A Newly Discovered Account of Ben Jonson's Walk to Scotland: an Annotated Edition, Contextual Essays and Resources for Heritage Interpretation

Lead Research Organisation: University of Edinburgh
Department Name: Sch of Literature Languages & Culture


In February 2009 James Loxley discovered a manuscript containing an account of Ben Jonson's celebrated 1618 walk to Edinburgh among papers deposited in Chester Archives. Although this walk was one of the most eye-catching episodes in Jonson's life, we have had little knowledge of exactly when it was undertaken, why, and what might have transpired along the way. The 7,500 word account promises to change this situation profoundly. Entitled 'My Gossip Joh[n]son his foot voyage and mine into Scotland', it appears to have been written by a hitherto unsuspected companion. Furthermore, it provides a day-by-day narrative of the travellers' adventures, including crucial information on where and with whom they dined and stayed, and their adventures along the way. Given the rarity and academic value of such a source, and it is of the utmost importance that a fully annotated text is made available to all those to whom it might be relevant as quickly as possible. For this reason, Loxley and Julie Sanders have undertaken to collaborate on the production of such an edition.

But the account presents substantial challenges. For a start, the manuscript's provenance is uncertain, and in form and content it is quite unlike the items that make up the rest of the collection in which it was found. The account is unsigned, and there is no internal evidence that would allow us easily to determine its authorship. It is also not certain that the hand in which it is written is that of the traveller himself. So significant archival and palaeographic work is necessary to explore these questions. The profusion of names in the account presents a further challenge: more than 240 separate individuals are mentioned, many of whom are neither well known or well documented in secondary sources. Full investigation of these people will allow the editors and future researchers to draw out potentially significant patterns of association and affiliation. Our research will therefore require substantial work on archival sources in order to allow us to annotate these names as thoroughly as possible.

The project will also seek to set the account in a series of relevant contexts, in order to establish its significance for an academic audience that includes not only Jonson scholars, or specialists in early modern literature, but also those with interests in cultural geography and the history of the people and places visited. The critical edition will therefore be published with contextual essays, addressing the cultural significance of walking in early modern England, the influence of this journey on Jonson's work, the light it shines on non-metropolitan social networks, and early modern literary celebrity. In undertaking this contextual work, the team will take due account of recent interdisciplinary developments in the study of early modern travel, and in particular in their theoretical and methodological implications; we will also ensure that our work is informed by the extensive research undertaken for the new Cambridge edition of Jonson.

But we also want to ensure that such an engaging account is made available to a wider range of beneficiaries. The narrative identifies the places visited by Jonson and his companion, and gives intriguing details of their activities at many of them. A large proportion of these places are now in the care of heritage bodies, or are the object of historical interpretation for modern visitors by owners and custodians. This account illuminates the history of those sites in themselves and as places to visit, and could add colour and detail to their interpretation. Working with a specialist consultant, we will convene a presentation and workshop to disseminate our discoveries to custodians and interpreters, to discuss with them the relevance and usefulness of such sources to their interpretative work, and to feed into resource packs which we will provide to participants and others for use in developing their own materials.

Planned Impact

The account of Ben Jonson's walk found in the Aldersey manuscript is of potential value to a range of extra-academic beneficiaries. Such detailed accounts of the day-to-day life of great renaissance writers are very rare, and we do not have anything similar for any of Jonson's contemporaries or peers. The light it sheds on Jonson's activities, character and reputation, and the further speculation it provokes, could reasonably be expected to interest theatre professionals looking to stage his work. Writers might find in it attractive source material for historical fiction. Informed general readers might find it intriguing, given its rarity, the subject's place in the literary canon, and its role as an early instance of cultural tourism. In fact, there has already been significant interest and attention from extra-academic sources: a 5,000 word article was published in issue 5554 of the Times Literary Supplement (11 September 2009) and a full page feature appeared in the Scottish and online editions of the Times on the same day. The TLS piece generated correspondence over four issues in the month after publication.

There are, therefore, already good foundations for further impact as editorial and critical work on the account progresses. Rather than attempting to pursue all these at once, however, we will focus our efforts during the lifetime of the project on one major set of potential beneficiaries. In detailing Jonson's journey the account makes mention of a large number of places that are today either in the care of heritage organisations, or that are otherwise objects for heritage-focused interpretative work by their custodians and regional cultural agencies. The account also includes significant references to a number of institutions which are still in business today and whose eventful history is a crucial part of their identity. We will seek to make contact with relevant representatives of these agencies and institutions, as well as contractors involved in designing interpretative materials, to bring the account of the journey to their attention.

Rather than simply notifying them of our research, we plan to explore with participants how this account can provide both material for, and a stimulus to, their interpretative work in three related ways. Firstly, it offers new information and insight into these sites and their history; secondly, it is an instance of the wider genre of early modern travel narrative, with a significant antiquarian - or heritage - focus of its own; thirdly, it offers an opportunity to examine the place and utility of literary sources and language in heritage interpretation more generally.

We will invite these representatives to an event including a presentation and ensuing workshop discussion focused on these themes. In order to enhance the discussion, we will also seek the participation of companies and consultants who specialise in providing interpretative services and expertise across a range of different sites. Building on what we learn at this event, we will produce a resource pack based around the account, featuring both generic materials, suggestions for use, and information and extracts tailored to the recipient's specific position. We hope that these beneficiaries will be able to use the pack to enhance their interpretative strategies and materials, increasing visitor numbers and the quality of the visitor experience.

We are aware that in focusing on this particular group of beneficiaries we will need a good sense of their situation and views in order to ensure that the process will be of use to them. In order to achieve this, the project will employ as a consultant a leading UK heritage interpretation designer and practitioner, James Carter, who will advise us on the design and organisation of our approaches to, and interactions with, the custodians and interpreters of the sites


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Loxley J (2016) 'Public feasts': Ben Jonson as literary celebrity in Celebrity Studies

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Loxley, J (2013) Ben Jonson's Walk in Ben Jonson's Walk

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Loxley, J (2014) The Biogeography of Jacobean Union in Shakespeare Association of America Annual Meeting

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Loxley, J (2012) Editing the Foot Voyage in Society for Renaissance Studies 2012

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Loxley, J (2013) Ben Jonson's Road North in Writing the Renaissance North

Title Ben Jonson's Walk 
Description Five modules collectively documenting Ben Jonson's 'foot voyage' through the English midlands on his way from London to Edinburgh in the summer of 1618 
Type Of Art Film/Video/Animation 
Year Produced 2015 
Impact Top Story media benefited by securing the commission and funding to make the films, which allowed them to develop their portfolio in a direction they were keen to take. Sites along the route at which we filmed (the Nottingham Building Society and Prince Rupert pub in Newark; Bolsover church and castle; Hodsock Priory) gained exposure which they sought to further through press releases and/or social media. 
URL http://www.blogs.hss.ed.ac.uk/ben-jonsons-walk/film/
Description We have undertaken a full investigation of the issues raised by the manuscript and account on which we've been working, and have produced detailed examinations of such issues as authorship, handwriting, provenance and context of composition. We have produced an accurate transcription of the manuscript, and a modernised text; we have produced extensive annotation of the text, and written three lengthy contextual essays for publication with it. We have also created dynamic and static maps of the itinerary described in the account.
Exploitation Route Our findings add new information and evidence for a range of academic disciplines, including British and Scottish history, architectural history, historical and cultural geography, as well as literary studies. They also provide new information which can feed into the visitor interpretation of the many historic sites mentioned in the account.
Sectors Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

URL http://www.blogs.hss.ed.ac.uk/ben-jonsons-walk/
Description The discovery and elucidation of the Foot Voyage account of Ben Jonson's walk to Scotland has already had a significant impact on research into Jonson's life and work. Ian Donaldson's definitive and well-received biography, Ben Jonson: A Life (OUP, 2011), drew on my published and unpublished research, and the book's use of this new source was something particularly noted by reviewers. Similarly, the new information provided by the Foot Voyage has made an impact on relevant aspects of the editorial labour of the new CUP edition of the Works of Ben Jonson (2012). Our findings have also already fed into the interpretation of Edinburgh Castle provided by Historic Scotland, and we are proactively contacting the custodians of other appropriate sites. Our exploration of the connections between literature and location also led to a cross-professional conference, 'A Place for Words', held in April 2013 - participants included heritage interpretation professionals, librarians, and academics. Our findings also underpinned a virtual re-enactment of Jonson's walk in summer 2013, which gained widespread media coverage and public interaction via blogs and social media. Between 2014 and 2015 we worked closely with a new video production company, Top Story Media, to make five short films detailing aspects of Jonson's walk through the English midlands. Top Story media benefited by securing the commission and funding to make the films, which allowed them to develop their portfolio in a direction they were keen to take. Sites along the route at which we filmed (the Nottingham Building Society and Prince Rupert pub in Newark; Bolsover church and castle; Hodsock Priory) gained exposure which they sought to further through press releases and/or social media. In late 2015 we were awarded funding by the RSE to support an investigative KE workshop and some experimental events with storytellers, local schools, historic sites, writers and artists. In 2016 we organised 3 storytelling events with schools and sites in Fife, on the theme of 'tales for travellers and travellers' tales', inviting storytellers to use the narrative of Jonson's visit as a jumping off point to explore what the history of their home town meant to local primary school students. In September we also held, and recorded, a 'sociable art walk' from Culross to Dunfermline, again taking its bearings from Jonson's journey, in which artists, musicians, storytellers, writers and psychogeographers participated.
First Year Of Impact 2013
Sector Creative Economy,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Economic

Description Royal Society of Edinburgh Research Workshop
Amount £9,758 (GBP)
Organisation Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE) 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 02/2016 
End 12/2016
Description Filming Ben Jonson's Walk 
Organisation Top Story Media
Country United States 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution We provided the concept, scripts and funding for five short films focused on Ben Jonson's 1618 walk from London to Edinburgh
Collaborator Contribution Top Story Media provided the editorial and production skills and expertise necessary to realise the concept and make the films.
Impact Five short films, as described above.
Start Year 2014
Description 'A Place for Words: Literature and Heritage Interpretation' - cross-professional conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The conference enabled shared discussion of possibilities and pressures facing heritage interpreters seeking to make use of literary sources and approaches.

Development of contacts within and across diverse professional communities.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
Description Tales for Travellers pilot project 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A KE workshop with heritage professionals, storytellers, artists and people charged with promotion of historic sites and long distance paths, followed by 3 storytelling events with local schools in Fife and an open art-walk from Culross to Dunfermline, involving practitioners and the general public.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://talesfortravellers.com