From Anglo-Saxons to the Tower of London

Tuesday 12 February 2019

On a recent visit to London, Rachel caught up with Becky Lawton (Medieval History MLitt, 2015) at the British Library’s sell-out Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition.

Becky Lawton (Medieval History MLitt, 2015)

You can find out more about Becky’s collaborative PhD and how her St Andrews studies equipped her for it here. She is hoping to submit her thesis in April and is now planning the next stage of her career.

Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms: Art, Word, War covers 600 years, includes 180 spectacular treasures and is a once-in-a-generation exhibition. It has proved very popular and the queue outside before the doors opened, even on a very snowy day, was impressive. The exhibition was mind-boggling, featuring manuscripts of legend and huge significance such as the Codex Amiatinus, Lindisfarne Gospels, Beowulf, multiple copies of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, St Cuthbert’s Gospels, works by Bede, Bald’s Leechbook, the Exeter Book, charters, and letters as well as beautiful jewellery and objects. There is a wealth of resources about the Anglo-Saxons on the BL website.

Snow and queue.jpg

The nature of Becky’s PhD has given her unrivalled access to amazing collections held by the British Library. She has worked as part of the Medieval Manuscripts team, in close collaboration with those curating the Anglo-Saxons exhibition, and has been able to contribute to the captions, exhibition catalogue and social media coverage of the event.

Becky has had privileged access to the key sources for her work and has seen amazing items being worked on by the team. Rachel met her in the foyer of the BL, under the huge banner which filled the wall on the left of the atrium.

ASBL banner_1

As part of the preparation for the exhibition, all Anglo-Saxon documents have been fully digitised and are now available online, with full descriptions, on the British Library website. For example, the digitised Guthlac Roll (BL, Harley Roll Y 6) allows close-up access to all the roundels on the roll and reveals details like the spectacles that have been doodled at a later date on some of the figures in this scene.

Guthlac Roll
Life of Guthlac (the ‘Guthlac Roll’, or ‘Vita Sancti Guthlaci’) (BL, Harley Roll Y 6)

BookmarksOver the last few months Becky has been working as Anglo-Saxon Manuscripts Postgraduate Intern during the exhibition. This has involved giving introductions to the exhibition and the key loans it features to groups. They don’t offer guided tours since that is too disruptive for other visitors. She has also hosted special visits by significant individuals. Her writing for the web has supported both the Anglo-Saxon project and the Polonsky Medieval Manuscripts project. She has really enjoyed doing that and it proved to be one of her favourite parts of the job.

As the exhibition closes (19th February), Becky will move to a new role as web content writer for Historic Royal Palaces. This seems quite a leap from a PhD in Anglo-Saxon, but she says that the curatorial parts of the last three years have been so amazing that they would be very hard to follow in any other curatorial context. She knows that she loves making history accessible and enjoys sharing her enthusiasm for the medieval period. There are blogs by her on the BL Anglo-Saxons articles page. And so she will continue to develop her skills in storytelling and making history come alive with a different focus, different platforms and different audience, from her “home palace” of the Tower of London.

We wish Becky a successful conclusion to her PhD and good luck with the new job.

Rachel Hart
Senior Archivist

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