Cambridge University to help uncover grass roots history

Friday morning briefing

Heritage researchers collaborate with community groups to dig up the past and air Cambridge’s dirty laundry as part of Lottery-funded project.

Archaeologists and historians from the University of Cambridge are to provide expert help as villagers and communities dig up the past, sometimes literally, as part of a £4.5m project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Twenty-two local groups in East Anglia who received advice from University of Cambridge researchers in preparing their application have been successful in being awarded up to £10,000 funding each from the HLF as part of the All Our Stories programme – a nationwide scheme of 500 projects that will help people to explore and discover their community’s heritage.

Led by Cambridge University archaeologist Dr Carenza Lewis, the University’s Cambridge Community Heritage team was supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) to lend expertise to groups in Cambridge and across the region including Ely, Ashwell, Hildersham, Saffron Walden and Marham, in Norfolk.

Carenza Lewis said: “The Cambridge Community Heritage team worked very hard to ensure the community groups who had asked us for support put together bids that were compelling, robust and realistic.  So many brilliant and inspiring ideas came from the communities we’ve worked with, and we’ve built up strong relationships with the groups representing them, so we were delighted that nearly all of these bids were successful.  It’s great that so many people will have the chance to enjoy making exciting new discoveries and unique records about the heritage all around them.”

St. Peter's Church, Sharnbrook
Several groups across the Eastern region will be following the example of the residents of Long Melford, featured in the BBC’s The Great British Story excavating within the village under Carenza’s supervision.  Thanks to the new Heritage Lottery Fund support, in 2013 hundreds of residents in Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Norfolk and Suffolk will be carrying out their own village excavations. The excavations and discoveries will engage people of all backgrounds and ages in rewriting village histories while also providing new data for academic research.

Perhaps one of the most unusual projects in the new All Our Stories initiative will see researcher Sarah Baylis help a local group to uncover some of Cambridge’s dirty laundry – via the lives and stories of Cambridge’s laundry women.

Since the late 19th century laundry work has been a significant source of employment for Cambridge women. By interviewing past and present workers from the commercial laundries, the group hopes to uncover stories and about their working lives and some of the key events of the past fifty years. Named ‘Freudian Slips’ the project group will stage an exhibition, record podcasts and produce a multi-media performance piece as the project finale.

Other groups awarded funds from the HLF include the Cambridge Archaeological Field Group, which aims to uncover evidence of the early settlements around Wimpole. Today, very few buildings remain, but this was not always the case. The group aims to use fieldwork to understand the development of the landscape and to fill in the gaps left by the lack of documentary evidence of the early settlements at Wimpole.

Elsewhere, Ely Wildspace will investigate the history of the Common in Ely and the surrounding land from its medieval origins, via its use by the Army in the Second World War, to the present day.

All our Stories, which launched in April, has proved so popular that HLF has quadrupled the amount it had originally set aside for projects.

Dame Jenny Abramsky, Chair of HLF, said: “These grants seem to have struck a chord…We have been bowled over by the response and the great news is that we have been able to find the money to support so many fascinating projects. We’re looking forward to hearing more about the colourful stories that emerge; they will create a unique picture of these islands at an important time in our history.”

The All Our Stories grant programme was developed alongside BBC Two’s history series, The Great British Story – A People’s History, and aims to get thousands more people involved in exploring the local history, customs and traditions that are important to them. Small grants will enable people across the UK to find out more about their own local heritage – often complex, sometimes quirky but always fascinating – at a truly grass roots level.  A kaleidoscope of unusual stories of communities is already emerging, such as why Nottingham is synonymous with bicycles, how people in Salford want to remember their lost pubs and the experiences of the first Chinese immigrants in Swansea.

P1060643 The University of Cambridge will be providing ongoing support to All Our Stories projects including training and help with running activities in 2013, funded by the AHRC.  Carenza Lewis said “Cambridge Community Heritage will be working with at least 24 All Our Stories groups in eastern England in 2013. We are very much looking forward to continuing to help this wonderfully wide range of projects become the successes we know they can be.” The Cambridge Community Heritage team consists of archaeology and heritage researchers and representatives from the University’s public engagement team, offering networking events and training to the local groups involved.

Jo Porth of Sturmer Local History Group, funded to create a local history trail, said “It’s great that we have been awarded this grant and we can’t wait to get started.  We love where we live and know there’s so much more to discover about our past.  We are all really excited about telling other people about our findings and sharing our heritage and history with them”.

Article originally appeared on the Cambridge University News website here.

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