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.


The Wilts & Berks Canal Trust

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!