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Magic and Mayhem in medieval Bristol

HTT’s map of Bristol was published in 2020, edited by Trustee Professor Helen Fulton in association with the University of Bristol. Unusually for our Town and City Historical Maps series, it shows its subject at one moment in time, and is based on William Worcestre’s survey of Bristol in 1480.

As part of the Being Human Festival, Helen developed a themed walk of medieval Bristol, in collaboration with the Show of Strength theatre company.

There were four performances of 'Magic and Mayhem in Medieval Bristol' on the weekend of 18th-19th November, and all performances were sold out almost as soon as the show was advertised on Eventbrite. Nearly 100 people in total attended the walks, which were free events.

Outside St John on the Wall, Bristol

The walks were developed around the HTT map of 'Bristol in 1480', building on the map's use of William Worcestre's survey of Bristol of 1480. The script, written by the director of Show of Strength, Sheila Hannon, in collaboration with Helen, was performed by an actor, Naomi Richards, who played the part of Dame Edith Comfrey.

Dame Edith, maidservant to Joan Jay, William Worcestre's sister, led us around a number of medieval sites in Bristol, weaving in stories, real and fictional, about her life in Bristol in 1486, the year that Henry VII paid a state visit to this economically essential port city. Dame Edith's tales included one about the (real) alchemist Edward Norton and his (fictional) elixir of eternal life, another about Joan Jay's relative who was lost at sea but returned alive, and some audience participation in pacing out a part of the city – Taylor's Court – that had been missed by William Worcestre in his survey. At the end of the walk, the audience was taken to a nearby coffee shop, Cafe Revival, which is one of the oldest buildings in the old city at the top of Corn Street. Free refreshments were available, and a play leader, Emily Fox, brought her self-designed sketch map of the route for children to colour in.

Giles Darkes with the map of Bristol c. 1480

The HTT cartographer, Giles Darkes, attended two of the performances, explaining the principles of the map to interested members of the audience over tea, and a number of the Bristol maps were sold after each performance. The Being Human Festival is an annual celebration of the arts and humanities, funded by the School of Advanced Study at the University of London. The 'Magic and Mayhem' performances were also sponsored in part by the University of Bristol. Show of Strength theatre company plans to revive the performance in the summer of 2024, giving us a further opportunity to promote the Bristol map and the work of HTT.

Outside St Peter's, Bristol


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