About the prize
Curriers’ Company London History Essay Prize – Kirstin Barnard
I first stumbled across the Curriers’ Company London history essay prize during a work trip to the London Metropolitan Archives and I could see it was a great opportunity. The winner was to receive £1,000 and possible publication in the London Journal. I also saw that my research fit into the entry requirements. Essays that focused on any aspect of London’s past, to the present, were encouraged and could take any relevant disciplinary perspective. I was studying social relations in later medieval England for my PhD at the University of York, and some of this was London focused. At the time, however, I was just diving into the middle of my thesis and was desperately trying to get some chapters written.
The leaflet for the essay prize stayed on my desk, but the next time I considered it seriously was the following Summer. My PhD funding body, the White Rose Collage of the Arts and Humanities, had provided the opportunity to undertake a Researcher Employability Project. For this project I was helping with the organisation of some of the events celebrating Becket2020 in London. Becket2020 marked the anniversary of the death of the medieval saint and Archbishop of Canterbury, St Thomas Becket, who was famously murdered in Canterbury Cathedral 29th December 1170. 2020 was also 800 years since St Thomas was moved to a shrine at the Cathedral that became an important pilgrimage site throughout the Middle Ages.
As part of my work for Becket2020 I was writing up a short piece of research for the Mercers’ Company on their relationship with the saint for their own celebrations. The Company have historic connections to St Thomas as their Hall, on Cheapside, is built on the location Thomas Becket was said to have been born. In the Mercers’ archives I stumbled across a reference to a statue of St Thomas the Company used to have above the entrance to their Hall.
I discovered that the statue was a focal point for the religious tensions during the Reformation and became an outlet for religious expression for both the Crown and the population of London. Not only was the statue ordered to be removed, and later reinstated, by government officials, it suffered several spates of iconoclastic damage in the 1550s. It was eventually pulled down a few days before Elizabeth I’s coronation in 1559.
I wrote up the piece for the Mercers’ celebrations, but I knew that I wanted to explore the subject further. The St Thomas statue in no way related to my PhD thesis and so the Currier’s Company essay prize provided me with the perfect opportunity and impetus to write about it. Writing the essay alongside my thesis was difficult but I really enjoyed the process.
Finding out months later that I had won the essay prize was both unexpected and fantastic news. Due to the outbreak of COVID-19 I was unable to attend the prize-giving ceremony in London, but the Curriers’ Company were very helpful and kindly invited me to their Court and Livery Dinner, situation depending.
Working on the essay to submit it as an article for publication in the London Journal was an extremely valuable experience and something I hope to draw on as I near the end of my PhD. Again, the London Journal editors and reviewers were extremely helpful and the article has now been published online.
The Curriers’ Company London history essay prize is the perfect opportunity to explore your research interests, especially if they do not already fit into a project or outlet. Submitting my own essay gave me the chance to develop as an academic researcher beyond my thesis and gave me invaluable experience in article writing and publication. I would highly recommend considering a submission to the prize.