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The following reports of meetings in the 2011-12 season are available:

28 Sep 2011: Mr Jack Williams "Hungerford Fire Brigade"

Over a hundred people gathered for the first Hungerford Historical Association talk of the new season given by local historian and ex-mayor Jack Williams.

Jack and his family have had a long involvement with the fire service in Hungerford and he was able to recount fascinating stories from the past ranging from catching the horses before being able to take the horse drawn fire appliance out; to attending road accident on the M4. Jack was the first fireman at the scene when James Flour Mill caught fire in June 1960. This was the largest ever fire in Hungerford's history and took fifteen days to damp down.

Jack also bought along photos; fireman's helmets; boots and other memorabilia from both Hungerford and Hungerford's twin town of Ligeuil in France.

The next talk will be given by Dr Hugh Pihlens "The Pihlens family – from Latvia to Hungerford" on Wednesday, October 26th at 7.30pm in the Corn Exchange, Hungerford.

Shelagh Parry

26 Oct 2011: Dr Hugh Pihlens – "From Latvia to Hungerford"

Over a hundred members of the Hungerford Historical Association were treated to an excellent talk by Dr Hugh Pihlens last Wednesday night. Dr Pihlens was a very popular and highly respected GP in Hungerford for all his professional life but his talk focused on his family links with Latvia.

His grandfather had been a Latvian nationalist revolutionary in the early 20th century and had to escape in the hold of a German cargo ship from the Russian police and their bayonets. Eventually as a non-English speaking Protestant refugee he arrived in England and was befriended by a Church of England vicar and given employment and sanctuary by the vicar's family. He met and married an English girl and they settled down in the West Country where Dr Pihlens was born. A wonderful story much appreciated by the audience, a lot of whom resolved to research their own family history.

The next talk will be given by The Countess of Carnarvon "Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey" on Wednesday, November 23rd at 7.30pm in the Corn Exchange, Hungerford

(Shelagh Parry)

23 Nov 2011: The Countess of Carnarvon – "Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey".

Over a hundred and fifty members and guests of the Hungerford Historical Association were treated to an excellent talk by the Countess of Carnarvon last Wednesday night on her latest book which tells the story of Lady Almina, who was married to the 5th Earl of Carnarvon. Lady Almina established a hospital for wounded officers at Highclere during the First World War. She nursed the officers herself and "treated them like the best people in the world". During her research Lady Carnarvon found a number of personal letters from servicemen and their families in the Castle's archives. One read "thank you for all you did for my son – my husband got to his bedside before he died"

The 5th Earl was a keen photographer and took a great many photos during his 14 years excavating in Egypt with Howard Carter. The tomb of Tutankhamun was found in 1922 just before the Earl's money ran out. A number of artefacts from the tomb are housed in the museum of Cairo, but there is also a collection if items at Highclere.

Her talk was full of very humorous anecdotes dealing with larger than life characters. A really excellent evening enjoyed by the audience.

The next talk will be given by Canon Alan Deboo "The Railways and Society in Victorian England" on Wednesday, January 25th 2012 at 7.30pm in the Corn Exchange, Hungerford.

(Shelagh Parry)

25 Jan 2012: The Revd Alan Deboo - "The Railways and Society in Victorian England".

The Hungerford Historical Association was treated to fascinating talk by Canon Alan Deboo, who is a Canon of Salisbury Cathedral, on the effects of the railways on English society in the 19th century.

He said that initially the Railways during the Victorian era were not built with safety in mind, but with the aim of making as much money as possible. There was very little regulation and accidents were so common that only major disasters were reported on. In cities the railways were deliberately built in working class areas because the land was cheap to buy and as most of the housing was rented the railway companies did not have to pay any compensation to tenants. It was estimated that between 41,000 to 55,000 people were displaced by railway construction leading to homelessness and depravation.

However on the positive side new occupations, new towns and better distribution of fresh food all improved the majority of people's lives. It also enabled ordinary people to travel. In 1851 as many as 6 million people visited the Great Exhibition during the five months it was held at Crystal Palace the majority of whom arrived by train.

As many as 5% of the population worked on the railways in the 19th century. These jobs were secure and for some jobs e.g. booking clerks there was a waiting list. The working conditions of railway workers were improved when they combined together in Friendly Societies which later became Trade Unions.

The railways also led to a rapid rise in certain spectator sports, e.g. football, cricket and racing and enabled mass pleasure travel and sea-side holidays.

The railways transformed the economy of Victorian society and transformed the landscape of the countryside and was the most remarkable development of the Victorian age. The next talk will be given by John Parry on "Oliver Cromwell –God's Englishman" on Wednesday, February 22nd 2012 at 7.30pm in the Corn Exchange, Hungerford

Shelagh Parry

22 Feb 2012: Mr John Parry - "Oliver Cromwell –God's Englishman"

King or Parliament in 1642?

Would you have been one of the six out of ten Members of Parliament for Berkshire who declared for Parliament in 1642 at the beginning of the Civil War? This was the question posed to over 100 members of the Hungerford Historical Association by the speaker, John Parry, during his entertaining and instructive talk on Oliver Cromwell.

The well received talk was illustrated with reference to a 1592 copy of the Geneva Bible and three silver shillings from the reign of Charles I, the Commonwealth of England, and Oliver Cromwell's Lord Protectorship. Mr Parry also mounted a very spirited defence of the decision to execute Charles I and Cromwell's role in Ireland. He concluded his talk by arguing that the strength of Cromwell's army lay in the fact that they were committed to what became known as the "Good Old Cause", the wish for a religiously tolerant and liberal England.

The next talk will be given by Colonel Robin Buchanan–Dunlop CBE –"The village of Ham in the Middle Ages" on Wednesday, March 28th 2012 at 7.30pm in the Corn Exchange, Hungerford

Shelagh Parry

28 March 2012: Col Robin Buchanan–Dunlop, CBE –"The village of Ham in the Middle Ages"

Over a 100 members of the Hungerford Historical Association listened to an excellent, scholarly talk by Robin Buchanan–Dunlop on the history of his village, Ham, in the middle ages.

He cleverly linked the narrative of the English nation with the history of this beautiful Wiltshire village and reminded his audience that the Wansdyke, which passes through the parish, was once a major defensive position, although its actual origins are lost in the mists of time. Several others of the 10th and 11th century's boundary markers as mentioned in the original charter and the Domesday Book can still be found today. It was a well received presentation which added to members' historical knowledge of Ham.

The next talk will be given by Mr William Shand M.D "A man that looks on glass…" on Wednesday, April 25th 2012 at 7.30pm in the Corn Exchange, Hungerford.

Shelagh Parry

25 Apr 2012: Mr William Shand, MD - "A Man that looks on Glass"

Hungerford Historical Association was given an excellent talk on the history of stained glass by William Shand, a retired Consultant Surgeon from St Barts Hospital, took the title of his talk from a George Herbert poem "The Elixir".

Mr Shand suggested that the only way to view stained glass properly is by looking through binoculars so that all the details of the windows can be appreciated. In addition to the magnificent windows in Canterbury and York Cathedrals he highlighted several churches that should be visited:- Fairford, Gloucestershire which is the only church in England with it's original glass; All Saints Church, Tudeley, Kent which is the only church in the world to have all it's twelve windows by Marc Chagall; The Chapel of St Anthony at Oundle School, built as a memorial to the fallen of WW1 with the windows designed by John Piper and made by Patrick Reyntiens; St Andrew's Church in Kimbolton, Cambridgeshire which has the only window in England designed by Tiffany.

The next talk will be given by Roger Day – "Savernake at War" on Wednesday, 25th May 2012 at 7.30pm

Shelagh Parry

23 May 2012: Mr Roger Day - "Savernake at War"

Local Hungerford resident and historian, Roger Day, gave an excellent presentation to the Hungerford Historical Association on Savernake at War at their meeting on Wednesday 23 May.

From the founding of the largest British Army ammunition depot in 1940 to its de-commissioning after the War the large audience were entertained with stories of poison gas bombs, American and British soldiers, new railway sidings, but the most impressive of all, the great explosion of 2 November 1946 at North Savernake sidings where 8 soldiers died. Superb acts of bravery were performed with 18 awards for gallantry given to soldiers, firemen and railway staff. These awards included 2 George Crosses and 4 George Medals. They are the highest awards for bravery awarded outside war zones given by the King at that time.

The next meeting of the Hungerford Historical Association will be the AGM on Wednesday 27 June at 7.30pm, when Mr Ron Rowland will give a presentation on 35 years of CHAIN.

Shelagh Parry