Over the past few months, I have been involved in a project in Guisborough. This project has captured my sense of imagination, appealed to my love of local history by local people, and has provided me with excitement and enthusiasm through the difficult stages of PhD polishing. Guisborough is a community that feels the pulse of the Prior Pursglove College, which takes in and spews out thousands of sixth-form students every day. The project that I am working on is based at this modern-looking college, which is actually steeped in history having been founded by Robert Pursglove (the last prior of Guisborough priory before the dissolution) in 1563. Outside the college’s resource centre, there is a wooden trunk, probably dating from Pursglove’s time, which carries a laminated sign pleading the students not to climb or sit on it! In a tiny archive, there is a precious collection of relics of the college’s history, ranging from Fourteenth-Century estate papers to a 1930s police truncheon and a 1940s school uniform.
It is with the estate documents that I am concerned. I was raring to get my grubby hands all over these papers, which were written by anonymous clerks, and were concerned with bequests of lands, property and other appurtenences to mysterious Johns, Nicholases and Margarets over hundreds of years. Few activities satisfy my curiosity more than sitting patiently with a magnifying glass and a Latin dictionary, trying to work out the legalese and word contractions of a language that I am trying to get to grips with. I love putting the pieces together in this 3D medieval jigsaw, in which these formalaic documents constitute only 30% of the pieces. The rest of the pieces were either never made in the first place, or have been lost down the side of the sofa by centuries of careless players.
Whilst I’ve been in Guisborough, I’ve also had time to explore the little backstreets of the town, weaving my way from charity shop to charity shop and taking time to absorb some new surroundings. Walking around recently with friends, I found this magnificent building – the Freemasons’ hall. It was built in 1876 according to trusty Googlesearch. Plus, it’s available for private hire for parties – anyone want to celebrate my next birthday, Freemason style? Wow, it took my breath away.
Returning to my transcription project, the overall Prior Pursglove heritage project, which is funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, represents to me what can be done in a small community, and what can be achieved by enthusiastic and knowledgeable staff and volunteers. On 30th June the college will hold its Heritage Day, and the college will buzz with local historians, academics, local ‘celebrities’, and hopefully hundreds of members of the public in order to celebrate a wonderful place and the people who have walked its streets before us.
(above) my photo of Guisborough Priory. What a place!