Heritage sites have a huge (often untapped) potential to inspire creativity. In January 2010 I decided to act on this feeling and founded a blog called ‘The Ragged Society of Antiquarian Ramblers’.
The Ragged Ramblers ethos is summed up in the following short statement: “We of the Ragged Society of Antiquarian Ramblers are dedicated to the pursuit of the many shades of meaning to be found in wonderful old places. With learning, tweed, companionship, cake and laughter, we rove in search of historic delectations. Huzzah!”
The ‘we’ here refers to the fact that the Ragged Ramblers are a ‘creative collective’ – a group of friends who, although we seriously love history, archaeology and heritage, are not scared to approach it with humour and irreverence. The result has been a slightly anarchic blog combining poetry, painting, photography, history and video. In the following piece, I will attempt to give you a taste of how historic places continue to inspire us in different ways.
A fair proportion of the Ragged Rambler output is directly inspired by our visits to historic places. Here, for instance, is a video of clouds moving through a circle of sky formed by the open top of the 18th century mill constructed within a medieval monastic gatehouse at St Benet’s Abbey...
One of our members is an accomplished artist. He keeps an amazing visual journal containing sketches and watercolours inspired by the places we visit. Ragged Rambler members never tire of looking at his work. Having enjoyed his 'visions' ourselves, we were very keen that this be shared with a wider audience.
Through the blog he is able to share his art with thousands of people (yes, our ‘hit count’ is very healthy indeed!). However, being of a somewhat quirky disposition, we decided to invent the provenance for a fictional artist (Dawson Bulwer-Rant), imagining his work to be part of a recently discovered archive of a semi-deranged antiquarian prone to rants, but sustained by a healthy love of cake.
The inspiration for our various Ragged Rambler creations comes from a variety of sources. For instance, having worked in museums myself, I recognise a particular type of visitor – generally a man of mature years in a car coat with a suspiciously quiet wife – who is resolved to demonstrate his detailed knowledge of a certain aspect of the collections to anyone they can ensnare. In our hands, this experience morphed into the creation of a series of posts about the water storage tanks used to collect rainwater from church roofs. In this spoof world, the water storage obsessives endlessly dispute the minutiae of the engineering. Thankfully, they are able to refer to the standard reference work; namely, Ryan Bryan’s classic tome, ‘The Hydro Logic of External Ecclesiastical Water Storage Vessels: Towards a Typology’ (1952). It really is a riveting read!
One of our regular features is a little brass feline figure called, ‘Goolie the Heritage Cat’.
I will spare you the story behind the idea of using tiny brass cats to deliver virtual heritage experiences (that’s between me and my shrink!). The main character, Goolie the Heritage Cat, is a qualified interpretive guide. He and his relatives, Uncle Alice and Aunty Vernon, explore historic places and have recently even over-seen the re-location of a medieval church to Norfolk.
And then there’s the cake... Well, for us, enjoying food together is central part of our days out. We are united in a love of cake and have even created a homage in the form of a high-speed stop-go animation.
I am really enjoying being a writer for the Heritage Open Day blog. The Open Day concept is completely in keeping with the Ragged Rambler ethos of promoting access to heritage. The Ragged Society of Antiquarian Ramblers has been an enormously successful experiment. We are getting thousands of visitors to the blog every month, and because we ‘do different’ we are attracting new and different audiences to engage with history and heritage. It has also been a huge success for everyone involved creatively. We all get so much pleasure through sharing our way(s) of looking at the world with a wider audience, whether this be about self-defence in a heritage site, wild wading or even tea chi in a church. I therefore urge you to take this playful attitude to the sites you visit (or work within) and be actively inspired by them.
Postscript: The Ragged Ramblers blog is dedicated to the memory of Charley North (1975-1993). She changed the way we see, feel and respond to the presence of the past.