Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Oswestry Heritage Comics’

Week Four: What’s in a Name?

Not much of Norman Oswestry survives as bricks and mortar – but you can still find traces of it in unexpected places around the town. The FitzAlans were Oswestry’s “First Family” – generations of ambitious, clever survivors, determined at first to make the most of their post-Conquest manorial holdings; determined as the decades passed to hang on to that power. Even choosing the wrong side during the Anarchy of the twelfth century, and backing the Empress Matilda over her rival Stephen, didn’t dent their ambition.

Like all powerful families, however, their power did eventually fade – lack of male rivals ended the Fitzalan line in favour of the Howard, and more profitable estates elsewhere removed the family from Oswestry to Shrawardine, Holt, Clun and (eventually) Arundel – much to the benefit of the town. As local Oswestry historian, John Pryce-Jones puts it: “… reduced levels of manorial supervision provided the leading citizens of Oswestry to extend their own influence over the running of the town, and to develop the independent spirit which has characterised local civic affairs down the centuries…”. In other words, although they built the original Oswestry Castle, and gave it it’s original charters, perhaps the best things the FitzAlans ever did for Oswestry was leave it alone!

However, the FitzAlan name survives in the name of FitzAlan Road – a tiny reminder of the determined, canny (and quite possibly, ruthless) family that gave Oswestry its head start. There are lots of roads in Oswestry with historical stories behind them – you could do a whole series of heritage comics just on road names!

Read Full Post »

The Silver Studded Blue, resident of Prees Heath Common (photo: butterfly-conservation.org)

I was invited over to Prees Heath Common, near Whitchurch in North Shropshire, by Meres and Mosses/Shropshire Wildlife Trust to run a heritage comics workshop with some of their community archaeology volunteers. Prees Heath Common was an airfield during World War II, and a military muster site before that. Now it’s – in part – a butterfly reserve, managed by Shropshire Wildlife Trust. The site has a team of volunteers who look after both the ecology and the archaeology. A few weeks ago they dug a series of test-pits across a small corner of the site, at the edge of  one of the WWII airfield turning circles. Last week I got together with the group to run a workshop about making comics – hopefully showing them how comics could bring the story of their small local heritage site to a wider audience.

We held the workshop in the fantastic Raven Cafe – an old-skool biker and transport greasy spoon (that served proper strong tea – thank you, Lynne). There, at one side of the main dining room, next to a collection of old bikes, and overseen – appropriately enough – by a poster featuring the cartoon biker Ogri, the group and I spent from ten until one talking comics, WWII archaeology, common law, butterflies – and more! So much more.

I was astonished not only with how much history and heritage there was associated with the site – but the range and diversity of it. Yes, there was tons of military history and archaeology – from the middle ages through the Civil War to both World Wars; yes, there was transport history – Roman roads, mediaeval tracks, railways, Australian flying corps, bombers; yes, there was ecological heritage – the silver studded blue butterfly, peacocks, brimstones and cinnabar moths; regrown heathland with ling and bell heather; lizards, frogs and lapwings. We talked about all this heritage – and I showed the group how these stories could become educational and informational comics for schools, site interpretation boards and visitors centres.

These were the heritage stories I was expecting to hear – but I also heard other stores: stories about the social history of the common, about the injustices it has seen, about how it came to be transformed into arable fields, about how it affected and changed the lives of the local inhabitants down the generations – and about how those changed lives have in turn changed the future history of the common. These individual, family and social stories are the other side of the coin to the historical, archaeological, geological or ecological information that make up “heritage”. They give the bare bones of heritage facts and figures a human, grounded dimension – reminding us that the past is personal, not abstract; that our shared past both shapes and is shaped by, the people who live it.

From tales of mass trespasses and gypsy weddings, to biker memorabilia (and comics!) in roadside transport cafes – the past is made meaningful and human. When I talk with community groups about telling stories about the past, I am increasingly convinced that these are the stories that count – because these are the stories people want to hear.

I had a fantastic time with the Prees Heath group, and really hope that they take some of their surprising stories and great ideas and make some excellent comics!

Read Full Post »

The Oswestry Heritage Comics begin – again! Every week from now until June 2018 in the Advertizer and online.

The Oswestry Heritage Comics are back – this time, for a whole year! With help from Qube – Oswestry Community Action, the comics are being supported by a Heritage Lottery Fund grant. That means a complete year of new comics: 52 weeks, from next week until June 2018.

For those of you who followed the 13-week series last summer, you’ll know what to expect: a look at the archaeology, history and heritage of the Border market town of Oswestry and its environs. There will be comics about the region’s geology and ecology, its military history and its medical history, the Normans, Romans and Victorians who called it home, and their marching camps, castles and railways. There will be comics about some unexpected inhabitants of Old Oswestry Hillfort, about the violent history behind Oswestry’s own white horse, about a missing hospital and about a hidden burial ground.

And this time, I’ll be getting a lot of help from the people who make Oswestry’s heritage possible: the local archaeologists and historians, the metal detectors and the genealogists, the re-enactors and the researchers – those who preserve, protect and present what we know about the past.

The project will also feature plenty of school and community workshops, talks and exhibitions; there will be an anthology collecting all the comics at the end of the project, and even a conference about using comics to talk about community heritage – so stay tuned for a very full year!

Comics online weekly at Oswestry Heritage Comics on Facebook.
For more information about comics workshops, contact Qube: Oswestry Community Action.

Read Full Post »

Oswestry Heritage Comics - Heritage Open Days, 2016.

Oswestry Heritage Comics – Heritage Open Days, 2016. Click for a larger image.

At the Oswestry Town Museum’s Christmas party this year, it was announced that the town had received a number of accolades for the way in which it participated in Heritage Open Days. In particular, national organisers were impressed with the range, variety and inventiveness of events and activities which took place – a range and variety that far surpassed many other towns with more “impressive” heritage. One of the things that got a mention was my own Oswestry Heritage Comics series, published throughout this past summer in the Oswestry Advertizer.

Oswestry’s approach to Heritage Open Days has always been characterised by a very strong volunteer ethic. Hundreds of people help out at excavations, lead local history walks, put on re-enactment events and staff museums, visitors centres and attractions. This ensures that even small, inaccessible and off-the-beaten-track venues can be part of the event. Oswestry’s local heritage community – rather than it’s local heritage industry – makes it’s Heritage Open Days special and worth marking in the calendar.

Designing Heritage Open Days events around this strong volunteer ethic, and bringing the people behind the heritage firmly into focus has been called “The Oswestry Model”, and it’s something I’m pleased the Oswestry Heritage Comics have been part of. As I now start to talk with people about what I might do next with the Oswestry Heritage Comics, I want to make sure this people-centred approach continues. Comics can do a very good job of getting people – literally – into the picture. For local history, archaeology and heritage, this means showing how the research, preservation and interpretation of local heritage depends on the willingness of local people to get involved. Next year, I’m really hoping that we can develop the Oswestry Heritage Comics a bit further by incorporating local history workshops into the production of the comics, so that they don’t just tell people what’s important about their heritage – but they reflect the community’s sense of what’s important, too.

Read Full Post »

Oswestry Heritage Comics - week 12. Click on image for larger view.

Oswestry Heritage Comics – week 12. Click on image for larger view.

The fact that we know so much about Oswestry’s past is evidence of the commitment of hundreds of local heritage volunteers. These people help curate and study the past in a variety of ways. Research, monitoring, campaigning, preservation, conservation, re-enactment – all these help ensure that the history and archaeology of Oswestry and its environs is neither forgotten nor destroyed. Projects like Qube’s Men on the Gates, or the Oswestry Castle Research Project, the work of the Oswestry Family and Local History Group, the Oswestry and Borders History and Archaeology Group, Cambrian Heritage Railways and many other local groups make up a network of enthusiasts and experts, amateurs and professionals, who contribute their time and skills to help ensure that Oswestry’s past survives into its future.

If reading the Oswestry Heritage Comics has sparked an interest in the town’s history or archaeology, then perhaps your next step should be to get in touch with one of these groups and get involved. Regardless of time, skills or experience, there’s always something that everyone can do to help protect and preserve their local heritage.

For a start, you can help me by saying what you thought of the Oswestry Heritage Comics in this very quick online survey! It’ll only take you a few minutes, and it will really help decide what happens next.

And if you’d like to learn more about the use of comics in talking about archaeology, history and heritage, I’m going to be giving a “Learning at Lunchtime” talk on the Oswestry Heritage Comics project at Oswestry Library on Thursday, October 6th, between 12-1pm.

Read Full Post »

oswestry-heritage-comics-week-11

Oswestry Heritage Comics – week 11. Click for larger image.

The past is only given meaning by the present. Throughout history, history itself has been used, misused and reused according to the needs of the time. But history is resilient – as every archaeologist knows, it’s very difficult to bury the past. But more often than not, history is more likely to be misrepresented than destroyed; we are more likely to be told that our heritage is unimportant or irrelevant. The truth is that the more irrelevant history seems, the more important it is likely to be. Our heritage is who we are – it is about how we lived then, how we live now, and how we want to live in the future. It is no coincidence that destruction of heritage – ancient and historical sites, monuments and buildings – is a key technique of terror.

Of course, the toll cottage on Salop Road is not Palmyra, but every piece of lost heritage is lost forever. When we lose a piece of our heritage, we lose a piece of ourselves; for a small market town, every fragment of lost heritage is a whittling away of civic independence and unique community identity. We imagine that the heritage which makes a place like Oswestry unique is indestructible, that it’s only the small, insignificant things that get lost. After all, a toll cottage is just a toll cottage, right? But remember what happened to Offa’s Dyke – even being big and significant is no guarantor of immunity or protection. This is what the campaign to protect Old Oswestry hillfort is all about.

We will be remembered in the future for how we treat the past. The heritage of our shared past has to be transmitted through the present. And if we allow it to be misrepresented, ignored, whittled away and destroyed, we diminish not just ourselves, but our children and grandchildren – we make their world, their Oswestry a smaller, lesser place, and we condemn them to living with a smaller, lesser sense of who they are and who they can be.

Read Full Post »

Oswestry Heritage Comics - week 10. Click for larger image.

Oswestry Heritage Comics – week 10. Click for larger image.

There’s more to heritage than archaeology and history. Places like Oswestry have all sorts of other heritage that aren’t simply about buildings and monuments. There’s cultural heritage, social heritage, artistic and creative heritage – and there’s also green heritage. Oswestry’s historical buildings and monuments are as much natural places as built places – or, at least, they are now. Places like the Llanymynech limekilns and quarries were – while they were running as industries – environmental disaster zones. Now, of course, they are wild places – home to rare insects and plants, providing habitat which has disappeared elsewhere. In the nineteenth century, places like railway lines, quarries and limeworks were inimical to wildlife. Songbirds, insects and rare plants were sheltered in farm and pastureland. Now, the situation is reversed, and places like the limekilns or the Cambrian Railway lines provide rural landscapes with vital, biodiverse havens and corridors.

The realisation that historic and archaeological places can play a role in conservation seems to have come slowly. But having taken hold, the idea has (if you’ll pardon the pun) grown. Many historic properties and archaeological sites take active steps to create habitat and preserve plants, insects and wildlife which have found, in these places, a new home. The Cambrian Railway Trust is one local heritage organisation that takes its conservation role very seriously indeed – and their approach provides a great model. Old Oswestry hillfort, too, has now been recognised as an important habitat for rare and threatened species, and care of the monument now also involves care of its environment and ecology. I have to admit, this is all a bit new to me – but it’s something that’s happening globally. In South America, management programmes at some Precolumbian sites involve local farmers working part of the archaeological zone with traditional methods. Here, it seems, archaeological heritage, green heritage and cultural heritage were all partners. The Oswestry Community Orchard project is an echo of this, bringing together transport heritage, green heritage and cultural heritage.

In a world where all aspects of heritage are equally under threat, such partnership approaches offer “heritage” in its widest sense a truly sustainable model for the future.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: