Friday, November 8, 2013

Knock, knock. Who's there?

Bards of a feather?
Wall Village Hall: time to talk!

On Saturday 2nd November 2013 I did a Winter Talk in the village hall at Wall in Staffordshire; home to the Roman museum of Letocetum with its inn, bath house and mansio, under the shared responsibility of the National Trust and English Heritage. When I arrived, the cosy hall was bustling with the happy chatter of an audience in eager anticipation. Like meeting old friends, the reception was warm and welcoming. The organisers and I had time for informal photographs and a moment to catch up, since our last meeting at their Summer Event in August.

I am always a little nervous before public speaking, but the audience soon put me at ease. My talk was well received, the audience sharing in my fascination of buildings and their integral role in social interaction through the ages. Likening network lunches and the discussion of gas bills over breakfast with wool merchants brokering business deals in the bath house, or Saxon Councils in Mead Halls around hearth fires seemed to connect with people. As a writer, buildings are the cooking pots of life; we eat, sleep, laugh, cry are born or die in them; most major life decisions are made or sealed inside of them. As a trading post on Watling Street, near to the crossroads with the Fosse at High Cross, Letocetum would have welcomed many a weary traveller, providing a hot soak in the bath house, a meal and drink at the inn, light entertainment and a good night’s rest.

At the time of my novel, in the early 5th Century, these forts and trading centres were in two camps: those deserted and decaying after Rome’s withdrawal and those that continued to thrive due to their location or usefulness to the local population. This dereliction and rebirth intrigues me, feeds my imagination as to how buildings evolve; how organic they are. Some still stand, as testaments to their endurance against the often harsh British Weather. Others crumble into the landscape and wait to surprise us again one day, teasing us with their mystery; forgotten sites of habitation and human interaction.

By the time the break began my nerves had left me and I found myself rewarded by some intriguing questions. I was privileged to share the ‘stage’ with Andrew Pilkington, also known as Wulfgar of Mercia. He wore the clothes of a Germanic settler in Romano-Britain, as the characters in my novel would have been dressed. Both Andrew and I were swamped during the break by inquisitive attendees. The Friends of Letocetum had supplied light refreshments and people were as swift to ask further questions as they were to partake in the glasses of wine.

Following the break Andrew gave us an abbreviated history of the Roman Empire in Britain. His knowledge is inspiring and his delivery of the facts immensely humorous. His talk led us onto some replica pieces from the Staffordshire Hoard as well as Sutton Hoo. The entire room became embroiled in an open discussion of the theories behind the find on Watling Street. By the end of the evening we were all captivated by the wealth of local history surrounding us and the intrigue it holds, as very little is written of Mercia. I feel we most certainly illuminated a portion of the Dark Ages inside the village hall at Wall.

Gracious thanks must go to Dissy Tonks and John Crowe, Friends of Letocetum and enthusiastic volunteers for organising another successful event.

Please visit Letocetum and all its treasures. You can find details at both National Trust and English Heritage websites, and you can follow the Friends of Letocetum on Twitter for ongoing updates of forthcoming events.

Andrew Pilkington can be found on Twitter and Facebook.

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful evening by the sound of it! Glad the talk went well :)