Staff Profiles

Meet the PTUC Team!

Centre Director

Brad Beaven

brad_beavenBrad Beaven is Professor in Social and Cultural History and has worked at the University of Portsmouth since 1994.  He has published widely on urban popular culture in Britain in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He is author of Leisure, Citizenship and Working-Class Culture, 1850-1945 (2005), Visions of Empire: Patriotism, Popular Culture and the City, 1850-1939 (2012) and Dickens and the Victorian City (with Patricia Pulham, 2012). He has contributed on working-class leisure for both BBC radio and television programmes, most recently, The Golden Age of Coach Travel (2011) and British Passions on Film (2012).

Brad is the Port Towns and Urban Cultures Project Leader and is currently researching port-town urban culture in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, focusing on the topography of sailortowns. Brad is an experienced doctoral supervisor and welcomes PhD applicants interested in popular culture and the city c.1800 – 1945. Follow Brad @BradJBeaven

See all of Brad’s publications here.

See Brad’s posts on this website


Staff members

Karl Bell

karl_bellDr Karl Bell is Reader in History. His research interests revolve around aspects of the fantastical imagination in the nineteenth century. He has published work on magic, witchcraft, urban folklore, millenarianism, and supernatural readings of landscape. His first book, The Magical Imagination: Magic and Modernity in Urban England, 1780-1914 (2012) has been shortlisted for the 2012 Whitfield Prize. He is also the author of The Legend of Spring-heeled Jack: Victorian Urban Folklore and Popular Cultures (2012).

Karl’s interests within the Port Towns project relate to local ghost lore, spatial narratives, and popular urban mentalities. He is currently developing work on invasion scares and future war fiction in nineteenth-century port towns. He would be happy to hear from potential PhD candidates who would like to work in any of these areas. Follow Karl @drkarlbell

See all of Karl’s publications here

Steven Gray

steven_new-profile-picDr Steven Gray is Senior Lecturer in Imperial and Naval History. His research focuses on British imperial, maritime, transnational, global and transoceanic history. He is particularly interested in the material infrastructures of global networks, and how these facilitated the mobility of goods, people, militaries and empires. Steven’s interest within the Port Towns project relate directly to his research that has looked at how the expansion of a steam-powered Royal Navy in the second half of the nineteenth century had wider ramifications across the British empire. Steam propulsion made vessels less subject to the vagaries of tides, winds and currents, but it also made them utterly dependent on a particular resource – coal – and its distribution around the world. His research assesses how this created geopolitical tensions, required large infrastructures, as well as labour forces, and also engendered cultural connections around the globe. His first book, Steam Power and Sea Power: Coal, the Royal Navy, and the British Empire, c. 1870-1914  was published by Palgrave in 2017. He is a Fellow of both the Royal Historical Society and Royal Geographical Society. He is also responsible for the new MA Naval History programme at the University. Follow Steven @DrStevenGray.

See all of Steven’s publications here.

See Steven’s posts on this website

Rob James

rob_james Dr Rob James is Senior Lecturer in History. His research interests centre on British society’s leisure habits, in particular the relationship between leisure provision and consumption in the early twentieth century. He is author of Popular Culture and Working-Class Taste in Britain 1930-39: a round of cheap diversions? (2010), and numerous articles on aspects of popular taste and cinema-going in Britain, including ‘Cinema-going in a Port Town, 1914-1951: Film booking patterns at the Queens Cinema, Portsmouth, UK’, Urban History, 40.2, 2013.

Rob’s current research project investigates leisure provision and consumption in British port towns in the first half of the twentieth century. It assesses the responses of civic elites to the growing number of leisure activities on offer in these towns, and the ways in which the townspeople participated in them. He welcomes prospective PhD applicants interested in any aspect of popular culture in twentieth century Britain. Follow Rob @RobJames68

See all of Rob’s publications here.

Read Rob’s posts on the website

Mathias Seiter

Mathias_SeiterDr Mathias Seiter is Senior Lecturer in History. In his research on Central Europe during the long 19th century he addresses questions of identity formation, nation building, borderlands and liminal spaces, perceptions of space, and German-Jewish history. His current research on port towns focuses on German naval towns and seaports, in particular Kiel, Wilhelmshaven and Bremerhaven between 1871 and 1918. As gateways to the Baltic and the North Sea, these port towns were spaces in which different people, cultures and identities met. His project will assess the interplay and connectedness of transnational, imperial, national and local identities and how identities manifested themselves in urban culture and spaces.

See all of Mathias’ publications here

James H. Thomas


Dr James H. Thomas is Reader in Local and Maritime History at the University of Portsmouth. James has six books to his credit, three of which deal with Portsmouth. He is the author of three Portsmouth Papers on maritime matters and of over 100 articles in peer-reviewed international, national and regional journals. Many of these examine, in various forms, the relationship between Portsmouth and the sea. His research interests embrace cultural, economic, maritime and social relations in Portsmouth 1650-1800, the East India Company’s eighteenth-century provincial impact, piracy in the Indian Ocean 1690-1820, and the celebration of George III’s birthday. He has successfully supervised 1 M.Phil and 7 PhDs to completion, 1 M.St. for the University of Oxford and numerous dissertations at Masters level. He has acted as an External Examiner for the University of Winchester and has examined theses for the Universities of Exeter, Southampton and Winchester.

A member of two editorial boards, he has also served on the Council of the Navy Records Society and that of the British Association for Local History. He is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, of the Society of Antiquaries and of the Historical Association.

See all of James’ publications here

See James’s posts on this website

Research Assistant

Melanie Bassett

Melanie BassettDr Melanie Bassett is the Research Associate for Port Towns and Urban Cultures and a Sessional Lecturer in History. She manages the PTUC website and social media outputs alongside undertaking her own research on port towns. Her PhD research, ‘The Royal Dockyard Worker in Edwardian England: Culture, Leisure and Empire’ re-examined the concept of a monolithic imperial identity and tracked the nuances of working-class imperialism. She has worked with Professor Brad Beaven on a number of WW1 projects, including ‘Mapping the National Impact of the Jutland Battle: Civic and Community Responses during the First World War’ and ‘Lest We Forget’ in partnership with Portsmouth City Museum, which culminated in a large-scale exhibition that commemorated the ways that Portsmouth and its people experienced the War.

Mel previously worked in museums and was employed at Portsmouth City Museum and the Royal Naval Museum.

Follow Melanie @melanie_bassett

See Melanie’s posts on this website


Post-doctoral members

Chris Spackman


Dr Chris Spackman successfully researched his PhD under the Port Towns and Urban Cultures Project preview. His thesis examined the relationship between the Boys’ Brigade and urban cultures in late nineteenth and early twentieth century Britain. Through a case study approach of the port-side locations of London, Bristol, and Glasgow his thesis assessed both regional and national variances in the application of the object of the organisation. In particular, Chris’ research afforded special attention to the leisure pursuits undertaken by the movement. Through his case study approach Chris’ thesis offered a challenge to the historiographical consensus that purports that camping, rather than the regular weekly sessions, was the greatest attraction available to members of youth movements.

As a member of the project Chris produces content for the website. Recently he delivered a paper at the Annual Social History Conference titled “‘We Have an Anchor That Keeps the Soul’: The Summer Camps of the Boys’ Brigade in Port Towns, 1886-1933”. Follow Chris @ChrisSpackman

 Simon Smith

simon_smithDr Simon Smith has recently been awarded his doctorate, working under the Port Towns and Urban Cultures project. His PhD research considered the experience of sailors in the Royal Navy during the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. Looking beyond the technological changes, Simon focused on the image of sailors and the presentation of the Royal Navy: no longer was the British sailor a ‘bawdy drunkard’ but a hero of the Empire policing the oceans and enforcing Pax Britannia. With a key focus on the growth of pageantry and the positioning of the navy in British imperial culture, this fits in a neat juxtaposition with the growing trend of port-towns research. His research aims to provide socio-cultural investigation of sailors and their relationship with the navy and imperialism. Follow Simon @SMGSmith

See Simon’s posts on this website.

PhD Candidates

Eilís Phillips

Eilís PhillipsEilís Phillips is a Doctoral Candidate and her research focuses on British nineteenth-century folklore, in particular examining the ways in which industrial sites that disturb rural environments such as mines, railways and shipping routes were portrayed as monstrous in the writing of the period. Her main areas of interest include all aspects of the monstrous and the magical during the 1800s, with specific focus on non-anthropocentric and human/environmental hybrid monster narratives, exploring these evolving narratives within the context of socio-cultural upheaval during the Industrial Revolution. Prior to undertaking undergraduate study at the University, Eilís worked as a professional musician and journalist. Follow Eilís @EilisPhillips

See Eilís’ posts on this website


Daniel Swan

daniel_swanDaniel Swan is a Doctoral Candidate working under the Port Towns and Urban Cultures project. His PhD considers wartime citizenship, gender roles, young women’s identities, and the interactions between public and private memories of war within women’s reconstructions of their lives during the Second World War in Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight through oral testimony. Space and place is an integral part of his work; assessing the areas where women lived, worked, socialized, and the relationships between people within these spaces. Daniel is a research assistant for a national project examining the commemoration of the First World War during the centenary. As part of this he is interviewing visitors to 36 Hours: Jutland 1916, The Battle That Won the War, a centenary exhibition about the Battle of Jutland at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, and will be transcribing the interviews. His research interests include gender, cultural and oral history. Follow Daniel @danielswan38

See Daniel’s posts on this website

John Bolt

John BoltJohn Bolt is an American and native New Englander.  Growing up in the Greater Boston area, “The Cradle of Revolution”, his early and life-long passion for history was kindled by the stories behind local historical sites linked to the formative history of the United States and the American War of Independence. John completed his undergraduate degree in History at the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Virginia, before active service as an infantry and intelligence officer in the United States Marine Corps. Having recently moved to Portsmouth with his family, John recently completed his MA in History from the University of Portsmouth in 2015. Today, John works part-time a Marketing Coordinator for Portsmouth Cathedral, and also volunteers as a Guide with Friends of the Royal Garrison Church who keep the site open for English Heritage.  John also volunteers as an archivist with the Royal Marines Museum of the National Museum of the Royal Navy.  You can contact John here. Follow John @JD_Bolt

See John’s posts on this website

Joe Davey

Joe-DaveyJoe Davey is a PhD Student working under the Port Towns and Urban Cultures project. His research looks to explore seafarers in the port of Bristol between 1850 and 1939 and the extent to which seafarers formed a distinct sub-culture of the working-class. Looking at working-classes and seafarers’ leisure, culture, employment, income, crime, housing, citizenship, the project will assess how far seafarers’ identity can be determined as separate in relation to the working-classes as a whole in the port of Bristol. The research will also assess how accurate the argument is that Bristol did not have its own sailortown and how this manifested in relation to the development of Bristol as a port and a city.


Jenna Twyford-Jones

Jenna Twyford-Jones is a Doctoral Candidate, working on the nineteenth and early-twentieth century history of Tiger Bay, Cardiff’s ‘Sailortown.’ Her research explores the relationship between the residential and working community of Tiger Bay with the rest of the Cardiff city region, with particular attention to the contemporary media portrayal of this multicultural, multinational ‘Sailortown.’ The types of work the community engaged in, their leisure pursuits, civic life, social interactions, and familial ties all contribute to this research. This work follows on from her recently completed MA with Distinction in History from the Open University. Jenna’s wider historical interests include Black British and Anglo-Jewish history, as well as the history of immigration as a whole, especially to south Wales. Blog: Twitter: @JRTwyfordJones Instagram: @porttownpics

See Jenna’s posts on this website

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