William Morris and the Cotswolds: Our November 2021 Evening Talk

Evenlode Tapestry Design

The Society’s second talk of the 2021/22 season was again held in the Village Hall. There was a pleasing attendance with 30+ members and guests – and with some newcomers included.

The speaker was Juliet Heslewood whose topic was William Morris and the Cotswolds. This was a nicely structured talk around some key elements of William Morris’ connection with Cotswolds landmarks.

William Morris © The William Morris Society

Early Life and Influences

Though he was born in London and had childhood years in Essex, it was clear that a major influence on Morris’ creative mindset derived from his time at Exeter College in Oxford. Surrounded as he was with medievalist architecture and imagery, both in Oxford itself, and on regular visits to local churches, he became less interested in his studies in theology and more immersed in the medieval aesthetic which surrounded him. A protracted visit to Northern France and exposure to the great cathedral art and architecture there further cemented the decision to abandon theological studies.

Oxford Union Library Murals © The Oxford Union

The Pre-Raphaelites

With the blossoming friendship with Edward Burne-Jones – a fellow-student at Exeter College – a creative relationship flowered. The pair soon met with Dante Gabriel Rosetti, when joining him on a project to design and paint the panels in the Oxford Union Library in 1857, richly illustrated in Juliet’s talk. It was through the influence of Rossetti, that the friendship between Morris and Burne-Jones would lead to the birth of the Pre-Raphaelite movement. The group mapped those early medievalist influences onto an interest in Arthurian Legends and the concept of Brotherhood.

At this time Rosetti and Burne-Jones came across Jane Burden, a stableman’s daughter, at a theatre event in Oxford. Struck by her unusual beauty they invited her to model for the Oxford Union Library murals. Thus Jane Burden’s destiny was set in motion as she soon became William Morris’ wife and muse. Juliet remarked on the irony of the triangle between Arthur, Lancelot and Guinevere finding its reflection in the relationships between Jane, Morris and Rosetti.

Jane Morris and the Blue Silk Dress

Cotswold Churches and Stained-Glass Window Design

With this as the background, Juliet took us through the many images and examples of the designs of the Pre-Raphaelites in the stained glass windows of churches in the Cotswolds. The challenges of the window shapes to the designers were palpable but led to a unique style and approach which is instantly recognisable. Examples included Selsey Church near Stroud , Bloxham church’s East Window , Middleton Cheney and in particular its images of the fiery furnace in the Book of Daniel.

Stained glass by Morris and co. at Buscot Church
Shadrach, Mesach and Abednego in the Fiery Furnace: Middleton Cheney Church © The Heseltine Gallery

Focus on Kelmscott and Broadway Tower

Much focus of course was on William Morris’ house at Kelmscott, and stories of his travels from London to enjoy family summers at the house, exploring and immersing himself in local life.

Also of great interest are the tales of the regular visits to Broadway Tower during these family summer Kelmscott idylls. By the mid-1870s the tower was rented by C J Stone and Cormell Price, the latter being headmaster of the United Services College at Westward Ho! Morris made several visits to stay, delighting in the wildness of the place. He also took his daughters Jenny & May to visit the folly and they were enchanted by the sense of freedom there. He loved the top of the tower with its view into 16 counties.

Broadway Tower August 2019

Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings

Of particular interest, and a reminder of William Morris as a champion of tradition, was his love for and support of the ancient church of St John the Baptist at Inglesham . Morris oversaw St John’s restoration in the nineteenth century, ensuring it kept its original medieval identity.

Inglesham Church Interior
Saxon Carving in Inglesham Church

This was a standout example of his opposition to a perceived thoughtlessness in the Victorian ‘restorations’ of medieval churches which was exemplified by his response to work done on the tiled floor of Burford’s St John the Baptist. Out of this experience, Morris formed the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB – which is still active today).

Grave of William and Jane Morris at Kelmscott Church

Juliet’s rich and rewarding survey – of which these are a selected set of examples – was followed by many questions and observations from the group, ending another enjoyable gathering for the Society

About Juliet Heslewood

Juliet studied History of Art and English Literature at London University.  She lived in France for nearly thirty years where she wrote many books, including The History of Western Painting for young people, that was translated into 12 languages.  While there she gained an MA in English Literature at Toulouse University.  She has devised and led art study tours in six different regions in France and now, returned to England, she devotes much time to writing.

Images © David Betterton except where indicated

The Development of Primitive Methodism: Our October 2021 Evening Talk

The society’s first talk of the 2021/22 season was held in the Village Hall – our first opportunity to meet socially since early 2020 and the beginning of the Covid restrictions. An attendance of 25+ made for an enjoyable gathering. The speaker was David Young on the subject of the founding and development of Primitive Methodism in the 19th Century.  The success of the evening was demonstrated by the fact that we ran out of time before we ran out of questions – a sure sign that the group had been fully engaged.

Though David’s focus was on the growth of the movement in Northern Hampshire, the story is one which certainly influenced life in villages throughout the country. In our case, the Primitive Methodists established a firm foothold in the Wychwoods area from the 1830s onwards, their main local chapel being built in Milton in 1834, followed by the new chapel of 1860, still standing in The Square. In 1851 their regular weekly attendance was reported to be 110 people. For nearly 100 years they were a significant feature of life in our area; there were also Primitive Methodist Chapels locally in Lyneham, Fifield, Chilson, Churchill, Burford, Charlbury and Chipping Norton.

David’s talk charted the character of the Primitive Methodist movement, summarising the influence of leading preachers – male and female – as he did so. We learned that Primitive Methodism broke out from within Wesleyan Methodism. Its birthplace was in an area on the Staffordshire and Cheshire borders. A day-long open-air meeting of prayer and preaching took place on Sunday 31st May on a hill called Mow Cop, and it is generally accepted that this was the starting point from which all else followed. Dramatic and charismatic in style, the effects of such “camp meetings” as they were called disturbed the Wesleyan authorities. When such meetings proliferated in other locations, the movement was disowned and so became separated from the parent body.

Additionally, we learned that government authorities were wary of such gatherings and their effects – this after all was an age which had seen uprisings and the politics of revolution at home and abroad, and such large and impassioned gatherings were looked on with concern. Leading preachers, we learned, were John Ride, Thomas Russell, Edward Bishop, all of whom were imprisoned for their preaching.

John Ride “The Apostle of Berkshire”
Thomas Russell who with John Ride was largely responsible for the spilling over of the movement from Berkshire and Hampshire to Oxfordshire

This was evangelical Methodism and true revival, with many conversions especially (in Hampshire) among agricultural labourers, the word ‘primitive’ denoting their intention to be loyal to the original (that is primitive) Methodism of John Wesley.

The revival movement spread from Mow Cop to Wiltshire and Berkshire into Hampshire, first in the Bourne Valley, then to Micheldever, near Winchester and (from Reading) the Silchester area.

Progress into Hampshire developed from the establishment of “Circuits”. These were focal points of evangelical activity, exemplified on the Berkshire/Hampshire border by the Great Shefford Circuit in 1831 which was the centre of 60 “preaching places” – often homes or barns – and could count almost 1300 followers by 1833. A major highlight of the expansion Eastwards and Southwards was an 1834 camp meeting at Micheldever, which attracted 5-6,000 people and which was a beacon which established the Basingstoke Circuit, a circuit in which Elizabeth Smith was firmly involved, one of many named female preachers of the times.

Oakley Hampshire a typical Primitive Methodist village chapel
Oakley Hampshire: a typical Primitive Methodist village chapel

David’s talk took us through images of the many chapels which were built to house the growing congregations in villages he had personally visited, and demonstrated often with good humour, the character of the work carried out in these places.

Much more of the history of Primitive Methodism can be found in the links below, and we are grateful to David for making the trip from Wrexham to present us with an interesting and absorbing history of 19th century non-conformism.

Further Information

David Young’s Website on Primitive Methodism

Youtube Video example here

Glove Making in West Oxfordshire: Our May 2021 Evening Talk

The society’s final talk of the season was by Carol Anderson, who is a County Museums Officer in Oxfordshire’s County Council Cultural Service. Her talk on glove making in the west of Oxfordshire was attended by over 50 participants, the numbers including guests from the Charlbury History group.

Carol’s talk began with a reminder that gloves of all descriptions and functions have been with us throughout history. Silk gloves were found in the pyramids of ancient Egypt. They have been found in military tomb effigies and were a feature of medieval jousting and courtly life. Gloves have had diverse functions during the ages, from acting as statements of wealth and high fashion (especially for example in Elizabethan times) through to the obvious function of hand protection for hard labour.

Carol focused on the heyday of glove production in our region, which developed gradually from the 13th Century where production was developing strongly in London, Worcester, and Oxford. Early manufacture of leather gloves was a major activity in Woodstock in the early 15th century and well established in the whole region a century later, drawing on the deerskins in abundance in the Wychwood forest and of course drawing also on the burgeoning sheepskin and wool production of the Cotswolds.

During the Napoleonic Wars, production of gloves for military use was protected by tariffs and taxes on imports, but by the 1820/30s these regulations started to change and the story of supply became more complex. Imports from Europe, mainly France stared to affect home production. However, by the mid-19th Century things improved once again, and these years and into the 20th Century were the real heyday for production in the west Oxfordshire region.

It was surprising to many of us that the scale of the activity around glove making was as large as it was in these years, when the fortunes of the industry revived. Carol presented a map of the area with graphics to show the percentages of the female population in each village employed as home workers. Every village was represented in some way, including Leafield and Wootton as worthy of mention. We learned for example that 75% of the women in Stonesfield were home based “Gloveresses” working around family commitments and supporting the household budget, especially during times of hardship caused by changes in work patterns in agriculture.

We learned about the process of manufacture, divided squarely between the heavy “men’s work” and the more delicate tasks carried out by women folk. Men worked in factories as tanners, cutters, dyers and sorters. Many of these roles required a long apprenticeship of up to 5 years. Charlbury and Woodstock were important centres for this activity.

In the second half of the 19th century with the development of the railways, more organised factory patterns of activity were emerging. By 1852 for example we learned that projects in Charlbury had a thousand people engaged in the trade. In passing we learned half of the Ascott Martyrs women were “Gloveresses”. And into the 20th Century with growing external investment and the development of machinery, the work of the women became more and more focussed into factories. A more centralised logistics for production and distribution had emerged.

The arrival of World War Two and the social changes afterwards spelt the beginning of a decline in the industry which had sadly disappeared completely by 1980. Wartime requisition of factories for armament efforts did not help. Neither did cheap imports from Italy (as an example) help the industry. The reduced interest in gloves as a fashion statement or “Sunday best” at a time of declining church attendance for example, and even the impact of the improvements in motor vehicles which obviated the need for driving gloves to combat the cold, was chipping away at the market. The writing was clearly on the wall when the famous manufacturer Dents employed local skills to set up a factory in Malta.

This was an entertaining and wide-ranging survey of an important part of local social history, and was well received by an enthusiastic audience, with many questions raised in the discussion afterwards.

Exhibition of Photography: Milton Library

Update June 16th 2021: Exhibition now closed. Many thanks to all visitors and for all your comments and interest. Congratulations also to Joshua Hope and Belle King for your beautiful prizewinning colouring!


An exhibition of photographs from the Wychwoods Local History Society archive is now on view in Milton-under-Wychwood library. The exhibition features some historic views and personalities of the High Street in Milton.

Wychwoods History Society Events 2012

The exhibition coincides with Local and Community History Month, which is sponsored by the Historical Association.

All are welcome, of course, and we look forward to any comments and feedback from regular and new library visitors. The exhibition continues throughout May and into June.

Please use our Contact Us page to let us know what you think of the exhibition.

Children’s Colouring Competition

As a special feature during the event, the society is running a colouring competition for children. Featuring a choice of two historic Wychwoods characters for children to colour, the competition has two prizes of a £10 book token courtesy of the Society.

Copies of the picture to colour are here ( Click on the links):

Gladys Habgood

Reuben Rainbow

Please hand your entry into the library any time during the exhibition.

A Hero of the Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry: April 2021 Evening Talk

On April 15th 2021 the society hosted a talk by Brigadier David Innes, who spoke movingly and with vivid detail on the life and times of Captain Ralph Kite M.C. of the Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry. The story of this young soldier of the Great War is told in Dr Simon Harris’ book “RBK a Very Parfit Gentil Knight”, and David’s talk drew on that resource.

Wychwoods Local History Society: Poster

We learnt of Ralph Kite’s early life as the son of a clergyman, posted to Hobart, Tasmania, and of some surprising contemporaries. These included individuals as diverse as Bernard Montgomery (later of course “Monty” of El Alamein fame) and Errol Flynn, Hollywood icon. We followed Ralph Kite through prep school, public school education and Keble College, and then immediately on to the outbreak of the Great War, where he and so many contemporaries signed up to service.

The core of David’s talk covered the several engagements in which Ralph Kite distinguished himself, especially during Somme battles. We learned through maps and images, some real insights into those battles, and their costs, which only a military expert such as Brigadier Innes can describe dispassionately and sympathetically in equal measure. It was sobering to understand how soon and how quickly such natural leaders as Captain Kite could find themselves promoted to command at such a tender age. Captain Kite was all of 21 years old in 1916.

Without sensationalism, we had many insights into the practicalities of war and training for war, including the use of telescopic sights in sniper warfare, and the need to train up troops in the art of handling grenades. The grenades of the time were rudimentary and often more dangerous to the handler than the enemy.

Amidst it all of course, were the stories of friends and colleagues lost in battle. These stories were moving indeed. The circumstances of Ralph Kite’s injury and subsequent decline is a story not necessarily of neglect, but certainly from a 21st Century perspective, avoidable. His death from wounds in December 1916 at a base hospital in Le Treport was described with great reverence by David Innes’ wife, reading from the diary – discovered many years later – of the nurse who witnessed Ralph Kite’s passing.

This was a memorable and information-rich evening.

About David Innes
Brigadier David Innes was the first commanding officer of the 5th Battalion Royal Green Jackets, a new Territorial Army battalion raised in the mid-1980s and based in Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire. Away from work and following his earlier military career, David held the honorary position of Lieutenant of The Queen’s Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard. This saw him take part in several state occasions a year, including searching the cellars of Parliament for any latter-day Guy Fawkes! David is also a Deputy Lieutenant for the County of Hampshire. He is also a director of the Soldiers of Oxfordshire Museum, Woodstock.

Recent Evening Talk: “The Journey From Afghanistan”

Here is a synopsis of the latest of our regular evening talks.

In the winter of 1842, 16,500 soldiers and civilians fled Afghanistan with a single survivor staggering into a British border fort a week later. Knowing a direct ancestor had been taken hostage during the retreat, Tom Shannon recently visited the Church of St. John the Evangelist in Mumbai, also known as the Afghan Church. Tom chillingly realised that if his three times Great Grandfather’s name was among the many listed in that sad place, he would not have been there to read it.

His ancestor’s narrow escape and our fourth military involvement in Afghanistan drove Tom to research the subject that has resulted in a long story that hangs heavy with overconfidence, misjudgment, betrayal and retribution. He proposes that outside intervention has helped nurture radical, fundamentalist forces including the Taliban to rise, flourish and continue to threaten the stability of that poor country.

About Our Speaker: Major Tom Shannon TD PhD
Tom has served as an Australian regular soldier, naval reserve sailor and finally as a Territorial rifleman. He is a founder of the Oxford Metrics plc with over 30 years of international and commercial experience as a practicing engineer and scientist with a focus on the medical applications of computer vision to human motion and shape. Tom also currently holds a Visiting Professorship within the Faculty of Health Sciences at Staffordshire University researching adolescent idiopathic scoliosis. In his spare time he is also a passionate amateur historian, trustee director of the Soldiers of Oxfordshire Museum and a sheep and cattle farmer in Somerset.

The talk was delivered on March 18th 2021 on Zoom.

Wychwoods Local History Society Publicity

The Wilts & Berks Canal – The Latest Society Talk

The society’s latest online gathering on Feb 18th, 2021 was another well-attended session. Members and guests continue to support and enjoy these “at-home” evenings. This one was no exception, not least due to the obvious enthusiasm and commitment which our speaker gave to his subject.

Wychwoods Local History Society February 2021 Talk

The talk – on The Wilts & Berks Canal – was given by stalwart supporter and onetime project director Martin Buckland. It featured a synopsis of the history of the canal’s development. It also covered the canal’s eventual decline (in common with the entire canal network due to the coming of the railways) and then the revival of interest by local communities to revive the waterway for social and tourism development.

We learned that the canal opened in 1810 after 15 years of construction but had a chequered career until its legal closure in 1914. In 1977 restoration of the canal began in a few places.

However, in 2004, a full restoration of the entire 62 miles was decided upon.

Martin’s talk looked specifically at the restoration progress and future proposals for the canal. It focussed in detail on the development and opening of a  150-yard cut near Abingdon at the Eastern end of the canal, named the Jubilee Junction. Running from the River Thames to the edge of a former gravel pit south of the town, it is a key section of the project to reopen the canal for its entire length.

Martin’s talk also showed a tantalising number of images taken from key places along the canal. These were of various projects – past and current. Included was a particularly stunning development at Shrivenham, involving the delivery of vast quantities of ash from the Didcot power station in the days it was operating.  All these images represent subject-matter, certainly, for further focus on similar projects. These are, as Martin called them – “pearls” along “the string of pearls” which describes the canal in an apt metaphor

About Martin Buckland

 Martin Buckland has been interested in Industrial Archaeology from the age of 4 when watching Great Western trains with his Dad at Iver where he was born.

 Nearly seven decades later he is involved with the Great Western Society at Didcot Railway Centre and with the restoration of the Wilts & Berks and other canals.

 He gives talks at Abingdon Museum to primary school children and leads walks along the historic and proposed routes of the Wilts & Berks Canal and another covering the rivers of Abingdon.

Links:

The Wilts & Berks Canal Trust https://www.wbct.org.uk/

History Synopsis appears here:

Oxford Mail Report on the Jubilee Junction . (The name was chosen to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of IWA)

Our Third Online Talk: Ellen Hinde and the Prebendal

The society’s third Zoom talk – and its first of the new year programme – was well-attended and was another enjoyable evening. 35 members were present, with a good number of additional guests.

The talk this time was on “Ellen Hinde and the Prebendal“, and was given by Simon Batten of Bloxham School, and prolific writer of books and articles. These include his latest book which covers the British Army’s preparations for the First World War. This won the Arthur Goodzeit Award for 2018 from the New York Military Affairs Symposium. Simon studied Modern History at Jesus College, Oxford and has taught History at Bloxham since 1985. He also coaches rugby and fives and is the school historian and archivist.

A full transcript of the talk is available as a PDF to download here.

For those of us who expected perhaps a focus on the development of the Prebendal from its early days to its current incarnation as a care home, the talk took a surprising and fascinating detour. Yes, we had the outline history, but the focus on the particular story of the redoubtable Ellen Hinde’s brush with the law became the focus of the evening.

The subtitle to the talk “A storm in a teacup” gave the hint. With it, Simon’s talk pulled together – inter alia – themes of food shortages in World War One and emergency legislation by the Government under pressure. It showed social norms being challenged when otherwise upstanding figures find themselves on the wrong side of peer approval. We learned of a court case which moved from Chadlington Magistrates to the Court of Appeal – a case which hinged more or less on the definition of “food”.

We are grateful to Simon Batten for a lively presentation of a singularly interesting time in the long history of the Prebendal.

The Prebendal Featured by WLHS

The following links cover some references to the Prebendal on our website:

Our Second Online Meeting

The society is pleased to report on the success of its second online presentation and talk for its 2020/21 series. The session took place on November 19th. In a new initiative for us, we were joined by members of the Charlbury group as part of a reciprocal exchange. This swelled our numbers to make a pleasant and and enjoyable gathering.

The talk this time was on the battle of Edgehill, given by the battlefield expert David Beaumont, who has been part of the Kineton local history group for 30 years. He was involved in the comprehensive survey of the Edgehill battlefield for over 2 years and has surveyed other battle sites. His in-depth knowledge was illustrated by maps of the surveyed area, showing the meticulous detail of the research carried out.

Meantime, David has spent 18 months with a group translating the Parliamentary Loss Accounts for Warwickshire. This work has given him a great insight into how the battle and the movement of troops through the countryside had a deep and often traumatic effect on village life. The focus on the effects of the battle was sobering, with stories of wholesale plunder of village livelihoods.

A free and interactive visitor exhibition adjacent to the Battle of Edgehill battlefield is permanently installed within the beautiful surroundings of St Peter’s Church in the village of Radway. Details here.

Using Technology: Our First Online Meeting

“I was delighted to give the Wychwoods Local History Society’s first zoom talk. Good preparation on the part of the hosts meant that everything went smoothly, and I hope that everyone enjoyed it as much as I did”.

Liz Woolley, Oxfordshire Local Historian

The society made its own piece of history on October 15th, with its first venture into the world of video-conferencing – a move towards Zoom technology which for many of us is a new, or relatively new, experience.

This is a short report which we hope will encourage members to join us for future events.

Constrained as we all are these days by the restrictions around social gatherings, the society has deftly re-organised its events schedule for 2020/2021. This has been an interesting and progressive experience, with a great deal of understanding from our speaker line-up. Though it is certainly a compromise solution to current difficulties, we are delighted to be settling into a new pattern for the immediate future. We are certainly delighted too, with the outcome of our very first online Zoom session, which attracted a group of around 25 members to a fascinating and beautifully-constructed talk by local historian Liz Woolley.

Liz has in previous years given us fascinating talks in the comfort of the Village Hall, and her experience both as an expert in her field and her encouragement to us in the use of Zoom made her a perfect choice. Aware as we all are of the changes we have to address, Liz tells us: “Zoom talks are no substitute for the ‘real thing’ but until we can all meet again, lots of Oxfordshire history societies are finding that they are a good way for members to keep in touch and still be able to hear some interesting talks”.

And this of course is quite right – the technology clearly demonstrated its benefits during the online arrivals of individual visitors, many of whom had not seen friends’ faces for months on end. There was certainly plenty of “hubbub” in the lead up to the start of Liz’s talk, and people seemed more and more at ease with it all.

CND march, Kensington High St, May 1965. Olive Gibbs 2nd from left, with Marc Bolan, Joan Baez & Donovan amongst others
Olive & Edmund Gibbs at the Cutteslowe Walls Demolition1959

Liz’s talk featured the life and work of Olive Gibbs, the Oxford politician and peace campaigner whose life was a demonstration of a commitment to fairness for all, often at personal cost but always with extraordinary courage and energy. More about the talk is available here >> Olive Gibbs, Oxford politician and peace campaigner

With plenty of Q & A at the end, the evening was lively and entertaining as well as informative. We are grateful to Liz for making this a memorable start to our time with this new format – and of course to all who attended and made the experience so worthwhile.

Please look out for updated details of forthcoming talks on our events page, and please do make contact with the society (members or non-members ) should you have any questions or would like more information about how to join future events. All are welcome!