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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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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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Neolithic Oswestry – Week 30 of the Oswestry Heritage Comics

New Year – new tools!

Neolithic is often translated by archaeologists as “New Stone Age”. But this phrase misses out the important idea that what is significant here is that archaeologists are talking about new stone tools – one of the things that made the neolithic way of life possible was the neolithic stone axe. This new tool enabled neolithic people to fell the old forests of Europe, and till the newly-cleared soil. The settlements and fields – as well as the culture and society – of neolithic Britain were shaped by this new stone technology.

We shouldn’t think of the axe on display in Oswestry Library as just a tool – we should also think of it as a key: a key to an entirely new way of living for our stone-age ancestors. The neolithic is the time in human history when we stopped living just by hunting and gathering – following herds with the seasons – and started to live year-round in the same place: planting crops and raising flocks of domesticated sheep, goats and cattle. As well as new stone tools, the neolithic was about new ideas – agriculture, domestication and permanent settlements.

Direct evidence for these neolithic settlements in and around Oswestry tends to be on higher ground; it is thought that much of lowland Shropshire was still heavily-wooded and marshy. Archaeologists have found fragments of neolithic pottery at Grinshill and the Roveries, and even on the top of Old Oswestry. The Long Mynd and other Shropshire ridges may have been used as routeways – as people began to live in more permanent settlements, so roads and routes between them became more important. But this evidence is scant.

That’s why finds like the axe in Oswestry Library are so important: we can learn a lot from every stone tool, no matter how small or broken. Imagine how much more we could know about the past if more people were helping add to our knowledge of the past by identifying neolithic stone tools while out watching birds or ploughing fields: farmers, ramblers, dog-walkers, bird-spotters – in fact, people like you.

 


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 - 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.

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Oswestry Heritage Comics - week 9. Click for larger image.

Oswestry Heritage Comics – week 9. Click for larger image.

This week’s Oswestry Heritage Comic is all about Heritage Open Days. In fact, Heritage Open Days are the reason the Oswestry Heritage Comic exists at all. I’ve always enjoyed HOD, but beyond being a visitor, I’ve never really contributed to the weekend. I wasn’t sure how an archaeological illustrator could usefully contribute to such an event. Well, this year I figured out how. I launched the Oswestry Heritage Comics project as my contribution towards this year’s Heritage Open Days. The whole point of the comic is to help raise awareness about the richness and diversity of local heritage – which is also the point of Heritage Open Days. I’ve tried to feature as many major heritage places, venues and events in the strips as possible, and in this weeks’ comic I’ve got four that are specific to the HOD weekend: the Oswestry Castle excavations will be taking place, now in their third year; the reconstructed World War I trenches at Park Hall are open free of charge; there’s a Heritage Market in the Bailey marketplace in the middle of Oswestry – right next to the Town Museum and just up the road from the Cambrian Railways museum and around the corner from exhibitions in Oswestry Library and “The Bigger Picture” screenings at Kinokulture cinema; and there’s even a Heritage Bake-off taking place this year! There are walks, exhibitions, presentations, activities, talks and film showings at places like Old Oswestry Hillfort, Oswestry Station, Llanforda Hall, the Quinta, Rednal canal warehouse, Sleeping Beauty’s tower in Selattyn, the Pentre in Bronygarth, the Tanat Valley light railway and St. Peter’s church in Melverley. Events start this Thursday at some venues and run through until Sunday. It’s a fantastic opportunity to find out more about the history, archaeology and heritage of Oswestry – there are full listings of events taking place over the weekend at the Heritage Open Days website.

There are four special Oswestry Heritage Comics-related things going on this coming weekend, too. The first is a “Make Your Own Heritage Comic” activity at Underhill Farm in Llanymynech on Saturday between 10am and 2pm. This will be a drop-in event, and if it’s sunny, we’ll be outside in the grounds of the farm – if it’s raining, we’ll be inside. There’s also an exhibition of all the Oswestry Heritage Comics at the farm. There’s a another exhibition of the comics in town – “Behind The Scenes of the Oswestry Heritage Comics” is at the Willow Gallery on Willow Street all this month. Thirdly, I’m giving a talk on “Getting The Picture – Using comics in archaeological public outreach” to the Chirk History Society on Monday, Sept. 12 at the Parish Hall in Chirk, starting at 7pm. It’ll be an informal talk, but it will look at the work I’ve done in Oswestry and beyond in using comics to talk about archaeology, history and heritage. The comics themselves are also going to be visible through the weekend – on big outdoor banners in and around Oswestry. Look for them as you go around town – see if you can spot them all!

Last but not least, of course, don’t forget to pick up your copy of The Advertizer to read this week’s comic!

 

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intro_panelThis week, the Oswestry Advertizer is featuring a full-page comic introducing the Oswestry Heritage Comics project. I talk about how I got into using comics in archaeology, and why I thought using them in a local newspaper to shine a bit of a spotlight on local history, archaeology and heritage might be a good idea. It’s a very quick introduction to everything I’ve been doing with comics, information and public outreach over the past ten years – right back to the Çatal Nedir? comic I did way, way back in 2005.

My basic argument has always been that when we talk about the past – history, archaeology or heritage – we use a very specialised language full of concepts and assumptions that most people don’t recognise. This is because these concepts and assumptions don’t feature a great deal in the day-to-day of ordinary life. So public outreach has to provide a context for these things in order for them to be best understood by an audience unfamiliar with them: and the narrative and visuals of comics do that very well indeed.

Over the next twelve weeks, the Oswestry Heritage Comics series will hopefully demonstrate how this can be done even with a subject as rich and diverse as “heritage”, and within the confined parameters of a four-panel strip. It’s an artistic and informational challenge, certainly – but it’s an opportunity to really test the idea that comics can be effective as a means of communicating information about the past.

The comics are only part of the package. There’s a Facebook page which will provide onward links and additional information based on the subjects of each week’s strip. Plus, over the course of the twelve weeks the comic series is running in the newspaper, I’m going to be hosting a professional-level workshop and a family activity on comics and heritage at Underhill Farm during Heritage Open Days, a kids activity on comics and family history at Oswestry Library, plus a Learning at Lunchtime talk about the project, also at Oswestry Library, a mini-exhibition of the comics and preparatory artwork at The Willow Gallery in September, with an introductory talk on the process. If funding materializes, there will also be a pop-up exhibition of some of the comics at venues around Oswestry during Heritage Open Days, plus I’ll be giving a talk to the Chirk History Society which will be about public outreach in heritage, which will draw on (no pun intended) the comics project. I’ll put links to each of these events up here, closer to the time. I’ll also put up posts here about each weekly comic strip in turn, discussing some of the “behind the scenes” process, as well as talking in more detail about the way each of the strips was written.

I’m extremely excited about this project. If it proves to be successful, I’m hoping it might provide a model for other comics and local heritage projects – both in Oswestry, and beyond!

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Full steam ahead!

Full steam ahead!

It’s that time of year again: next week I’ll be doing some art activity days at Oswestry Library, this year as part of the Oswestry Makes Festival. This year I’ve somehow got myself roped into three different events: I’m giving a workshop on applied comics at one of the 6th-form colleges on Oct. 1st, plus I’m doing a “Steampunk Heroes” drawing and colouring session in the morning and a live painting of a specially-commissioned piece of steampunk artwork in the afternoon at Oswestry Library on Oct. 3rd. The steampunk comes courtesy of the theme of the final day of the Oswestry Makes festival at the library, which is a mini comic-con, complete with costume competition and a chance to meet author Kate O’Hearn.

So, the other thing I’ve been roped into doing is coming along to the library’s comic-con in costume

What is a well-dressed steampunk artist wearing this season?

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