History 51 Roadshow gets off the ground

Heartlands, Pool during Kernow Fest On the gloriously sunny Sunday 26 May we put on our first History 51 Roadshow event called Wise Women. It was part of a huge festival of Cornish culture called Kernow Fest and took place in Heartlands in Pool.

Wise Women just before we got started

As a series of ongoing demonstrations, show and tell and an opportunity for the public to come in and chat, perhaps also take part in one of our activities such as writing charms and recipes with quill, handle historical objects--kindly lent to us by English Heritage from Pendennis Castle--or talk to a medieval household about their herbal apothecary--thanks to the brilliant Annie, Kay and Steve of People of the Past. Visitors also had the opportunity to view a rolling digital exhibition all about women, healing and medicine through time presented through Cornish sources. We dressed the room with fresh herbs and aromas of the past. We included in this exhibition photographs from what used to be the West Cornwall Women's Hospital, later Camborne-Redruth Hospital, which was just down the road from Heartlands, giving the event a bit of a local flavour. You can view this exhibition below.

Nurses at Camborne-Redruth Hospital in 1954 (credit: Cornwall Record Office X436/46)

The Wise Women

I was in awe of my co-organisers who each brought a different dimension to the event. Steph Haxton, an historian and educational consultant, who came up with the original idea for Wise Women, was dressed as an authentic 1520s Lady of the Manor, a stunning costume made by her own hand. She presented visitors with historical handling objects and a selection of ingredients that were used by 16th century households. Her responsibility was for the health and welfare of her household, including her servants.

Kay and Annie of People of the Past represented Cornish women and girls in the Middle Ages. Also in authentic clothing based on sources from the period, they showed visitors the range of herbs, ingredients and some implements used in treating and diagnosing people. Annie was a thoroughly brilliant advertisement for Wise Women and History 51 and went out amongst the crowds to draw in more visitors. This made a huge difference as from an expectation of 40-50 people we had at least 120 people come through our door--and those were the ones we managed to count!

Polly Attwood, the new Director of the Hypatia Trust, and I acted as introducers to people coming in. We were dressed in more modern garb, emulating the clothes of the 19th century masses. In theory I was meant to be a 'pellar' - a Cornish white witch - but no one came to me for charms or advice and I was happy to waft around in my overly long skirt and apron, but feeling quiet pride at representing a Cornish ancestor.