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 presented a number of conference papers and also has much experience of giving talks and lectures to local history groups and societies. See the past engagements.

She currently offers talks onthe following topics. Scroll to the bottom of the page for feedback on some of the talks -


  •  Cambridgeshire Folk Tales

An entertaining illustrated talk which explores the Cambridgeshire Folk Tales included in the book written by Maureen James and published by The History Press in October 2014. The first half of the talk explores the research and writing process including the problems and pitfalls behind producing the book. In the second half, Maureen will tell some of the stories included in the book.

  • From Plough Witching to Christmas Waits - Cambridgeshire Calendar Customs

This popular illustrated talk, explores the calendar customs of the county - particularly the Fens, and including parts of Norfolk, Huntingdon and Peterborough. Commencing with the Plough Monday celebrations, the talk will move through the year to look at 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.

  • Chafer 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 considers the nature and popularity of stories in an age before widespread literacy and before the intrusion of television and radio. This was a time when stories were the way that people passed on wisdom and historical knowledge and whiled away the long winter evenings.

  • Moles Feet, Black Dogs and Grey Goose Feathers - Exploring Fenland & Cambridgeshire Folklore

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

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

This informative illustrated talk analyses the importance of folklore to the people in an age before widespread literacy and before the spread of television and radio led to the abandonment of old beliefs and considers the varied folk beliefs of the county connected to protection of the land, crops, cattle and health and often linked to fear of fairies, witches and the evil eye.

  • Legends of the Lincolnshire Carrs

An engaging illustrated talk on the main subject of Maureen's PhD research, namely the set of stories that were published in Folklore in 1891 as the Legends of the Lincolnshire Carrs, which comprise Tiddy Mun, The Dead Moon, Pottle o' Brains, The Green Mist, Yallery Brown, The Dead Hand, Stranger's Share, Flying Childer, Fred the Fool, Sam'ls Ghost. The talk explores the historical landscape in which the stories were collected, the folkloric content and the contemporary use of the stories.

  • Lincolnshire Folk Tales

An entertaining illustrated talk, which explores the content of the Lincolnshire Folk Tales book, which was written by Maureen James, and published by The History Press in October 2013. The first half of the talk explores the research and writing process including the problems and pitfalls behind producing the book. In the second half, Maureen will tell some of the stories included in the book.

  • Witches and Wisewomen - A Short History of English 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.

  • The Facts and Folklore of the Littleport Riots 1816

This moving illustrated talk explores how the riots were recalled by Fenland storytellers and passed on down the generations to eventually be told by W H Barrett. The talk draws upon the folk stories and the 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.

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

A fascinating illustrated talk which explores the history of the belief in fairies. This belief, 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 kept happy would help the crops grow and even help with house and farm work. If they were not placated they might take a healthy baby and leave an ugly changeling in its place or generally cause mayhem. The talk will also look at how the popularity of fairies reached it's peak in late Victorian and Edwardian times with such novels as Peter Pan and The Water-Babies, and at the similarities between accounts of fairy abductions and UFO's.

  • The Manea Colony (1838-41) - not just a commune, more a social experiment.

A thought-provoking illustrated talk which looks at how groups of people around the country set up agricultural communes following principles laid down by the socialist Robert Owen. This talk makes particular reference to the Manea Colony in the Cambridgeshire Fens and at how a disparate group of radicals from around the country descended on the Fens to build their own houses from local clay, grow and cook their own food, look after and educate their children communally and share their ideas with the world via a newsletter known as the Working Bee. Sadly the community, like many others failed mainly due to clashes of personalities and now the only sign of the site of the experiment is a name on the map.

  • Victorian Radical Schools – Way ahead of their time?

An absorbing illustrated talk focusing on radical education in the first half of the nineteenth century, at a time when the churches were expanding their interest in establishing schools, but many years before compulsory education. The talk makes particular reference to the school set up by James Hill and Caroline Southwood Smith (parents of Octavia Hill) in Wisbech. Local reaction to the school including the branding of it as an ‘infidel’ school and probably led to its failure to attract sufficient pupils and its eventual closure. The core of this talk, which was presented as part of the opening celebrations for the new Wisbech Library, is from a dissertation written whilst Maureen was studying for a B.Ed. A copy of the dissertation has been deposited with the Cambridgeshire Library Service.

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

Historian Maureen James will the explore 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.

  • The Pankhurst Family - Suffragettes, War and Haile Selassie

This popular illustrated talk uses humour to explore the lives of  the colourful and controversial Pankhurst family. Particular focus is given to Emmeline Pankhurst's daughter Sylvia, who once a militant suffragette, turned against her mother and sister when they showed their support for the war-effort and for the recruitment of young men. Her political beliefs led later to her meeting Lenin and also becoming an adviser to Haile Selassie.

  • A History of Christmas Customs

A lively illustrated talk that explores the history of the varied customs connected to the festive season. Commencing with Advent Calendars and concluding with Plough Monday, and covering many aspects including Christmas food, decorations, carol singing and Father Christmas, this talk is perfect for a Christmas themed event.

  • Tales of Wandlebury and the Gog Magog Hills

This thought-provoking 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!

St George in Legend, Tradition and Folklore

A new 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.

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

A lively illustrated talk on Black Shuck - the notorious hell-hound of East Anglian folklore in which Dr James makes comparisons with other black dog myths and encounters and also explores some of the other curious creatures of East Anglian folklore.

The Time of Misrule – Exploring the winter customs of England

This fascinating 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.

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

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 also includes information on the new Soul Midwife movement and is different from, but complementary to, the Witches and Wisewomen talk listed above.


No equipment is needed as we have our own slide projector, data projector and screen. For discussion of fees and expenses for talks please click on the contact form on the tab at the top of the page.

"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
"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

"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

"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."
Feedback of Christmas Customs & Folklore talk to Linton Historical Society - December 2017

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

"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

"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


"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 2015

"Thank you so much for giving us such an interesting talk...the way you depicted the customs throughout the calendar year was particularly good..."

Feedback on Calendar Customs Talk to  Tydd St Giles WI 2015

Thank you so much for your fascinating talk last night: it was so interesting. I don't think any of us knew that there was so much local history about witches and their awful persecution. The world sadly remains a sad place in this respect doesn't it? We are a pretty intolerant breed!

Feedback on History of Witchcraft Talk to Swaffhams WI 2015

"Dr James' talk turned out to be totally fascinating, taking us way beyond our own childhood memories of folk tales and fairy stories..."

Review of talk on Fairy Belief to 2013 Dowsers Conference


"Just to say thank you very much for the talk...the ladies thoroughly enjoyed it and there was lots of discussion and reminiscing afterwards."

Review of Calendar Customs Talk 2013


“Belton and District Historical Society were very pleased to host Maureen James and her excellent "A History of Witchcraft (Witch, Wicca, Wise woman)" illustrated talk. The event was most informative and very well presented. Maureen presented and engaged very well with the audience and this made for a very enjoyable afternoon. We will be looking to book her again in the future.”

Review of talk at Belton 2011

“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

"I am writing to thank you for the great lecture you delivered to us last Tuesday. I found the lecture fascinating and it taught me much about local folklore...those that attended have also expressed their enjoyment of your lecture..."

Letter from Fenscape after lecture on Lincolnshire Folklore 2009