The Wychwoods Local History Society – The First 40 Years 1981-2021

The Initial Vision | 1981: The First Meetings of the Society | 1984/5: Meeting Patterns Established – First Publications | The 1990s: Highlights of the Decade | The New Millennium| Looking Ahead – Members’ Survey | Towards Digitalisation | Embracing Technology – Photograph Archive Scanning | 2016/18: Website Re-launched | The 2020s: Moving Forward

2016/18: Website Re-launched

Work was begun on renewing the WLHS website from 2016 but real progress was not made until David Betterton took charge around 2018. David took some elements of the old website but considerably expanded the content and made the whole site more informative and useful as a research tool. Almost all relevant scans produced by the scanning group have now been edited and put up on the site – some 1,000+ images and growing. Tapes of earlier talks given to the Society were also digitized and up loaded.

2016: Last of the Journals Published

 As the production of the Annual Journal came to an end in 2016 with edition 31 (the last two issues were edited by Nicola Coldstream) the website became crucial for publishing new research and articles by Society members. However the Journal had become a significant drain on resources and, had it continued, it is doubtful whether the Society could have survived the “pandemic years” which were about to hit (of which more below).

Working Towards a Buildings Group

Although we have not yet formed a separate buildings group, John Bennett has led work in describing local historical buildings. He has recently produced a pioneering booklet on the buildings in Milton High Street, which was a feature in a well-received mini exhibition in the Wychwoods Library in 2021. John has organised popular walks around Milton to consider key buildings.

Traditional Activities Continue | Social Events | Visits

While all this progress was being made in implementing the new blue print, much of the Society’s traditional work and activities continued. There was a full programme of speakers and occasional visits.

Regular popular speakers included Liz Woolley, Tim Porter, Julie Anne Godson and Tony Hadland plus presentations from the research team working on the Wychwood Forest and Environs volume of the Victoria County History of Oxfordshire (Simon Townley, Simon Draper and Mark Page). The WLHS cooperated with the Victoria County History Team who used photographs from the Society’s archives, past research as presented in the Journals and local knowledge from Society members.

The Society’s finds from the field walking done in the earlier years of the WLHS together with the two issues of the Journal recording those finds, were presented to Dr Josh Pollard at the Archaeological Department of the University of Southampton, who came to give a talk to the WLHS.

Visits included to Fairford Church to hear Tim Porter discourse on the unique Tudor stained glass and to the newly refurbished Bruern Abbey at the invitation of the owners Baron Glendonbrook and Martin Ritchie.

Artefacts in the Care of the Society 

The Society took on the guardianship of several objects of local historical interest. These included the very generous gift of an impressive portrait of Dr Brookes a former Rector of Shipton. Arrangements were made for this portrait to be lent long term to the Care Home in the Prebendal. It now hangs there, probably in the room it was originally intended for.

Another object given to the Society was the bell from the former “tin” church on Fiddlers Hill. This is intended to be hung in the Wychwoods Primary School.

Building the Archive | Recording the Changes

Photographic records were made of buildings and changes to sites in the Wychwoods for example the former Dees stores before demolition, new developments in Milton and Shipton and the destruction of conservation land in Shipton, the collapse of the stone wall belonging to the Court and the upheaval caused by digging to install fibre broadband.

We have developed a close relationship with the Wychwood Magazine. They are often the source of stories and articles but cannot give them the complete treatment which we have been able to provide on the website. We provide pictures for some of their articles and also benefit from new pictures being sent in to illustrate articles they uncover.

All of this has taken place against continuous changes in the membership of the Committee.

More Committee Changes

Wendy Pearse stood down in 2013 after 26 years of acting as Secretary for the Society. The same year saw the deaths of Jack Howard Drake and Aelfrith Gittings. Trudy Yates left a huge gap when she died in 2016.

Pauline Holdsworth was Speaker Secretary from 2000 to 2016. Janet Wallace finally left the committee in 2017 after nearly 25 years of service which had included much original research especially in the area of emigration from the Wychwoods in the 19th Century, and many interviews with local inhabitants.

For a lot of members, she would be especially appreciated for organising the coffee and biscuits during the break on speaker evenings! David Perceval was another stalwart who had been treasurer since taking over from Duncan Waugh in 2000. He finally stood down from the Committee in 2012 when mobility problems made it very difficult to continue. 

Joan Howard Drake was another long-time committee member and Society archivist who stepped down in 2015 after 35 years of service to the Society dating back to the original founding.  Joan was cruelly and suddenly struck down by a stroke in 2019.

Paula Nielsen took over as Chairman from Alan Vickers in 2016 to be followed by Roger Watts, our current Chairman in 2017. Even in 2016, the future of the Society was far from assured chiefly because of a lack of people prepared to work on the Committee.