38 years into a grand life, I went to Lampeter University in ’97 to study archaeology, and I had a good time there. It was a very exciting place to be at that point, full of unfettered lecturers who seemed to like the cut of my jib. They gave me lots of gold stars, and I managed to pick up a grant to do a PhD. This eventually led to a Big & Proper Academic Book called Creating Prehistory: Druids, Ley-Hunters and Archaeologists in pre-war Britain, which was published by Blackwell in 2008. In a nutshell, the book’s about who controls the past. Ideas about the past tell us a lot more about Now than they do about Then.
Fascinated by unorthodox views, the Straight History of Weird became my thing, which explains how I got drawn to Glastonbury. I also like focussing on specific places. I like the insights that local history brings, and I’m very interested in how this town’s inhabitants have grappled with its reputation over the centuries. I’ve got a lot of sympathy for the locals who struggle to understand why their small town attracts so much attention. Why can’t we have a nice and normal history, like other places? they say. Normal history doesn’t really work for Glastonbury, however: it’s been singled out for special treatment since the Middle Ages.
This doesn’t mean to say that you can’t look at Glaston’s history in the same way that you’d look at the history of anywhere else, though, and that’s what I try to do. It means I end up drawing down the ire of people who feel that a conventional academic approach to the matter of Glastonbury is in some way wrong. “Let me just say this”, spluttered an earth-mysteries veteran, who shall be nameless, in the George & Pilgrim after one of my talks. “I believe that Joseph of Arimathea came to Glastonbury, I believe in King Arthur, and ley lines, and all the rest of it. I believe in mythtory. Your sort of history doesn’t mean anything to me.” “If I thought for one minute that I could undermine your beliefs”, I said, “then I’d burn my notes tomorrow”.
Undermining belief is not what I’m about. I try not to spin bunk but I don’t set out to debunk. I’m not interested in distilling truth out of fantasy, which seems to me about as daft as boiling whisky, but I am interested in ideas and where they come from. Whether they’re right or wrong is no concern of mine; but ideas have consequences, and that’s where I get hooked. Legends beget history, ideas beget facts. Glastonbury is a place where history and mythology strike sparks off one another. I pare the legends back, I ask different questions to most people, I do a lot of local history, and what’s revealed is often very surprising.
Like most people who get involved in Glastonbury, the place has sent me bonkers. I first dipped my toes in Avalon waters back in 2006, thinking that I’d soon be grazing in different pastures, but I’m still chewing the Avalonian cud. Rosemary Hill once defined an antiquarian as someone who “liked to fuss and hated to finish”. Glastonbury’s made an antiquarian out of me. The more I delve, the harder it is to wrap things up. This site is about helping me to get my life back. Over the next few months I’ll be putting up lots of my talks and papers up here. Give me feedback. Tell me what you think. Engage me in discussion. Remind me why I’m doing all this. Maybe that way I might manage to turn this lot into a book and escape from Avalon at last.
Adam Stout, firstname.lastname@example.org