The following reports of meetings in the 2008-09 season are available:
24 Sep 2008: Dr. Hugh Pihlens - "Mediaeval Hungerford, and the History of the Three Swans"
The Association's new season was opened on 24th September at the Corn Exchange Hungerford with a lecture by its founder Dr Hugh Pihlens. A capacity audience was treated to a masterly summary of the early days of the town and of one of its oldest inns. The meeting started with a minute's silence in memory of Gerald Ward, CBE, the Association's patron, who had died suddenly the previous day. Dr Pihlens dedicated his talk to the memory of another distinguished former member, Norman Hidden, - teacher, poet, writer, editor and historian' who died in 2006 and whose book, 'Aspects of the early history of Hungerford' is soon to be published by the Association.
Dr Pihlens dealt first with the early history of the township. Although Hungerford is not mentioned in the Domesday survey, there are written records from the early 12th century when the settlement was clearly considered to be far less significant than its much larger neighbour Kintbury. The manor there was granted soon after the Norman conquest to the de Beaumont family, one of whom, Robert, aged only 17, had fought with distinction at Hastings. The de Beaumonts quickly asserted their ownership, steadily increasing their influence and wealth. By 1103 Hungerford was acquiring its own identity as a settlement probably concentrated in the area of its church. In 1107 Robert was created Earl of Leicester and the family continued to prosper. Robert II succeeded his father and continued to increase the family's influence until his death in 1168; his son Robert III held the lands until 1190. The High Street was formally laid out perhaps during the time of Robert II, and during the tenure of Robert IV the town became recognisably a borough with its own Burgesses and a market charter granted in 1245. The de Beaumont line died out to be succeeded by a new wave of thrusting nobility - the names of Simon de Montfort and then John o' Gaunt entered the town's history. De Montfort set out the Deer Park before he was killed in the battle of Evesham in 1265.
The secular rise of the town was paced by the activities of the Church. The Priory of St John was founded in 1232, followed by the Chantries of Holy Trinity and the Blessed Virgin Mary ; all were fated to be suppressed by 1546.
Hungerford's feudal age can be said to have ended in 1617 when ownership of the Manor passed into the hands of local citizens.
Many buildings in the High Street have witnessed much of the town's history. One of these is 117 High Street - the Three Swans Inn. Its site was owned by the De Beaumonts as early as the 12th Century . By 1645 it was already known as the 'Three Swans'. Like most of the existing buildings in the street its garden is a narrow strip extending well to the rear - sure sign of the original mediaeval lay-out. Although the old Town Hall has long vanished from its place in the middle of the street opposite the Three Swans, the old hotel continues to serve the appetites and thirsts of the people of this ancient town.
(Col. Michael Hickey)
26 Nov 2008: Clive Priestley, CB - "Somme 1918 - The Tables Turned".
Mr Priestley had earlier given an authoritative talk on the great German offensive of March – April 1918 now described,, in this the 90th anniversary of final victory in 1918, the events leading to Haig's decisive victory over the Kaiser's army. He began his narrative at the low water of the Allied effort . Paris was under fire from long range artillery and Gotha bombers were attacking the heart of London. In July 1918 the Germans made their last effort and nearly achieved victory; but despite appalling casualties the allied line held and the might of the United States' armies was at last reaching the battlefields. As they fell back the German troops began to lose heart as Haig's master stroke was launched in early August. Ludendorff its commander rated the 8th of that month as 'the Black Day of the German Army' as it recoiled under successive assaults. Haig, so often reviled for his supposed disregard of his troops' lives, now showed total mastery of the field and ability to use artillery, tanks, infantry and the decisive use of close air support from the newly created RAF. The spearhead of the British attack relied largely on the tremendous dash and experience of Australian and Canadian formations.
The allies, having been forced back in March and April from the old Somme battlefields now swept forward over them. As Ludendorff's command crumbled, the German High Seas Fleet mutinied, starving mobs rioted in the streets of Berlin and other cities, and it became clear to Kaiser Wilhelm II and his advisers that the war was lost. Wilhelm abdicated and fled to Holland, the army retired sullenly toward the Rhine, and an Armistice was signed. A great pandemic of influenza swept the world to complete the deadly harvest of the battlefields.
Clive Priestley's masterly handling of this immensely complex historical tapestry was delivered with great clarity to a capacity audience and it was appropriate that the evening should end with an act of remembrance led by a Naval veteran, Jack Williams. An impeccable Last Post and Reveille were sounded by Sandra Crouter of the Hungerford Town band.. A night to remember indeed.
21 Jan 2009: David Stubbs "The South West Coastal paths - a legacy"
A large and appreciative audience gathered at Hungerford Corn Exchange on 21 January to hear David Stubbs, a well known local historian, on what he described as 'the pleasures of long distance walking' - in his case a decision to take a sabbatical in 1984 , spending it on a solitary 630-mile hike around the south western peninsula on the coastal path. It took him 46 days, carrying something like half a hundredweight in his backpack - iron rations, small field cooking stove, dry clothing, a pair of trainers for evening wear, a radio, and a camera, spending most of the nights en route in a small bivouac tent. At his start point on the Bristol Channel he was undaunted by a signpost bearing the legend '500 miles to Poole' ;(it turned out to be rather more)!
This odyssey involved 16 river crossings , mostly via bridges but on one occasion a rickety ferry over the Helford river. All along the route he came across memorials, some well known, others commemorating long-forgotten disasters; world war 2 tragedies such as the young and inexperienced crew of a Wellington bomber whose navigation failed them, lifeboat crews, and mariners wrecked on the notorious Cornish coast, where at Poldhu he encountered the memorial to Marconi's first transatlantic wireless link. Land's End, a significant waypoint, was where the walker exchanged the head-on western gale for the welcome tailwind that accompanied him for the rest of his journey. Along the south Cornish coast he found the route punctuated by the remnants of a great tin-mining industry - chimneys and ruined winding houses still standing on clifftops, marking mines that frequently ran far out under the sea. On Slapton Sands, beyond Dartmouth, he gazed with some awe at a Sherman tank, recovered from the sea some years ago marking the scene of a disastrous training exercise shortly before D-Day in 1944.
The end of this walk came at Poole, after what had been a type of spiritual experience, living close to the earth - meeting strangers who became friends, and a strenuous but highly effective way of losing two stones in weight!
25 Feb 2009: Dr Ivan Johnson 'Work Activity Through Time – As Recorded by the Chisel and the Palette'
There was another excellent turnout for the latest HHA talk last night. Dr Johnson, who was a GP for many years and is on the HHA committee, took the audience on a journey through the ways in which artists have represented work over the ages.
The earliest record shown was from the Egyptians in about 2500BC, showing various activities including boat building. Jumping forward 3½ centuries the Bayeux Tapestry showed how little things had changed. We were then shown paintings and sculptures from the early 15th century through to late 19th illustrating both how work practises had changed and also the skill with which they were portrayed by the artists.
This was another fascinating talk from the HHA, and Martin McIntyre's talk on 'The Royal Berkshire Regiment' on 25th March promises to deliver more of the same.
23 Mar 2009: Martin McIntyre "The Royal Berkshire Regiment"
Martin McIntyre, who served for some years in the County Regiment, clearly retains a warm affection for his old unit and explained how, over the centuries since its 1748 emergence as Trelawney's Regiment of Foot in strife-torn Jamaica, it has survived numerous campaigns, amalgamations and changes of name to emerge today as a battalion of The Rifles, sharing its illustrious history with the Greenjackets, the Gloucesters, Wiltshires and others.
Between them they have served for nearly three centuries on battlefields worldwide. Trelawney's became the 49th Foot in 1751, and was heavily involved in the American War of Independence in which it fought hard but gained no battle honours (we lost). Subsequently the 49th returned to the West Indies, then home, on to the Low Countries, and served as marines afloat at the battle of Copenhagen. This earned the unusual distinction of being allowed to play 'Rule Britannia' after the Regimental March and before the National Anthem. (The British Army has long relished such quirkish custom).
By the start of the Napoleonic Wars one battalion of the Regiment had become the 66th Foot and as such fought throughout the Peninsular campaign. At the battle of Albuhera it was overwhelmed and effectively wiped out by Polish cavalry, losing its colours in the process. The 66th re-formed to fight against our future friends the Gurkhas in Nepal whilst the 49th carried on in Canada, to be 'adopted' by Princess Charlotte - an early example of such royal patronage.
By 1821 the 66th was based on St Helena, guarding the exiled Napoleon, whose body received full martial honours from the battalion at his first funeral. Meanwhile the 49th served worldwide; in China for the Opium wars, and in the Crimea where it gained three VCs. The 66th had the misfortune to be sent to Afghanistan in 1880 - where earlier in the 19th century the old 44th Foot had been wiped out following an heroic last stand. The 66th suffered a similar fate at Maiwand - in what is now Helmand Province. Here again the colours were lost; this experience, coupled with that of the 24th Foot at Isandlwhana in the 1879 Zulu war, ended the ancient tradition of carrying the colours into battle. It is at least cheering to know that 'Bobby', a mongrel dog mascot, was one of the few survivors of Maiwand, and lived on for some years in honoured retirement until run over by a horse-drawn cab (his stuffed body is proudly on view at the regimental museum in Salisbury Close).
In 1880, as the result of the Cardwell reforms, the 49th and 66th officially became the 1st and 2nd battalions of the Royal Berkshire Regiment. This 'pairing' system was evolved mainly to garrison the Raj in India; it survived through two world wars, in both of which the regiment fought with distinction. Both battalions fought in Burma where, under appalling conditions, they helped to beat a formidable Japanese army flat under Bill Slim.
Despite all the changes of name, the character of the regiment is still clearly identifiable. There has been a terrible price - the homely names of Berkshire men can be found on graves in four continents. There is, however, an absolute certainty that the spirit which stiffened the resolve of the old 49th, and 66th and the Royal Berkshires, will continue to inspire the men - and women - of the Rifles in years to come.
27 May 2009: Leslie Grout "Burial Grounds of London"
On Wednesday evening, former Mastermind winner and Windsor tour guide Leslie Grout gave an informative and colourful talk on the "Burial Grounds of London".
Illustrated with numerous slides of Kensal Green and its' listed monuments, to Manor Park with the catacombs and the well-maintained St. Marylebone, he regaled an enthusiastic audience with tales of the great and good.
Showing the tombs of such characters as the famous tightrope walker Blondin, to the Brunel family , Anthony Trollope, he went on to Highgate cemetery where he told how Dante retrieved a book of his poems from the coffin of his lover Elizabeth Rossetti many years after her death.
What could have been seemed as ghoulish proved instead to be a highly interesting and captivating topic.