Talks and lectures for Local History Groups and Societies

"Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire." William Butler Yeats


Dr. Maureen James has a wealth of experience of giving entertaining and informative talks and lectures to local history groups, societies and WIs. She offers talks on a variety of topics, listed by theme. Those marked with an * are available in a shorter version of 45 minutes and are ideal for WI’s. click on each to be taken down the page to the full description and feedback.

See has also presented a number of conference papers and has given keynote speeches and lectures. The Lectures and Conference Papers presented page has a list of these.

She currently offers the following talks -

Folk Tales & Storytellers

Folk Customs & Folk Lore


Social History - Women


Social History - General 


The Abolition of the Slave Trade & Slavery



Folk Tales & Storytellers


Chaffer Legge, Ratty Porter & Granny Hall – The old Fenland Storytellers *

A lively talk based on the old storytellers of the Fens particularly those who were heard by W H (Jack) Barrett at the Ship Inn at Brandon Creek. This talk includes a number of humorous anecdotes to illustrate the power of stories in an age before widespread literacy and before the arrival of television and radio.

"Thank you for the most interesting and entertaining talk...The group has a keen interest in the fens but this was the first time we had heard from anyone with the perspective of storytellers and stories from the fens. I know that the group were intrigued and thoroughly enjoyed the evening." Upwood Local History Group - Autumn 2017



Cambridgeshire Folk Tales *

An entertaining illustrated talk which includes some of the Cambridgeshire Folk Tales included in the book written by Maureen James and published by The History Press in October 2014. The book received an award from the Cambridgeshire Association of Local History in 2015.

Thank you so much for giving your talk on Investigating Cambridgeshire Folk tales... I understand that the event went well” Warboys Library


Legends of the Lincolnshire Carrs

The main research area of Maureen James is the folktales of the Lincolnshire Carrs, the wetlands of northern Lincolnshire that lie between Lincoln Edge and the Wolds, In this talk she presents her research on such captivating stories as Tiddy Mun, The Dead Moon, A Pottle o’ Brains, The Green Mist, Yallery Brown and The Dead Hand.

"We have had some very complimentary comments from people who came, and the staff who were listening said they really enjoyed the stories. I thoroughly enjoyed it myself - it is a long time since I have just sat and listened to someone telling stories... Eleanor Nannestad Lincoln Central Library.

Tales of Wandlebury and the Gog Magog Hills

This intriguing illustrated talk explores the myths and legends of Wandlebury Hill fort and the surrounding landscape and also looks at some of the more controversial theories about the area including the 'hill figures' uncovered by Tom Lethbridge and the idea put forward by Dutch researcher Iman Wilkens that the area is really the site of Ancient Troy!

Thank you so much for coming over ... to give us your talk about Wandlebury and the tales and myths that surround it. I’m sure you could tell from your audience’s reactions that the talk was very well received; there were lots of chuckles and other positive noises - you are a wonderful story teller!" Somersham History Society May 2019

St George in Legend, Tradition and Folklore

A fascinating new illustrated talk that combines the tales of the patron saint of England, as found in various countries around the world, with the historical record. The talk also explores the traditions linked to St George including Mummer's Plays.

"Thank you for making our St George's Day Lunch...a very memorable occasion. Your presentation was excellent but it is your energetic enthusiasm that brings it all to life.. and makes everyone sit up and relish the detail." Feedback from after-dinner talk at Werrington, near Peterborough

Ghost stories for Halloween *

A selection of scary stories and tales of the ‘strange’ from Cambridgeshire and the Fens. Ideal for the dark time of the year when the ‘veil’ between this world and the next is said to be ‘thin.’



Folk Customs & Folk Lore

From Plough Witching to Christmas Waits - Cambridgeshire Calendar Customs *

Maureen James will take you on a journey through the year in this popular illustrated talk that explores the calendar customs of the geographical area covering not just Cambridgeshire, but also Huntingdon and Peterborough. Commencing with the Plough Monday celebrations, you will hear about many different traditional folk activities, a number of which have sadly disappeared including May Garlands, Oak Apple Day, Midsummer Dumb Cakes, Harvest or Horkey Customs, Goose Fairs and Goodening.

Thank you so much for visiting our Guild ... I know the ladies enjoyed your talk very much, as did I. It is somewhat comforting to see many traditional days are still celebrated, and it was fun to learn of some new ones. Gamlingay Guild of St Mary 2019

Moles Feet and Dropped Gloves – Exploring Fenland Folklore *

An entertaining illustrated talk which explores the folk beliefs of the people of the Fens, including Cambridgeshire, parts of Norfolk, Lincolnshire and Huntingdonshire. Much of this folk belief dates back to the time when the ground was subject to inundation and life was very much at the mercy of wind, weather and water and when people felt the need to protect themselves and their property from harm.

Thank you for a most interesting talk … many members mentioned how much they had enjoyed it.” Elsworth, Knapworth & Conington WI 2014

Bogles, Boggarts and Will ‘o’ the Wykes - Exploring the Folklore of the Lincolnshire Fens *

This illustrated talk explores the importance of folklore and belief to the people in an age before television and radio. These old beliefs, some of which still survive, are connected to protection of the land, crops, cattle and health and often linked to fear of fairies, witches and the evil eye.

"I would once again like to thank you for last night's talk, a good turn out seemed to thoroughly enjoy your engaging story of folklore in Lincolnshire. A super evening thanks again." David Robinson Chairman NELALHS after talk on Lincolnshire Folklore 2017

Black Shuck! Black Dogs and other curious creatures from East Anglian folklore *

An absorbing illustrated talk on Black Shuck - the notorious hell-hound of East Anglian folklore. In this talk Maureen James will make comparisons with other black dog myths and encounters and also explore some of the other curious creatures of East Anglian folklore.

The Folklore & Customs of Christmas *

A nostalgic look at the history of the varied customs connected to the festive season. Commencing with Stir-up Sunday and concluding with Twelfth Night this illustrated talk will cover many aspects including Christmas food, decorations, carol singing and Father Christmas, making it perfect for a Christmas themed event.

"Thank you for your talk on Tuesday evening - an enjoyable romp through Christmas celebrations. It made us realize how much has been lost, even since our own childhoods." Linton Historical Society - December 2017

The Time of Misrule – Exploring the winter customs of England *

This new illustrated talk explores the varied winter customs that are found around the country during the dark time of the year from the end of October to early January. These customs include Halloween, Mischief Night, Bonfire Night, Twelfth Night and Plough Monday. This talk does not include the customs of Christmas as that is the subject of another talk.


Pixies, Elves and Peter Pan: A History of Fairy Belief

An absorbing illustrated talk which explores the history of the belief in fairies. This belief, which was widespread in medieval and early modern times, was evidenced in a number of popular tales and in folklore. It was thought that the fairies, if they were not placated might generally cause mayhem. The talk will also look at how the popularity of fairies reached its peak in late Victorian and Edwardian times and at the similarities between accounts of fairy abductions and UFO's.

"Dr James' talk turned out to be totally fascinating, taking us way beyond our own childhood memories of folk tales and fairy stories…" British Society of Dowsers Conference 2013



Social History - Women

Witches and Wisewoman – A Short History of Witchcraft *

A very popular illustrated talk outlining the changing attitude to people who were called ‘witches’ from the medieval acceptance of their role as healers or wise women, through their persecution by Matthew Hopkins to the foundation of modern Wicca. This talk also briefly considers the role of superstition and the place of the older woman in England throughout the ages.

"On behalf of the committee of Queen Edith's WI I would you like to thank you for your most interesting and informative talk last night. Our members found that the way Wise Women were treated with suspicion through the ages very enlightening. Your careful local research was much appreciated." Feedback on Witch, Wicca, Wisewoman talk October 2015


From Village Handywoman to Soul Midwife *

Another inspiring new talk which outlines the history of the caring role of women both at the beginning and end of life. Women by nature are drawn to being healers using herbs, charms and common sense and, in the time before the NHS, fulfilled the roles of midwives at birth and nurses at death, and as such these women were respected within their communities as wise women. This talk is different from, but complementary to, the Witches and Wisewomen talk listed above.


The Pankhurst Family - Suffragettes, War and Haile Selassie *

This illustrated talk examines the lives and actions of the colourful and controversial Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters, founders of the Suffragette WSPU. It will also focus on the work of Sylvia, who turned against her mother and sister when they showed their support for the war and for the recruitment of young men. Sylvia’s political beliefs led later to her alienation from her mother, to a meeting with Lenin and to her becoming a friend of Haile Selassie.

"Many thanks for coming to talk to us. I think we all know something about the suffragettes but we all learnt a lot more last night. Everyone I spoke to said how much they had enjoyed it."

Feedback after The Pankhurst Family talk to Stretham WI - March 2018


The role of Women and the Campaign for the Abolition of the Slave Trade and Slavery *

An inspiring new illustrated talk drawn from research for a course on the subject of abolition, this is perfect talk for women’s groups. Within the talk, Maureen well explore how the role of women was crucial to the success in achieving the abolition of first the slave trade, and then slavery within the British Empire, and how their experience of campaigning influenced the evolving Votes for Women campaign



Social History - General


The Facts and Folklore of the Littleport Riots 1816

This thought-provoking illustrated talk examines the Ely and Littleport Riots, as recalled by Fenland storytellers and passed on down the generations to eventually be told by W H Barrett. The presentation also draws upon the folk stories and the local histories, to deliver a poignant account of the Bread or Blood protests that resulted in five Littleport men being hung at Ely and a number of others being imprisoned or transported.

"This talk was an excellent start to our new season, and drew a good attendance.  It was indeed a poignant account of the Bread or Blood protests, set against a backdrop of failing harvests, rocketing corn prices and low wages or no work at all.   These men obviously felt they had no choice except to riot, but the outcome for some of those who took part was very harrowing and must have been traumatic for their families.  It is quite difficult for us to imagine just how hard life was for the ordinary person, in an agricultural area." Haslingfield Village Society Sept 2019


Manea Colony (1838-41) – Owenite Community and Social Experiment

An illustrated talk looking at how groups of people around the country set up agricultural communes following principles laid down by the socialist Robert Owen. This talk focuses on the Manea Colony in the Cambridgeshire Fens where a group of radicals from around the country built their own houses from local clay, grew and cook their own food, looked after and educated their children communally and shared their ideas with the world via a newsletter known as the Working Bee.

"On behalf of March and District Museum Society, sincerest thanks for a very well received talk last night. A classic topic, local history with a strong national and indeed in this case international slant. Well presented, informative and very enjojyable. A very pleasant evening for all." Feedback after Manea Colony talk at March - Oct 2018


Dame Schools and Village Primary Schools

An illustrated talk exploring the evolution of education in rural villages from the early beginning's where retired literate villagers would open their homes to educate children and earn a bit of money (in the days before pensions) to the foundation of many of the Church of England Primary Schools. This fascinating talk also touches on the radical infant school movement, the growing popularity of charity endowments, the debates between the rival religion based organisations and the need to fit the school timetable into a calendar dominated by agriculture.



The Abolition of the Slave Trade & Slavery

The Clarkson's of Wisbech and their role in the Abolition of the Slave Trade and Slavery *

An absorbing illustrated talk in which Maureen James explores how Thomas and John Clarkson from Wisbech became players in world history through their involvement in exposing the horrors of the slave trade and acknowledging the potential of Africans to live a harmonious and productive life in their own country. She will take her audience on a moving trip through the lives of the two brothers telling the stories that shaped and changed their lives and had a profound effect on the lives of so many others.

"Thank you so much for such an interesting talk about the Clarkson brothers. I must admit I did not realise how important and influential they were, and that there are memorials in Westminster Abbey and Pooley Bridge, as well as their home town of Wisbech. Feedback after The Clarkson's of Wisbech talk at Haddenham - Sept 2018


Thomas and John Clarkson – Abolitionists and Pacifists

Historian Maureen James tells the fascinating tale of the brothers who held on to their beliefs despite repeated disappointments. She takes her audience back to the late eighteenth century to a time when equality and acceptance of cultural diversity were not issues, and when religion was still a driving force in politics. The illustrated talk will also explore aspects of the lives of the two brothers telling the stories that shaped and changed their own and many other peoples’ lives, but failed to be acknowledged by the ‘Establishment.’

Thank you for coming over to the Museum and presenting your research. It was a wonderful talk” Wisbech & Fenland Museum 2019

It is difficult to study history through the ears, eyes and understanding of those that lived in the past. Maureen was able to describe events of the past though the lives and feelings of the Clarksons and their contemporaries with great success. She spoke with emotion and feeling about the work of real people”. Review of talk to the Isleham Society 2006


William Wilberforce – Heroes and Abolition

An exploration of how the need for a Hero led to the rewriting of history. This talk is also the subject of a paper of the same title, posted on the website In Part One of the talk, Maureen James will look at Joseph Campbell’s theory of how a hero goes through stages on his journey or ‘quest’ and relate these stages to the historical accounts of both Thomas Clarkson and William Wilberforce. In Part Two, she will explore how the former was totally eclipsed by the latter, laying the foundation for the view that is still with us today.



No equipment is needed as we have our own slide projector, data projector and screen. For discussion of fees and expenses for talks please contact

Maureen James, 22 Darthill Road, March, Cambs, PE15 8HP. Tel 01354 650586 or 07967 240328 or email maureen AT tellinghistory DOT co DOT uk