Bramall Hall and birthday celebrations

I’ve had a pretty varied past month, and managed to get a good amount of work done on various projects, although they all have a long way to go until completion. This is decent going really as I’ve also lost a few days work to stinking hangovers (I have valid excuses for this, namely the General Election and my birthday weekend), so I’m hoping to simultaneously up my productivity and reduce my average blood alcohol level for a few weeks.

I spent two days in Chester at the beginning of May, conducting research at the Cheshire Records Office into the history of Bramall Hall and Estate. This is part of a new role via the University as a Researcher in Residence at Bramall Hall, a Tudor mansion house and tourist attraction in Stockport. The Hall is due to open in May next year after a £2m investment and refurbishment, and myself and two other Manchester PhD students have received roles in researching the history of the Hall and its residents for visitor interpretation information and exhibits. My job is to create the content and design brief for 2 interactive public exhibits for the visitor centre, so I spent my two days ploughing through boxes upon boxes of original contracts, charters, inventories, court records, and diaries dating from the 13th to 19th centuries, identifying possible sources of information for the exhibits.

I’ve included two photographs of items from the manuscript collection, dating to the time of the English Civil War. The Lord of Bramall at the time, William Davenport VI kept a diary of his rather torrid Civil War experiences. First, his tenants wrote to him to inform him that they were enlisting with the Parliamentarians (he was a Royalist). Then three different armies (2 Roundhead, 1 Cavalier) turned up at the Hall, demanded food and lodging and made off with William’s horses. After the war, William was fined £900 for ‘Delinquency’ to Parliament and ended up in heavy debt.

The project is a great way to get involved in public history and local heritage, as well as getting to handle some unique and gorgeous documents. The nice knowledge about the project is that, after 3 or 4 years writing a PhD thesis, maybe a handful of people will ever read it, but you know that hundreds if not thousands of people will use and (hopefully) enjoy the interactive exhibits at Bramall.

Matt - manuscript 1 Matt - manuscript

My two days in Chester were a nice interlude from the normal day-to-day PhD grind, which resumed in earnest after my return. Even on this front however, there was another distraction in the form of Manchester’s annual Postgraduate Conference in American Studies. It was a really interesting day of presentations from a range of researchers from Manchester and a number of other universities, with social, labour, and political historians, as well as scholars of culture and literature. I gave a paper based on a chapter I am currently writing, which was the first academic paper I’d ever delivered. Thankfully, it seemed to go well, and everybody was very encouraging. Luckily, I was on first, which meant I had little time to worry and could then just relax for the rest of the day and enjoy everyone else’s presentations. There was also a very pleasing buffet lunch on offer in the afternoon, and I made sure that food wastage was kept to a minimum.

I decided to have my birthday party at the Squirrels (Student) Bar on the Fallowfield Campus, thinking that it would be a nice idea for my friends as they could enjoy the cheapness of the drinks, and commend me for my excellent party planning. I miscalculated somewhat, however, as most attendees seemed to find a not insubstantial amount of glee from plying me with 50p-a-shot of sambuca at ten minute intervals all evening. As I said earlier, a number of days work have been lost this month.


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