Meeting Reports & Summaries

Below you will find summary reports of recent lectures given in the current season.  The most recent is on the top.


Meeting Report

What is Common Land? Background, history, and why work is going on to re-register it.

Dr Frances Kerner (Open Spaces Society), 12 March 2020

 The Open Spaces Society (OSS) has been working from 1865 to ensure that commons, greens and paths are defended against loss or encroachment and are free for everyone to use.  They assist local communities to safeguard known green spaces but they also campaign and work to register, or re-register parcels of land which, for one reason or another, were rejected for registration in 1965, the date when initial legislation was passed to ensure that common land was not lost. It is estimated that currently there are 8,000 commons in England and Wales, though the total at the beginning of the nineteenth century was considerably higher; neglect, illegal obstruction and development have all contributed to the decline in numbers.

Dr Kerner, the OSS commons re-registration officer, is researching the lost commons in a number of counties known as the ‘pioneer counties’ since they are currently under review – Cornwall, Devon, Herefordshire, Hertfordshire, Kent, Lancashire and Blackburn with Darwen.  In these areas it is imperative to register before 31 December 2020 land either previously rejected for inclusion in the register or for some reason wrongly registered; after that date it will no longer be possible to include additions on the Commons registration maps. 

She started by defining ‘waste land’, i.e. land used in common belonging to a manor, usually on the fringes of the manorial demesne and originally principally for grazing but increasingly for recreation.  The most important issue is to prevent encroachment, as that prevents access.  She then explained the process for applying for re-registration under the Commons Act 2006, which involves her in detailed research on the history of the relevant manor and of the land in question from printed and archival sources followed by a visit to the area to check the physical details.  Making the case is a time-consuming and extensive piece of work; once completed it is submitted to the Commons Registration office of the relevant county council for checking and a decision on whether the case has been made. 

Common land is important and although many of the parcels of land being investigated are small, collectively they add up to a considerable amount of open land for the enjoyment of all. The work of the OSS ensures that those spaces will be safeguarded for future generations too.

Helen Forde,    March 2020


Meeting Report

“I shall expect you sister”:  the lives and letters of frontier households in the Imperial Roman Army.

Claire Millington, 13th February 2020

Claire Millington is completing a Ph. D. at Kings College, London, on the subject of the families of the soldiers serving on the frontiers of the Roman Empire. She began with the Vindolanda tablets, a rare survival of letters written in ink on wood, which were submerged in wet mud for 2000 years:  the lack of oxygen means that the process of decay is halted, or at least slowed down.  Miraculously many of these are still readable and give us a glimpse of life on the frontier, where there were whole families with lots of women and children.   Letters like these, and other documents, have been found in large numbers in Carlisle and London as well as Vindolanda.  We were given glimpses of letters mentioning underpants and other items of clothing;  invitations to a birthday party; a legal document detailing the sale of a slave girl in London.  These documents make clear that many of the soldiers were not ‘Romans’ but auxiliaries from many other parts of the empire, and the higher social status of the commanders comes across:  they were members of Rome’s ‘equestrian order’.  Claire gave us an unexpectedly domestic picture of life on the frontier, where women and children are seldom pictured in imaginative reconstructions of Roman forts, and told us the birthday invitation, now held in the British Museum, was possibly the earliest handwriting by a woman in Latin anywhere.

Deborah Hayter


Meeting Report

Peter the Great:  architect of a superpower.

Christopher Danziger MA, – 9 Jan 2020

    The evening of 9th Jan 2020 was wet, but an excellent audience turned out to hear Chris Danziger's most entertaining and informative lecture on the legendary 'Peter the Great of Russia'.

    We may have gone to the lecture knowing little more than this household name and epithet. Perhaps we had wondered if he was great of stature or empire, and vaguely remembered the rumour that he had strangled his son Alexis. We might have placed him (correctly) after Cromwell and before Napoleon. But we came away with a very clear image of an extraordinary man who had a profound and lasting impact on his country and indeed on Europe. The rich stream of information was almost overwhelming (wives, mistresses, battles), but was excellently pitched for our audience. Dates were not the focus; it was the anecdotes that we loved to hear: images of the young Tsar living incognito in a log cabin in Holland, sawing wood in a Deptford shipyard, willing to test a scaffold by ‘volunteering’ one of his retinue, drinking a health to his often-victorious enemy Charles 12 of Sweden (thanking him for lessons in warfare), and plunging into the sea to rescue a drowning soldier. (He was indeed extremely tall, at 6 foot 8 inches.)

    The take-away message, thus fascinatingly illustrated, was annunciated with great clarity. Peter Alexeyevich Romanov was a man of extraordinary curiosity, originality, and vision. He had great power of personality and energy, but little vanity. Peter was crowned in 1682 at the age of 10, but was co-ruler until 1696. At that time Russia, sandwiched between Europe and Asia but largely ignored by both, was effectively a land-locked country (access to the Baltic being blocked by Sweden, and to the Black Sea by the Ottomans). By the time Peter died, in 1725 at the age of 52, he had turned the country fundamentally and permanently towards the West and 'The Enlightenment'. Peter had founded a navy, introduced schools, school-leaving certificates, fire-stations; and he had founded and built St. Petersburg as Russia’s new (Westward-looking and maritime) capital on the Baltic. Russia held the Baltic coast from Riga to Viborg, and within another 20 years would stretch eastwards to the Pacific. Thus he laid the foundations of modern Russia. 

Ian West, 10th Jan 2020


Meeting Report

Lost Prophets : The Unfinished Dream of the 19th Century

Ewan Fernie – 12 December 2019

Neither a daylong rain, nor the coincidence of a late-called election deterred an attentive audience from enjoying a concise insight into neglected 19th century thinkers. Ewan Fernie, Chair of Shakespeare Studies at the Shakespeare Institute of the University Birmingham began by explaining his additional role of Director of the Birmingham ‘Everything for Everybody’ project that aims at stimulating popular interest in the history and legacy of social and cultural thought in the city.

We were then treated to a public lecture of quality in tune with the oratorical gifts with which most of his subjects promoted radical views in the first half of the 19th century. Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881) was the main character, his publications and thought engaging progressive minds. Fernie brought this remote Scot alive for a modern audience – more the wry figure in Maddox Brow’s ‘Work’ (in Birmingham Art Gallery) than the remote bearded head on a commemorative jug which lurked at the back of our china cabinet.

Carlyle was seen as a major influence on the colourful George Dawson (1821-76) whose burgeoning Birmingham congregation built him a base in the Church of the Saviour in Birmingham. From here he developed the ‘Civic Gospel’ that influenced Joseph Chamberlain in his programmes for urban renewal and public housing.

Radical thinking, public oratory as the most significant medium, and national visibility ensured that their ideas on equality and the opportunities of improved urban life were high on the public agenda. The speaker tracked Carlyle’s ideas and influences into the 20th century with Edward Carpenter (1844-1929) and Annie Besant (1847-1933) whose concerns might still be recognised on the undercards of the day’s election.

Political philosophy, early 19th century … but Banbury Historical Society? Oh yes. In a rich spate of comments Barrie Trinder noted Dawson’s several local speeches, and there was the Cadbury’s influence on the generation of Grimsbury. Birmingham’s 19th century impact here was impressive, with Banbury often innovating despite itself.

Brian Goodey (17 Dec 2019)



Thursday 10th October 2019

The Battle of Edgecote 1469
October 10, 2019
Graham Evans of the Northamptonshire Battlefields Society, author and researcher outlined the events surrounding the Battle of Edgecote in 1469 and the sources for information about the battle. Despite having been rather marginalized by previous authors there are, in fact, quite a number of contemporary, or near contemporary sources of information including, intriguingly, Welsh poetry; the latter has the reputation of being very accurate in detail, more so than some of the other commentators whose assessment of the numbers involved, for instance, was wildly variable.
The location of the battle has been disputed over the years but the recent identification, south east of Edgecote village at Danes Moor seems to relate most closely to the various descriptions given and fits in with the known movements of the King. The dispute was not part of the series of battles or skirmishes known as the War of the Roses but was between the supporters of the Earl of Warwick (‘the kingmaker’), led by a mysterious individual, or group of individuals wishing to maintain anonymity known as Robin of Redesdale, and the Royalist forces headed by William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke. Warwick was challenging the king having, as he saw it, lost influence over him in favour of the Queen’s family, though maps identifying the amount of land held by either party and lists of posts held make it very clear that Warwick was in a much stronger position.
The battle occurred on 24 July 1469, a correction of the common supposition that it took place on the 26th; the Earl of Pembroke, who had come from south Wales, was hampered by the defection of his archers, led by Humphrey Stafford, Earl of Devon. In consequence, when reinforcements arrived for Warwick’s supporters and skirted round the back of Pembroke’s depleted forces, the Welsh were routed and subsequently slaughtered; Pembroke and his brother were captured by the rebels and beheaded in Northampton.
The lecture was amply illustrated by maps and charts and offered an excellent example of how painstaking historical research can re-write events.
Helen Forde


Thursday 10th April 2019

Reminiscences: Banbury in World War II

Led by Karey Morley

Karey Morley started the evening by informing the BHS members present about the ‘Times Gone by Oral History Archive’ through which memories are recorded for posterity. She invited everyone who wished to contribute to just put up their hand and to speak in their normal voice ignoring the microphone. She said that previous recordings had been used when devising the metal tokens in Parsons Street. The Parkside development artist is also using the recordings for her piece of public art. She reminded everyone who contributed to sign the copyright permission form before the end of the evening. Karey also said that the memories could be of events that had happened elsewhere than Banbury.

Before the recording commenced the audience was shown a film about children growing vegetables on bomb sites.

Peoples’ reminiscences included all sorts of interesting trivia. The St Mary’s school children were each allocated a house where they were to run if the sirens went off. Another memory was of the frequent siren testing in Oxford – no bombing there. Someone else said there was so much bombing their family gave up trying to sleep in the house.  Anderson shelters were supplied by Northern Aluminium to their employees in Banbury. One person said their shelter was only used once, when the RAF dropped a practice bomb outside their house! Families without shelters often retreated under the kitchen table and one mother always had a stick with her to bang to alert rescuers if their house collapsed on top of them. People talked about keeping chickens and bees and growing their own food. More than one commented that at the end of the war they had to be shown how to eat a banana.

After the interval some of the recording was played back to the audience. Then an edited recording of ‘Christmas during the War’ was heard.

A very different evening for BHS members. 

                                                                                                 Clare Jakeman


Thursday 14 March 2019.

“It will do him more good than going to school”: Child Labour in Nineteenth century Oxfordshire.

Liz Woolley.

The quotation which began the title of Liz Woolley’s lecture comes from a poor law guardian at Cottisford and reflects an attitude that was widespread in rural England in the nineteenth century – that it was perfectly normal – and indeed necessary - for children, even those under the age of ten, to contribute to family income by undertaking full-time work. Building on the work of the late Dr Pamela Horn, Liz Woolley used a variety of sources, including school log books, poor law records, census returns and some remarkable photographs, to give a detailed picture of ways in which young children were employed in the county, in agriculture and domestic service virtually everywhere, in lacemaking around Bicester and Thame, in glove-making around Woodstock, in brickmaking at Headington Quarry and in slop tailoring around Abingdon. Liz showed how, in the early decades of the century, parish apprenticeships might be sent to employers in distant parts of the country, to Benjamin Smart’s cotton spinning mill at Milverton, Warwick, to fishermen at Gorleston or to a coal mine at Dudley. It was cheering to hear that research on a topic which has been well-investigated in the past is taking forward our understanding of the county’s past. 

Barrie Trinder


Thursday 14 February 2019

Discovering the Broughton Hoard and the Broughton Roman Villa

Keith Westcott

We expected a good house for a talk by one of our members on these much-publicised pieces of local history, but in the event we were overwhelmed by a record attendance. Every seat was filled, we brought in extra chairs from the café and we had members and visitors standing at the back and sitting on the floor at the front.

Mr Westcott described how diving on the wreck of HMS Ramillies off the Devon coast was one of the events that sparked his interest in archaeology and led him to take up metal detecting. He admitted that metal detecting could be destructive, but argued that it was of real historical value if used responsibly. It was important that detectorists brought in the archeologists at the early stage of any significant discovery.

He emphasised the importance of doing your research before choosing a site for metal detecting. It was this approach that led him to wonder whether the area around the long-gone eastern bridge over the moat at Broughton Castle might bear fruit. In 1966, with the permission of Lord Saye and Sele he started to explore and almost immediately found  some sixteenth and seventeenth coins within a very small area. He consulted the Ashmolean who gave their approval to him exploring further. In all he found 16 coins which were declared Treasure Trove at a coroner’s inquest in the following year. This collection was eventually acquired by the Ashmolean Museum where it is now on permanent display.

Moving on to the discovery of the Roman villa, Mr Westcott said that he had always been curious about the discovery in 1963 on the Broughton Estate of a lead-lined stone coffin containing the remains of a woman in her thirties who died in the third or fourth century. This was the key to his discovery of the Broughton Roman villa, one of the biggest ever found in Britain. It seemed to him unlikely that this high status burial was in the middle of nowhere; it was surely in the vicinity of a substantial settlement. With approval of the owners, he started to explore the topography of the area of the burial and soon found evidence of terracing. He then found a piece of earthenware which, as a specialist heating engineer, he recognised as part of a hypocaust tile of the sort used to carry hot pipes up the walls of high-status Roman buildings.

Geophysicists were then brought in to survey the whole area. Their scans revealed the outline of a terraced villa, not much smaller in area than Buckingham Palace. At the side of a large courtyard was the outline of a large aisled hall, probably used as a grain store. The next stage was a trial dig of five sites by Oxford Archaeology, in which Martin Fiennes was heavily involved. This dig produced a wealth of significant artefacts.

The five sites have now been filled in and crops are growing on top of them. Excavation of the whole site would cost about £2 million. The hope is that universities or the Heritage Lottery Fund might be willing to fund the project.



Report on BHS lecture of 10th Jan 2019.

‘The rise and rise of Alice Chaucer, Duchess of Suffolk’.

Dr Rowena Archer, a medieval historian who has studied Alice Chaucer (c 1405-1475) and her family for many years, gave the first lecture of 2019. The Duchess was a formidable woman who rose to great wealth from a commoner background who was also an adept politician in the turbulent years of the mid fifteenth century.
Her father, Thomas (son of Geoffrey Chaucer) probably acted as an example; five times Speaker of the House of Commons he was prominent in assisting Henry V and in manoeuvring advantageous marriages. Alice herself was married at the age of about 10 to Sir John Phelip, who died almost immediately after the battle of Agincourt, leaving her with the jointure of all the Phelip lands; an important start to her subsequent landed wealth, some of which also came to her from the estates of her mother, Maud Burghersh. As a wealthy widow she remarried Thomas Montagu, fourth earl of Salisbury (d 1428) and thirdly William de la Pole, the fourth earl, and subsequently, first duke of Suffolk. He was Steward of the Household of Henry VI and an influential minister to the king, but was exiled in 1450 as a result of his impeachment by the House of Commons. Murdered by pirates on his way to France he left Alice with a young child, John, and immense wealth which she used for influence and to consolidate her lands.
At her husband’s death that wealth was calculated to include property in 22 counties, six London houses and five castles. all richly furnished in a manner which suited her status, and jewellery previously estimated to be worth 3000 marks. Surviving accounts suggest that her income was at least £1500 per annum and probably more like double that; she adroitly avoided a state trial in 1451 and although her origins were Lancastrian she switched sides in 1455 when she organised the second marriage of her son John to Elizabeth of York, sister of Edward IV and Richard III. She used the de la Pole entourage to annex additional land in Norfolk, infuriating the Paston family amongst others, but nevertheless was appointed a Lady of the Garter and is depicted wearing the garter on her wrist on her fine tomb at Ewelme church.
Although she lived at Wallingford castle for much of her life (which had come to her through the de la Pole family) she eventually retired to the Palace at Ewelme which she and William de la Pole had built, together with the church in which she is buried, the alms-houses and the school. The grandeur of her three-part alabaster tomb, the trappings around her and the richness of the decoration attest to the stature which she thought herself due and probably the awe with which she was regarded. The tomb itself, with an unusual lower part containing an effigy of her body in death, is a striking testament to a powerful and successful woman of the mid fifteenth century whose influence has been underestimated.
Helen Forde



  • LINKS,
  • Home,
  • Contact Us,
  • Webmaster,
  • © Copyright 2019: Banbury Historical Society