February 18th 2019: Timothy Walker: The Oxford Botanic Garden, the first 393 years
Timothy Walker, Director of the Oxford University Botanic Garden until 2014, gave us a fast-moving and very amusing survey of the development of the garden since its seventeenth-century, maintaining a timeline of the successive directors and associated professors of botany with their many strengths and weaknesses. He spelled out the ways in which the function of the garden changed over the years from its origins as a means of teaching medical students how to recognise the plants they would need to prepare their cures. He gave us many examples of the research work of the garden and of the ways in which the physical layout has changed as new approaches to gardening have come in. He told us how the garden had rescued some plants from extinction, recounted the story of its most famous escapee, Oxford ragwort, and introduced us to some of the plants which had found a place in the hearts of Oxford people – including a pinus nigra that was the favourite in turn of J.R.R.Tolkien and Philip Pullman. He also sang the praises of the arboretum at Nuneham Courtenay which is part of the botanic garden. He said at one point that among scientific studies “biology has a soul”. He certainly gave us a very clear idea of how that soul had manifested itself in the Oxford Botanic Garden over the years, and left many of us determined to visit or revisit as soon as possible.
January 21st 2019: “Percy Manning, the Antiquary who collected Oxfordshire”
For our first speaker of the new year we welcomed Mike Healey, a former librarian at the Bodleian. There was a good turn out in spite of the cold weather. Mike’s talk was entitled “Percy Manning and his place in Oxfordshire history”. Percy Manning was an antiquary who amassed enormous collections about the county and city covering all periods of history and documenting folklore and customs as well as material objects. Born in 1870 in Leeds he was the son of a railway engineer. Percy was four when his father died and the family moved to Watford and then to Oxford. Percy was a student at New College but more interested in practical archaeology than his academic work and he failed to get his degree until 1896. From then on he lived as a gentleman scholar, always in lodgings, and belonged to many societies including the Oxford Archaeological and Historical society. His life revolved round collecting and setting up exhibitions, talks and publications. He died of pneumonia in 1917 while serving in the national reserve at Southampton Docks. His collections are housed at the Pitt Rivers, Ashmolean and Bodleian and reflect the constantly changing ways of life. His maps were left to the University and a project celebrating the centenary of his death in 2017 has brought together two sets of resources for local history. “Mapping Manning” makes available large scale maps created by Percy showing archaeological sites and finds and indexes and data bases of his collections. Manning never married and was a modest man with a stutter but he achieved much in his comparatively short life which is acknowledged by a blue plaque on 300 Banbury Road, Oxford. Michael Healey is a respected researcher in folk music and folk lore and is the editor and main contributor of the book “Percy Manning: the man who collected Oxfordshire”. 332 pages, published by Archaeopress price £30 ISBN 1784915289
Saturday, 10th November and Sunday, 11th November: Adderbury History Association Exhibition Commemorating the Role of all Village People 1914-18
The decision of the Association to mount an exhibition in November 2018 in place of holding a talk was amply justified by the numbers who came (nearly 200) and the appreciative comments they made.
The exhibition was assembled and curated by Barry and Jean Davis, who were on hand throughout to answer questions and provide further detail. The material they had selected so expertly and displayed so handsomely showed, as promised, how all aspects of the village were affected by the war and how everybody in the village played a part in the war effort, not just the soldiers who went to fight. Their material showed us villagers raising money, making medical and other supplies and providing support to troops as they passed through Banbury. They took us into all aspects of village life, showing, for example, through extracts from the log books, how school life was disrupted as pupils and teachers took time to visit returning soldiers. Written accounts and contemporary sources were supplemented in the exhibition by an impressive range of everyday objects
As we would expect after the painstaking research of the 2014 book, In It Together, Barry and Jean showed us the full range of Adderbury’s combatants and their fate. They concentrated not on the horror of the conflict, however, but showed us instead the everyday humanity which informed, for example, cards and messages from the front.
The most impressive aspect of the exhibition was the amount of time that visitors spent looking at the presentation and the range and seriousness of the questions that it raised for them. The reception the exhibition received certainly repaid Barry and Jean’s efforts and showed that the exhibition had played a valuable role in the village’s commemoration of the struggles of 1914-18 in this centenary year.
15th October 2018: “William Castle: A notable Banbury Eccentric and Morris Fool”
William Castle, known as “Old Mettle”, was born in Adderbury in 1792, but spent most of his life in Banbury, where he died in 1841. He was a well-known “character” there, and, as a result, aspects of his life are better documented than we might expect for a person with little standing in society. Stephen Wass, our speaker, gave out a series of quotations about Old Mettle, which members read out at appropriate points.
William Castle’s father was a weaver, who died when William was only six years old. William had physical deformities, either at birth or as a result of an accident or possibly, as Stephen suggested, as a result of Moebius Syndrome. Stephen believed that many features of his life could be traced back either to an attempt to avoid bullying in an unsympathetic age or to the need to scrape a living on the margins of society.
William moved to Banbury, at that time a moderately successful town, and first came to prominence as a “mock candidate” in what was then a “rotten borough”. In this role he enjoyed popular success and became the focus of political protest in the chaotic and often violent electoral conditions of the time.
The 1832 Reform Act, however, robbed Castle of this role, and he then had a number of occupations – matchseller, gravedigger (particularly during smallpox outbreaks), and, finally, professional fool in the context of Morris dancing. Here he seems to have been actively sought out by Morris dancers, because of his ability to control a crowd and keep up a stream of jokes and comical actions, filling in the gaps between dances. He wore a series of costumes as a Fool and was portrayed wearing an academic gown and cap and with the characteristic slouching stance which related to his deformed legs.
Records seem to show that William Castle was involved in petty crime from the 1830s onwards, but there seems to be some evidence that his popularity rescued him from the worst consequences when he was caught. He was valued as a local character with a ready wit but could himself be the butt of people’s cruel jokes. One consistent theme seems to have been his love of children and rapport with them, and people seem to have been happy to leave them in his care.
William Castle died of apoplexy in 1841 at the age of 52 or 53. His possessions at the time of death were meagre indeed: a heap of straw and a pocket knife. Stephen made a powerful case for viewing William Castle as someone who had made a life for himself on the margins of society in an era when someone with a disability had to make his own way. It was a case, Stephen said, of sink or swim. And “Old Mettle”, in the end, proved himself a swimmer.
September 17th 2018: “Beer, Sausages and Marmalade: Oxford Food and Drink in ther Nineteenth Century”
Liz Wooley, well known to us as a social historian, came to give a talk entitled Beer, Sausages, and Marmalade. And indeed she provided us with a veritable feast of facts and figures about food and drink in 19th century Oxford, whilst explaining their links to tourism and politics in the city. Beer had long been considered safer to drink than water and by 1883 there were over 300 licensed premises in Oxford and seven breweries. Four families, all related by marriage, dominated the industry, namely Tawney, Hanley, Morell and Hall. It was the latter two who flourished into the 20th century before succumbing to the city development programme and being absorbed into a bigger company. Also prolific were the butchers with nearly 50 shops in 1852. Alden and Clark, in the covered market, sold the famous Oxford Sausages. These were made from pork and veal and highly rated by Mrs Beaton. Messrs Hughes, Pigott, Grubb, Boffin and Underhill were all successful merchants of the period. Most became Mayor of the city influencing the local political scene. Frank Cooper’s establishment in the High Street began selling marmalade, made by his wife, in 1874 and his factory was opened in Park End Street in 1902. Visitors were encouraged to watch the production, Henry Taunt was commissioned to draw up a trade guide and the university rowing teams were advised to include marmalade in their training diets!. The marmalade has stood the test of time until recently when a letter from a disgruntled lady in Devon surfaced, complaining that it contained too many bits which had to be spat out! Anecdotes such as this and Liz’s clear and concise delivery of her presentation, interspersed with wry comments, made for enjoyable listening and gave us a real flavour of the tastes of the ‘foodies’ of the time. Oxford’s Working Past by Liz Wooley is available price £5.
July 9th 2018: Life on Board a Narrow Boat
Some forty members arrived on the 9th for the welcome return of Martin Way and his talk ‘Life on board a narrow boat’. And if anyone nodded off in the summer heatwave they were soon roused by a blast on a horn, Martin being keen on authenticity. He told us that he had no experience of canals until his first teaching post at Cropredy school in the 1960s. Sent to Stoke Bruerne to find out more he learned a lot and then continued to acquire a wealth of information, artefacts and ephemera, all of which he shared for our interest and enjoyment.
After giving a brief resume of the beginnings, development and engineering aspects of canals Martin presented a slide show with a running commentary in his usual entertaining style. Following this he elaborated on the narrow boat related items on display. These included crockery, costumes, and jugs and boards with the familiar roses and castles designs. We were then invited to examine them.
The talk was wisely delivered at a gentle pace reflecting the character of his theme but not ignoring the harsher side of a bargee’s working life. It was an evening worthy of what we have come to expect from Martin and much appreciated.
June 18th 2018: Glove Making in West Oxfordshire
On the 18th June Carol Anderson from the Oxfordshire Museum Service came to give us a talk. On a night on which England’s first match in the Football World Cup was being played it was no mean feat to attract a good attendance for her presentation ‘Glove making in West Oxfordshire’ .
Carol gave us a resume of the history of glove making from prehistoric times, when they were worn primarily for protection against the elements, rough materials and hard on the hands vegetation, through to the gauntlets worn by soldiers, hunters and hawkers and finally to the decorative accessories of dress fashion.
By the 16th century the area bounded by Woodstock, Chipping Norton and Witney had achieved a reputation for quality handmade gloves due to the availability of leather (doeskin) and a suitable local water supply.
She outlined how preparation of the skins (tanning, scraping, dyeing and cutting out) was undertaken by men while women did the stitching. Initially the latter was done as piece work in their own homes. With the introduction of sewing machines from the USA small factories were set up and the industry continued to flourish
However after WW2 gloves became less fashionable and the demand was met by foreign imports. Decline was inevitable and by 1990 glove making in Oxfordshire had ceased.
Carol brought along a collection of the ‘tools of the trade’ and she showed pictures of the processes involved. It was an interesting account of a lost skill but we were a little disappointed not to have found out anything about it in our own immediate area. Perhaps that could be a research project for some members of the Association
May 14th 2018: Pagans and Puritans
One of our most popular speakers, Tim Healey, joined us on May14th to talk about ‘Pagans and Puritans’. This was the story of May Morning in Oxfordshire where May 1st has become synonymous with the singing on Magdalen Tower. It also embraces the old traditions of Morris Dancing, Jack-in-the –Green, Folk music and feasting. Tim has explored the history of these customs and explained that they originated from the 16th century or earlier when country folk went into the towns carrying greenery; this was probably a throw back to the Roman festival celebrating the Goddess Flora. The first reference to the Magdalen ceremony comes in 1695.
The Puritans were strongly against such revelry and reviled Maypole Dancing, garlanding, hornblowers, Morris men, loud music and the eating and drinking which accompanied them. However all survived the repression to continue to the present day. Tim suggested that, in Victorian times, the frolicking became somewhat more ‘sanitised’ but it was promoted by notables such as Tennyson, Holman Hunt and Ruskin. Henry Taunt’s many postcards of early 20th century activities reveal its popularity then. Examples of these, together with colourful modern photographs and images reflecting the historical facts, brought to life a picture of ‘bringing in the May’ and Tim welcomed contributions to his presentation. To find out more visit his website www.maymorning.co.uk
April 16th 2018: AGM and Travels with Auntie
There was a double bill for the members who attended this month’s meeting. First we held our AGM. The business was quickly dispatched. The Officers were all re-elected there being no other nominees, and Jill Adams was welcomed back onto the committee. In any other business the implications of the new Data Regulations Bill were raised and will be addressed before it becomes law in May.
There was then a short refreshment break following which the Chairman introduced our speaker. Alistair Lack worked for the BBC Radio World Service for 26 years and came to talk about his ‘Travels with Auntie’. He described the service as a pot pouri of people, events and communications and that was what he gave us, an interesting mix of his experiences through anecdotes and photographs.
He had clearly enjoyed his work as a producer, journalist, researcher and presenter, travelling at home and abroad in such places as the Falklands, America and Israel. He met with Presidents, Margaret Thatcher, and the Beirut Hostages to name but a few. He credited the success of the World Service to the love and respect felt for the BBC until recent years and its ongoing reach to 50 million listeners although the Myanamar, North Korea and Chinese public are denied it.
When asked if it could continue to survive in today’s global political climate he thought it was secure providing funding was maintained but it was a wait and see situation. Alistair was an outstanding raconteur and provided reminders of our own immediate history, not just world affairs. It was a thoroughly enjoyable presentation.
March 19th 2018: Behind Closed Doors
On March 19th members braved the ‘Beast from the East’ weather to welcome our speaker Julie Summers. She described herself as a historian and author with a fascination for art and architecture and a strong feeling and interest for social history. ‘Behind Closed Doors’ was a new talk to introduce her latest book ‘Our Uninvited Guests’, which explores the requisition of Britain’s country houses during World War 2.
The idea for the book came from a visit to Harrogate, having been told that her great grandfather had lived there in a hotel. Staff at the Majestic explained that it had been taken over in 1939 and was intended to become the Government’s headquarters if London was destroyed by enemy action. But a list of all properties, across the UK, with 4 or more rooms downstairs had been prepared in 1938 for potential use.
She went on to describe how four of the houses in her book had indeed been called into service. One was Brocket Hall in Hertfordshire, ironically the home of Nazi sympathisers, which took in the London Maternity Hospital. Aldenham Park near Bridgnorth housed the nuns and their schoolgirls from Kensington. Two estates in Scotland situated in the area from Fort William to Mallaig were commandeered by the Special Forces Executive. They were used for training foreign nationals as saboteurs and agents who would then return to their own countries.
Sadly some of the buildings, such as the Tudor Melford Hall in Suffolk, which became an Army barracks and training camp, were badly damaged or suffered from neglect and were eventually pulled down (although Melford was rebuilt at their own cost by the owners). The Government paid out only the minimum ‘reasonable’ reparations after the war.
Julie had undertaken extensive research for her book and the people and places were brought vividly to life by photographs and her own personal enthusiasm for the project. It was an eye opening and fascinating account and revealed much about the circumstances of the war years and how they affected everyone in the country to some degree. At the end after some questions we were happy to purchase copies of the book and others which she has also written.
Our Uninvited Guests – The secret lives of Britain’s country houses 1939 – 1945 by Julie Summers
Published by Simon and Schuster 2018. Hardback £20
February 19th 2018: The Battle of Cropredy Bridge and the Oxford Campaign
Stephen Barker was once again our speaker for the meeting on February 19th, which more than 50 members and guests attended. Amongst his several other roles Stephen is a trustee of the Battlefield Trust and half of his work involves military history. So we welcomed him to talk about the Battle of Cropredy Bridge and the Oxford Campaign.
To put it in context he introduced his theme by saying that Cropredy was the largest Civil War battlefield in Oxfordshire. Today that local area is largely unspoiled and can be seen more or less as it looked in 1644. The battle was also instrumental in bringing about the formation of the New Model Army and the production of new ordnance.
He gave us a detailed account of each phase of the battle, illustrated with maps, portraits of the army commanders involved and readings from contemporary writings about it. These were accompanied by photographs of the battle ground today and mention of the artefacts found within it. He concluded with some book recommendations for those who wanted to find out more and add to Stephen’s undoubted knowledge of his subject.
January 15th 2018: Visit to Aynhoe Park and “Jackson’s Oxford Journal and Adderbury”
Members were treated to ‘Two for the price of one’ on January 15th. In the morning we were privileged to be given a conducted tour of Aynho House by Peter Cole of Aynho History Society. After a detailed history of the House and its former occupants we were taken through the ground floor rooms with Peter adding anecdotes in each. The current owner, James Perkins, buys , sells and collects an eclectic mixture of items which the building show cases; it is also available for weddings, concerts and photo shoots etc. together with the extensive parkland. It proved to be a fascinating visit although it left some of us a bit bemused.
In contrast our secretary Phil Mansell left us in no doubt about his theme in the evening when he introduced us to the world of Jackson’s Oxford Journal. This was probably unfamiliar to those members who are not actively engaged in research, but Phil has identified its relevance to Adderbury and its depiction of the village in the 19th century
His talk was divided into two parts, the origins of the Journal and William Jackson himself and secondly a picture of Adderbury drawn from its pages. The paper ran from 1753 until about 1920 and was an offspring of the General Election for Oxfordshire Campaign instigated by the Duke of Marlborough who became a County MP. Little is known of Jackson’s private life but he and his newspaper prospered until his death in 1795 and it continued thereafter.
From the 3540 mentions of Adderbury in the 1800s Phil had chosen examples of news relating to agriculture, mining, fatal accidents, crime and punishment, celebrations and similar events; he also included some of the front page advertisements. He drew our attention to its limitations, there was not much freedom of the press in those days, and concluded by showing how the present day reflects the past with a poster from 1884 for a Bazaar in aid of church restoration. It was a lively, informative presentation enjoyed by all.
November 20th 2017: “Hello, hello, Adderbury Fire Brigade calling”
Our Chairman, Barry Davis, gave us not just an entertaining evening, but also an object lesson in how to do truly local history. He treated us to a fascinating account of the voluntary fire service in Adderbury, putting everything in the context of the development of fire-fighting generally, especially in the aftermath of the Great Fire of London, when churches were charged with providing fire-fighting equipment. He included lots of examples throughout, both of fires in this parish as well as neighbouring parishes, such as Bloxham and King’s Sutton, which suffered much more severely from fires than did Adderbury.
Barry had looked into all aspects of fire-fighting and was able to explain, for example, how fire-fighting crews were able to link engines together to enable the hoses to reach greater distances from the water source. He covered insurance against fire and had investigated insurance premiums, insurance policies, and the means by which insurance companies paid firefighters for their attendance. He was able to tell us who administered the fire service, who serviced the engine, what the uniforms cost and what tools the firemen used. He even had a helmet for us to pass around.
Throughout, Barry emphasized the community aspects of what he was describing. He told us how neighbours and villagers generally had a key role to play when there was a fire, helping to rescue furniture and clothes from the flames. And he told us how the Fire Brigade took part in village events, marching in parades and providing displays as part of the entertainment. And he was able to show us photographs of the fire-fighters themselves, including photographs of the remarkable dynasty which kept the captainship in the same family for sixty years!
In a presentation which took us from the first Adderbury fire engine of 1755, which had to be carried to the scene of a fire, to the motorised engines of the 1940s, Barry had followed up every aspect of his subject and illustrated it with copious slides. He was rewarded by the warm appreciation of a capacity audience.
October 16th 2017: “The Richard III Project in Leicester
There was a full house for our meeting in October. Richard Buckley came to enlighten us about ‘The King in the Car Park’, or to give his presentation its full title ‘Greyfriars Leicester and the search for Richard III’.
Richard was the Project Manager and lead Archaeologist; he is the Co- Director of Leicester University Archaeological Services. His day to day work involves organising excavations and research. This was to be one undertaking with truly amazing results and caught the attention of the public and the media worldwide. It must have been the ultimate in job satisfaction for him and he has now told the story many times. As he said we all knew the outcome already so he would be talking us through the process which led to that successful conclusion.
Richard put the project into context by first giving us a brief outline of medieval Leicester, the Battle of Bosworth, Richard’s death and his supposed burial in the city. Greyfriars Priory had been destroyed in the dissolution of the monasteries so the initial problem was to identify its site, with a budget which covered only 1% of the precinct area. A GPR survey was inconclusive and the team dug three trenches based on the traditional monastic layout. Within six hours human bones were found.
Then began the lengthy and meticulous business of opening the grave proper and confirming that they did indeed belong to Richard 111. Using radio carbon dating, the limited written evidence, mitochondrial DNA testing and facial reconstruction his identity was established some six months after work began. A judicial review rejected York’s claims to the King. The reinternment of his bodily remains in Leicester Cathedral brought much needed tourism and interest back to Leicester and a visitors centre has been set up next to the site.
Richard kept us enthralled for an hour with his excellent talk and accompanying illustrations. As one member said at the end ‘It was so interesting you could almost visualise it happening’.
September 18th 2017: “William Smith, the Father of Geology”
The admiration that our speaker, Owen Green, had for his subject, William Smith, shone through every aspect of this talk. Owen began with Smith’s famous geological map of 1815, showing the many similarities between this and contemporary findings, despite the fact that Smith’s map was the product of only one man’s efforts without the benefit of modern technology.
Owen also located Smith in the major movements of his time, particularly the Industrial Revolution and improvements in agriculture at the end of the eighteenth century, showing how Smith had directly contributed to these developments, particularly in his roles as canal builder, land drainer and provider of the background information that enabled others to locate profitable coal deposits to mine.
Smith’s personal story was also covered, from scarcely-educated blacksmith’s son in an Oxfordshire village, through the varied activities where his skills were called upon by some of the great figures of his time, through constant money worries, via debtor’s prison to belated recognition as the “father of English geology”. Always in the background was the knowledge that Smith combined his multifarious commercial activities with the estimated 15,000 miles of travelling needed every year for him to gather the material for his geological map.
Owen’s presentation enabled us to appreciate just where Smith’s contribution to geological science lay – in his awareness of how a description of the fossil assemblage could be combined with the stratigraphy to give a unique insight into the landscape. He encouraged us to visit the Rotunda Museum in Scarborough, established by Smith’s nephew and protégé, John Phillips, and recommended for further reading Simon Winchester’s book, The Map that Changed the World.
July 10th 2017: “Skulduggery in the Shrubbery”
‘Skulduggery in the shrubbery’ was a presentation by Stefan White. A former business man he has forged a new career as a speaker. He gave us a detailed history of the Tradescant family who were renowned plant and rarity collectors in 17th Century England and the real founders of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. John Tradescant followed in his father’s footsteps to become a gardener. He found favour with aristocratic patrons including Lord Cecil, The Duke of Buckingham and Charles 1. Given the opportunity to travel on expeditions abroad he began to amass a collection of plants and curiosities. These he exhibited in his Lambeth home and they became known as The Ark. Some 40 minutes and as many facts later, we had learned how the villain of the piece, Elias Ashmole, fitted in. He had long coveted John’s collection, acquired it by trickery and devious means and eventually housed it in the museum to which he gave his own name – The Ashmolean. There was a lot to take in but some fascinating information emerged throughout this rather sad family tale. Many of the original exhibits have since been rehoused in other Oxford University museum buildings.
June 19th 2017: “Oxfordshire in 50 Objects”
Stephen Barker made a return visit on June 19th. He recalled that last time he came it was very cold. This time we gave him a warmer welcome on what was surely the hottest evening of the year so far. Stephen is a museum consultant and last year he worked closely with the Oxfordshire Museum in Woodstock to curate an exhibition entitled Oxfordshire in 50 objects. The Museum Service was celebrating 50 years since its foundation. Its supporting role has somewhat diminished with budget cuts and several museums passing out of Council control but the storage facility at Standlake is open to the public. The Exhibition was put together by consultation with community groups and members of the service, past and present, and reflected their memories, experiences and interests. Stephen had chosen fourteen exhibits to describe, accompanied by the notes contributed by those involved. Sadly he wasn’t able to bring any artefacts with him and we had to make do with pictures so there was less interaction than the exhibition enabled but some of the members were able to add comments from their own experiences.
The objects included a violin, a teddy bear, a human vertebra and a telephone switchboard. We forgot to ask what the other thirty six items were! Stephen’s enthusiasm for all things historical came across in his talk and he concluded with a description of something which did not appear in the exhibition but was obviously close to his heart. This was a Roman burial stone from 43AD the inscription on which gave us the earliest recorded named person in Oxfordshire. We went away wondering what we would have chosen.
May 15th 2017: “The Restoration of Stowe Gardens”
Our May meeting was all about Stowe Park Gardens and attracted a full house in the Methodist schoolroom. Barry Smith has worked his way up to become the Head Gardener at the National Trust estate and gave us a talk on the restoration of the 18th Century gardens. Begun in the 1680s as a series of terraces and orchards, from 1720 onwards many leading architects, landscape gardeners, including William Kent and Capability Brown, and sculptors were employed to create the idealized classical landscape which exists today. However by 1848 the owner, the Duke of Buckingham, was declared bankrupt and many of the contents of the house and gardens were sold off to save the estate. Further decline in the family’s fortunes led to it being sold to educationalists to provide a home for Stowe, a newly established public school, in 1922. The school authorities endeavoured to maintain the garden features but inevitably the cost forced them to hand over the grounds and temple buildings to the National Trust in 1990. Restoration proper of the gardens began and is still continuing. The garden layout represents a classical journey through life, each area being symbolic of mythology and human choices. The many temples are focal points with the planting providing backdrops or drawing the eye into the vistas. Groundsmen, gardeners and farmers worked together to establish a contrived natural landscape which blends into the surrounding countryside. Barry explained that the restoration work has involved salvaging old trees, dredging lakes, uncovering paths, digging hahas, erecting fences and obtaining replica statues for the different areas, in order to return it as closely as possible to its origins while using old and new techniques, materials and plants. He was both knowledgeable and entertaining in his presentation and spoke without notes for over an hour reflecting his enjoyment of his work. Many of us had already been to Stowe but will appreciate it all the more on future visits.
April 24th 2017: AGM and “When 4 strokes of a Brush were worth £400,000”
The evening began with our Annual General Meeting which was well attended. All the reports had been circulated beforehand; there were no contentious matters on or arising from the agenda and the business was completed in 15 minutes. After a coffee and cake interval we welcomed Gerard Moate, the chaplain at Bloxham School. He gave us a fascinating presentation entitled ‘When 4 strokes of a brush were worth £400,000’. This was the story of a village hall restoration project. For 20 years Gerard was ‘vicar and lecturer’ of Dedham in Constable Country and as such was the sole Trustee of the village hall which on his arrival was in much need of repair. The brush strokes were on a painting by Constable – The Vale of Dedham 1828. Gerard described how his research into the painting showed that the hall was originally Assembly Rooms built in 1745! An architect’s estimate to prevent it falling down was £427,000. Then came the discovery, in a locked cupboard in the hall, of a book written by the young Winston Churchill. The sale of this, matched with a contribution from a charity and a heritage lottery grant enabled the village to raise sufficient funds to save the hall which is now a Grade 11 listed building. More good fortune arrived in the person of Frank Lampard senior who bought the caretaker’s house next door so the money for the future upkeep of the hall was secured. This was a very entertaining and informative talk delivered with humour, with enough facts to satisfy our curiosity about the title and to share in the successful outcome.
March 20th 2017: “Upton House in 1927”
Victor Ince, a guide at Upton House, gave a wide-ranging talk that covered the history of the Samuels family prior to the purchase of Upton House by Viscount Bearsted in 1927, emphasising the willingness of the family to make trade of all sorts across the Middle and Far East, and telling us of the events that led to the formation of the Shell company. All this provided the background to the forthcoming National Trust exhibition at Upton House, entitled “The Made to Measure House”. This will cover the changes made to the house and gardens as the Bearsteds moved in, and will be an exhibition that will evolve over the next three years with the intention of providing new experiences for visitors over that period, thus encouraging them to return. During questions, our speaker was able to speak about the pleasures and benefits of volunteering at Upton House, emphasising that volunteering opportunities were available across the board, and that volunteers could get involved in research on parts of the history of the house and family. He explained about decision-making in the National Trust and how the Trust judged the success of its ventures.
February 20th 2017: “Three Men of Adderbury”
The February meeting saw our secretary Phil Mansell pressed into action with the non arrival of our speaker. Phil brought forward his April talk on ‘Three men of Adderbury’ and without notes and only a power point presentation entertained a large audience of members.
His first prominent man was William Cole, born in Adderbury in1626, the son of the master at the village Grammar School. He left Adderbury for New College Oxford in 1642 and at the time of his graduating in 1650 he was a notable figure in Botanical studies. After Oxford he lived at Putney where he became the most famous herbalist of his time. Later he became secretary to Bishop Duppa the Bishop of Winchester and died in 1662.
Eminent man number 2 was Charles Harris born 1791. He and his family moved to Adderbury for his work. He was a violin maker living in the cottage next to the Bell. The violins that he made and those which have survived to the present day are described as of a very high quality sound. They also keep their note in changing temperatures and degrees of humidity. Phil treated us to the sound of a Harris violin with a video clip. It appears Charles Harris was an excellent musical instrument maker but was poor at managing his finances. He later became Lord of the Manor at Steeple Aston and built himself a new manor house but this put him into debt. A scheme to sell the house and clear his debts still left him penniless.
The third eminent person was C F Beeson who was born in Oxford in 1889. At school his best friend was T E Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia). Beeson graduated in geology at Oxford in 1910 and then switched to forestry. From 1911 until 1941 Cyril worked for the Imperial Forest Service and in 1913 he was appointed Forest Zoologist for India. In the late 1940s he and his wife moved to West View in Adderbury West. Here he started to collect antique clocks, many of which originated from the surrounding area, and in 1953 he became a founder member of the Antiquarian Horological Society.
Beeson was a well published author. His first book was on The Ecology and Control of the Forest Insects of India and the Neighbouring Countries. Later he wrote many articles on clocks culminating in a book called Clockmaking in Oxfordshire 1400-1850 for which he is best known locally. In the early 1970s his expanding clock collection was given to the Museum of Science in Oxford. He died in 1975.
Phil entertained us with the problems these people encountered and their achievements in widely different backgrounds and all without the help of his notes.
January 16th 2017: “The VC – Facts and Fancies”
Dan Allen, an officer of the Victorian Military Society, who had previously instructed us on the role of women in the Victorian army, spoke to us about the Victoria Cross, telling us about its origins and development. In an informative and entertaining presentation, we learned about the conditions that need to be fulfilled for the VC to be awarded, and about the military actions that yielded many VCs, as well as the colourful and brave individuals who have received the award over the years.
December 14th 2016: “Did we really dig for victory?”
In December we combined our Christmas party with a speaker. A bring and share buffet supper was followed by an entertaining talk from Ursula Buchan. The Institute was bedecked with red, white and blue bunting in keeping with the 1940s theme of the evening. Just over 50 members and guests attended. Ursula Buchan is a gardening author and lecturer and posed the question ‘Did we really dig for Victory?’ Her presentation of the grass roots of the government campaign – the facts and figures – was neatly done and well sprinkled with anecdotes both personal and general. It seems that digging for victory may not have won the war but it raised morale and gave some people a lifelong interest in gardening. A raffle was held to end the evening.
November 21st 2016: “James Sadler, the Man with his Head in the Clouds”
On 21st Richard Smith came from Oxford. Having extricated himself from the aerobics at the Institute he found his way to the correct venue! His talk was about “The man with his head in the clouds”. Richard is a comedy writer and broadcaster for radio, TV and films. He grew up in Lincolnshire and his first job was writing obituaries for the Boston Standard newspaper. It was in Boston library that he first encountered the story of James Sadler, the ‘man’ in the title, and the first Englishman to fly in a balloon. He began with a brief history of how balloon flight came about, originating in France with the Montgolfier brothers. James Sadler (1753-1828) was baptised and buried in St Peter in the East in Oxford but during his life he moved around the country. He was a pastry cook in his fathers’ business before his interest in balloons developed and he understood the science behind them. His initial interest waned and among other jobs he went to work in Portsmouth researching how to improve naval guns and he mixed with many eminent men of the period. Richard’s talk was highly amusing with many topical or unexpected jokes interspersed with the main content. Sometimes however it was difficult to follow the theme amongst the humour. Nevertheless it was an entertaining evening at the end of a dreary and overcast day. Richard has written several books including “The man with his head in the clouds”. For details see https://www.amazon.co.uk/Richard-O.-Smith/e/B005FXQP1A
October 17th 2016: “Apples!”
This month we had a return visit from one of our most popular speakers – Tim Healey. He kept us enthralled for an hour with fascinating facts about Apples! The full title of his talk was ‘Myth and mystery of England’s favourite fruit’. Tim divided his talk into five sections: myths, the history of apples, apple rites, working with apples and apples in Oxfordshire. Each contained diverse and sometimes familiar examples of that particular theme. Amongst them were Adam and Eve, although apparently the forbidden fruit wasn’t actually an apple! There was Snow White, William Tell and Newton; the Beatles Applecore company featured along with Applemac computers and Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream; Halloween apple bobbing and toffee apples got a mention and he quoted a version of Ride a Cock Horse with a two penny apple pie ending. It was both interesting and amusing to be reminded of them all in a different context. Tim also included the names of local varieties of apple such as Hanwell Souring, Eynsham Dumpling and a newly discovered Deddington Pippin which is growing wild along the main Oxford Road; and coming right up to date, a new tradition in the modern Apple Day events. There was further discussion after the presentation. Andy Howard is involved with the Midshires Orchard Group (www.msog.btik.com) which promotes fruit awareness in this area. Fittingly the evening concluded with refreshments of apple juice and apple biscuits.
September 19th 2016: “The importance of local railways in World War I”
Railway history expert Martin Bloxsom gave us an absorbing account of the role of local railways in World War I, focussing for the most part on Banbury. He first outlined the position of the railways at the beginning of the war, emphasising just how large and powerful the railway companies were. He then showed us the many tasks the railways had to carry out, with Banbury being an important junction for cross-country routes, making it possible to avoid London altogether. He told us of the traffic towards the south coast with troops for embarkation, with the volume of hay for horses over the same route being surprising, and the transport north through Banbury of South Wales coal for the destroyer port of Immingham being completely unexpected. While dealing expertly with the technicalities if his subject, Martin kept coming back to the human element. He covered in particular the involvement of women in railway work as the war progressed: they not only took over almost entirely the work of clerks, but also worked in large numbers as porters and engine cleaners. Worker representation and trade unionism was also covered. Martin featured the hospital trains which the railway companies provided to transport wounded troops throughout the country, and found time to praise the support provided for troops passing through Banbury by Miss Day and her nurses. He finished with a short account of the losses suffered by the railway companies in the war, and showed us some of the different types of war memorials that were developed, including memorial trains.
20th June 2016: “Old Banbury in Pictures”
Our Secretary Phil Mansell opened the meeting as Barry Davis was the speaker for the evening. He thanked those who had participated in the Adderbury Royal Event day on June 4th and invited members to put forward suggestions for an ‘outside meeting’ in 2017. He then handed over to Barry who, in competition with England’s football game in Euro 2016, and a fine warm evening following a very wet day, gave us a look at Banbury Past. By means of some 70 postcards from his own collection we were taken on a tour of the town as it was in the early years of the 20th century up to about 1960. Some sights were familiar, others have disappeared and many have changed beyond recognition. Most notable were the absence of parked traffic, the wide streets and the jumble of vehicles, people and animals in close proximity. The talk was a reprise of a previous one with new material added. Members of the audience made personal or informative contributions. For some it was a nostalgia trip; for those comparatively new to the area it must have seemed like a different town altogether as indeed it is. Having grown from a population of about 3,000 in 1800 to nearly 50,000 today there has been much demolition (famously undertaken before preservation orders were in place), rebuilding and development along the way.
Visit Banbury Museum for more of the town’s history
16th May 2016: “For to get to the other side”
This month we were pleased to welcome back one of our favourite speakers – Martin Way with his presentation of ‘For to get to the other side.’ This was about the Radcot river crossing where, in fact, there are three bridges all within a short distance of each other. The Radcot bridge, erected in about 1220, carries the Faringdon to Bampton road over the Thames; the canal bridge spans the cut dug to form a Severn – Thames link; a modern replacement for a medieval bridge crosses the nearby Pidnell stream. In his opening remarks Martin stressed the importance of intersecting routes like river crossings for trade, defence and settlement. In these contexts he outlined events around Radcot over the years since the original ford was abandoned. Archaeological finds suggest Roman, Saxon and even Neolithic occupation. The wool trade was carried on by both land and water. A Norman stronghold was discovered by a Time Team dig. The battles of Radcot bridge took place in 1387 and 1645. There is evidence of boats carrying stone for the rebuilding of London in 1672 after the Great Fire. The Pidnell became a Toll Bridge on the Turnpike Road in 1771 and in WWII a block house was built near Radcot Bridge. The talk was a bit more subdued than we have come to expect from Martin but nonetheless enjoyable. His background is in education and at times it felt like we were back in the classroom, albeit with a well prepared and witty teacher. However there were enough amusing anecdotes and quips to hold our attention and he had brought along maps, coins and civil war weaponry. He also recommended the area for its historical interest especially Great Coxwell Barn, a National Trust property near Faringdon.
18th April 2016: AGM and Face the Music
This meeting was an evening of two parts. First we held our AGM and then Association Secretary Phil Mansell donned his speaker’s hat to give a presentation entitled ‘Facing the Music’. The business was dealt with swiftly and we enjoyed coffee and cakes, courtesy of Jill and Joy, before settling down to hear what Phil had prepared. By way of introduction he said “I want to introduce you to a forgotten tradition of church singing that held sway in most country churches between about 1769 and 1860… Adderbury was an important centre for such music.” The presentation was divided into three sections: information about this particular kind of music, sources from which to find out about it and Adderbury’s contribution. Phil then took us through several hundred years, from Puritan zeal in banning organ playing and singing in church to the revival of music and song in the 18th century, from village choirs in the 19th century to the West Gallery style groups of the 1900s and today. West Gallery is the clue to the title of the talk. Galleries were erected across the west end of the nave, including one at Adderbury 1830-1860s, and the congregation turned to face the musicians and choir. Choirs performed fugeing tunes (where the parts repeat each other and overlap), based on psalms, anthems, canticles, hymns, carols and celebrations and sounding very similar to folk music. Three people in Adderbury played roles in keeping alive these traditions. They were Thomas Hayward, choirmaster and composer and William ‘Binx’ Walton who sang in the choirs as a boy in the 1840s. Janet Blunt recorded the songs and music as described to her at a later date by Walton and others. This was certainly a talk with a difference. The ‘soundtrack’ took precedence over the pictures while we listened to examples of what Phil was referring to. All credit to him in that he spoke for an hour with one arm in a sling and the hitches with the switches as he operated everything one handed could readily be forgiven. Phil certainly communicated his enthusiasm for his subject to us and we were both informed and entertained.
Find out more from A.H.A. Publications, Michael Pickering’s book (“Village Song and Culture”), Janet Blunts’ manuscripts on line and Thomas Hardy’s “Under the Greenwood Tree”. Or ask Phil for details of documented records.
21st March 2016: Dinosaurs of Oxfordshire
This month’s meeting was a slight departure from our usual talk. Although it still featured names, dates and places the emphasis was on animals long gone. Paul Austin Sargent, a member of the Oxford Geology Group, came to tell us about The Dinosaurs of Oxfordshire (not the Associations members but genuine fossils!).
Once that joke was out of the way his presentation was divided into five areas explaining how the county was home to some important palaeontology finds. It was accompanied by cartoon like and animated illustrations including strange little Kevin whose ambition in life was to become a fossil! We were given the definition of dinosaur (a terrestrial reptile). The fossilisation process was explained along with the intricacies of Deep (geological) Time measured in mya (million years ago). English geology was outlined to show how and why Oxfordshire was good hunting ground. And then came the dinosaurs. Paul described each one with additional information about the people responsible for their discovery – all eminent men in the field of geology. At the end he invited questions and answered them. We learned lots of long names and saw some fascinating giants of many, many years ago. The light hearted style turned what could have been a ‘dry as a bone ‘ topic into an entertaining presentation. For those interested there are many examples of dinosaurs in the Oxford Museum of Natural History.
15th February 2016: Women and the Victorian Army
About 35 members braved the cold on February 15th to come along and hear Dan Allen speak about women, children and war. Dan is the Treasurer of the Victorian Military Society which is an educational charity promoting the study of military bodies between 1830 and 1914. He opened with the army’s definition of soldiers’ partners in the 19th Century: officers had ladies, sergeants had wives and the rest had women! But all of these were regarded as a “confounded nuisance” in war and peacetime and were confined to the roles of nurse, cook or washerwoman. Only those who had married their husbands with the permission of the commanding officer were recognised as legitimate wives at all. There was no real provision of proper married quarters until 1870; a wife widowed by a man killed in action received a token pension; if he died of disease while serving she got nothing and it was back to family, the workhouse or the streets. Many a wife remarried quickly to remain with her regimental family and so provide for her children. Dan also described the rigours of campaigns and the hazards of travel when a wife accompanied her husband and the uncertainty of life experienced by those women left behind. Wherever they were, at home or abroad, a soldier’s wife’s lot was not a happy one. He then reminded us of some well known, and perhaps infamous women, – Mrs Duverley in India and Mary Seacole in the Crimea for example. Dr James Barry was Surgeon General in the Army when his post-mortem revealed him to be a woman! Her real identity was never established. It was a fascinating talk full of anecdotes, information and humour and accompanied by illustrations which, as Dan pointed out, often painted a misleadingly rosy picture of Victorian army life! Delivered at a smart pace, as befits a military topic, it was sometimes difficult to keep up but we had a very entertaining evening.
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January 18th 2016: Four legs and a Tale
There was a good attendance, on a very chilly evening, at the first meeting of 2016. Our speaker was Alan Walker whose style of presentation could be called “conversational”; it was informal and more akin to chatting with guests than talking to a room full of strangers. And then he threw in a quiz at the end for good measure! Alan introduced himself as “lightweight”, in view of Adderbury’s long history from the 10th century, then gave us an insight into the life of a family which has practised as animal doctors since 1674. Originating in Lancashire the Walkers moved south in that year to Long Compton in Warwickshire. They remained in that area only moving to Burmington and then Hook Norton in comparatively recent times. He talked us through the family line in which all the men succeeded each other, initially as farriers, then unqualified veterinary practitioners and finally professional veterinary surgeons. In those early days they looked after the drovers’ animals en route to London and the coach horses travelling from Manchester to the capital. Their expertise evolved from their experiences in working with animals and formal training was not demanded until 1900. Alan’s interest in the job grew from accompanying his father Jack, particularly as he tended to horses, and following the same career path became inevitable. He inherited from Jack both tools and tales of the trade and the latter he has recounted in his book “Four Legs and a tale!” At the end of his talk some of the old tools were passed round for us to identify. This led to some amusing guesswork and squeamish groans when we found out what they were actually for! Ten percent of the proceeds of the book sales goes to the Injured Jockey Charity. It is available locally priced £12.50 Four Legs and a tale, published by Live Wire Books 2014 ISBN 9780955312489
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November 16th 2015: Adderbury and the Oxford Canal over 200 years.
Phil Mansell, Secretary of the Association, took centre stage for our meeting on 16th November. Phil has not lived in Adderbury for long but is keenly interested in the village and surrounding area. He has been researching several topics recently including his theme for the meeting, ‘Adderbury and the Oxford Canal over two centuries (1790-2015). He began by giving us a potted history of canal evolution in England explaining James Brindley’s Grand Cross plan to connect four rivers, the Mersey, Trent, Severn and Thames. He then went on to how the Coventry – Oxford branch came into being and the part it played in the country’s economic growth during the Industrial Revolution.
The next three sections of his talk showed how Adderbury, although not a true canal village, was affected in some ways by its arrival and entirely unchanged in others. He used historical sources to illustrate both this and local people’s attitude to the new waterway.
But, as with many similar canals, the Oxford went into decline with the coming of the railway and today it serves only as a leisure route for boaters. In the length bordering Adderbury Parish the original archaeology survives in the form of three wharves, two locks and nine lift bridges.
Phil gave a lively presentation designed to educate and entertain and condensing 200 years into just over an hour. As he himself said ‘So there we are!’
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21st September 2015: The Cadbury Story
On 21st September we gathered for our first meeting after the August break. Our speaker was Alan Thornton, who gave a highly entertaining and informative presentation about Cadburys and its Bourneville origins. Alan has never worked in the factory, but is on the board of the Education Trust which was pioneered by George Cadbury.
He began by explaining the background behind the establishment of the works and village at Bourneville. The Cadbury family were Quakers and social reformers. John Cadbury founded his cocoa and chocolate business in the 1800s in Birmingham. Many of the workers lived in back-to-back houses and in the 19th century had a life expectancy of 40 years. John’s son George took over the business as a young man when his father’s health failed. As well as managing this he also taught his workers to read and write “to help them on”; he experienced at first hand the poor living conditions when he visited them at home.
Determined to improve the situation, he decided to move the whole manufacturing enterprise into the country at a time when it was struggling commercially. In 1878 this, with some judicious purchasing of Dutch machinery and French expertise, brought about a turn around and Cadbury’s began to prosper again. In addition to new premises he built houses, gardens, a school, almshouses and sports facilities; he also introduced a five and a half day working week and medical care. A pension scheme and tolerance of trade unions all added to the community spirit. Bourneville became a prototype for modern methods of housing and town planning.
After this introduction, Alan showed us a film made in 1951, by which time the workforce had risen from 230 to 8,000. This outlined all the processes by which Cadbury’s famous Roses chocolates and other sweets and drinks were manufactures; it gave a picture of life in the workplace and the benefits enjoyed by the employees. George was a philanthropist for whom money meant being able to help others and he continued to fund good causes, including a hospital, until his death in 1922. He was involved with Oxfam, Amnesty International and the setting up of the state pension.
The film gave rise to some questions, which Alan answered with amusing anecdotes and even more facts. It was a very enjoyable evening although, sadly, he didn’t bring any Cadbury’s samples along!
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18th July 2015: Adderbury History Association Open Day
About 150 people came along to this event, including some who went on one or both of the walkabouts. Visitors spent their time browsing through the archives, talking with members, chatting together and then having a sit down with coffee and cakes! Some purchased items from the sale table while others rummaged in the “Help Yourself” box for freebies. About a dozen families made their way round the history trail. Several people had come especially to try and add to their family trees or to find out exactly where their ancestors lived. Most of them achieved this my using the resources available and from talking to Society members. Others discussed how to record, display and make further progress.
This year the ever popular Adderbury House and Lakes walk was on offer, together with a new ramble taking in Adderbury’s industrial past. The “Top 6” display prompted many questions and reminiscences and the maps attracted a lot of attention.The collections of scrapbooks and parish magazines proved popular; other material included wills, housing information, manorial court records and many miscellaneous items relating to the village. The day was slightly different from our usual meetings, giving more people an opportunity to discover the village and its past. We hope everyone enjoyed it.
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15th June 2015: Visit to Rousham House
June’s meeting took the form of a visit to Rousham House and gardens. The weather was on its best behaviour and we spent a very pleasant afternoon there. The house is home to the Cottrell Dormer family and we were given a guided tour with information about the building, its history and the people who have lived there. Built originally about 1635, it was altered by William Kent in the mid 1700s and again in the nineteenth century by its Victorian owners.
Paintings, furniture, decorative features and a costume room reflect all the periods during which they were put in place. Afterwards we were able to walk in the grounds and gardens and admire the cattle in the park before leaving in search of tea and cake!
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18th May 2015: The Home Front
Our advertised speaker was unable to attend due to his wife’s illness, so Martin Way stepped in at short notice with a talk on the “Home Front”.
In his introduction he said the focus of the evening was twofold. Firstly to outline the role of women in wartime and government attitudes towards them. Secondly to show how talk and activity about invasion and air raids made war real for civilians at home away from the frontline fighting.
He explained how undervalued the Women’s Services, such as First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (F.A.N.Y.) had been during WW1. Many soldiers survived to make the journey to field hospitals due to their efforts, although only France and Belgium employed them. However, by WW2 their role had changed and their contribution as part of the British Auxiliary Territorial Service was recognised. Only the part played by the Women’s Land Army workers remained unacknowledged until this century.
In WW2 the whole civilian population was called upon to undertake a range of occupations so that Britain was prepared for any land invasion or air attack. The Local Defence Volunteers (LDV), later renamed the Home Guard, and the Warden Services were the main units but by the end of 1939 almost everyone was wearing a badge or armband to denote their responsibilities.
Martin reminded us that throughout both wars everyone did their bit. Participating in the War Effort, recycling, making clothing and equipment, fund raising, being on duty and helping each other along were the order of the day.
As usual with Martin, facts and figures were accompanied by amusing anecdotes and ephemera and artefacts from his large collection.
At the end members were invited to contribute their own personal experiences of wartime and the aftermath. It was a thought provoking talk and particularly relevant while the country as a whole is currently recalling the trauma and sacrifices of WW1.
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20th April 2015 Meeting: AGM and Adderbury Bells
About 45 people, including several visitors, attended the Association’s Annual General Meeting on 20th April. The business was dealt with swiftly. All the committee members were re-elected and there was an invitation for other people to join it at a later date. The Treasurer gave a comprehensive account of our finances and a “Children and Vulnerable Adults Policy” was adopted. Nick Allen drew our attention to possible new members from the various housing estates being developed around the village.
Following a short break for refreshments the Chairman, Barry Davis, gave us a presentation on “Adderbury Bells and Bellringing”. Speaking from personal experience, as a former Captain of the local band and now Vice-Chairman of the Banbury Branch of the Oxford Diocesan Guild of Church Bellringers, he outlined the history of Adderbury’s bells and the ringers from the fifteenth century through to the present day, with additional related information about the church clock and carillon. Trevor Trivett, the current Tower Captain, extended a welcome to members to visit the tower and learn more.
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Monday, March 16th 2015: “Ridge and Furrow – what’s it all about?”
Deborah Hayter’s presentation took the form of questions and answers with who, when, what, where, how and why all featuring.
She outlined the origins of early English agriculture, explaining that the undulations remaining amongst our modern landscape are “archaeological evidence of the former medieval farming system”. Ridge and furrow came about as early ploughs could only turn the earth to the right so strips were ploughed one way then the plough was turned and pushed back again. This formed ridges and allowed good drainage in the soil. The land around each village or settlement was called a township. This was divided up into fields and then strips, each of which known as an acre irrespective of its actual size. There were no hedges at all. This open field arrangement survived until the land enclosures began in the eighteenth century, although the last act was not passed, at Castor near Peterborough, until 1910. Men worked single strips in each of the fields to give a fair distribution of good and bad soils and the system kept communities tightly organised. Inevitably, farming methods changed as machinery and crops became more effective and productive, but the surviving ridge and furrows, though now all under grass, are a reminder of times past.
Deborah used a range of illustrations to accompany her talk including several examples from neighbouring Northamptonshire that is still well endowed with the remnants of ridge and furrow fields. Aerial photographs from post war RAF film, hand-drawn maps and diagrams,and old documents from the fourteenth century were all combined to give a comprehensive insight into how it all came about, but she left us to draw our own conclusions as to why it happened.
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Monday, 16th February 2015: Witney Blankets
On February 16th Valerie Burton came with her husband to give us a talk on Witney Blankets – very appropriate for a cold winter evening. Valerie was employed in the Early and Smith blanket factories; although not involved in the manufacturing process she became familiar with it from moving through the different departments in the course of her work.
Her observations at this time coupled with some thorough research made for an interesting account delivered in her own exuberant style. Speaking without a screen or computer aids and using only the briefest of notes she kept us enthralled for an hour.
Through a mixture of historical facts and amusing anecdotes we learned how blanket making in Witney came about due to the combination of Cotswold sheep and the river Windrush in the area. We heard how a cottage industry was lost with the advent of industrial machinery and mass production; how Witney blankets found fame abroad in the USA and Africa; how Earlys celebrated their tercentenary in 1969 and of their sad demise in 2002.
Valerie gave us a complete picture from medieval methods to the antics of the weaving shed in the 20th century! We were also able to examine artefacts and memorabilia from the mills. At the end, in quoting examples of related sayings, she suggested she might have “pulled the wool over our eyes.” If so it was in the most charming and entertaining manner!
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Monday, January 19th 2015: Oxfordshire on the Home Front
Our 2015 programme started well with a talk by Stephen Barker entitled ‘Oxfordshire on the Home Front’. Stephen is a Heritage Adviser and involved with museum projects and local history development throughout the county, including the recent exhibition at Banbury Museum.
His enthusiasm for research and the use of original source material was reflected in his presentation. Not only did we see pictures of relevant posters, photographs and other ephemera but he also quoted many examples from newspapers, correspondence and conversations. Others were drawn from official documents.
An insight into an area covering Henley, Witney, Oxford, Chipping Norton and Banbury provided an overview of what was happening almost everywhere during WW1. Using themes ranging from military units to civilian morals, white feathers to munition factories and outbreak to armistice Stephen took us through an account of life as it would have been from 1914 to 1918 and he recommended places to visit for further interest and information.
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