The following reports of meetings in the 2018-19 season are available:
26 Sep 2018: "The History of the Hills and Kirby Estate" – James Sadler and Nicola Chester
Almost 100 members and guests attended the first meeting of this season for an illustrated talk by James Sadler who has been Head Gamekeeper and right-hand
man to the Astor family on the Kirby Estate, Inkpen for over 30 years. He was accompanied this time by Nicola Chester who is a award-winning BBC wildlife writer
who also contributes regularly to the Newbury Weekly News and RSPB publications, she is also the Librarian in a local Secondary School.
James began the double-hander presentation describing how much time he still spends on the estate which includes the ancient Walbury Hillfort next to Combe
Gibbet and 90% of all the chalk downland in Berkshire. The man-made landscape is not under or over grazed now by the sheep who tread seeds into the thin soil to help preserve the floral population and 6000 years of cultural heritage.
The diversified activities of the Estate over the years have included traditional farming activities, rabbit farms, MoD practice areas, film locations (Black Legend,
1948), vineyards, 360º views across 4 counties, educational projects, hilltop beacons, wedding venues, running and cycling races, hang gliding, farm tours, game
shoots and the annual Kirby House open days supports many local village projects.
Staff numbers have changed over time from 34 in 1920, 20 in 1960 and only 8 in 2017 driven mainly by new work methods.
Nicola concentrated on the cultural and wildlife aspect of the Estate where both Short and Long eared owls, Barn owls, Ruffs (rarely), Turtle doves, Lapwings, and
Skylarks can be seen across the hills, which provide their own micro-climate and form part of a migratory passage for the general bird numbers, which are down by 92%. However, nearly all of the 10 endangered bird species can be seen locally.
When questioned James considered that the Red Kite had not displaced the local Buzzard population, he now sees more and more Ravens during his outdoor hours, as they are thriving and are often the first to feast on a recent carcass.
Mark Martin (Secretary)
24th Oct 2018: “Who do you think you are?” – Dr Hugh Pihlens
Just over 100 members and guests were presented with an illustrated and musical update to Hugh Pihlens’ family history project to chronical more of his Latvian roots.
Hugh had previously spoken the HHA in October 2011 about his family history. Things had moved on and since his retirement Hugh has dug deeper. His presentation concentrated on two key ancestors - his grandfather James and great-grandfather Peter.
As a young man, James was politically active in a group aiming to free Latvia from Russian control. He had to escape the family farm in January 1906 as ‘the
authorities’ were closing in on him. He escaped on horseback and fled as a stowaway on a ship from the port of Liepāja, to anywhere; which turned out to be
Hamburg. He managed to get to Newcastle and then to London. James, an engineer by trade, ended up in a furniture factory in the East End. Later in 1906 he
took a train to Exeter St David’s and was lucky enough to meet a kindly German-speaking clergyman who took James under his wing, soon passing him to his land-owning brother. James went into service at Bishops Lydeard House in near Taunton where he looked after three cars, and installed the electric lighting system. Things were looking up. James married in June 1910 in Bath and had 2 children. The post-war garage prospered; in 1924 it had a shop and in 1928 it became an Austin Motors dealership, contracted to sell 6 cars a year!
Latvia had been ravaged by WW1 but achieved its independence in 1918. Some of James Pihlens political friends were running the country. In 1931 James was urged by a brother in Latvia to return and take up a place in the new Government. After three visits and many meetings in England he decided to stay with the family business and dropped any further contact with Latvia.
In 2016 Hugh decided to visit his ‘roots’ and went to Barta, via Riga and Liepāja. The local museum was run by distant relatives, and they were able to provide a
family roll and a host other very useful information. It was particularly poignant that Hugh stayed in a hotel overlooking the very part of Liepāja port from where his
grandfather James had made his escape in 1906.
The second forebear to be introduced was great-grandfather Peter, who had been a national folk-singer. Latvia has had a national Song Festival every 5 years since
1873 and Peter was a leading light in his time. Hugh’s version of “Who do you think you are?” concluded with a video of a massed choir of 30,000, all in national dress, singing at a recent festival - quite a spectacle!
Mark Martin (Secretary)
28th Nov 2018: “Norman Churches in the Newbury Area” – Dr David Peacock
Over 60 members and guests attended the last 2018 meeting of this season for an illustrated talk given by Dr David Peacock who returned this time to illustrate the amount of Norman history that can still be found in the churches of the area.
David lead us through the A to Z of notable examples, from Aldermaston to Welford, with photos and anecdotes identifying the remaining architectural gems in places we all know, but rarely visit. Many of the churches and local clerics pre-date their listings in the Doomsday Book of 1086 proving their earlier Saxon heritage.
David made particular reference to Avington, Nr. Hungerford, which he considers the best in the wider Berkshire area as it retains the character of a Norman Church mainly unchanged for centuries, with the semi-circular chevron-decorated arched windows and main door and a fine example of a carved stone font showing 13 assorted figures, some of which seem very un-Norman and need ‘de-coding’.
Other notable fonts exist at Catmore, Chaddleworth, East Shefford, Great Shefford, Lambourn, Purley, Shefford Woodlands, Sulhamstead, Tidmarsh and Welford. A few are expertly carved, some are simple or transitional, some are remodelled Saxon examples and a few are clearly later reproductions by the Victorians and others.
Other buildings of note include Padworth with its high chancel arches, unusual for a small parish church, and elaborate column capitals similar in style to some in
Reading Abbey, which David is researching now. Tidmarsh includes a vaulted angled D-shaped apse on a square church with a very ornate door and carved
David also explained why it was easier/cheaper to build a round church tower, rather than square, as this would need fewer expensive corner/quoin stones in the construction.
In general the country had been conquered in 1066 but there seemed to be no break in the styles of church building.
Mark Martin (Secretary)
23rd Jan 2019: "Vietnam 1945-75 – an Epic Tragedy" – Sir Max Hastings, FRSL, FRHistS
Just over 150 members and guests packed the Corn Exchange to hear a talk by award winning local author, journalist and broadcaster Sir Max Hastings following the 2018 publication of his 27 th and latest book.
Sir Max had previously spoken the HHA in January 2001 and November 2013 but this topic drew his largest audience yet as he spelled out the story of Vietnam from the days of French rule from 1880, to the partition in 1954, the Vietnam War 1965-1973 until 1975 when the Americans were ousted after the Fall of Saigon.
US forces had been deluded by fire power and the cultural impact on local society had not been recognised. Blame and atrocities could be shared between both sides.
The conflict changed the US more than anything else in history, at huge financial, military and cultural expense; the true price being paid in trauma. The US did however maintain some of the high ground as all their efforts were openly reported. The US press was free to show what was happening, whereas much of the North was denied access and many are still unaware of many aspects of their own history.
Future events in places such as Iraq proved that ‘not a lot had been learned’.
Sir Max spoke from vivid personal memories; reporting in 1967-68 from the US, aged just 22, where he encountered many of the war’s decision-makers, including President Lyndon Johnson, then of successive assignments in Indochina for newspapers and BBC TV: he rode a helicopter out of the US Saigon embassy compound during the 1975 final evacuation.
Mark Martin (Secretary)
27th Feb 2019: "Docklands – past and present" – John Willis
27th Mar 2019: "The Real Wolfhall" – Graham Bathe
Apr 24: "Art in the House of Commons" – Richard Kelly
May 22: “The Chindits Operation – Burma 1943-44” – Col Piers Storie-Pugh, OBE, TD, DL