Background to the Project

I first came across a reference to the incident at the centre of these events when researching family history. Brian Elliot, in The Making of Barnsley [Barnsley, 1988] refers on page 286 to the case in which William Basforth was accused in 1674 that he ‘took fower glass bottles of Mr Spencer’s..’ amongst other items of food. Following his death in October 1674, while in custody awaiting trial at the next Quarter Sessions, his widow, Martha, made an appeal to the Justices for ‘his wages which comes to the some of forty five shillings..’ While I am unable to confirm a direct link to this family in my own line of descent, the coincidence of their presence in Dodworth around this period, when others of the same name arrived in the records for the area, suggests a connection. In following up the QS records at the West Yorkshire Archives to which Elliot referred, and through other coincidences, I discovered that John Spencer, the then owner of Cannon Hall and a prominent iron manufacturer, had himself been accused of murder in 1661, when he ran through Edward Dyson, a joiner, with a swordstick on his way back from Wakefield market. Much of this found its way into my MA Thesis at the University of York, Social Networks in a Pre-Industrial Society: The Pennine Barnsley Area c 1650-1760 (2002, unpublished).

Several years later, in 2009, my wife and I concocted the somewhat odd idea of collaborating on a way of presenting this material (and vast amounts of research that followed) using a combination of historical information with her art practice, which involved photography, text and fabrics. As we worked on the background to this, including how art and history can combine in the field of Public History, from both practical and theoretical foundations, to explore the ways in which the past is publicly presented and how that might be challenged by grassroots activists. We published a foundational article in Public History Review Journal 18, (Sydney, 2011, accessible on line) to set out our stall. Research, including landscape visits to the Welsh borders (from where Spencer originated) and around Dodworth, Cawthorne and Cannon Hall (several times), continued along with the discovery and interpretation of documents from the West Yorkshire Archives and the National Archives. Eventually, we sought various means of funding an outreach project, first in the Barnsley area via the Heritage Lottery Fund and then in York using Arts Council funding. Sadly both applications failed at the first hurdle and the material has remained in abeyance now for more than three years.

We owe it to ourselves and our hard work to find some means of presenting the material to the public and this is our next stab. How this will pan out, remains to be seen. Meanwhile, our thanks to the many people who have encouraged us onwards, not least Hilda Kean (formerly of Ruskin College) and Paul Ashton in Sydney, but not forgetting the interest shown by a number of academics who are fascinated with what we are trying to do.