Our first evening talk of the 2023/4 season saw 45+ members and guests convening at Milton Village Hall, for a fine and informative sweep through the history and development of the city of Oxford, through the prism of the story of William Morris and the motor works at Cowley.
Our speaker Simon Wenham was as surprised as the rest of us to be greeted in the car park by a fine example of the famous Morris Oxford “Bullnose” – we all thought this was part of his talk, but in fact it belonged to local resident Peter Meecham – a nice touch to set the stall out for the evening.
Simon’s talk took us through the early stages of the evolution of the Morris empire, the “town vs. gown” dichotomy and the idea of Oxford as a city with “air of studied backwardness” caused by the conservative, established control of the city through the University hierarchy.
We learned of the early beginnings when William Morris at the age of 16 was repairing bicycles in his parents’ garden shed, to the development of a business which employed thousands of workers. We learned of the acquisition and development other businesses and brands – MG in Abingdon, Wolsey, and Pressed Steel included – in a career which elevated him to the title of Lord Nuffield.
We gained some insights into the man as a creative and energetic business brain, a man who liked to “get things done” – but also a man of extraordinary philanthropy, giving most of his fortune to good causes in health care and education.
Woven through Simon’s talk were insights into the transformation of the city. High wages brought in workers from South Wales and the Midlands, and the factory expansion in the inter-war years meant housing developments swallowed up villages – not just Cowley, but Headington, Marston, Wolvercote, Botley, Littlemore, and Iffley – and filled the gaps between them.
Hence, we have a story of a tension between old and new and a constant debate on progress and conservation.
The debate is perhaps epitomised by the establishment of Morris’ Nuffield College. Here in the city centre is an extraordinary example of Morris’s philanthropy. It was built as Morris wished, in a traditional design in Cotswold stone. It was Oxford’s first co-educational college and first all-graduate college. Revolutionary. But also, even Morris had to compromise, having intended his college specialise in engineering but the university wished otherwise. He was persuaded that it should specialise in the social sciences.
About Simon Wenham
Dr Simon Wenham is a part-time tutor on the panel of Oxford University’s Continuing Education Department where he teaches courses on the Victorian period. His doctoral research at the University of Oxford was on the history of Salter Bros Ltd , an Oxford-based Thames boat firm, which resulted in several books.
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.
The society recently arranged a fascinating visit to the Oxfordshire Museums Resource Centre, a large purpose-built, tent-like structure near Standlake. Here a group of society members were able to enjoy a couple of hours hosted by Christiane Jeuckens , who is the Collections Officer for the Oxfordshire Museums Service.
The Resource Centre is normally open to the public by appointment only, but WHLS members were given the opportunity to enjoy a special guided tour.
During the afternoon we learned about the role of the centre to preserve important artefacts, in the areas of archaeology and of social history. The centre houses 100,000+ items large and small, from Neolithic times to recent history. Just two examples we saw were the tombstone of Oxfordshire’s first named inhabitant (a retired Roman soldier ) and an early 18th century wooden blanket loom made from local timber.
Th group had a lively time wandering among the stacks, viewing pictures, photographs, farm implements large and small, domestic appliances, musical instruments, stone carvings. There was much indeed to take in.
The group was delighted to find that Christiane had lined up some particularly Wychwoods-relevant items for us to view, including the much-treasured Shipton Serpent, late of St. Mary’s Church but now housed in the Centre.
A facinating afternoon, and one well worth recommending to friends for a future group visit.
Our final talk of the 2022/3 season followed the society’s AGM, with 50+ members in attendance. 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.
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).
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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 SIGNED LETTER DATED 5 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, 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 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 lived for many years at the Priory, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Members and guests gathered for our last talk of the year. This was a lively look at the history, philosophy and evolution of almshouses, as well as an informative description of the work of the Almshouse Association today.
Shipton resident Peter Wilkinson regaled us with a finely constructed talk, copiously illustrated with many examples of almshouse projects undertaken in various parts of the UK. Peter is a retired chartered buildings surveyor and is currently active as an Almshouse Association Panel Consultant. He brought a a wealth of detailed knowledge of his subject.
Many of us have the common perception of almshouses as a picturesque row of cottages, a reminder of a past age. As such they seem of little relevance in a modern welfare state – but we quickly learned of the scope involved, with 1,660 Almshouse Charities managing over 30.000 dwellings for upwards of 36,000 people – with buildings old and new.
Almshouses: Definition and History
Peter took us through the outline history of the founding and development of the almshouse phenomenon. It all started with the Synod of Aix in 816 A.D which gave monasteries the obligation to distribute alms. Usually in the form of food, clothing, medicine, sometimes money. But also, it could involve board and lodging – and it has been from this element that the almshouses come into being.
The Role of the Monasteries
Monks had always looked after their own sick or old brothers in an area known as the Farmery. The term “infirmary” is derived from this. In the 12th & 13th centuries hospitals within the monastery took over from the Farmery with their own Hall & Chapel. They catered for travellers and began to help poor and infirm lay people, giving alms as board and lodging.
But gradually the practice of ministering to lay people at the monastery hospital ceased and separate hospitals were built – for hospitality not medical provision – away from the monastery.
In the monasteries, alms were given out by the ‘Almoner’, the manorial official or monk appointed to collect and distribute them to the poor. Often the alms were dispensed from an almonry, a special room by the church. Gradually the custom of providing board and lodging for travellers developed, usually in the outer court of the monastery.
Peter’s talk took us through the various iterations of hospitality provision and into the concept of almshouses as we understand them today. He described how through history the monastic Farmery was extended in scope to become the mediaeval hospital for sick and later for elderly poor people.
That in time developed into what we now know as almshouses, moving away from the “hospital” concept and into the world of “hospitality”.
We learned that almshouses tend to be characterised by their charitable status and by the aim of supporting the continued independence of their residents. Peter took us through an extraordinary set of images, describing almshouse projects associated with the work of trustees – many of these involving very creative discussions with developers for new-build almshouses and refurbished older buildings.
Crucially, and a surprise to many of us, there is an important distinction between almshouses and other forms of sheltered housing.
Almshouse residents have no security of tenure, being solely dependent upon the goodwill of the 3 administering trustees. Thus, occupants are always referred to as residents, never as tenants. No rent is paid, but rather a weekly maintenance contribution which is like rent but different in law, and perhaps 60-70% of commercial rates.
Most almshouse residents today will be of retirement age, of limited financial means but we also learned that, these days, young families qualify for almshouse residences.
The Almshouse Association: Guiding Principles
The Almshouse Association assists charities to build, modernise and update almshouse dwellings. These projects provide 21st century living in many properties across the UK, and Peter outlined the challenges faced, especially where properties have listed status or where – as is often the case – funds are limited or lacking.
The Almshouse Association ensures that residents have dignity, freedom and independence to live their lives as they see fit within a safe and secure environment. Almshouses are considered homes for life – care packages provided by social services when residents need additional help.
Over 400 wardens or scheme managers are employed by the larger almshouse charities. Some of larger charities offer extra care and even residential care. But the general position is that almshouse residents should be capable of independent living for the rest of their lives.
The society is grateful to Peter for his time and expertise, and indeed for the provision of images and texts to help with this short overview of an enjoyable evening for all.
For our October talk, historian and writer Julie Ann Godson took us through some fascinating snapshots of lives and events in Oxfordshire through the centuries.
This talk, based on Julie Ann’s book “On This Day in Oxfordshire” (2019), offered us an intriguing concept. The concept is simply that something interesting, fascinating, disturbing or enlightening will have happened in Oxfordshire on any particular calendar date in history.
From Kaisers to ne’er do wells, from royalty to rock stars, from celebrations to disasters, Julie Ann’s research offers a lively window on life in our county.
Among the examples she gave, the Wychwood villages were a prominent focus, as we were presented a single example date in each calendar month.
For January she chose the 10th when, on this day in 1939, 25 Basque refugee children arrived at Saint Michael’s house in Shipton under Wychwood. She described the mixed reception from the clergy at the time but also the welcoming spirit of the local people who raised funds to provide things such as outings to the seaside.
For the month of May she chose the 23rd May 1887 and a sad event involving a feuding married couple which resulted in a somewhat grisly murder of the poor wife, witnessed amongst others by Alfred Groves of the eponymous Milton under Wychwood building firm. The perpetrator, one Robert Upton, having spent the day working at Shipton Court, was the worse for wear after a drinking session at the Shaven Crown. In illustrating this event, Julie Ann showed an image of the location: in the street at the junction of Shipton Road and the High Street.
Julie Ann’s book contains more than one story of World War II aircraft crashes. Particular to Milton, the crash of a Wellington Mark II at Lower Farm was the event Julie Ann chose for September. This happened on the 16th of that month in 1942, and the story of the personal heroism of a 17-year-old lad Ron Dale was a humbling tale indeed.
The Shaven Crown had another mention for the month of December. On the 7th of this month in 1943, Diana and Oswald Mosley began their time of house arrest there. We were reminded that, although there was certainly a denial of liberty, the terms of the house arrest seemed somewhat lenient. Family members were also accommodated and some eminent visitors allowed, and excursions of up to 7 miles from the building were sanctioned.
These are just a few of the dates which Julie Ann covered. The fact that there are 365 such stories for locations all over Oxfordshire – the tip of the iceberg, some might say – makes for a novel way indeed to remind ourselves of the breadth and depth of the world of Local History!
About Julie Ann Godson
Julie Ann studied modern history at the University of Oxford. She now lives in rural Oxfordshire ad makes regular appearances to talk about her research.
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