2 June 2023

Of Amazing History and Annoying Tech

One of the immersive World War II exhibits at Eden Camp

Early May was full of the Coronation of King Charles III. The Union flag bunting saw another airing, the Pimm's stood ready, and smoked salmon & cucumber sandwiches were indulged. I sat glued to the TV throughout, not so much awed by the pageantry, but by the weight of history behind it. 

I'd chosen a good channel to follow, hosted by a softly spoken, highly knowledgeable presenter, and that day's newspaper had the entire service, and what it represented, laid out six columns wide and three pages deep - now safely stored in my research files. Whether I'll ever get to use it is hardly the point. And it was a very good day. Especially the Pimm's.

Another good day was experienced mid month at Eden Camp Modern History Museum in North Yorkshire. We were there to chat to the curator regarding a section of the extensive exhibits. 

Dubbed Eden Camp because of its proximity to Eden Farm, Prisoner of War Work Camp 83 was built in 1942 during World War II, first for Italian and later German prisoners. It closed in 1948 when the last of its 1,200 inmates were repatriated, and was purchased in 1985 by local businessman Stan Johnson, ostensibly to level the site for a factory. He found 35 of the original huts almost intact, and while he was deciding what to do with them, the site was visited by a group of Italian gentlemen eager to share fond memories of their stay. The rest is... history. 

A "Doodlebug" / "Flying Bomb". A V1 rocket - the first drone. Click for larger image
Eden Camp suggests allotting three or four hours for a visit; I'd say visitors will be lucky to see it all in a full day. We certainly didn't. The collections of photographs are fascinating. So was clambering on the Sherman tank (ahem...). The focus isn't only on World War II, but on all the conflicts since. It is sobering to realise just how many there have been.

No sooner had our photos been uploaded to the computer than we were off to Wiltshire to meet up with friends and collect 50 old CDs used to archive yet more historical data but without accompanying documentation. Our job is to clean them up, discover the contents, transfer to an external hard drive for safety, and create some sort of catalogue. Mmm, not a two-day job, then.

We'd decided to make the most of the trip south, and crossed to the east of the country into Essex for, you guessed it - shopping! No, more history.

Medieval Templar Barns at Cressing, Essex. Click for larger image

During the late 1100s, Cressing was the hub of a Knights Templar estate just outside the village of Coggeshall. The village lies on the highway of the period, Stane Street, built during the Roman occupation of Britannia which ceased when the legions were withdrawn in around 410AD. This was just before the East Saxons took over the area, hence 'Essex'. History always comes in layers. 

Of the estate buildings, only the two medieval barns remain (118ft x 45ft and 36ft high). Dendrochronology points to the main timbers of the Barley Barn - oak of course - being cut 1205-1230, and the Wheat Barn 1257-1280. Both had expensive tiled roofing from their initial construction (4,500 tiles each), weighing around 55 tons. They are a phenomenal sight, and currently much sought after for weddings, though probably not during winter.

The barn bays held produce from the estate, its sale helping fund Knights Templar operations in the Crusader states of the Middle East.

Which finally brings me to the question of annoying modern tech. With so much history still operational, why does our tech cause so many problems?

We arrived home to find a Windows update had caused the laptop to refuse to acknowledge the existence of the integral optical drive it had happily connected to before we went away. Two days of frustration later, with 50 disks to read, it became easier, if highly annoying, to purchase an external drive.

And who noticed my website had been off-line for a week? The host had no idea what had changed, and neither had the domain registrar. Thank goodness for YouTube videos, or this post might never have seen the light of day. 

I am hoping June proves just as inspiring with its history, but less annoying with its tech. Fingers crossed.