Pantomime Shows in the Wychwoods: Memories

Pantomimes have always been very popular in the Wychwoods, and we asked Sian O’Neill, a stalwart of many of the Wychwoods’ productions over the years, to recall some key moments of her involvement in  those historic performances. Here are some of her memories.

About the Pantomimes – My Involvement

The pantomimes in Shipton under Wychwood were inspired by Daphne Waugh, who persuaded the Shipton Womens’ Institute to partake in shows which she herself wrote, directed, and produced. Gathering as many people from Shipton as she could, Daphne put their talents to great use.

Meanwhile, Milton under Wychwood had their own pantomime, again using the varied and great talents of people in  the village. 

And similarly, in Ascott under Wychwood the village enjoyed their own unique pantomimes. Each show was always well attended by their supporters.

 In 1995 I was asked to direct the Shipton pantomime, written by Shipton resident John Drew – Cinderella!  John was the wordsmith of the panto and my role was to contribute ideas, build structure and to add to the humour.

The Clothes Show: A Precursor and Fund-Raiser

I had produced a successful ‘Clothes show’ for the Youth of the Wychwoods, at Chipping Norton Theatre in 1994. The old Beaconsfield Hall was deteriorating and showing its age after more than a hundred years!

The village was on a mission to replace the hall, and fund-raising was the name of the game. Around 100 children trooped up to Chipping Norton Theatre and after numerous rehearsals, whilst at the same time chasing clothes sponsors for financial support,  a very fine Clothes Show was performed.

Last pantomime at old Shipton Village Hall. Hillary Wilson, Christine Halliday Margaret Nicholson and Gordon Halliday at the front

On to the Wychwoods

Although I had danced and sung in many Womens’ Institute pantos in my youth, through Ballet school in Carmarthen, and had studied dance and drama at the Rudolf Laban studio in London, I had not undertaken such a task before.

Determinedly I set to. My daughter, the only member of the family to have attended the Womens’ Institute pantomime, had been a Brownie and then a Guide. Christine Halliday, who ran the Guides, was usually the principal boy! The Guides were invited along to the dress rehearsal, where my daughter insisted that I include the Commuters and the Penguins!

Commuters and the Penguins? What and Who!?

The Commuters and the Penguins were a tradition of several Wychwoods pantos, first introduced by Daphne Waugh.

The Commuters a regular part of the WI pantomimes in the old Shipton Village Hall. December 1993. Man in brown suit is John Rawlins. On his left is Ian Mathews. Possibly Sir John Graham second from left

Despite the Commuters having such fabulous men as Sir John Graham, Ian Mathews, Malcolm Cochrane and Duncan Waugh, their individuality and insistence that they mustn’t peak too soon, was a force to be reckoned with! That at least one of them should go off in the wrong direction, or  another one  be out of tune in the song they were singing – or using the wrong leg –  simply added extra hilarity to the sketch!

The Penguins had their own routine, and it didn’t matter what they did, because  no one recognised them anyway, in their amazing penguin costumes. Horrifying! The village audience loved it!

More Cinderella Fun

But this wasn’t the end of the fun. The shocked expression on peoples’ faces when the curtains opened in the second half are still legendary! Six women – Pat Bannister, Pat Canning, Diane Johnson, Gail Huntingford, Barbara Wilson and Jane Hills stood clad in black miniskirts, fishnet tights, DM’s and leather jackets- the memory will stay with me forever!

Pat Bannister      Margaret Canning   Gail Huntingford   Barbara Wilson   +?+   with Sian O’Neill – preparing for their moment!
Cinderella 1995

And they had a great trick up their sleeves to follow. They had found a motorbike to whisk Cinderella off to the ball. Laura Marshall was Cinderella’s double and ran into the hall and onto the stage, clad in black, and with a puff of smoke Cinderella – Hilary Wilson, appeared with her beautiful ball clad outfit. Magical!

And after…

The next pantomime I directed was Rapunzel, written by Trudy Yates. Rachel Rodgers played the heroine. After this success, Jack and the Millenium Beanstalk followed. This was very ambitious  -demanding some great and skilfully constructed scenery.  I was also briefly involved with MAFIA – Milton’s pantomime, which again put on a tremendous show. 

The establishment of the Wychwood Players Amateur Dramatic Society, forged initially by Daphne Waugh, really brought the villages together and developed peoples’ natural talents, enriching all our lives.

Ascott Martyrs Trust Family History Day

Saturday 17 June saw committee members supporting WLHS colleague Carol Anderson and the Ascott Martyrs Educational Trust’s family and local history day at Tiddy Hall in Ascott under Wychwood.

This was an enjoyable as well as informative opportunity for visitors to discover more about their family history. A major part of the exhibition was the Trust’s amazing Martyrs Family Tree (11 metres long it contains more than 2,500 names). Also on hand was Beverley McCombs whose book ‘The Ascott Martyrs’, introduced us to their family histories.

Visitors were also regaled by Charlbury Finstock Morris with a performance which included two of the traditional dances that originated in Ascott. A Facebook clip appears here thanks to Mark Pigeon.

Charlbury Finstock Morris Dancers

Neighbourhood Bells: An Appreciation

During a recent Wychwoods History Society talk, Chris Pickford, expert in the history of bells and bellringing, made a special mention of the bells at St Nicholas’ Church in Chadlington.

He reminded us of interesting times, when a landowner could bodily remove a village and its inhabitants to improve estate parklands. In this case we have Lord Harcourt of Nuneham Courtenay doing exactly that. In the 1760s, he demolished the church and removed its five bells.

Chris Pickford’s research – featured here on the Wychwoods History website – demonstrates in detail how those five bells, with a sixth added in 1796, are now housed in Chadlington church – a rare early example of a transferred ringing peal of bells.

St. Nicholas Church, Chadlinton

In this coronation year with bellringing very much part of the celebrations marking change, it seems apposite to think of stories such as these. There is a rich history hidden in church towers throughout the land, and particularly in the Wychwoods. Bells can be vulnerable – one thinks of the church of St. Peter and St. Paul in Deddington, where all but one of the five bells had been requisitioned by Charles I in 1643 and melted down to be made into artillery!

A less dramatic reminder of the need to look after the heritage of bells was the refurbishment and re-hanging of the bells in Shipton in 2019 – an event which brought the community together in fundraising to ensure their future.

St. Nicholas, Shipton under Wychwood
Shipton Refurbished Bell The 3rd bell, with inscription JOHN MacVICKER TOWER CAPTAIN 1986 to 2011, was recast and returned on 19th March 2019
Shipton Refurbished Bell. The 3rd bell, with inscription JOHN MacVICKER TOWER CAPTAIN 1986 to 2011, was recast and returned on 19th March 2019

Those Shipton bells were worked on by the last remaining bell foundry in the UK, John Taylor and Sons in Loughborough. But moving bells around the country was not always so straightforward. The two 15th-century bells at St. Nicholas Church in Idbury would have been made on site in a casting pit. Medieval transport systems precluded such manufacturing off site.

Ascott Holy Trinity is notable. Five of its six bells were cast in 1744 by Henry Bagley III. The family is important to the history of bellfounding in our area, having established a foundry in Witney and supplying bells for towers in Fulbrook, Witney, Shilton, Westwell and Standlake.  

At Fulbrook until 2003 the ring of three included treble and tenor cast in Burford by Edward Neale – of the earlier and equally important bell-founding family. Neale’s Sanctus bell dates from 1649 and is still in use. Once again, village fundraising in Fulbrook allowed a new bell frame to be installed for a ring of six.  The original treble now stands in the north aisle of Burford Church – the “bellfounders’ aisle”, beside two other Neale bells.

A Fulbrook Neale Bell at Burford

A single bell one might say, can have mournful overtones. I think of the curfew bell in Gray’s Elegy tolling the knell of parting day. Perhaps also of John Donne’s “never send to know for whom the bell tolls”. This latter is a somewhat ominous expression of the interconnectedness of humankind. This is better and more joyfully expressed by the change-ringing of multiple bells, and perhaps also by the simple “Peace and good neighbourhood” message on the treble bell at Idbury, and on the fourth of Chadlington’s peal of six.

Uncover Oxfordshire’s past with Heritage Search

Here is news of a set of free online catalogues from Oxfordshire County Council’s heritage services.

Residents and people interested in the history of Oxfordshire can now uncover more of the county’s rich past with Oxfordshire County Council’s new Heritage Search.

This brand-new resource is free to use and contains a comprehensive catalogue of historical resources, including a wide range of archive documents, books, photographs, maps and much more, relating to the history of Oxfordshire ¬from ancient artefacts to modern-day landmarks.

Whether you are a student, historian, or simply an enthusiast of local history, Heritage Search is your ultimate, free-to-use resource. You can easily find out about items of interest and dive deeper into the fascinating world of Oxfordshire’s heritage.

You can also display historic maps of Oxfordshire and plot many of our heritage assets, like photographs and archaeological finds, on the new mapping platform.

Typical ( small sample) search result for Shipton under Wychwood

Visit the site here:

Examples of what you can find:

  • Archives catalogue of documents created by local councils and other official bodies, churches, schools, businesses, and individuals; including written records, maps and plans. (12th to 21st century)
  • Local Studies catalogue of published material, including books, journals, articles, and maps about Oxfordshire people, places and topics
  • Oral history catalogue of sound recordings, including extracts from Radio Oxford programmes back to 1970, and field recordings made since the 1960s
  • People & Business indexes of articles relating to Oxfordshire people and businesses, from local newspapers (1791-2011)
  • Poor Law index of individuals and families named in the Oxfordshire Poor Law records (1601-1891)
  • Miscellaneous lists including tithe and enclosure records, sale catalogues and digital publications
  • Archaeology catalogue of all the material that is cared for by Oxfordshire Museums Service and which was recovered through archaeological processes
  • The Historic Environment Record (HER), an index of buildings, monuments, excavations and finds in Oxfordshire
  • Social history catalogue of objects from agricultural machinery to textiles as well as the art collection
  • Ordnance Survey maps detailed maps to help explore your changing local landscape
  • District valuation maps and surveys recording property ownership, created under the 1910 Finance Act
  • Tithe maps – colour scans from original maps (1830s-1850s), covering 44% of historic Oxfordshire parishes
  • Aerial photos from 1961, 1981 and 1991

Our May 2023 Evening Talk: History of the Windrush Stone Quarries

Our final talk of the 2022/3 season followed the society’s AGM, with 50+ members in attendance.

AGM: Download Chairman’s report as PDF here and AGM Agenda as PDF here . Minutes from the 2022 AGM are available as PDF here

The society’s AGM took place as scheduled for 7.30pm and was followed by the last talk in our 2022/3 series.

Jonathan Maisey’s presentation on the Windrush Quarries was particularly well-received and attracted interesting questions and feedback.

Jonathan has been involved in caving with the Gloucester Speleological Society (GSS) since 1983 and has a particular interest in the stone mines of the Cotswolds. Over the years he has  been involved in the discovery and exploration of a number of these stone mines.

The Windrush in particular has led to the best discoveries. The underground quarrying industry of the Cotswolds is one which is not well known or publicised, but it is hoped that a forthcoming Windrush book will help to address this in some part. In general terms, these quarries – for example also at Barrington and Moreton – were locally-run by families who had no particular need for intensive record-keeping, and so detailed research is difficult and challenging.

About Windrush Quarry

During a wide-ranging talk from Jonathan, we learned that Windrush Quarry consists of several passageways that are usually about 2 by 1.5 metres in size. The stone was moved by carts underground for both local use and for nearby towns and cities such as Oxford. The carts have left a series of well-preserved ruts along the passages. Graffiti from the quarrymen dates from at least 1853 with the majority being between 1860 and 1909.

Widrush Quarries in Sherborn Estate 1820-1862

Several smaller old quarries are dotted around Windrush Quarry on the 1891 O.S. Map, and these are thought to have provided employment from the 15th century at least as Windrush provided stone for St. George’s Chapel, Windsor, in 1478. The best example of Windrush stone in use is the front of Oriel Library (Oxford). For some time, the stone quarried here appears to have been grouped under the generic term of ‘Burford Stone’ (including other local quarries).

Windrush stone quarry showing waggon ruts

The quarry closed about 1900, because parts had become unsafe and expensive alterations would have been required, to comply with government regulations, although surface quarrying, for example for walling stone, continued to be quarried and dressed here until 1911.

Windrush Quarry was reopened by Gloucester Speleological Society in 1981. It is now gated with access available to bona fide cavers.  

Cutting leading to the quarry entrance

Timeline of Exploration

Though the site was first visited and reviewed by Maurice Febry (GSS), no work was started until the quarry was opened by the GSS and fully explored – that is ‘Windrush 1’  – from the main cutting. In 1988 new access arrangements were made with the landowner and a full survey made of ‘Windrush 1’, and by 1994 a new wall and secure gate installed under the arch in the ‘Windrush 1’ entrance. Also at this time, Maurice Febry dowsed what ‘could be’ passages coming off from the second cutting, heading towards the so-called ‘clay bell’ and the eventual breakthrough into what would become ‘Windrush 2’.

This ‘Windrush 2’ section now connects back to a second entrance at a smaller cutting and at an area believed to be the ‘stables’ where it is quite possible that working horses were kept.

GSS members under in-situ dressed stone example

After several years of hiatus in GSS activity here, 2009 saw renewed interest in the mine by GSS members and a year later a graffiti survey started which is now ongoing as further areas are waiting to be discovered and explored. Such a survey was mindful of the fact of roof falls obliterating these markings. The forthcoming book by the Society plans to start with the graffiti survey as a starting point.

Graffiti and Artefacts

A name in reverse…

Far and away the most obvious reminder of activity in the Windrush Quarries is the extent and variety of graffiti left by quarrymen and others over time. We saw many examples of this, some which had been created with obvious skill, and at least one, mysteriously, created by candle soot and written in reverse on a ceiling.

Jonathan described to us some of the research being made to link as many as possible of these names to the population census, perhaps then to add more dimensions to our knowledge of these working men otherwise lost to history. Additionally, links can be made to war memorials and other local records.

Apart from ubiquitous clay pipes – and a solitary detached horse hoof possibly due to disease caused by damp conditions – among more mysterious finds were the number of abandoned workmen’s boots . Were these simply rough “working boots” changed into from everyday and cleaner footwear by the workers on arrival? Or some kind of ritualised farewell offering by retirees? One day we might know.

Post-Script: from Geograph:

This is a photograph of the main passageway in Windrush Quarry, shown on the Geograph website. Following the photographer’s profile, we can find several other examples of stone quarries in our region and elsewhere.

© Copyright Derek Hawkins

Our April 2023 Evening Talk: English Civil War in the Cotswolds

Part of Simon Randall’s Collection on Display

The penultimate talk in our 2022/3 season attracted 55+ members and guests, another pleasing attendance for the society. Local Shipton resident Simon Randall gave us an fascinating survey of key events in the English Civil Wars with particular reference to the Cotswolds.

A feature of the evening was Simon’s display of his personal collection of historic books and documents relating to events and personalities of the period. This added a uniquely interesting slant to the subject matter of his talk, and certainly enhanced our post-talk conversation and interest.

A key element to the display was Simon’s 2005 book “Letters to my Father” which was available on the evening at a special members price, with proceeds going to society funds. This is a beautifully bound book, illustrated with twelve linocuts by Clare Melinsky.

“Letters to my Father” – The Published Book
“Letters to my Father” – with 12 Linocut Images

Why the English Civil War?

Simon became interested in the English Civil War during his years of employment in the legal profession, when one day he was told by a colleague that the offices of a former employer were being cleared out, and it was possible that a large number of documents were being consigned to a skip.

Intrigued, he investigated, and found amongst much else, a set of interesting-looking papers. These he kept for several years, unopened and unread, until one day on further investigation, he discovered that they were the correspondence between a father and son during the post-Civil War early 1660s.

This period saw the government under Charles II moving to punish the regicides – the sponsors of the document which sealed the fate of Charles I. Families of the regicides were implicated, especially in terms of forfeiture of estates. And so those Abney family letters between a father and son over the son’s desire to marry, and the inter-family consequences, shed light onto the tensions which existed in these times in the aftermath of the war and the Commonwealth’s demise.

“Letters to my Father” – Copies of Original Scripts
“Letters to my Father” with Additional Books on Display

The Talk in Outline

Simon took us on a whistle-stop tour of the principal reasons for the Civil War of 1642-49, which included inter alia the outdated concept of the Divine Right of Kings, the discontent with absentee landlords and the opposition by Puritans to the ecclesiastical hierarchy. In particular relevance to the Cotswolds was the opposition to a Ship Tax in a region with no borders to the sea!

Of course, also relevant to our region was the fact that the King, initially having set up his flag at Nottingham, moved his court to Oxford where the University supported him, but the townspeople did not. And significantly, the last major battle took place at Stow-on-the-Wold in March 1646.

His talk covered key social and economic effects of the war, key events and battles, and of course the aftermath and its implications for the main players in the conflict. We learned for example that neither side had a trained army in 1642, although 75% of aristocracy had experience of war and joined the Royalists.

These Royalist supporters recruited their employees for the army. The Earl of Loughborough for example, recruited miners working in his coalmines in the East Midlands which naturally resulted in coal shortages. In terms of changes and appropriation of resources meantime, the Cotswolds was a hugely important area with natural resources for war, including iron for weapons and with timber and coal in Forest of Dean; Wool, Cloth and Corn from the Wolds; Fruit and Vegetables from the Vale and Tobacco (surprisingly to many) from Tewkesbury and Winchcombe.

Many individuals took no part in the War and remained neutral, although everyone was affected. Leading family members had to decide allegiance with potential consequences. Simon gave us a particularly poignant quote by Sir William Waller – ” I detest a war without an enemy”.

Books and Documents

Illustrating some of the key elements of his display of books and documents, Simon highlighted a particular letter by the King’s wife Henrietta Maria. She was accused of encouraging foreign armies to come in on the side of the Royalists, but the letter highlights the true nature of her involvement: a trading arrangement for arms and munitions to support the cause of her husband via the wool trade.

Henrietta Maria Letter Dated 5th September 1645

Right trusty and right wellbeloved We greet thee. Whereas we understand that certain wool belonging unto Mr Collimir Marchant of Ant have been stopped at Dartmouth in regard of his not performing the contract which he had enteredd into for the furnishing of powder and ammunition for the service of our Dearest Lord the King we have thought good to let you know that the failing therein, hath not proceeded from any neglect of his, we having found him as in all other things belonging to the service of our Dearest Lord the King, so in this particularly to have performed the part of a diligent and careful person: But he been occasioned by our not being able to repay him the sum of money by him formerly lent.
And therefore we shall desire you to give instant order that the said wool, and what else, may be stoped or distanced from him under [coullor] of his not satisfying that engagement may be forthwith restored unto him, or such as he shall employ: it being just that persons of his deserving should rather receive encouragements to continue in their good affection thin [distates] after services so truly and faithfully performed. And for as much as we conceive our self interest in this business, he having entered into the same upon our promises unto him, we shall also desire to understand from you of the proceeding therein. And so we bid you heartily farewell.
From St Germain this 5th of September 1645.

Letter addressed: To our right trusty and right wellbeloved the Lords and others of the Council to our Dearest Son the Prince of Wales.

Personalities in the Cotswolds

Of the several Cotswolds personalities in Simon’s presentation, we can highlight these four:

Prince Rupert

Prince Rupert, the King’s nephew was a courageous horseman but occasionally impetuous.

He joined Charles I shortly before the outbreak of the Civil War in August 1642.

He fought at Edgehill, Cirencester, Bristol, Marston Moor, Naseby and Oxford.

Peter Heylyn

Peter Heylyn was born in Burford and ws one of Charles I’s chaplains and the author of range of pamphlets .

In 1639 he became Rector at South Warnborough, Hampshire.

He suffered for his loyalty to the king when, under the Commonwealth , he was deprived of his preferments.

He subsequently settled at Lacies Court in Abingdon from 1653 until 1660.

William Lenthall

William Lenthall lived for many years at the Priory, Burford.

William Lenthall’s House in Burford

He was speaker of the House of Commons during most of the English Civil War and was most famously involved in a key event: the personal confrontation between the King and Parliament at the start of hostilities.

Addressing Lenthall in the chamber, the King, accompanied by men at arms, said “Mr Speaker, I must for a time make bold with your chair”.

Lenthall vacated it. Calling first for one of the members, and then another, Charles was met with total silence. He asked the speaker where they were. Kneeling, Lenthall responded:

May it please your majesty, I have neither eyes to see nor tongue to speak in this place but as this House is pleased to direct me whose servant I am here; and I humbly beg your majesty’s pardon that I cannot give any other answer than this to what your majesty is pleased to demand of me.

It was the first time that a speaker had declared his allegiance to the liberty of parliament rather than the will of the monarch. Momentous indeed.

Marchmant Needham

Marchmont Needham’s Birthplace in Burford

Born at The George Inn, Burford, Needham was a prolific writer and was reckoned to be the first newspaper editor. He worked for for Charles I, then Oliver Cromwell during the Commonwealth, and for Charles II at the restoration. He has been described as “the world’s first great journalist”

Further Notes to the Aftermath

As part of necessary reparations and fund raising after the devastating consequences of the wars, a Sequestrian Committee was set up in 1643 to allow the confiscation of Royalists estates during the commonwealth. In 1655, a detailed catalogue was produced in book form of the Lords, Knights and Gentlemen that had compounded their Estates. The value in total for these estates was £1,239,769, equivalent £266,547,999 today.

So-called Compounding of Delinquents rules were set up to allow the buying back the estates based on value, and a promise not to take up arms again. Here is how some Cotwolds gentry were affected.

Compounded Estates in the Cotswolds post-Civil War

About Simon Randall

Although Simon Randall only moved to Shipton-under-Wychwood in February last year he has had a long association with the Cotswolds having owned a house in Blockley for over 30 years and founded the charity, Friends of the Cotswolds, which owns the Old Prison at Northleach. His consuming interest in the English Civil War arose following the 30 minutes he spent in a rubbish skip in Lincoln’s Inn.

Our March 2023 Evening Talk: Bellfounding at Burford 1630-1940

The Society was fortunate to have as speaker in March, Chris Pickford, archivist and historian, whose knowledge of all things bells is impressive.

His subjects were ‘Bellfounding at Burford 1630 to 1940’ and ‘Some bells of the Wychwood area’.

A sizeable audience braved a snowy evening to attend. It was bolstered by a number of guests from Burford History Society who kindly brought along a selection of items from the Tolsey Museum collection, including handbells and mortars, as well as photographs and documents pertaining to the bell foundries of Burford.

The Wychwoods Local History Society also showed its own bell recovered from the Shipton’s now demolished tin tabernacle ( read about it here ).

Chris introduced his talk with a brief look at the origin of bells as instruments of communication showing photographs of some of the earliest examples, including a set of 65 musical bells cast in China 2400 years ago.

He then looked in detail at the eight bells in Saint John the Baptist Church in Burford one of which, the tenor weighing 17 cwt, dates from the mid-14th century.  Chris explained that Burford’s first bell foundry was run by the Neale family in the 17th century. Henry Neale was active between 1627 and 1641, joined by Edward Neale in 1635 and continuing the business until 1685.

Burford’s Eight Bells
Burford’s 14th Century Tenor Bell

Neale bells remain in use in several nearby churches including Brize Norton,  Buscot and Fulbrook.  Two Neale bells removed from Fulbrook, including the original treble bell, are now displayed in Burford church.

As well as casting bells, both Henry and Edward Neale made mortars, with fine castings and made for identifiable clients.

A mortar made in 1658 b Edward Neale for Francis Keble, a Burford merchant

From 1685 to 1865 there was no bell foundry in Burford and work was mainly by the Rudhalls  in Gloucester (who cast Burford’s  small Sanctus bell in 1720), the Bagleys at Chacombe, Witney and Chipping Norton amongst others.

Hung in one of the openings in the Southside of the bell chamber cast by Abraham Rudhall II in 1720

A catalogue entry shows that Henry Bagley of Witney added the final two bells at Burford ( both since recast) to make the full ring of eight. The accounts show that the augmentation took place in 1730. In 1771 Matthew Bagley, the last of the bellfounding Bagleys, replaced the Burford treble, smaller of these two.

Burford : Two Trebles to Make Eight 1730

Bell casting returned to Burford in the 1860’s when the Bond family established their business. Henry Bond, the father, had a foundry at Westcote from 1851 which he moved to Burford around 1865. His older son, also Henry, and  younger son Tom joined the foundry and it continued until 1947.

Chris took us through the Sheep Street and the later Witney Street locations of the Bond business. From here a further replacement of one of the Bagley trebles was made in 1868, and over time, the family worked in frames and fittings for bellhanging, which was always an important part of the work.

Bellhanging at Fulbrook
Bellhanging at Adlestrop

Between 1851 and 1939 there are records of 18 known bells made by the Bond firm, mostly for churches in Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire and Worcestershire, and records for 152 bellhanging jobs.

Chris amused the audience with some examples where the Bond family standards fell a little short of perfection but Henry junior studied with William Blews of Birmingham and  had undoubted skill. Bond bells are still in use in churches in Taynton and Chalgrove and there is a Bond Sanctus bell in Saint Nicholas Chadlington.

Chris ended his entertaining and comprehensive talk with a look at bells in local churches to the Wychwoods, including Shipton, Taynton, Ascott, Fifield, Idbury, Leafield and Milton.

Shipton’s eight bells include a 1634 tenor bell cast by Henry Bagley of Chacombe

A special mention was made of Chadlington and a recent article by Chris in The Ringing World publication, which describes in detail the history of the bells at St Nicholas’ Church in the village. A PDF of the article is here courtesy of The Ringing World magazine.

About Chris Pickford

Chris has written books on The Steeple, Bells and Ringers of Coventry Cathedral (1987) and Bellframes (1993) – reflecting his spare time activity of church bellringing. He is among the leading historians of bells and ringing and he writes regularly for The Ringing World including an ongoing series “What’s up that tower?” Since 2010 he has been one of the volunteer archivists at the John Taylor Bellfoundry Museum and Archives, leading work on cataloguing and digitising the rich archival and photographic collections.

Chris took up bellringing while at school in Worcester and over time has now rung some 2200 peals of which he has conducted over 400.

Their Finest Hour Project – WWII Memorabilia Digital Collections Day

We invite Wychwoods Local History Society members and friends to consider contributing their own WWII memorabilia to an important OU and Heritage Lottery funded initiative.

Bring your stories and objects relating to the Second World War to the Soldiers of Oxfordshire Museum in Woodstock. The Collections Day is part of a nationwide campaign organised by Their Finest Hour.

Objects will be digitised and recorded: the items themselves will remain with you and your family.

About “Their Finest Hour

Their Finest Hour is a University of Oxford project that aims to collect and digitally archive the everyday stories and objects of the Second World War.

  • Share your family’s Second World War stories and objects for an online archive
  • Opening from 11am – 3pm, Saturday 1st April 2023
  • Museum Open Day – free admission to the museum throughout the day
  • See Second World War living history displays, kit displays and art exhibitions in the museum galleries

World War II stories are fast fading from living memory, so we believe it is vital that they – and the wartime objects that often accompany them – are preserved for future generations.

Here are some ideas:

  • Stories about your family’s wartime experience
  • Diaries
  • Letters
  • Medals
  • Journals
  • Ration books
Page from the POW Diary of A J Wallis (Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry)

All these and more will be recorded, digitised and then uploaded to the Their Finest Hour online archive, which will be free-to-use and will launch in June 2024.

Cigar Case – example of a WW2 Object brought to the museum in Woodstock
‘Villa Patricia’ an object donated to the museum by a Woodstock resident, a dolls house made by a Prisoner of War during World War Two

Why Else Visit on April 1st?

The museum will waive its normal admission fee on the day – entry will be free to all on 1st April.

SOFO will also be hosting a range of other Second World War-themed events and exhibitions on the day. Visitors will be able to enjoy displays from 1940s living historians inside the museum and view a recently installed replica Anderson Shelter, as well as a number of exhibitions.

With often limited parking in Woodstock, Blenheim Palace will also be kindly supporting this event, offering free parking to those attending to share their stories. The museum is just a short walk into town through the palace’s Woodstock Town gate.

Attending Living History Groups Will Include:

  • Winston (Churchill)
  • Doing Their Bit (Home Front)
  • Oxfordshire Home Guard
  • Ham & Jam (Second World War British Airborne troops).

Collector John Noott’s expansive exhibition, The Art of World War II, will showcase a diverse range of perspectives of the era all produced during the conflict, while the Aces High gallery will have a range of impressive prints – including many signed by veterans – up for sale.

Visitors can talk to museum staff on the day about donating items to the museum’s own collection if they wish, but the focus will be on digitisation – photographing objects, recording stories and scanning documents – so original items can remain with their families.

The project team is especially interested in collecting contributions from people from under-represented backgrounds in order to increase the diversity of people benefiting from Second World War heritage.

Find out more at

About the Soldiers of Oxfordshire Museum:

Soldiers of Oxfordshire Museum, Park Street, Woodstock, OX20 1SN

Registered Charity No. 1145408

Our February 2023 Evening Talk: Conscientious Objection, Religion, and the Public in Oxford in 1916

Wychwoods Local History Society Conscientious Objectors

Our season of monthly talks continued with the visit of Sue Smith, who has made in-depth studies at Oxford University, of wartime Conscientious Objectors.  She has examined the social profile of those who resisted wartime call-up and the public response to those who refused to fight.

The talk was again well attended with 30+ members, with an interesting Q&A session to round off another successful evening.

After two years of fighting in the Great War, with no end in sight, it became necessary by act of parliament to introduce conscription to maintain the fighting strength of the army. The Military Service Act was passed into law in January 2016.

This is where it all started – a notice about the Military Service Act which became law in January 1916

With this introduction of universal conscription, everyone eligible was ‘deemed to be enlisted’. This meant that those who could not, or would not, join the Armed Forces were subject to a Military Tribunal which examined their case and delivered a verdict.

The Oxfordshire Tribunals, as throughout the country, comprised men who were established local figures, including local businessmen, farmers, manufacturers, and councillors. The tribunals would invariably include a representative of the Military, who exerted an influence on them. The military representative on the Oxford Military Service Tribunal was Lieutenant Walter Baldry, whom we learned was particularly unsympathetic.

Sue gave the example among many, of Alfred John Bishop who was an employee of the Clarendon Press, and loyal member of the Wesley Memorial Church congregation. He said at his Tribunal hearing in March 1916, ‘The commandment says thou shalt not kill, and killing in the sight of God is sinful.’ Bishop’s sincerity and good character was vouched for by the Rev. Brash, Minister of the church at the time.

But Baldry accused Bishop of being a “drinker and a gambler”. He also implied that the Rev Brash was either ill-informed about Bishop, or he was lying to protect him.

This tendency towards character assassination could be summarised in terms of the “cold footed brigade” vs. “the bigwigs”, but of course the problems which arose were far more complex in scope.

Who Were the Conscientious Objectors?

There were 18,000 registered conscientious objectors in the First World War. Of those, 6,000 went to prison because they felt it was wrong to participate in the war in any way. There were approximately 100 Conscientious Objectors in Oxfordshire. Most accepted work in the Royal Army Medical Corps, the Non-Combatant Corps, or other ambulance units such as the one organised by the Quakers.

Objections to fighting would in the main stem from deeply held religious persuasion, around the command “thou shalt not kill” and to “love thy neighbour”, but also on political grounds and in solidarity with fellow workers in other countries.

Sue reminded us that the percentage of the UK population which as institutionally or occasionally active in the church was far larger than in current times, and although the Church of England as the state religion could justify fighting to be absolutely appropriate in the face of demonstrable wrong, most Free Churches would have congregations with mixed feelings, and an active minority of individuals in all churches and denominations rejected the war outright as unbiblical and blasphemous.

Following the introduction of Conscription, some 130 Adventist men were called up and refused to bear arms; there was also conflict regarding Sabbath observance.

An example of an objector on political grounds was Raymond Postgate, who was a student at St John College in 1914. He was imprisoned in Oxford Gaol for two weeks in May 1916. In later life he worked as a left-wing journalist and set up the Good Food Guide.

Raymond Postgate

The Response to Conscientious Objectors

Because the right to conscientious objection was so new, and in the patriotic atmosphere of the First World War, it was widely unpopular with the public. It is no surprise therefore that  conscientious objectors were mocked as cowards.

A general response, spread throughout the printed media and elsewhere, could be summed up in the phrase “What would become of England if all men were like you?”. Antagonism and debate was widespread, with regular questions in the House of Commons, and with a proliferation of cartoon mockery. However, the cause for those who came before the Tribunals was taken up by religious supporters and businessmen of faith.

Advocates for Conscientious Objectors

Among the several advocates in Oxford, Sue included Alderman J H Salter, a member of the Salter family who were Wesleyan Methodists, and  had a boat building business.

Also mentioned was Charles Gore, as Bishop of Oxford, who wrote to the local and national papers demanding fair treatment for Conscientious Objectors. He tabled, introduced, and led a debate in the House of Lords on 5 May 1916 on this subject.

A manifesto appeared in the Oxford Chronicle in March 1916, signed by 11 church leaders protesting the activities of many Military Tribunals, advocating that sincerely held opinions should not be mocked. One of signatories was William Temple, who eventually became Archbishop of Canterbury in the 1940s

Sue gave us several other examples of supporters of Conscientious Objectors, and reflected on how, as the realities of the carnage of WW1 became known, opinions gradually changed over time. This change eventually resulted in legislation to guarantee the right of Conscientious Objectors to refuse to join the Armed Forces.

The extent of the change of opinion is reflected in the picture we saw of group of former Conscientious Objectors who had become Members of Parliament in later years. A case of the ‘cold footed brigade’ becoming ‘the bigwigs’?

About Sue Smith

Sue Smith has a Masters in Historical Studies from Oxford University. In particular she has studied resistance to war, how it is organised and supported, and whether it has an impact on public opinion.

Our January 2023 Evening Talk: RAF Brize Norton – 80 Years of Flying Operations

Our first talk of 2023 was by Trevor Jackson, former Commissioned Officer in the RAF, who gave us a full history of the inception and development of RAF Brize Norton. The talk covered the history of the airfield, through World War II, the Cold War and various modern conflicts up to the present day.

It was a delight to see 50+ members and guests for the evening, which is a great encouragement for the work of the society.

Trevor’s talk took us from the very beginnings. Post-First World War and up to the mid-1930s the RAF was understrength. With the approach of war in Europe, a massive airfield construction programme was started throughout the south and east of England. An original candidate site near Clanfield was eventually rejected and the current site was chosen near Carterton. The airfield was named after the village of Brize Norton, to avoid possible confusion with the similarly named RAF Cardington in Bedfordshire. Thus, RAF Brize Norton was born.

Hawker Hart Training Aircraft
RAF Brize Norton Aerial Photo 1937

Construction began in 1935 with a routine layout with grass landing areas and the domestic and technical sites in the NW corner of the airfield. RAF Brize Norton opened on 13th August 1937 and the first unit, the No 2 Flying Training School, arrived in September 1937. A major landmark event in those early years was the hosting at the airfield of the last Empire Air Day on the 20th of May 1939.

Junkers JU88 Bomber

Wartime saw satellite airfields around Brize Norton including Akeman Street, Witney, Southrop and Windrush. This meant of course, that the area was one of the focuses of Luftwaffe raids. We learned of the German reconnaissance flights and indeed of a major attack on Brize Norton in 1940 which destroyed 35 Oxfords and 11 Hawker Hurricanes. Trevor showed us some interesting German secret reconnaissance photos of the airfield from those times.

Secret Luftwaffe Wartime Reconnaisance Map
Wartime Aerial Photo. Note the concrete runways upgrading former grass landing areas.

The creation of dummy airfields using lights on the ground in open fields was one of the defences against such raids. One such decoy was created in nearby Chimney, where the remains of an air raid shelter is a reminder of these tactics.

Chimney Air Raid Shelter

Trevor’s talk also covered the important role which RAF Brize Norton played in the invasion of France in June 1944 and Operation Market Garden in September of that year. We were reminded of the skills and the crucial role of glider technology in deploying troops and equipment into enemy territory.

Post-war was, of course, a period of change and realignment of activities at RAF Brize Norton. Those crucial gliders and airframes were suddenly surplus to requirements and sold off, given away, or even buried in giant pits in farmland around the airfield.

Airspeed Horsa Glider

With new tensions arising with the beginnings of the Cold War, RAF Brize Norton found itself in a new role as part of the reinforcement of the US presence on the ground in the UK. The airfield was prominent in operations around the April 1948 Berlin Airlift, and this was the harbinger of that ever-increasing expansion of operations.

Four bases were chosen in the region for USAF aircraft – Brize Norton, Upper Heyford, Fairford and Greenham Common. A key expansion at Brize was the extension of the runways to accommodate B-29 bombers.

Through to the early to mid-1950s, RAF Brize Norton was in full use by the US Air Force and saw the arrival of a series of massive aircraft including the Boeing KC-97 Stratotanker refuelling aircraft, and the Boeing B-52 Stratofortress. Such aircraft and their crews began to be deployed to Brize Norton on 90-day temporary deployments, all of which activity changed again in 1964 when the base was handed back to the RAF.

Boeing Stratotanker
Boeing Superfortress

With RAF Lyneham, the home of RAF Transport Command’s Bristol Britannia and De Havilland Comet fleets operating at full capacity, RAF Brize Norton was chosen for the planned introduction to RAF service of the Vickers VC10 and Shorts Belfast. The VC-10 in particular was a success story and was used along with Lockheed Tri-Stars as a refuelling aircraft as well as troop and equipment logistics.

First Vickers VC10 handed over at RAF Brize Norton

Trevor’s talk also brought us right up to date with reminders of the role of RAF Brize Norton in the modern era. This included its role in the Falklands, two Gulf Wars, Afghanistan and latterly in support of NATO in the supply of equipment for Ukraine.

Roles for Brize Norton in these years have included air transport, air-to-air refuelling, and military parachuting. Aircraft operating from Brize Norton have included the Lockheed C-130 Hercules, Boeing C-17 Globemaster III, Airbus A400M Atlas and Airbus Voyager. This latter replaced the highly successful but now-decommissioned Vickers VC10 in September 2013 and the Lockheed TriStar in March 2014.

In Support of NATO resupply in Ukraine

About Trevor Jackson

Trevor Jackson served in the RAF for 29 years of which 17 years was served in the ranks, followed by a further 12 years as a Commissioned Officer. He served overseas on two tours in Germany, one tour in The Netherlands and multiple deployments to other overseas theatres.

Trevor was later employed as the Cemeteries Registrar for Oxford City Council for 12 years before taking retirement. Now he works part-time for Oxfordshire County Council as a Wedding Registrar.