Friday 9 October 2009, 09:58
Series 23 of Making History is under way and the email traffic is pouring in. Two weeks ago, we somehow managed to find three consecutive days for location interviews in which Nick must have driven about 500 miles as we worked our way around Norfolk, Bury St Edmunds, Tetbury in Gloucestershire and Oxford amongst other places, arguing about the best way to structure an interview or govern the country... (the conversations get pretty wide-ranging after day two when we're stuck in the car and we've run out of family news and "who's doing what" trivia).
We strike gold in East Anglia when we meet up with an old friend of mine, Dr John Davies, who's Curator of Norfolk Museums and a world expert on Romano-British culture and Queen Boudica in particular. He takes us out to see a group of archaeologists who are in the last few days of a major dig to locate some Roman remains - and at the eleventh hour are just revealing a complete human pelvis in the brick red soil - the first time it's seen daylight in nearly two thousand years. This is all pretty amazing stuff and it raises as many questions as it answers.
Next morning, we visit the local museum in Mildenhall to hear the story of the first race from Britain to Melbourne. The staff there have done a great job of tracking down all sorts of memorabilia, from pictures to flying gloves and oral histories about the event from local people. My dad was an aeroplane nut all his life and it's suddenly clear why he was so obsessed: these photos from his childhood are almost unbelievably glam. Those pilots really were the rock and roll stars of their day...
Our next story takes us to a churchyard in deepest Essex where we look for signs of the old cattle drovers who bypassed here on their route from the grazing lands of Wales to the markets of London and Southeast England. We meet up with a listener who has done some fantastic research into the men and their travels and we pass a very enjoyable morning deep in conversation and recording.
Another huge schlep in the car and we're in Oxford with me failing dismally to remember how to get to the Bodleian Library (the sign of a misspent education). My sense of direction is legendary... for being absolutely appalling. So Nick avoids putting me in the driving seat if it's humanly possible. However, after at least two or three phonecalls for assistance, Nick Millea, Map Librarian at the Bod, emerges and guides us safely inside. What he has to show us is quite astounding: the Sheldon Tapestry Map dates from the 1590s and is an exquisite piece of workmanship. Displaying part of Gloucestershire, the silk and wool map lays out miniature pictures of every village, town and landscape feature of significance in the sixteenth century. It seems far more detailed than the only other map available at the time - by the Elizabethan cartographer, Christopher Saxton. So how did the cartographers get this information and how accurate are these pictures?
Unusually for Making History, it's not our listeners but Nick Millea himself who is asking for our help. He wants the Making History audience to take a look at the Sheldon map of Gloucestershire (there's a link from the Making History home page) and then compare that with any surviving landscape features from the period. For example, does the picture of Horsley compare with the village today? And what about Tetbury or Beverston Castle? If the woven images are found to be based on reality then it makes the map hugely significant as it will be the first time that we know of in Britain where people have gone out into the landscape to make actual surveys that are then incorporated into the map itself.
It's nice to think that our series will be quite literally making history...
Vanessa Collingridge is presenter of Making History