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.

English Almshouses (Ancient and Modern) : Our November 2022 Evening Talk

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.

Almshouses in Witney : Church Green

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.

Fountains Abbey : Farmery Model

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”.

Almshouses Today

Abingdon : Long Gallery
At Chalfont St.Peter – Modern Almshouses

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.

Extraordinary Developments – A Surprise to Many….

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.

On This Day in Oxfordshire: Our October 2022 Evening Talk

On This Day In Oxfordshire

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.

On This Day in Oxfordshire: Some Highlights

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.

Her website is here

The Medway Queen: Our September 2022 Evening Talk

The Medway Queen

The society’s first evening talk for the 2022/3 season was by Medway Queen enthusiasts Mark and Pam Bathurst, who had travelled all the way from Margate to be with us.

The Medway Queen is the last estuary paddle steamer in the United Kingdom, and the full story of her design, build, civilian and war services unfolded before us in Mark and Pam’s impressive multimedia presentation.

We learned that the Medway Queen initially entered service as a pleasure vessel to provide shuttle services between Chatham and other Medway towns to Southend in 1924. With occasional excursions elsewhere she served on the same route until the beginning of the Second World War.

She was then requisitioned for the Royal Navy in 1939 and converted for mine-sweeping and remained an active minesweeper until late 1943 and was later repurposed as a minesweeping training vessel for the rest of the war.

Significantly, and a main focus of Mark and Pam’s presentation, was the part played by the Medway Queen in Operation Dynamo, the evacuation of allied troops from the Dunkirk beaches. We learned of the heroism of the ship and her crews as they made seven return trips across the channel, rescuing upwards of 7,000 men and in the process managing to shoot down 3 enemy aircraft.

c. The Medway Queen Preservation Society

After the war, the Medway Queen was refitted and returned to civilian services in 1946/7, but by the early 1960s paddle steamers such as the Medway Queen were competing with more modern vessels and eventually she was taken out of service in 1963.

From here we learned of the struggles to preserve the memories represented by the Medway Queen, with several failed attempts to secure her preservation before she was bought by a consortium in 1965 to become a night club and restaurant – The Medway Queen Club – on the Isle of Wight. By the early 1980s the club had folded, the vessel itself suffered some hull damage, and was brought back in rather poor shape to the River Medway.

With a sinking and other narrow escapes from the scrapyard, the Medway Queen was rescued by the formation of the current Medway Queen Preservation Society in 1985. The Society later became owners of this historic vessel.​​

We learned of the dedicated efforts of the society to rebuild the ship’s hull (2013) and establish a base and workshop at Gillingham Pier, where the Medway Queen can be visited today. This has been achieved by the securing of substantial National Lottery funding, and from contributions from the European Regional Development Fund. Also, of course, from the dedicated efforts of volunteers in the Medway Queen Preservation Society including those of Mark and Pam who work hard to tell the story, and did well to bring it to us for this enjoyable evening, sometimes with sobering reminders of wartime upheavals but always entertaining and informative.

See more about the Medway Queen on YouTube

… and more about the Medway Queen can be found here.

Membership Applications and Renewals

Membership for 2022/23 is still open. Please get in touch to see how we can accommodate you for the current year.

Please download the Renewal/Application Form here

The annual cost remains £15 per person or £20 per couple.  

Here are some other choices, and how to pay:

Directly by BACS into the WLHS bank account – full details on the application form, which you can download, complete, scan and send to us by email

Or by post (paying by BACS or by Cheque if you prefer) to

Janet Wiltshire
WLHS Treasurer
4 Shipton Road
Milton under WYchwood

Any questions? Please contact us

We look forward to welcoming you to our new season of events.

Lewis Carroll and the River Thames: Our April 2022 Evening Talk

Alice’s Adventures in Oxford – Lewis Carroll and the River Thames

Our April 13th talk in Milton Village Hall was given by Mark Davies: “Alice’s Adventures in Oxford – Lewis Carroll and the River Thames”.

35+ members and guests enjoyed another enjoyable, entertaining and instructive evening, where Mark gave the story of the creation of Lewis Carrol’s enduring classic some intriguing and engaging perspectives.

We were presented with a true detective story – tracing some of the origins of Lewis Carroll’s two books based on Alice’s adventures.

Mark showed how both ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ and ‘Through the Looking Glass’ were developed by Carroll from stories he told to entertain the Liddell sisters during lengthy boat trips along the Thames. He also showed how these stories were full of characters cleverly disguised but actually very recognisable to the girls. We saw how things that happened in the stories were inspired by real life events and places they visited along the river.

We learned that Lewis Carroll, who as Charles Dodgson was Professor of Mathematics at Christ Church college, met the Liddell family in 1855 when Henry Liddell was appointed Dean of Christ Church and moved there with his young family. Carroll with his friend Robinson Duckworth accompanied some or all the Liddell siblings on a total of 19 boat trips between 1856 and 1863

Mark’s research drew on sources including Carroll’s own diaries and uncovered the significance of many places along the Thames from Godstow to Nuneham.

Lewis Carroll self-published ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ with his own illustrations because the real Alice had implored him to write the stories down and others convinced him there would be a wider appreciative readership. But no one, not even the imaginative Lewis Carroll himself, could have dreamt that the Alice stories, now associated with the wonderful Tenniel illustrations, could have become as famous worldwide as they are today.

A measure of the interest shown was the fact that every one of the copies the associated book “Alice in Waterland” which Mark had brought with him were sold at the end: a first for the group, one might say.

See Mark Davies’ Book Alice in Waterland here

About Mark Davies

Mark is an Oxford local historian, guide, and author with a particular interest in the history and literature of the city’s waterways, having lived on a residential narrowboat in Oxford for nearly thirty years.

His relevant publications are Alice in Waterland: Lewis Carroll and the River Thames in Oxford and Alice’s Oxford on Foot.

Mark has helped to organise Oxford’s annual ‘Alice’s Day’ since the first one in 2007, provides the only Alice-specific guided tours and boat commentaries in Oxford, and is on the committee of the Lewis Carroll Society.

Read more here.

The History of FWP Matthews Mill: Our March 2022 Evening Talk

History of FWP Matthews Mill

Our March 2022 evening talk was with Bertie Matthews who presented the history of FWP Matthews Mill in Shipton under Wychwood.

The evening was another particularly successful one, with around 55 members and some new faces coming to enjoy what was an engaging talk around what must be described as an icon of local enterprise. Many of us who came had family and friendship connections with staff and workers at the mill over time, and so the talk had plenty of personal interest.

Bertie Matthews is the latest generation of his family to run its grain merchant and flour milling business, joining the family mill in 2017. He gave a brief introductory overview of family research into the Matthews name from the 1400s up to the 1780s. Matthews names (originally “Mathews”) derives from medieval families around Llandaf in Wales including a connection with a David AP Mathew in the 1400s. The name was associated with wind and watermill ownership. Later Matthews families in Warwickshire, associated with Nailcote Manor were involved in milling traditions.

However, the story of the Matthews family in Shipton starts with “Generation One” with the name of Marmaduke Matthews 1 (1782-1840) and his arrival from Warwickshire to Fifield House in 1802. In addition to farming activity Marmaduke rode the wave of the Agricultural Revolution with its huge increase in efficient grain production and was able to build a seed-trading enterprise and so set the tone for the Matthews family involvement with local produce and quality grain.

Efficiencies continued to drive the expansion in national agricultural activity, and with “Generation Two”, Marmaduke Matthews II (1812-1883) sourced grain and samples from local farmers, increased the acreage of the Fifield farm, though with no large corresponding increase in the number of workers needed to sustain it. This foundation, operating in local markets until the 1840s, was the basis for further expansion, which came with the railways, and the opening of national markets – clear signs that the time to diversify into milling was near.

Two more generations followed to take advantage of these changes. Frederick Matthews I (1841-1911) expanded the business to wheat and barley selling for several years. His son, Frederick William Powell (FWP) Matthews (1868-1930) was the driving force towards the idea of milling locally grown wheat. In the context of the collapse in grain prices in the late 1880 due to American imports, this was a mandate for business survival.

Although he was the driving force behind the plans for the mill, unfortunately Frederick I died before it was completed, and so it was his son FWP Matthews who oversaw the mill’s completion. It was built in 1912 by Alfred Groves and Son and housed the revolutionary Roller Mill technology first developed in the 1870s and used for the first time in Liverpool.

The decision to use locally grown grain – soft wheat grown locally in the Cotswold hills – meant that the market for Matthews flour at this time was around “biscuit” flour. Especially under FWP Matthews’ son Frederick Eric Matthews (1897-1973) the business won successful contracts with famous companies such as Huntley and Palmers in Reading, Peek Frean in London, and Jacobs in Dublin. A regular sight locally at this time was of the flour was transported by rail by horse and cart on the 25-yard journey between the mill and Shipton Station to those customers.

Ex-POW as he was, Frederick Eric Matthews was the prime mover in keeping the business solvent during the post-war years. As well as maintaining those lucrative contracts, the business divested itself of land and focussed on milling, trading as a coal merchant and later starting the diversification into bread flour.

Frederick Eric Matthews had two sons: Frederick “Gordon” (1922 – 2020) and Ian, who worked in partnership, trading off each other’s individual strengths in business. Ian Matthews bought in new milling technologies from what is now the Czech Republic, and so massively improved throughput at a time when the “commodification” of food in the post war years was the watchword, and so smaller milling enterprises began to fall by the wayside. We learned for example that in 1950 there were 252 mills and 235 milling companies in the country, but by 2020 these figures were 51 and 29 respectively. Frederick “Gordon” was instrumental in introducing malting barley and supplying local bakeries with bread flour.

Paul (Bertie’s father) and his cousin Graham ran the business from the 1990s to the 2010s, focussing on premium and speciality flours, pioneering organic concepts, and increased production from 100 tons weekly to 500, and with modern machinery could package 6 tons every hour. They also introduced brand names based on local villages and landmarks. However, despite these halcyon moments in the history of the business, in 2017 the company suffered severe setbacks which culminated in a loss of half the annual revenue and staff lay-offs and was forced into Company Voluntary Arrangements (CVA).

However, in spite of these major setbacks, the company has worked through these difficulties, and reset itself to focus on speciality flour production, embracing digital technology for its sales (hugely beneficial during the pandemic lockdown and associated restrictions), and under Bertie Matthews’ leadership has founded the Cotswold Grain partnership and working with local families, farmers, bakers and agronomists in the environment of Regenerative Agriculture. [ More here : YouTube Video]

Iterations of the Matthews’ family business have weathered many changes over the centuries, and Bertie Matthews described these with enthusiasm, aided occasionally by his great aunt Anne Matthews who was able to make impromptu and amusing corrections to his narrative! In the process, we were reminded of changes of time in agricultural practice and the fluctuating ebb and flow of commodity markets, up to and including today’s focus on sustainable farming and food supply. We were left with a deep sense of the place of this landmark Shipton under Wychwood enterprise and its connection and response to these seismic shifts – not least those of the present moment in global grain markets.

See more about the history of FWP Matthews Mill in our Wychwoods Album feature

Oxfordshire during the Second World War: Our February 2022 Evening Talk

Wychwoods Local History Society Eveing Talk

Our February 9th 2022 evening talk was held in the village hall, with a lively attendance of 45+ members and guests. Our speaker, Stephen Barker looked at the impact on, and connections to Oxfordshire during the Second World War.

Questions and feedback observations were lively among the group, and as seems now typical, we had to end our evening with a feeling that there was much more in our collective memories to recall. Perhaps another time?

Oxfordshire during the Second World War: Summary

Reflecting on the fact that it is now 80 years since key moments in the Second World War – Alamein for example, and the fall of Singapore – Stephen took an approach which was based on “impressions” around some key topics, and made very interesting use of a combination of still images and video/audio clips as part of this idea.

So we heard for example, Chamberlain’s 3rd September 1939 address to the nation that “we are at war with Germany”, and we heard Anthony Eden’s announcement of the formation of the Local Defence Volunteers, specifically to address the ever present threat of invading troops landing by parachute.

Thus the talk evaluated the ‘home front’ and also many other significant events in which Oxfordshire people were involved. Amongst other things, it touched on evacuation, POWs, airfields, refugees, everyday life, rationing, war work, as well as D-Day, Pegasus Bridge, and the Liberation of Bergen Belsen.

Beginnings of War

Having set the scene for the beginnings of war, we heard personal stories of individual children who were part of the throng of evacuees who came from London on the very day that war was declared. These were moving stories of separation, where children had often not been told of the reasons for them being uprooted from their families.

London WW2 Evacuees arriving at Chipping Norton
The arrival of teachers and children from West Ham at Chipping Norton station on 1 September 1939, with gas masks and labels. See also our “That’s How it Was” Publication here

The Home Guard in Oxfordshire

In discussion of the Home Guard, it was clear that the response to the call from the men of Oxfordshire exceeded expectations, and thousands applied to be part of initiative. Thames bridges, and particularly the Oxford Canal were a stop line of defence in case of a channel invasion, and so needed to be manned and defended at all costs. And of course, airfields such as those at Abingdon, Brize Norton and Benson were all to be protected, patrolled and managed.

Bombs and Raids

We had several pictorial illustrations of the effect of bombing in the county. Upwards of 4,000 bombs fell in total with 20 deaths, including the infamous October 1940 Dornier raid on the railway and gasworks in Banbury where 6 men were killed, and much damage caused. We were reminded of the target, which was Banbury’s aluminium processing factory where up to 60% of the war effort’s requirement for Spitfire and Lancaster airframes were fulfilled. To confuse the enemy, a complete dummy replica of these works was made some way out of town.

Industry, Factories and Munitions

The importance of the Metal and Produce Recovery plant at Cowley was an eye-opener for some [Interesting BBC archive here: Memories of the Home Front in Oxford ].

As well as repairing stricken aircraft to get them flying again, Cowley also had vast spaces dedicated to recycling and cannibalising wrecked aircraft, and also had its pressed steel factory as part of the Nuffield complex.

Women at War

The role of Oxfordshire women in the war years was also illustrated, including images of “Make do and Mend”, knitting circles and domestic workers, as well of course as the role of Land Girls. Some discussion around the portrayal of Land Girls in the 1990s novel by Angela Huth and its associated movie, which focussed on the love lives of these women. This may or may not have been authentic or realistic!

Land Army Activity WW2
Dorothy Treweeke on a tractor outside Hill Crest, Bruern Road (1944). See also our “That’s How it Was” Publication here

The important work of World War Two women is encapsulated in the example which Stephen gave of Mary Ellis, born Mary Wilkins on 2 February 1917, in Leafield, who was one of a group of women who delivered Spitfire aircraft from factory to their squadron headquarters.

Prisoners of War in Oxfordshire

With over a half million prisoners of war in the country, Oxfordshire had its fair share. We heard stories of children accompanying POWs to work in the fields, and of a group of Italians tasked to build their own POW camp. Several members of our audience had their own stories of growing up with domiciled POWs who had married and settled to life in Oxfordshire village, and indeed stories of American GIs who were dealing with the culture shock of “two nations divided by a common language”.

Military Adventures and Engagement

Finally, the role of the Oxfordshire military was illustrated by two important engagements. On 6 June 1944, Pegasus Bridge was the objective of members of D Company, 2nd (Airborne) Battalion, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry. This was a glider-borne force who were part of the 6th Airlanding Brigade of the 6th Airborne Division during Operation Tonga in the opening minutes of the D-Day Allied invasion of Normandy. The successful capture of the bridges played an important role in limiting the effectiveness of a German counter-attack in the aftermath of the Normandy invasion.

Meanwhile, a sobering note was the reminder that the first British military unit to go into Bergen-Belsen on 15 April 1945 was the 249 (Oxfordshire Yeomanry) Battery of the 63rd Anti-Tank Regiment, Royal Artillery.

Celebrations and Aftermath

Stephen’s talk ended with illustrations of VE-Day celebrations and a reminder of the many remaining artifacts and evidence of wartime activities which abound in the county, including pillboxes, Anderson shelters and the still substantial remains of Finmere Airfield near Bicester. These reminders were echoed by the observations by several audience members of their own memories of now gradually disappearing mementos of a wartime landscape.

About Stephen Barker

Stephen is an independent Heritage Advisor who works with museums, universities, and other heritage organisations to design exhibitions and make funding applications.

He worked at Banbury Museum and Soldiers of Oxfordshire Museum. Stephen has delivered projects for University of Oxford, Oxford Brookes University, and the Battlefields Trust. He delivers presentations and tours related to the First World War and British Civil Wars. He is a Trustee of the Bucks Military Museum Trust, the Old Gaol, Buckingham and is an Arts Council Museum Mentor. He is the author of ‘Lancashire’s Forgotten Heroes’ – the 8th East Lancs in the Great War.

More about Stephen here:

Roman Tackley: Our January 2022 Evening Talk

Wychwoods Local History Talk Jan 2022

On Wednesday January 12th at 7.30 we were pleased to welcome John Perkins, who presented insights into Roman Tackley. John is a historian of science with a particular interest the science of 18th-century and Revolutionary France. Since retiring from Oxford Brookes he is now chair of the Tackley Local History Group and indulges a passion for local archaeology and history.

The talk – this time by Zoom due to the current uncertainties – was attended by 35+ members and guests.

John presented a fascinating talk on Roman Tackley, with many insights derived from fieldwalking, metal detecting and crop mark surveys, undertaken by members of the Tackley History Group and building on the research of others

Thanks to John’s planning, attendees were able to come prepared with a simple printout depicting the area around Tackley, highlighting the extraordinary number of farms and small settlements in the area. A PDF copy is here. What follows in this review can only include a few of the highlights among the many indicated on this map.

Roman Tackley: Farms, Villas, Temples and Cemeteries

John’s talk contextualised his subject in three main ways. Firstly, a simple historical timeline from the Iron Age (800BC – 43AD). From approximately 400BC the general increase in settled agricultural activity is reflected in the locality.

The area was at a junction of influence of three Iron Age tribes – the Dubonni, Catuvellauni and the Atrebates. The presence of Grim’s Ditch (including West of Tackley by the River Glyme) and Aves Ditch (a few miles to the North East of Tackley) are testament to existing settlements at the time of the arrival of the Romans in the early 1st century AD.

Akeman Street Near Sturdys Castle

Secondly the growth of activity can be understood in the context of the building – and development from Iron Age causeways in parts – of Akeman Street by the Romans. This road joined the important administrative centres of Verulamium (St Albans) and Corinium Dobunnorum (Cirencester). Akeman Street joins modern Oxfordshire near Alcester. The road traversed the district which now includes the village of Tackley and so added to the region’s prosperity in the shape, for example, of the settlement at Sansom’s Platt.  Sansom’s Platt straddles the border with Weaveley in Tackley parish and is a 1st-century farming settlement, succeeded by a villa occupied from the 2nd to the 4th century. This settlement grew to service the burgeoning activity around this important thoroughfare.

This example was one of several other settlements of growing importance, including Tackley itself and Gibraltar Point, a site which John’s Tackley History group has had the opportunity to excavate and research.
(More here )

And indeed this was the third thread of context for exploring the richness of the area: the development of archaeological interest in the region. This grew in no small measure from the enthusiasm of William Evetts (1847–1936), who was an owner of Tackley Park and Wood Farm and was a passionate amateur archaeologist who built up a large collection of artefacts found on the fields around the village.
More about William Evetts is here .

Evetts’ influence on the continuing desire to understand as much of the story is well-demonstrated by John’s fascinating research notes here

Tackley History Group at Gibraltar Point

John was able to present in some detail, the work done by the Tackley Group: from examining crop marks, establishing archaeological digs with test trenches in promising locations, metal detecting and fieldwalking. These were all in the mix to present details of interesting finds including some high-value jewellery items, coins and pottery shards.

Star examples included a piece from an amphora originating in Spain and a bronze terret ring (dated approx. 150AD) found at Leys farm. This latter was part of a harness which did not show marks of wear. Excitingly, this could indicate it may have been a souvenir belonging to the farm’s owner: possibly then an ex-military man given the piece of land as a service reward in retirement?

We also learned a little of the methodology to understand and so calculate the possible population numbers of the area around Tackley. This was done by studying the density of pottery shards, coins and manure scatters, and so extrapolating the sizes of each individual farmstead. By comparing these with the 1851 census, when farming was still to see the machine-age in earnest, family sizes could be similar, and farm sizes clearly known. Thus, a population size could be arrived at using these parameters.

John’s talk did include a mention of the extraordinary find of the Street Farm villa in Tackley village. This was uncovered by a housing development and excavated in a short period ending in 2018, when the site was finally covered by the new buildings. The subject of this villa alone could easily occupy another evening’s presentation. More details are here

The evening gave us a wealth of information and insight. In particular we developed an understanding of an almost seamless development of farming and cultural activity which straddled the Iron Age and the Roman occupation to create what we might call Romano-British Tackley.

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