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Chance to Turn Pages of Rare Books in Historic Venues, Thanks to University Academic

A unique chance to bring the past to life by turning the pages of rare, centuries-old books in their historic surroundings is on offer, thanks to a University of Worcester historian.

Professor of Early Modern History, Darren Oldridge, is holding two talks exploring key aspects of Tudor and Stuart England revealed in early printed books at historic Worcestershire locations linked to the period.

Thanks to collaborations with the county’s local archives and historic buildings, attendees of the talks, at Harvington Hall, outside Kidderminster, and The Commandery in Worcester, will have the chance to hold and read these works for themselves.

“There is something special, and almost magical, in holding ancient texts in one's hands,” said Professor Oldridge. “They are a tangible link to the past. To turn their pages is to repeat an experience that others felt more than 300 years ago, and to feel a little closer to them. I want to give people this experience in locations that echo the works themselves.”

The books of Harvington Hall library are normally housed at St Mary's College, in Sutton Coldfield, and have not been displayed publicly in the Hall before. At the time that many of the books were printed, Harvington Hall was a refuge for English Catholics. The country house has more priest hides - secret rooms for concealing Catholic clergy - than anywhere else in the country.

At the talk, entitled Religion and Magic in the Books of Harvington Hall, on Friday February 16 at 7pm, Professor Oldridge will share books that illustrate Tudor and Stuart beliefs about religion, spirits, the supernatural and witchcraft. Unsurprisingly, some of them reflect the beliefs of a Catholic household, including accounts of miracles achieved through the relics of Catholic martyrs and the protective powers of guardian angels. Some of the works were smuggled illegally into the country.

One book by Joseph Glanvill, a senior canon of Worcester Cathedral, describes apparitions and cases of witchcraft in which he took a personal interest. Prof Oldridge said: "The Great Chamber at Harvington Hall, which will open specially for this occasion, will provide an evocative atmosphere for this material on a winter's evening."

The Commandery was the headquarters of the royalist forces in the Battle of Worcester, which ended the English Civil Wars in 1651. Based on a selection of seventeenth-century books borrowed from The Hive, Professor Oldridge’s presentation there on Saturday March 3 at 2pm, entitled Voices of the English Civil Wars, will reflect on pamphlets, sermons, speeches and other testimonies printed at the time.

The books displayed here reflect the war of propaganda and ideas that raged alongside the battles of the 1640s and 1650s and contain personal testimony of the war that tore the kingdom apart.  The authors include Richard Baxter, the parliamentarian minister of Kidderminster, and Thomas Fairfax, the leader of the New Model Army

The Harvington Hall talk is free, but places are limited so booking is essential: email bookings.harvington@btconnect.com or call the Hall's Office on 01562 777846.   The event at The Commandery is free to visitors but normal entrance charges will apply.   To reserve a place email commandery@worcestershire.gov.uk.