M.R. James – Author, Scholar, and East Anglian Historian
with Dr Rik Hoggett (Heritage Consultant)
Best known as the writer of some of the finest ghost stories ever published, M.R. James was also the foremost medieval scholar of his day with a strong academic and personal interest in East Anglia’s landscape and history. This study-day examines James’ East Anglian connections, from his childhood in Suffolk and his seminal work on the St Edmund’s abbey in Bury to his work at Ely and Norwich cathedrals and his later guide to the monuments of Suffolk and Norfolk. The day also looks at the influence which his life and work in the region had on the development of his ghost stories, several of which drew on East Anglian locations and legends
09.45 – 10.15: Welcome; tea / coffee
10.15 – 11.10: 1: Eton and King’s. The first session of the day introduces Montague Rhodes James and focusses on his upbringing in the rectory at Great Livermere, his education at Eton and King’s College Cambridge, and his early fascination with medieval manuscripts. This led to his cataloguing of the manuscripts housed in Cambridge University and to a detailed investigation of the defaced statues in the Lady Chapel of Ely Cathedral.
11.10 – 11.35: Tea / coffee / biscuits
11.35 – 12.30: 2: The Bones of the Abbots. This considers on the significant contribution which M.R. James made to our understanding of the Abbey of St Edmund in Bury, including the reconstruction of the lost monastic library and the identification of the final resting places of several of the abbots. His work led to the excavation of the remains of the famous Abbot Samson, a discovery which went on to influence some of his finest ghost stories.
12.30 – 13.45: Lunch break
13.45 – 14.35: 3: Saints and Sinners. After lunch we look at the wider place of East Anglia in James’ work. This includes his unpicking of the Biblical imagery in the roof bosses of Norwich cathedral and a detailed examination of one of his most famous stories – ‘Oh, Whistle and I’ll Come to You, My Lad’ – which is set in a fictionalised Felixstowe and in which the East Anglian coast is every bit as much a character as the protagonists.
14.35 – 15.00: Tea / coffee / biscuits
15.00 – 15.50: 4: Warnings to the Curious. The final session looks at the later years of James’ life, during which his work took on a distinctly nostalgic air, culminating in the publication in 1930 of his ‘perambulation’ of Suffolk and Norfolk. We hall also look at ‘A Warning to the Curious’, considered by many to be his finest ghost story, which concerns a lost Anglo-Saxon crown of East Anglia and the evil consequences which befall the archaeologist who dare to disturb it.
About Dr Richard Hoggett
Richard Hoggett is a freelance heritage consultant, writer and lecturer with over 20 years’ experience in the academic, commercial and local authority heritage sectors. He is the author of The Archaeology of the East Anglian Conversion (2010), The Book of Happisburgh (2011) and from 2006–13 was the editor of the peer-reviewed journal Norfolk Archaeology. He is a confident and popular public speaker and has lectured extensively on a wide range of subjects for institutions and organisations throughout the eastern region. In 2016 he was elected a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London.
When asked at a previous Study Day by Rick ‘What was best about the day?‘ people said:
- Rick’s infectious enthusiasm and knowledge
- Excellent. Highly knowledgeable and accessible speaker. A coherent, logical easy to follow format, full of information and easy to listen to, well illustrated, and well paced and clarity.
- Very good speaker and subject
- A wonderful lecture
- A completely new aspect of Rik Hoggetts admirable knowledge. Friendly group, much opportunity for learning
- The lecturer Dr Richard Hoggett. Gave a brilliant talk, so much knowledge
- Rik’s breadth of knowledge, illustrations and entertaining delivery
- Very good speaker. Easy and pleasant delivery, clear and methodical, with a wealth of knowledge
- The accessibility of the vast amount of information. The engaging way Dr Hoggett presented the topic.
- The flow of the content of the 4 sessions. A very enjoyable day.
Some Suggestions for Optional Background Reading:
- Scholarly Works
- James, M.R. 1892. ‘The Sculptures in the Lady Chapel at Ely’, Archaeological Journal 49, 345–62.
- James, M.R. 1895. The Sculptures in the Lady Chapel at Ely. London: Nutt.
- James, M.R. 1895. On the Abbey of S. Edmund at Bury. Cambridge: Cambridge Antiquarian Society.
- James, M.R. 1908. The Sculptured Bosses in the roof of the Bauchun Chapel of Our Lady of Pity in Norwich Cathedral. Norwich: Goose and Son.
- James, M.R. 1911. The Sculptured Bosses in the Cloisters of Norwich Cathedral. Norwich: Norfolk & Norwich Archaeological Society.
- James, M.R. 1926. Eton and King’s. London: Williams and Norgate.
- James, M.R. 1930. Suffolk and Norfolk. London: Dent and Sons.
- Ghost Stories
- James, M.R. 1904. Ghost Stories of an Antiquary.
- James, M.R. 1911. More Ghost Stories of an Antiquary.
- James, M.R. 1919. A Thin Ghost and Others.
- James, M.R. 1925. A Warning to the Curious
- James, M.R. 1931. Collected Ghost Stories.
- Cox, M. 1983. M.R. James: An Informal Portrait. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- Lubbock, S.G. 1939. A Memoir of Montague Rhodes James. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- McBryde, G. (ed.) 1956. Montague Rhodes James: Letters to a Friend. London: Edward Arnold.
- Pfaff, R.W. 1980. Montague Rhodes James. London: Scholar Press.
- Pfaff, R.W. 2004. ‘James, Montague Rhodes’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
- Dennison, L. (ed.) 2001. The Legacy of M.R. James. Donington: Shaun Tyas.
- Joshi, S.T. and Pardoe, R. (eds) Warnings to the Curious: A Sheaf of Criticism on M.R. James. New York: Hippocampus Press.
- Murphy, P.J. 2017. Medieval Studies and the Ghost Stories of M.R. James. Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State University Press.
Venue: The Court, Sutton Hoo
- November 23, 2019
10:15 am - 4:00 pm