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Archive for the ‘Heritage’ Category

Panel from “Box 19008”, by Ulf Jansson (Epix, 1986-1992)

I’ve just spent a very enjoyable ten days working on heritage comics with a team from Malmö University and Malmö Museum, hosted by the Ystad Konstmuseum and the Klostrets i Ystad Museum. The project was organised by Gunnar Krantz and Jakob Dittmar at Malmö University, as part of an overarching series on different kinds of storytelling in comics. The programme brought gave me a chance to talk with museum curators and exhibition designers, specialists in visual communication, comics researchers and even Swedish cartoonists and comics creators about the Oswestry Heritage Comics project. The objective was to demonstrate how comics about local heritage can be used to talk about the past in a different kind of way – a way that combines facts and information about the past with discussion of things like identity, memory, and the meaning and importance of place. Malmö has a particularly active and vibrant comics community, so it was a great privilege to meet comics artists like Karolina Bång and Gunnar and work with them on a whole range of heritage and comics ideas. It’s extremely exciting to see the Oswestry Heritage Comics inspiring both comics artists and museum/heritage organisations to look more seriously at the use of comics as a tool for interpreting and presenting the past.

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Oswestry Heritage Comics II - week 52Well, the Oswestry Heritage Comics have finished – at least, for the moment. The final comic was printed in the paper a fortnight ago, thanking everyone who helped make the project a success – those who helped administrate it, those who contributed research and information to the comics, and, no least, those who read and enjoyed the series.

But, as I say, the project is not quite over. In September, for Heritage Open Days, the Advertizer will feature a pull-out map of Oswestry, with a town trail based on the comics. We will also be putting out a guidebook to the town trail, which we will be giving out at a stall on the Bailey during the Heritage Open Days weekend. In December, the collected book of the Oswestry Heritage Comics will be published – and we’ll have a special launch event at Qube (and maybe also at the Town Museum). Also in December, I’ll be putting on a session at the Theoretical Archaeology Group conference in Chester on comics and community, hopefully drawing together (yeah, pun intended…) a wide range of artists, archaeologists, comics-creators and illustrators who have all used comics and narrative graphics in a range of community-based projects to do with archaeology, anthropology, heritage and memory.

And, of course, the stories in the comics continue. Simon Jarman will be showing his Soyer stoves at the Wilfred Owen festival in November; Mark and Rachel are continuing to excavate their garden – in order to build a patio and rockery, but also in the hopes of finding more clues about the stone they found there last summer; Diana is continuing to investigate the full story behind her Grandfather’s WWI internment; and I’m meeting Barbara Molesworth later this month to find out more about the work of Rev. William Walsham How, and his documentation of Whittington’s wild heritage.

Some of these follow-on stories will be turned into new comics, which will be included in the collected book published in December. I’ll also use the book as an opportunity to include some stories that didn’t make it into the newspaper series: about the Oswestry antiquarian and suspected spy Edward Llywd, about Old Oswestry’s mythological connections to Queen Guinevere and Arthurian legend, and the way Oswestry writers and artists are continuing to find inspiration in the town’s history, archaeology and heritage.

So, although this summer I’ll be embarking on new and different archaeology and comics projects, the Oswestry Heritage Comics project will continue in the background!


The Oswestry Heritage Comics have been a year-long series of weekly newspaper comic strips about the archaeology, history and heritage of the area around Oswestry, Shropshire in the UK. The comics were published in the Oswestry and Border Counties Advertizer every Tuesday, and on Facebook. The project was supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

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Oswestry Heritage Comics II - week 50Grab your sonic screwdriver and look out for Morlocks – this week the Oswestry Heritage Comics heads to history’s final frontier: the Future!

We always think of heritage as being about looking back – looking to the past, to the things from yesterday that have survived until today. But heritage is also about the future – because one day “today” will be “yesterday”. We’ve looked back hundreds, thousands – sometimes millions – of years into the past in these comics, and looked at things that have survived from those distant times to our present day, and what they now mean to us. But things which we now think of as “heritage” – as old and even ancient, like stone tools or hill forts – were once new. Once upon a time, stone axes were revolutionary technology, and changed the lives of people who used them even more profoundly than the internet has for us today. Once upon a time, hill forts were ordinary places as central to people’s lives as supermarkets, banks or football stadiums are for us today.

So part of thinking about heritage is thinking about what things from today might become the heritage of tomorrow; things we regard as revolutionary or commonplace today that will become mysterious and ancient to the people of tomorrow. This kind of heritage thought-experiment can be great fun – will our descendants have any idea what money, cars or mobile phones really meant to us? But it’s also a very serious way to try and understand what things like stone axes, hill forts or even railways meant to people when those things were new or commonplace. Thinking about the way our lives and our material culture might be understood (or misunderstood) in the future can show us how we might better understand (or be in danger of misunderstanding) the lives and material culture of the past. If only half of the things in your house survived into the future, would people really understand the way you lived in 2018? What if only one thing survived?

Next time you’re in a museum, have a look around you – not at the exhibits, but at the ordinary things which we all take for granted today: mobile phones, prams, sunglasses… What might those things look like in the Museum of Tomorrow?

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Oswestry Heritage Comics II - week 49It was a great pleasure to meet John Pryce-Jones earlier this year – Oswestry’s foremost local historian. He’s the author of a number of books on the history of the town, all of which I’ve used extensively in my research for this series. His clear and precise way of writing, and the way he organises dense historical facts and figures into related themes has influenced the way in which I have written the Oswestry Heritage Comics.

John’s been writing about Oswestry for a long time, and draws both on depth and breadth of experience when it comes to writing about local history. Here he is talking about that process in his own words:

How did you start writing about Oswestry’s history?

I had graduated from Exeter University (where I had studied History) and found myself back in Oswestry at that time without a job.  This was in 1977.  I spent some of my spare time in the library and discovered the wonderful local studies collection, starting with standard works such as Watkin’s Oswestry and Cathrall’s History, and working through the collection of Kelly’s Directories with their lists of shops, tradespeople and pubs, and the miscellany to be found in Bye-Gones.  I drafted a longish piece on Oswestry’s pubs and offered it to the Advertizer and was pleasantly surprised when the editor Dai Lewis published it – and then asked if I had anything else.

Your research has been pretty extensive – has anything surprised you? Anything about Oswestry’s history that really made you say: Wow – I didn’t expect that!

Coming across images of the parish church, and Oswestry Castle, from Tudor times, at the National Library of Wales. 

When I first learned of the prisoners of war who were lodged in Oswestry during the Napoleonic Wars – men from France, but also from the Netherlands, Spain and Poland.  Also finding a large collection of models carved from animal bones by prisoners in Oswestry, on display in a museum in Peterborough. 

And the vivid eye witness accounts of life in Oswestry in Tudor and Stuart times to be found in the records of Star Chamber, including fierce disagreements over the make-up of the local council, between the vicar Nathaniel Tattersall and his parish, and between Edward Lloyd of Llwynymaen and almost everyone he came into contact with.

Is there an aspect of Oswestry’s history that seems neglected or under-appreciated to you? If there is, why do you think it’s been passed over?

I have believed so a long time that Oswestry’s place on the edge of things – on the fringe of Shropshire, over the border from modern Wales – has meant that it is often neglected in works on Shropshire, or on Wales.  Here in Oswestry we know the part we have played in Anglo-Welsh conflicts, in the wool trade and the railways, for instance, and the recent excavations on the Castle Bank are making people appreciate the importance of our castle.  It is puzzling how little is made of our 18th century history, and of the two hundred years between the Civil War and the coming of the railways – plenty of records exist for these years, there are many attractive buildings from this time, and a lot went on in the town at this time – perhaps the reason it’s largely neglected is because there wasn’t a single game changing event or development, instead it was incremental change. 

Any advice for people interested in local history? Any advice for someone keen to do research?

Spend time at Oswestry Library and get to know the resources available in its local collection. 

These days there is much that is available via the internet, including details of records for Oswestry that are held by the National Archives at Kew, the National Library of Wales at Aberystwyth and the British Library, as well as our own Town Council Archives, and local library collections.  That said, the records themselves must still be consulted by the traditional method – by visiting libraries and archives, and spending time working through a surprisingly large number of documents – some dating right back to the 13th century.  Don’t limit yourself to what you can find online by a Google search – and question what you find there – there is much that is helpful, but there is much that is not.

Don’t limit yourself to the well-trodden paths – though there are often new angles to explore with the better-known themes.  Take a theme from history generally – one that interests you – and see what can be found out about it at a local level.


The Oswestry Heritage Comics are a year-long series of weekly newspaper comic strips about the archaeology, history and heritage of the area around Oswestry, Shropshire in the UK. The comics are published in the Oswestry and Border Counties Advertizer every Tuesday, and on Facebook. The project is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

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Oswestry Heritage Comics II - week 48You don’t have to be an expert or a heritage professional to help take care of local heritage. Often it’s common-sense “do-s and don’t-s” that have the biggest impact. While everyone wants to be able to enjoy heritage places, it’s easy to forget that these sites and monuments can often be fragile, vulnerable environments – particularly if you consider the heritage to include not just the archaeology or the historical significance, but the wildlife and the setting as well.

This has been an issue up on Old Oswestry Hillfort, for example. While everyone is delighted that the hillfort features so prominently in many people’s daily routine – going for a walk, taking the dogs out, heading up there with friends and visitors – the impact of a few thoughtless people on such a place can be significant. Don’t Litter and Pick Up Your Dog Mess are common-sense courtesies everywhere – but it’s surprising how many people seem to think that somehow places that are green and open are exempt. They’re not. The dog waste on the hillfort stops kids from exploring and playing on the mound, leaches into the ponds and alters the soil chemistry, threatening the native plants and newts; litter makes the place look distinctly uninviting. Not so many years ago, when the hillfort was less-loved than it is now, I remember seeing bags of rubbish fly-tipped by the entrance.

Erosion is another issue. Walking, running, taking the dog out, playing on the ramparts – none of this does much damage to the ancient earthwork. But bike-riding in particular loosens the topsoil, kills off the plant-covering, and precipitates extremely damaging erosion to both the paths and the monument itself.

Oswestry and the Borderlands are lucky to have a number of really important earthwork monuments: Old Oswestry Hillfort, Offa’s Dyke and Wat’s Dyke. They are great places to enjoy – whether as a visitor or a local; a walker or a bird-spotter; a picnicker or an artist. The privilege to enjoy the natural and historic beauty of these sites comes with responsibilities: to be aware of ones impact on the site and mitigate it where possible. Clearing up dog mess, taking away litter and not using bikes on the mound are all common-sense courtesies that will help safeguard the monument for another thousand years.

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Oswestry Heritage Comics II - week 47

Living the Middle Ages – Week 47 of the Oswestry Heritage Comics

There are many re-enactment groups up and down the Borderlands, with enthusiasts participating in living history from a range of different periods. Cwmwd Iâl bring to life an important period of our history: the years between 850 to 1199: the “Anglo-Saxon” period – the time of the Kingdom of Mercia.

During this early part of the middle ages, the frontier between England and Wales was a dangerous place. There were constant skirmishes between the English Kingdom of Mercia and the Welsh Kingdom of Powys. Cattle were an important part of trade between the two kingdoms, and so cattle-raiding became a profitable criminal enterprise. To control the trade – and to control the cattle-raiding – the Kings of Mercia decided to strengthen the frontier between the two Kingdoms. The earthwork known as “Offa’s Dyke” was built in the late 700s by the Mercian King Offa to mark out that frontier, and help control both trade and raiding. But the frontier did more than create a border – it created a “Borderlands”: a place where the two sides could meet, not just on the battlefield.

So the 350 years covered by the Cwmwd Iâl group represents a really interesting and complicated period of history: a time when Mercia and Powys were both fighting and trading, each side trying to grow stronger through both war and commerce. For the ordinary people caught up in this Borderlands rivalry, this 350-year period was a time of both danger – and opportunity. Plenty of small towns and settlements in the Borderlands – like Oswestry – both prospered and suffered during that time. Fortune, power and prestige could be made through both war and trade – and lost in the same way.

Cwmwd Iâl brings this period to life through a great mix of historical research, experimental archaeology and re-enactment. Through their research, they uncover details about the life of ordinary men, women and children in that period; through experimental archaeology they test theories about how these mediaeval inhabitants of the Borderlands lived and worked; and through re-enactment they bring that all to life for the rest of us.

Last year was a busy year for the group, so during 2018 they’re taking it a bit easy. However, they’ll be taking part in events throughout Wales during the summer – and you can check out their schedule on their Facebook page. And they’ll be coming together as a group for their annual re-enactment of the Battle of Crogen (which took place in the Ceiriog Valley, just near the railway viaduct and the canal aqueduct at Chirk) at Chirk Castle on the 1st and 2nd of September. Put that date in your diary: it’s always a great event, and a great way to see what life in the time of King Offa would have been like.


The Oswestry Heritage Comics are a year-long series of weekly newspaper comic strips about the archaeology, history and heritage of the area around Oswestry, Shropshire in the UK. The comics are published in the Oswestry and Border Counties Advertizer every Tuesday, and on Facebook. The project is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

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A Comics Exhibition – Week 44 of the Oswestry Heritage Comics

It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost ten months since the Oswestry Heritage Comics project started. To celebrate, Qube: Owestry Community Arts is hosting a month-long exhibition about the comics and the project in their main gallery space. There will be a selection of our favourite comics on display, as well as panels talking about what the comics project hoped to achieve, and a glimpse at the behind-the-scenes work that goes into the making of the comics. There will also be some of the historical and archaeological objects featured in the comics, kindly lent by the people who helped tell their stories: Huw Davies is lending us some of his Napoleonic re-enactment kit; the Shrewsbury Museum is lending us the Neolithic axe that’s usually on show in Oswestry Library, as well as the Rhynchosaur fossils from Grinshill; Rachel Scotland is lending us the mysterious piece of Victorian carved stone she and Mark dug up in her garden; and Roger Cooper is lending us a lead Civil War cannonball and several musket balls from the excavations he’s directing up at Oswestry Castle. Plus I’ll be giving a gallery talk and doing workshops for both kids and adults on making your own comics!

If you’re interested in comics, then Qube is the place to head to this month. I look forward to seeing you all there!


The Oswestry Heritage Comics are a year-long series of weekly newspaper comic strips about the archaeology, history and heritage of the area around Oswestry, Shropshire in the UK. The comics are published in the Oswestry and Border Counties Advertizer every Tuesday, and on Facebook. The project is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

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