I have just returned from attending the British Association for Local History’s History Day. This was held in a converted department store know as ‘Resource for London’. It was a rather strange venue with an L-shaped conference room, making games of ‘dodge the pillar’ necessary. Living in the bottom left hand corner of the country meant that even getting the first train of the day was not enough for me to arrive at the beginning of the proceedings. I therefore missed what I understand was a thought provoking presentation on Housing and Local History: research agendas and practical issues. This was followed by the AGM and a sandwich lunch.
Various awards for outstanding service to local history and for journal articles were presented. The keynote lecture was by Professor Christopher Dyer on Local Societies on the move: migration and social mobility in the Middle Ages. Professor Dyer sought to overturn not only the old stereotype of a geographically and socially static Medieval society but also the more recent modification of that idea, which claims that it was the Black Death that was the impetus for change and opportunities for mobility.
His method, which he agreed was not without its imperfections, was to use locative surnaes as indications of geographical migration, Working, as he is, in the era when surnames were just beginning, it is possible to look at surnames that are also place names and assume that the holder of that name (or possibly their father or grandfather) had moved from a place of that name. On this basis, more than 40% of his sample, taken from the Lay Subsidy returns, had moved less than 10km.
When considering social mobility, Professor Dyer pointed out that a peasant who acquires more land is still a peasant and this is not an indicator of social mobility. Amongst other things, he has used Freemen’s Lists in fifteenth century York to compare the occupations of sons with that of their father. Roughly half of his sample had taken up a different trade but not necessarily one that reflected a change in status. Professor Dyer was looking for those moving from artisan to mercantile rank, rather than from one artisan occupation to another. Interestingly, those whose fathers worked in the more prestigious trades, such as goldsmiths, were much more likely to follow in the family tradition, than those whose fathers were, for example, carpenters.
It was good to see several members of our society at this event and now we look forward to our own conference and AGM on 28 October in Manchester.