The SHARE with Schools return visit went really well. We had a total of forty-five pupils from Blaengwawr High School, divided into three groups of fifteen. They were a mix of Year 7s and Year 9s, all of whom got to tour the Archaeology and Conservation labs, look around a Higher Education roadshow, and take part in the Nineteenth Century Collier & Medieval Warfare workshops. After lunch, they had a great talk by Dr James Hegarty on Hindu texts and got to write their names in Sanskrit. The event was introduced by the multi-talented Catherine Horler-Underwood, who also led the Nineteenth Century workshop.

English: Birch-bark manuscript. 62 folios. Dat...
English: Birch-bark manuscript. 62 folios. Date not known, probably 17th or 18th century AD. Sanskrit, in Sharada script. Three paddhatis on Kashmiri Shaivite rituals. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Having created the basic Medieval workshop for the groups of 11-14 year olds, I got to quickly explain it to the other PGR coordinators and UG volunteers, and then delivered it to the groups on rotation.

First, I got them to figure out when the Middle Ages was on a curved timeline – I was really happy with the way my PowerPoint slide turned out! – and then got them to identify an aerial view of a castle. I told them a shortened version of the Gilbert de Clare vs Humphrey de Bohun dispute, which I had mentioned in a talk on Inter-Marcher conflict I had given at Swansea during my MA. I could have used any number of Cardiff castle anecdotes, but I wanted to split each class up into three smaller groups, and King Edward I got involved in the Clare/Bohun dispute so it seemed appropriate!

Gilbert de Clare held Cardiff castle as the earl of Glamorgan and Hertfordshire. He built a castle at Morlais, between his lands and the lands belonging to Humphrey de Bohun, earl of Hereford.  The situation deteriorated between the neighbours when Humphrey accused him of trespass, and Edward I intervened to prevent all-out war between them. Despite the fact that the king’s writ ‘did not run’ in the March, Edward’s intervention solved the problem (because de Clare and de Bohun were arrested). The situation was tense and highly complex, but the bare minimum of information was enough as a way into the Middle Ages in Thirty Minutes.

I got to show them a clip of knights fighting at Conwy Castle, so I got to explain Half Swording techniques and the science behind the trebuchet. Dr James Jenkins, noting my enthusiasm for explaining medieval biological warfare and the way my eyes (apparently) light up when rotting horse flesh is mentioned, made the title comment of the post – “Mel enjoys the blood. Don’t you, Mel?”

I do.

To be fair, so did the 11-14 year olds.

After the presentation, they were divided into three teams of five – Team Gilbert, Team Humphrey and Team Edward (no, not that Team Edward). The heraldry quiz, “Mystery Knights” went down well – the simplified heraldic descriptions posed a bit of a challenge for some groups, but on the whole I think the clues and the code-breaker were pitched about right. Another activity was “Design Your Own Shield”, with points given out of ten by the teacher. The last activity was “Destroy the Castle”, a chance to fire model seige engines – the trebuchet and the mangonel – at targets.

English: CoA Gilbert de Clare and the De Clare...
English: CoA Gilbert de Clare and the De Clare Family (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The team with the most points got a prize… Haribo. Lidls’ finest.

The Medieval workshop needed more than half an hour, really, but I can easily expand it to a full hour. Since it’s proved itself as a viable workshop, I might be asked to do that so that it can be offered to schools as part of a pick ‘n’ choose menu of various options. It might not ever be requested in favour of the more established workshops, but it does compliment the existing Year 7 toolkit (Romans in Wales) and the Year 9 Cardiff Castle workshop.

As exciting as it is to teach anyone anything about the Middle Ages, rotting horse flesh, guts and glory aside, I think what made the day for me was the clever teenager who spotted some numbers on the white board (left behind from a previous seminar held in that room) and thought they must be relevant.

So when I asked, “Who can tell me roughly when the Middle Ages were?” he piped up, “1800-1899!”

… Well… I do enjoy the blood…

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