2019 saw the start of ten AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Awards – PhD projects in which students and partner organisations work together on a piece of applied research that will have immediate impact. The PhD experience these projects offer is very different from normal, bringing their own opportunities and challenges. In this series we hope to celebrate the early experiences of the students undertaking this collaborative and dynamic research.
This blog series will be regularly updated throughout the spring of 2020.
COUNCIL FOR BRITISH ARCHAEOLOGY
Department of English and Related Literature, University of York
My CDA explores manuscript material and print ephemera penned by aristocratic and gentry women at Georgian National Trust properties. I consider these documents alongside the eighteenth century’s vibrant culture of letters, including epistolary fiction and property novels. The National Trust works to conserve and protect landscapes and buildings across the British Isles and most importantly to ensure that these beautiful places are open for everyone to enjoy; 2020 marks 125 years since the charity was founded meaning that it’s an exciting year to work alongside them. Over the course of my CDA, I will work closely with the Trust’s research team in order to support their current outreach programmes, such as the legacy of the 2018 national project surrounding “Women and Power” and future exhibitions. The Trust supports various research projects ranging from historical and conservational to scientific and ecological; I have found their research department to be a dynamic and varied group, promoting a range of fascinating projects. Having grown up visiting various National Trust properties up and down the country, it feels a bit surreal being given the opportunity to work with them – particularly on an area of history I am passionate about!
My research mainly explores country houses in the north of England and, while I’m still in the early stages, this currently includes Beningbrough Hall just outside of York, Nostell Priory in Wakefield, Dunham Massey in Greater Manchester and the house at Quarry Bank Mill in Cheshire. Something I have found interesting about these houses so far is the variety of different stories they illuminate. Hannah Greg, the wife of millowner Samuel Greg at Quarry Bank, provides poignant insights into the pressures of marrying into an industrial and gentry family: Greg used written accounts in order to negotiate these burdens and combat the isolation that came with married life. Dunham Massey housed two Mary Booths, mother and daughter, whose lives were both dominated by the controlling George Booth, 2nd Earl of Warrington. Manuscript evidence here reveals how the mother’s life differed dramatically from that of her daughter, distinctions of which are communicated through notes in estate ledgers and letters. The 5th Baronet of Nostell Priory Sir Rowland Winn married Swiss heiress Sabine. This case provides not only an insight into how Sabine’s writing was fundamental to shaping her own identity as a foreign wife at a country seat in Yorkshire, but also an interesting perspective on how she was welcomed (or not) by family members that remained living at Nostell, such as Rowland’s sisters. This selection of National Trust properties, therefore, provides a varied approach to the study of eighteenth-century print ephemera and manuscripts created by and about women.
Not only do I get to spend time exploring the archives of these fascinating women, I also get to spend time at the beautiful National Trust properties where they lived. The impressive conservation work operating within the National Trust has meant that I have been able to add extant connections to my research. Beningbrough Hall has proven particularly fruitful in this context. The architecture of the hall, for example, physically embodies the stories of the people who resided there: the current eighteenth-century house incorporates elements from the family’s old residence, including an intriguing series of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century portraits embedded into the panelling of the new house. This has not only provided a tangible connection to the manuscript lives I explore, but it also creates the potential for outreach collaboration with the National Trust that will offer public programming based on my research findings.
These tangible connections between National Trust properties have proven to be particularly relevant within the specific research that I’m currently undertaking. This broadly explores the country house guidebook. Heritage tourism is not a new phenomenon and saw growing popularity in the eighteenth century. The print and manuscript traces that remain today provide interesting insights into how these houses were toured in the eighteenth century. Eighteenth-century tourists were eager to comment on the collection the house offered from paintings to architecture; they noted the practicality of the terrain, whether there was anywhere to stay close by and the length of the journey in relation to other amenities. A select few even expected refreshments upon arrival. Their experiences and expectations are not too distant from the current work of the National Trust, wherein modern-day visitors are invited to explore these houses in the same way that tourists did in the eighteenth century. Here then, the input of my external partner is not only vital to maintaining the relevance of my research, but it also provides a tangible connection between practices found in the eighteenth century and those that are currently still employed. While I’m still in the very early stages of my PhD journey, the National Trust have provided a dynamic and inspiring input into my research and I’m very much looking forward to what is yet to come!
To find out more about Katie and her PhD project, ‘Paper Traces: Women’s Stories, Ephemeral Texts and Hidden Objects‘, visit the WRoCAH Research pages.