In defence of history

Well that’s a challenging title if ever there was one and I could quite easily go off on a long ramble through the recorded past and point to the significance of past events to those of today but I think that would bore you quickly and if I’m honest I would be yawning before you. So what is it about history that attracts?

Henry Ford famously said that “history is bunk” implying that we could learn nothing from it but with all due respect to the great man he was plain wrong. If economists, generals and the ruling classes paid more heed to the lessons of history the world would be an infinitely better place. I believe that the only new thing is technology; in all other respects nothing is new. Human beings have been trading, fighting, procreating, negotiating with their neighbours and educating their children from the days when we all lived in caves. Each day we make the history of tomorrow and we learn from the mistakes of yesterday. History is the greater learning from those that have gone before. I don’t claim to be any kind of intellectual, I do not have a degree and I’ve lived in humble circumstances all my life but I do respect what has gone before whilst embracing the modern and anticipating the future. I believe that is what makes a rounded human being.

My own personal interest in history (apart from some obvious political interests that I wont bore you with) is in the everyday. How you and I would have lived in the past. What we would have done and how we would have traded and travelled. If it’s got a sail or a steam engine all the better!!

Earlier I stated that only the technology is new and I think that is self evident but the way in which it is used is as old as time itself. At one extreme the space station is only a modern extension of man’s need to explore. Blogging is the modern and direct equivalent of the pamphleteers of bygone days and the so called social networks are only another way of talking to one another which we’ve done from day one.

So, in my most humble opinion, history is anything but bunk. If we are sensible it is our best friend, wise counsel and tutor.

So how does this relate to the navigation. Frankly I think I’ve gone off on another of my regular tours off the subject but then maybe not. In the navigation research we have a natural human interest in understanding the world around us and how it came about. The history of the navigation is closely linked with the economic development of Aylsham and the villages along the route. If it hadn’t existed today could be very different.

The other evening we held a project meeting. I didn’t actually count how many people were there but I know it was fewer than the previous meeting although there were lots of apologies. These were ordinary people, I hope that doesn’t offend anyone because sometimes the word ordinary is misunderstood when it actually means solid, dependable and willing but I am not going to digress down that line. Ordinary people giving of their time in the now, looking to the future and celebrating the past. Up yours Henry Ford !!!

The meeting was fairly short and productive. We are on the cusp of setting up a Trust, well underway in the research for a book on the Aylsham Navigation, looking to study the wildlife, creating art, planning a comemmoration – in short making tomorrows history today quietly and without too much fuss. All of this on a local level whilst around us on a global scale history of another sort seems to be in the making as man’s innermost desire for freedom is being aired as it always will eventually, history teaches us that.

I thank all the good people involved in the project for their hard work and support. An invitation is also extended to others to join in and share in the experience. Now let’s look at some real history.

The above lock, in suprisingly good condition is the one at Aylsham around the time of abandonment in 1928. Actually it is half way between Aylsham and Burgh lying now on the opposite side of the A140 to the town but I’m not going to split hairs. To my eye this is a lock which could have been put back in to use fairly easily. It is clear that the local populace like the tranquility of the location although I do wonder who they were. This lock is now the only one which is not readily accesible so I can’t say from personal knowledge what remains now but I can’t help wondering how things might have been had it been repaired and put back in to use. I shall be dreaming of wherries tonight.


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