The Wychwoods Local History Society (WLHS) – The First 40 Years

It is planned to produce a full history of the WLHS in time for the 40th Anniversary in 2021. This article can only give a brief outline of its development and activities. For the history of the first twenty years, we are indebted to an article by Margaret Ware which may be read in full on the Society’s website here, a summary of which is covered by this update, which now includes the years from 2002.

During her work as a councillor in the 1970s, local residents gave Margaret Ware snippets of local history. She realised there was a lot of fascinating information gradually being lost. At the same time, another Shipton inhabitant, Mike Linfield, was interested in copying and preserving old photographs. They both felt that a local history society would be an asset to the community. So the evening of Thursday 2 April 1981 saw ‘The Inaugural Meeting of the Shipton and District Local History Society’, in Shipton’s old Beaconsfield Hall. Well over 80 people attended. Twelve volunteered to form a steering committee with Geoffrey Giles as Chairman. After a short while, the name became The Wychwoods Local History Society and the rest as they say is history!

A number of projects were recognised as high priority. Mike Linfield and Norman Frost concentrated on their photographic recording and Gwen Allen led a group of about twenty members on successful hedge-counting forays. An early task was the indexing and transcription of Shipton Court estate papers. A group transcribed the 1851 census returns from villages in the ‘old’ parish, which included Shipton, Milton, Ascott, Leafield, Lyneham, Langley and Ramsden. In the first season there were 88 members.

Sue Jourdan joined the committee in 1982. Jack Howard-Drake succeeded Geoffrey Giles as chairman in 1984. Jack and Joan Howard-Drake started transcribing Shipton parish registers from 1538-1899, Geoffrey Giles and his wife covered Ascott and Leafield and the Ashtons Fifield, Idbury and Bould, a task which was to take several years.

By 1985 there were 200 members. The first journal, Wychwoods History No. 1 was published. Subsequent Journals were to be published every year until Volume 31 in 2016. In November The Wychwoods Album of old photographs was published. A second volume was published in 1990.

A second exhibition held at Milton in April 1987 (the first had been held in 1983) was a resounding success. Over 500 people queued to see the exhibits which included field walk finds, old medical instruments, histories of Alfred Groves and Sons and of the Groves family, nineteenth-century agriculture, the village constable and many photographs.

May 1987 saw two new committee members – John Rawlins who later built up a significant archive of around 3,000 photographs which the Society has recently taken six years to digitize, and Wendy Pearse who later became secretary for many years.

1989 started with a bang with the January meeting taking the form of a Victorian evening’s entertainment organised by Daphne Waugh and modelled on a concert held in Milton in 1885. [ Video clips here ]

In 1992, after eight years as chairman, Jack Howard-Drake retired in favour of Sue Jourdan who remained Chairman for 20 years. Janet Wallace and Trudy Yates joined the committee, Trudy started the job of recording local oral history. For the next twenty years the Society successfully followed its established enjoyable pattern of eight monthly meetings each year, covering an astonishing range of topics.

In 2000 the millennium was celebrated in grand style with an outstanding exhibition of the Society’s work in the New Beaconsfield hall. The attractions included a 1940s-style kitchen and a thatched Saxon hut with weaving. Also on sale was the Society’s latest publication – That’s How It Was – the story of women in the Wychwoods in the Second World War. About 800 people were estimated to have visited the exhibition over the weekend.

By the time Sue Jourdan left in 2012, the Society was in a transitional stage. Technology was changing fast and the membership was getting older. Alan Vickers took over as Chairman and carried out a survey of members. This found that 53% of members were over 71 years old. 35% strongly disagreed that the society should move more to digital communications and 36% thought it should! The average period of membership in the society was 14 years.

In response to this, the first WLHS website was set up and investment made in a digital recorder and a society laptop and scanner for use at fetes. A programme to digitalise the Society’s photo archive was started and has now been completed with close to 500 pictures put up on a newly revised and improved website. This website now has new material produced by the members and the production of the Journal, which was a serious financial burden, stopped in 2016

Apart from the continuation of the regular and popular member speaker evenings, visits have been made to Bletchley Park, Gloucester Docks, Fairford Church and Bruern House. Meetings have been held with elderly inhabitants of the Wychwoods to examine old photographs. The Society cooperated closely on the latest Volume of the Victorian History of Oxfordshire covering the Wychwoods. A probate group read and transcribed all local wills from the 17th century.

Roger Watts, who has been Chairman for the last three years, has presided over the creation of the new website and dealing with the problem of storing the Society’s extensive archives. He has had the unenviable task of holding the Society together during the Pandemic. The first digital, Zoom speaker meeting took place in mid-October and this is the way we will have to meet for the foreseeable future. The programme set up by Roger for the current year is as shown below. He is also planning for the Society’s 40th anniversary next year when we hope to have digitalised all the issues of the Society’s Journals so that they can be searched from anywhere in the World.

See our Programme for 2020/2021