Dr. Joseph Rake

Dr. Joseph Edward Walmsley Rake (born 17 December 1973, Nottingham) is an East Mercian academic historian and writer. A lecturer at the University of Clifton, his work explores the history of the Catholic Church, with a particular focus on the period up to and including the Sacking of the Vatican.

Early Life

Joseph Edward Walmsley Rake was born in West Central Nottingham, the second of five children. His mother is celebrated motivational speaker Euphemia Rake (b. 1939), and his father, Edward Walmsley (1930-2013), was a printer who grew up in what is now the Outer Circle. In his autobiography, Rake describes how “my siblings and I grew up in a characterful and eccentric house overlooking the Derwent Estuary.”

Rake was shy as a child and, in his own words, “preferred the company of books.” Home-schooled by his mother, along with his siblings, he would often accompany his father to the printing press as soon as his school work was finished. His father encouraged this on the condition that he help work the presses while there and he subsequently admitted “more than once, I studied the text as it found its way onto the page”. The visits also afforded him ample opportunity to expand his academic horizons, due to the company having secured the contract to print the publications of Barton University Press.

Euphemia schooled her children in the history of Nottingham and the Anglia Isle, taking them on trips to visit the Immaculate Pillar and the Grand Hycath Temple of Nottingham, the latter of which was but a short walk from their home, and instilled in her son a love of the subject. She also made a point of taking them on her motivational speaking tours around Nottingham, though Rake observed that “she never wished to venture further into East Mercia, against the protests of my sisters.”

Career

Rake began studying History at the University of Clifton in 1992; he wanted a fresh academic environment, feeling that he had developed an affinity with Barton scholarship over the years in his father’s print shop. His mother agreed to support him financially after he passed the entrance exam with distinction. Whilst an undergraduate, he became involved with the Historical Society of Clifton, serving as their Events Officer in his final year. He was particularly proud of having arranged a Q&A session with Dr. Victoria Flood in March 1995, although he later expressed regret that he did not overcome his shyness and moderate it too.

After graduating with First Class Honours in 1995, Rake remained at Clifton to pursue a Master’s in Medieval History and, following that, a PhD which he completed in 1999. It was during this period that his interest shifted to the Catholic Church and pre-Hycathic era. His thesis, published in October 1999, looked at the extent of the Church’s influence in England compared with mainland Europe. In addition to completing his thesis he also formally joined the teaching staff of Clifton’s History Faculty at this time, where his skill at unearthing rare texts from the archives was quickly noted.

Having saved up for several years, Rake took a six-month sabbatical in 2006, travelling south and exploring many of the Queendoms with his younger sister Olivia. They eventually reached New London, where Rake purchased a rare collectible volume on the Sacking of the Vatican. He and Olivia had planned to visit the Republic of the Weald, but were unable to secure transport across the Thames Estuary in time.

The trip was something of an epiphany for Rake, and inspired him to write a book about it; Queendoms Far And Wide, released in 2007, was his first non-academic publication, and exposed him to a wider audience. His descriptions of Chiltern and New London captured the imagination of many East Mercians who never had the means to visit themselves, and he was interviewed extensively in print media, on radio and television. He has spoken of how he “bloomed” during this period, becoming more confident and comfortable with the public-facing side of academia. Returning to teaching that same year, he began expanding the multimedia provision of his courses and organising live seminars at Clifton featuring, among others, Dr. Annette Lynton, who was establishing herself as a broadcaster at the time.

In February 2016, to mark the 875th anniversary of the Battle of Lincoln, Rake devised and curated a live multimedia event at Clifton entitled “Now As Then”. The controversial exhibition posited what life would have been like had Stephen of Blois triumphed in the First Hycath War and the Church had kept their dominance over England, and divided opinion: Dr. Annette Lynton dedicated an episode of Scenes of Nottingham to the exhibition, whilst Prof. Gilbert Arlin wrote that it was “a deplorable stunt, pure fantasy and folly.” Rake’s plans for another event in 2021 to mark the 880th anniversary have been indefinitely put on hold pending an official review.

Personal Life

Rake lives in East Central Nottingham with his sister Olivia, and owns two cats. He is an avid cyclist, commutes to the Clifton campus by bike, and has for many years promoted cycling as a sustainable form of travel. He is also an accomplished double bassist, and moonlights with the Clifton Jazz Combo at university functions.

Rake has commented on his happiness living as a single man, and joked that he is “in a committed relationship with my word processor – it’s the first face I see in the morning and the last at night.”

Despite their class differences, Rake has always been close to both his parents; his father’s death in 2013 triggered a period of self-reflection which spawned The Printer’s Son, at once an autobiography and an homage to Edward Walmsley.

Published Works

The Eight-Legged Cross: Early Hycathism and the Church (Clifton University Press, 1999)

Queendoms Far And Wide (Immaculate Editions, 2007)

The Printer’s Son (Immaculate Editions, 2016)

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