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The following reports of meetings in the 2010-11 season are available:

24 Nov 2010: Jameson Wooders: "Life in Hungerford 1650-1750: The Evidence of Probate Inventories"

Mr Wooders has been studying probate inventories for a PHD at Reading university and for this talk shared some of his findings that related to the Hungerford area.

Probate inventories were a record of any of a persons' belongings that could be resold along with their anticipated value. The inventories were made after death, by two impartial people (usually neighbours), so that any debts the deceased had could be repaid. Mr Wooders has found that you can gather a lot of information about how people worked and lived from these inventories.

In the 100 year period Jameson studied nearly 80% of people in the Hungerford area were in some way involved with farming and many were also involved in the processing of farmed goods, including over 40% who were involved with brewing! Some local farmers had adopted crops such as clover and turnips, which were new crops at the time.

In terms of the distribution of wealth the majority of people had less than £20 worth of goods listed in their inventories, and that doesn't include all the people who's possessions added up to less than £5, who don't even get inventoried. Then there were the few wealthy citizens some of whom had well over £200 listed, including a Charles Hammond of Newtown whose possessions included such new fangled items as a chest of drawers and knives and forks!

A vote of thanks was given by chairman Dr Lois Pihlens and there followed plenty of questions from the audience.

The next talk is 'Witchcraft in Berkshire' by Douglas Clapp on the 26th January.

(Alex Milne-White)

23 Feb 2011: Dr Andy Moir: "Tree-rings - a Time and a Place"

The Hungerford Historical Association were this month given a fascinating talk by local man, Dr Andy Moir, entitled 'Tree-rings a Time and a Place'. Andy has a PHD in Dendochronology and been studying the subject for 21 years.

Tree-ring dating was pioneered in the 1920's and Dr Moir was quick to point out that Dendochronology is not about the counting of tree rings to gage the age of a tree, it is the more complex science of looking at the pattern in the varying widths of tree-rings to establish exactly when a tree was felled. The practical application is that if you can get several good samples from a building you should be able to tell which year it was built in (give or take a year or two). Dr Moir has used the technique to date a house in Hungerford High Street to 1449.

Each ring does represent a year in the tree's life, but the width varies from year to year depending on the climate in the growing season, which is summer. Hence the patterns of differing widths are comparable for trees of the same species growing in roughly the same area, and these patterns tell us when the tree lived and died. Oak and pine work best and incredibly oak samples have been dated as far back as 7000BC.

Stylistic features can also tell us roughly when a building was constructed and in the last part of the talk the audience were able to take part by using a chart of these features to guess the age of various buildings they were shown.

The next talk is entitled 'Antique, Post-war and Contemporary Silverware' by another local man – George Styles, and is on the 23rd March at 7.30pm at The Corn Exchange, Hungerford.

(Alex Milne-White)

23 Mar 2010: "Antique, Post-war and Contemporary Silverware": Mr. George Styles

The Hungerford Historical Association were this month given a fascinating talk by local man, George Styles, entitled 'Antique to Contemporary Silverware'. George runs Styles Silver on Bridge Street in Hungerford, having learned the trade from his parents.

Decorative silver has been used since Greek and Roman times, but probably not until about 8/900 AD in Britain, silverware from before 1478 is rare and difficult to date because Hallmarks had not yet been introduced and the intrinsic value of silver meant that objects were often melted down for money. Silver is quite a soft metal so it is always combined with another metal for hardness, but since hallmarking was introduced , in 1478, any item classed as silver has to have at least 925 parts silver out of 1000 and this is known as the Sterling Standard.

Hallmarks tell us that an objects meets the Sterling Standard, where it was made, in which year and who made it. It is actually illegal to sell silverware without a hallmark in this country.

George used candlesticks as an example to show how manufacturing methods have changed with time, with some excellent examples from Styles Silver. The talk finished with a spoon identification quiz and questions from the audience.

(Alex Milne-White)

27 Apr 2010: "A History of the  Berkshire Yeomanry and the Regiment's Connections with Hungerford": Brig. Anthony Verey, QVRM, TD, DL,  and Capt. Andrew French

Local military history was the subject of the latest Hungerford Historical Association talk, entitled 'Berkshire Yeomanry and Hungerford'. The talk was given by Brigadier Anthony Verey QVRM TD DL & Captain Andrew French.

The Berkshire Yeomanry was originally formed in 1794 as mounted cavalry, to counter the threat of French invasion during the Napoleonic wars. It consisted of several troops, including the Hungerford Troop, which was formed in 1798. The Hungerford Troop was disbanded briefly in 1802-03, then again in 1828, but had to be reformed 3 years later as a result of the Swing Riots of 1830. The rioters were generally farm labourers whose livelihoods were threatened by the introduction of threshing machines.

The Hungerford Troop was one of four Berkshire troops until the other 3 were disbanded in 1835 as a result of government cuts, the sparing of Hungerford was highly controversial, with some saying that genteel Hungerford was the least needy of it's own troop. The fact that Hungerford Troop's captain was an MP for the Whig government may just have had something to do with this apparent incongruity.

Over the next few decades other troops were formed and in 1891 Hungerford merged with the Newbury Troop and was based in Newbury. The Berkshire Yeomanry underwent several name changes and mergers of its own, especially when involved in the great wars. Private Frederick Potts of The Berkshire Yeomanry won the Victoria Cross for bravery at Gallipoli.

(Alex Milne-White)

25 May 2011: "Life in a Medieval Town" - Nick Griffiths, FSA.

At the May meeting, Nick Griffiths, an archaeological graphics artist, from Wilton, Salisbury, said that there is ample, but incomplete, evidence about life in mediaeval British towns in the period 1150-1500.  Some of it is on the grand scale of the great cathedrals and churches, some on the scale of bric-a-brac, items which were lost, such as mechanical toys, or were thrown away by thieves who could not dispose of them, such as identifiable sword bosses.  Some is in the form of lesser buildings, a very few stone-built houses, rather more wooden houses, built of prefabricated components with Roman numerals.  Some is in the shape of documents, whether of town corporations; or of the guilds which increasingly regulated manufacture and trade; or of the ecclesiastical and civil courts which sought to impose the rule of law on often unruly parishioners and citizens.

The evidence points to a paradox.  On the one hand, church, corporations and civil authority presented a world-view which made for order in this life and offered heaven or threatened hell as the reward or the punishment in the next.  Late in the period, the Doom painted in St Thomas Church, Salisbury, offered a terrifying reminder that the devil was not far off, his foot intruding out of the edge of the picture into the church itself.  At the same time, the great glass pictures in St Mary's, Fairford, show the devil taking his victims off by any means to hand – over his shoulder or "to hell in a hand-cart".  In society, every man should know his place.  No man, or woman, should wear clothes or trimmings that the Sumptuary Laws, from 1281, reserved to upper ranks.

On the other hand, townspeople living alongside each other, hugger mugger, in cold windowless dwellings, sleeping many to a bed, made their way as best they could.  They ignored building regulations.  They built themselves thatched cottages and houses with wooden chimneys, though forbidden.  They dumped their waste anywhere they could get away with it.  They tunnelled if they could into the elm pipes bringing water into Southampton.  They were canny: they would go out early in the morning to meet farmers bringing produce into the market and buy from them on the road, "forestalling" them so that they need not complete their journey into town.

Townspeople might go on a local pilgrimage, a good day's outing.  They might buy badges at different places en route.  They might, until Henry VIII put a stop to it, buy a small lead amphora containing the (apparently inexhaustible) blood of St Thomas a Becket.  Despite this piety, the wood and stone carvings in their churches might mock the clergy, many of whom they knew for sinners like themselves.

Church and court records show strife and violence.  Dean Chandler's visitations to Woodford  shows a naughty priest and, from year to year, the same names in a variety of adulterous associations.  Because water was unsafe, adults drank ale and beer which was 11% proof.  Because all men carried a knife as tool and weapon, evening entertainment ended often in vicious drunken quarrels, stabbings and murders, at a level beyond what even London sees today.

Overall, however, the evidence shows people getting on, getting by in an uncertain world, keen to improve themselves, not all that different from us.  One gold ring, with the motto Love is sweet, was found in the Thames: did the girl fall out with the boy and toss it away, or did it just slip off her finger one Spring evening, as they boated down the river?

The next meeting of the HHA is its AGM, at 7.30 on Wednesday 22 June in the Town Hall, Hungerford, when there will be a talk by Roz Cawley on Two ladies of a certain age – a mid-life adventure in Venice.

(Clive Priestley)