Paul V. Dudman

We are certainly leaving in difficult and uncharted times at the moment.  The COVID-19 pandemic is upon is … our hearts go out to those whose families and friends have been directly affected by this virus, and the media reports documenting the daily fatality rate from the Coronavirus numb us to the realities that each of these numbers relate to an individual, a family, a friendship group, a work colleague.  Our health service personnel across the world our doing unbelievable work in what must be immensely difficult and stressful conditions, and we can only hope that the service and dedication of all those involved in supporting the care of those affected by the pandemic are documented and honoured once we eventually return to more secure and better times.

I think for many of us now required to work from home to help ensure both our own health and the health of those around us and to hopefully limit the spread of the virus, it is becoming a time of reflection, to consider what we have done, where we are with both our work and personal lives, and to actually take a breath from the very stressful and fast-passed lives that many of us are faced with this days.  With this in mind, I am hoping to try and get back to my routes and my own interests, which have helped to define and direct my career and home lives over the years and to use this as a starting point to hopefully blog on her a bit more often in relation to the topics that interest me … namely history, cultural heritage, living by the sea, … and maybe even the odd post or two on coffee (which I am reliably told I drink too much of!).

Why History?   Is the title of this post and this indeed is for me a key question.  History I think has also been a subject I have had the most interest in and is an area that has always fascinated me.  I guess this can be traced back to my school days as History was always the subject I was able to get the highest marks in (with 2nd in the end of year exams in my second year of senior school being the highlight).  It was a subject that was my first choice optional subject for both GCSE and A-Level and then my chosen subject for my undergraduate degree course at the University of Southampton.

But what is so special about History?  That’s a had question to quantify.  I think to understand History is to understand ourselves, who we are, where we have come from and why the world is as it is.  There is something intriguing to be able to look back in time, to understand the past, the way people thought, the individual stories of the ordinary people and the way of life and the events they experienced.  We can learn so much about ourselves by taking the time to understand our shared pasts, to understand human interaction over time and the cultural heritage of existence that is left behind.

Then of course I think there is the physical attachment to anything that is old.  I think I have always been attracted to old places …. old castles, old houses, old streets, old buildings, objects from the past that tell us about the nature of life and how it has changed.  I think with 21st Century life, we are often so far removed from how life works and develops, often spending most of our lives stuck behind computer screens or with our heads stuck in our mobile phones, temporality seems to have become a key staple of our lives.  However, historical buildings, locations and objects remind us of a past state of permanence, the castle with 1,000 years of history soaked within its walls.  The old cobbled street with the medieval inn still intact, telling the hidden stories of the history of a city and its people; the archaeological discovery waiting to tell us its long forgotten narrative of daily life.  For me, there has always been something special about old places, they whisper a sense of lives lived, a sense of shared belonging and shared history, stories awaiting to be told if only we could find the right key to unlock them.  The cultural history of our societies which is also a cultural history of us as individuals.

Aberystwyth Castle

With this in mind, I hope to start posting blogs on here a little more often focusing of some of my historical areas of interest, including buildings, places, themes, and other related bits and bobs as my interest takes me.  This will also be an opportunity to raid my many photographic archives of images that I have taken over the years and hopefully start to make some of these accessible to a wider audience for anyone who might be interested.  I guess I have always had an interest in old castles and buildings and the very ambience that they generate, almost a time capsule of history locked within their walls.  From the ruined castles of Aberystwyth, Hastings and Hadleigh to the majestic fortresses of Leeds, Warwick and the Tower of London and the small yet homely St Mawes Castle in Cornwall; the old cobbled streets of York to the small fishing quarter at Leigh-on-Sea; the bombed remains of Coventry Cathedral to the ancient town of Lincoln; the quaintness of the Cinque Port of Rye and the old town of Hastings; the resting place of Richard III in Leicester to the Medieval Tudor House and Garden in Southampton; the snapshot of domesticity in Southchurch Priory House to the monesticity of Battle Abbey.  All of these places have the ambience of history ingrained into the very fabric of their walls, just waiting a time for the stories to be heard and meanings understood.

Maritime history is also a strong interest of mine, I have always seemed to gravitate towards maritime towns to work, study or visit, whether this be Southampton and then Aberystwyth for my degrees and subsequent visits, born in Chatham and worked as a visitor host in the Chatham Historic Dockyard, living and working by the Thames in London and now by the sea in Essex.  I think there is something about the eternal nature of the sea, the endless motion of the tides throughout history that attracts me, I am always at my happiest and most content when close to the sea.  The sense of peace and belonging being close to the sea combined with the intrigue and a sense of tranquillity and resonance drawn from the history of an old building is something that will draw me back to places time and again.    So expect to find I would imagine future posts on topics relating to the history of coastal towns; shipwrecks and Seventeenth/Eighteenth century smuggling combined with the histories of castles, old buildings and the people that inhabited them.

Hastings Castle

I think this underlying interest our history and cultural heritage has been key in my chosen career as an Archivist.  The opportunity to be able to work with unique historical materials across a range of subject areas, combined with the opportunity to work with collaborative partners and local communities in the preservation of memory and the co-production of new histories is something that is immensely rewarding.  I have been very fortunate to be able to work with a number of unique and interesting collections, beginning with the historical collections in St. George’s Hospital Medical School in Tooting, South London, before moving to the University of East London and the opportunity to work with unique and engaging collections including the Refugee Council Archive; the British Olympic Association Archive and Library; the Hackney Empire Theatre Archive; the Hidden Histories Archive of over 4,000 oral histories curated by Eastside Community Heritage; and the ability to work and support community engagement within East London and beyond.  It is not often that you get to work with original Olympic Torches; foundation minutes of the British Council for Aid to Refugees; 1970s left-wing political theatre within the Hackney Empire Theatre Archive; and the history of the Tate Institute in Silvertown, the former sports and social club for the workers of the Tate and Lyle sugar factory.  It has also enabled me to meet and collaborate with many fantastic and amazing people along the way, and has enabled to present at conferences both nationally and internationally, something I never thought I would be able to do.

I hope this will be the start of a series of blogs exploring the history and cultural heritage that has both fascinated and intrigued me over the years.  I hope this blog will also be international in nature, including details of places I have been very fortunate to visit over the course of time and the histories I have been very lucky to explore.  In this current time of lockdown and social distancing, it seems more important than ever to take time to reflect and revisit places we have been and stories we have heard and to bring these rich histories to a larger audience.