightness and relative warmth, and much larger jail cells felt a bit better in contrast to the cold, dark, cramped cells in the older section.  As part of reforms, this section was built to truly transform prisoners to change their ways through the light and through meaningful work.  The gaol was closed in 1910, for a period of time…

The site of execution for many of the "rebels" of the uprisings, less than 100 years ago.

The site of execution for many of the “rebels” of the uprisings, less than 100 years ago.

The tour ended on a sad note, and with some of the most recent history of the Gaol. Less than 100 years ago, after the 1916 Uprising, the gaol reopened to house the hundreds of men and women accused of participating in and conspiring for the revolt.  Our last stop on the tour was the stone breaking yard, where sixteen prisoners were executed following the uprising.  All were killed by firing squad, and one, James Connolly, was so injured that he had to be tied to a chair then shot by the firing squad. All 16 were then dumped in a mass grave.  The outcry from this led, along with a lot more fighting and struggle, to the eventual creation of the Republic of Ireland.

Also interesting at the Gaol, and relevant to my current job, is the story of the Preservation of the Gaol. One of the last prisoners was future President, Eamon de Valera. After the prisoners were released and independence gained, the Gaol fell into disrepair.  The Kilmainham Gaol Restoration Committee was established in 1960 to create a museum and monument to Irish nationalism.  Kilmainham’s museum had a great exhibit about this grassroots restoration project.

Overall, I would absolutely recommend this tour to anyone who wants to understand the history of the Republic of Ireland and the Irish people.  When I recently asked Charles to reflect on our time there he explained that to him, too, it, “felt personal, like a holding spot for people already condemned, overwhelming.  You could really feel the atrocities that occurred there; it was just dank and claustrophobic.”

Truth.  Another spot where you can truly feel the history.

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