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, and we are making a last call for Membership renewals and applications!

We will be taking new applications and renewals at our October evening talk at Milton Village Hall from 7pm, where we can accept Cheques or Cash payments

Please download the Renewal/Application Form here

The 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

The Development of Primitive Methodism: October 2021 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.