Time to take a good look at how we travelled here
We don’t have a water cooler in the BIF office, however we have enjoyed ‘water cooler chat’ of late around our kettle. The subject has not been the satisfaction or otherwise of the ending of Game of Thrones but where we would travel to, given a Time Machine. This is to be the subject of the BIF Podcast recorded live during the Festival with Peter Moore of History Today magazine. There are rules, though. You cannot interfere with history or participate directly in events. You may only look on.
As I’m currently preparing to interview Jacqueline Riding for her talk on The Story of the Manchester Massacre – Peterloo the obvious place to observe history would be St Peters Field, Manchester on August 16th 1819. By the end of that day fifteen people lay dead or dying and 650 were injured. Wouldn’t it be amazing to hear Henry “Orator” Hunt speak to the allegedly 60,000 strong gathering (would you have heard anything amongst the crowds?) and how close would be the scene to that recreated in the recent Mike Leigh film Peterloo on which Jacqueline was Historical Advisor?
Buoyant ticket sales from the Buxton audience are already confirming an amazing fascination with Wallis Simpson 33 years after her death. Anna Pasternak is credited with writing ‘the first positive biography’ of Wallis Simpson in her new book Untitled. What about being in Windsor Castle on the evening of December 11, 1936 as Edward III records his abdication speech? Has Wallis been wrongly vilified and was she as cold as portrayed by Lia Williams in The Crown?
Perhaps a Time Machine should really be pushed to its limit with visits to the furthest reaches of our historical imagination. Wynflaed was an Anglo-Saxon noblewoman who owned male slaves and badger-skin gowns (very Game of Thrones) and is also one of the fascinating subjects of Max Adam’s book Unquiet Women.
Simon de Montfort is often referred to as the founder of The House of Commons and the first English Parliament. Tempting as it might be to bring back C13th crusader Simon de Montfort to present day Westminster and see him weep, he could take pride in how his innovations resulted in the summoning of representatives, not only from amongst his barons and knights of the shires but also radically, burgesses from the major towns.
All in all, I think I’d like to take my time machine back to rural Derbyshire on April 24th 1932 and to an England before widespread pesticide use and intensive farming. Melissa Harrison and Tim Pears both recreate the early part of the C20th so effortlessly and captivatingly in their novels All Among the Barley and The West Country Trilogy. This is the era of the Moth Snowstorm (a phrase brilliantly described by writer Michael McCarthy) and elaborated and quantified by Mark Cocker in his splendid book Our Place.
I would like to see our landscape, countryside and biodiversity as it was within my father’s lifetime. And that date in particular? I’d like to ‘take part’ in the mass trespass on Kinder Scout and witness the birth of the National Parks. My journey partner? I think I’ll take with me, Mark Cocker (to explain the bird life I was seeing and may never have seen before) and the Rt Hon Michael Gove MP, our current Environment Secretary. I may not be able to interfere with history or participate directly in events….but this man surely can…
The BIF Podcast audience will actually see author Peter Moore talk to Rev Prof Sir Diarmaid MacCulloch FBA author of Thomas Cromwell. Peter and Diarmaid will ‘travel’ back to Tudor England. And I can’t think of any one more qualified than Diarmaid to ‘set the scene’. If you could use the BIF Time Machine where would you choose to go?