The following reports of meetings in the 2019-20 season are available:
Sep 25: 40th Anniversary Meeting: "Littlecote: Before and what came after" – Bryn Walters
The 40th Anniversary of Hungerford Historical Association was celebrated on Wednesday evening with a wonderfully interesting talk by Archaeologist Bryn Walters who gave the inaugural talk in 1979. Bryn returned to his original theme recounting his excavation of the Roman Villa at Littlecote. This time, however, he also discussed his earlier archaeological work and revealed his investigations and findings following the uncovering of the Littlecote Villa.
To a full house of 147 members and guests, Bryn regaled his audience with tales of rescuing artefacts from the appalling destruction of major Roman Sites and a Saxon settlement during construction of the M4 motorway around Swindon in the 1970s. He also discovered the giant hill figures at Foxhill. It was in 1977, whilst still a student, that Bryn and colleague Bernard Phillips located the site of the Roman Villa at Littlecote.
In 1978 work was initiated to excavate the site with the patronage of the owner of Littlecote, Sir Seton Wills. They discovered evidence for Saxon activity as well as early agricultural activity on the Roman site. Among the buildings an early 2nd century bakery, brewery, large fish tank and smokehouse were also discovered. During the 4th century agricultural activity was phased out and the buildings converted to more mysterious purpose. The villa had five towers, an impressive gatehouse and a tri-conch chamber housing the now famous Orpheus mosaic with pagan iconography. Bryn subsequently compared the villa with many others from the Roman Empire in Britain and abroad. He believed the structural evidence revealed that sometimes the buildings were more likely to be small water sanctuaries or health spas. This challenged earlier identifications of ‘farming villas’. The villa at Littlecote, Bryn theorised, had undergone a religious transformation possibly inspired by the success of the great Roman spa at Bath and was in effect a place of ritual rather than a domestic building.
[Dr Caroline Ness]
Oct 23: "The Building of the Globe Theatre, London" – Peter McCurdy
Hungerford Historical Association enjoyed a riveting talk by architect Peter McCurdy on the reconstruction of the 16th century Globe Theatre, London. Peter’s company specialises in the repair, conservation and reconstruction of historic timber framed buildings and structures including some at both the Weald and Downland and Chiltern Open Air museums. His most prestigious and famous projects have been the historic re-creations of the Globe Theatre and the Jacobean Sam Wanamaker Playhouse.
American actor Sam Wannamaker spearheaded the campaign to re-construct the Globe. His vision was for both an open air and a closed theatre on the site as Shakespeare wrote plays for both types. Sam formed the Shakespeare Globe Trust in 1969, the site was acquired in 1989 and work began in 1992. He spent the remainder of his life devoted to the building of the theatre but sadly died before it was finished in 1997.
Peter described with great clarity the extensive recording and research methods required to reconstruct timber framed buildings accurately. His experiences recording, analysing and conserving a 15th century barn at Harmondsworth informed his approach to the reconstruction of the Globe. Conserving 14th century Barley Hall, York helped him understand how a three storey medieval building was constructed. The Staple Inn, Holborn (1580) was a source of reference for the Globe, as was the Queen’s House at the Tower of London, the Middle Temple Hall, Wymondham’s octagonal Market Cross and the galleried George Inn, Southwark. A single existing contemporary drawing of the Swan (1595) remains the only reference for the interior of a Shakespearean theatre. After extensive research to ensure historical accuracy of all joints and details, English oak trees were felled and fabrication of the timber frames using traditional carpentry skills, historic working methods and techniques ensued.
Peter’s images of the building coming together frame by frame on site were enthralling. His lively talk concluded by taking us briefly through his subsequent project to reconstruct the Jacobean theatre on the same site as the Globe. It is another immensely beautiful building using early 17th century carpentry and construction techniques and is lit by candles. Both theatres are a visiting must.
[Dr Caroline Ness]
Nov 27: “The History and Restoration of GWR locomotive 7903 Foremarke Hall” – John Cruxon
Project engineer John Cruxon became Restoration Manager for the GWR locomotive ‘7903 Foremarke Hall’ engine in 1986 and has been engineer in charge ever since. He led a team of experts and volunteers who returned the scrapyard wreck to a fully operational steam engine.
Built in 1949, the engine is one of 259 ‘Hall Class’ locomotives built at Swindon railway works from 1928-71. It has two cylinders and was built to carry 4,000 gallons of water and 6 tonnes of coal. By 1963 the engine was looking tired and unloved as the steam era came to an end. In 1964 it was sent to Barry Dock scrapyard in South Wales where it decayed extensively.
John purchased the engine and transported it back to Swindon in 1981, still displaying its original number and name plate. The restoration began with a dedicated team of volunteers and engineers working long hours in difficult conditions. Slides showed the restoration team hard at work cleaning stripping down, polishing and replacing old parts as 30% of the engine was missing. All copper piping and tubing in the engine cab were replaced with new versions to the original specifications, ensuring the restoration was as authentic as possible.
With its new boiler and cladding, the engine travelled to Blundesden where it was loaded with coal, ready for use, finally getting its insurance certificate 18 September 2003 before being painted in its original livery colours. The engine was put back into service in 2004, taking day trippers to the races from Toddington to Cheltenham Racecourse. It has proved popular with steam enthusiasts and celebrities, such as the actor Martin Clunes who was even allowed to drive it.
Steam engines need to be serviced every 10 years involving a complete overhaul. This was done in 2014 at a cost of £220,000 for repair and renewal of almost every part to meet stringent insurance requirements. Finally, the 7093 Foremarke Hall arrived at the GWR Didcot Gala in May 2016 in all her glory, newly repainted and returned to service.
John’s fascinating and knowledgeable lecture was accompanied by photographs of the 7903 Foremarke Hall and similar engines, taken by renowned steam rail photographers, such as Kenneth Leach and Dick Blenkinsop.
[Dr Caroline Ness]
Jan 22: "When William of Orange came to Hungerford" – Dr Hugh Pihlens
Chairman of HHA Dr Hugh Pihlens entertained the Association’s January meeting with an engaging account of the famous meeting at the Bear Hotel in Hungerford of William of Orange with the King’s Commissioners in December 1688. William was on his way to taking the throne from King James II following years of unrest and instability after the Civil War and the Restoration of the monarchy. This most important piece of national history played a key part in the ‘Glorious Revolution’ of the 17th century, resulting in seismic change of the British political landscape.
The Reformation of the Church under the Tudors resulted in conflicting loyalties between followers of the opposing religions. Unrest and the persecution of Catholics and Protestants under different monarchs followed. The gunpowder plot of 1605, during the reign of James I, exemplified the ongoing religious problems and resulted in even harsher sanctions against non-conforming English Catholics.
James son Charles I was a covert Catholic who believed in the Divine Right of Kings and absolutism, threatening the Established Church and state. The English Civil War 1642-1649 was the tragic consequence, ending with the beheading of Charles I. After increasing disillusion under the Puritans, the monarchy was restored when Charles II was crowned in 1660. In 1665 the crown passed to his brother James II who was a Catholic convert. His response to a restless parliament was to dissolve it. James’ daughter and heir, Mary, was married to her cousin, a grandson of Chares I, the protestant William III of Orange.
When James II had a Catholic baby son, Mary’s succession became threatened and William formed an invasion army. Aware that he may not be welcomed by all, he encouraged Parliament to offer Mary and himself the throne of England as joint protestant monarchs. Seven political figures sent him a formal invitation to invade in June 1688 and James landed at Brixham with a vast invasion force on 5 November 1688.
William marched North East gathering support and reached Salisbury on 21st November. He sent troops ahead to Reading where James II army was routed. James’s troops retreated to Newbury where they deserted the King for William’s standard. William left Salisbury on 5 December and stayed overnight at Collingbourne Kingston. James appointed three commissioners to attempt to negotiate with William and they agreed to meet at Hungerford, easily reached from the West, London and Oxford. The King’s commissioners stayed at Ramsbury Manor during the negotiations. William reached Hamstead Marshall House on 6 December and arrived at the ‘modest Bear Inn’ that same evening where he stayed in a bedroom and ante-room and used the ‘great room’ for the meetings. On Saturday 8 December William left the lords and gentlemen of both sides to negotiate while he withdrew to Littlecote House. Although William sent a proposal to James that did not include taking the throne from him by force, it came too late; James had already fled to France. William had left Littlecote for Oxford but on hearing news of James flight he turned for London, passing through Wallingford, Henley and Windsor without hindrance. The bloodless Glorious Revolution of 1688 was over.
William and Mary were crowned on 11 April 1689. Britain became the most stable state in Europe; the Civil List was established; political parties emerged upon which various government ministries were based; and the struggles between monarch and parliament ceased with power passing from the crown to the nobility and gentry. With the Reform Acts of the 19th century and the Suffrage Acts of the 20th century, Britain reached true democracy. All this as a direct result of the Glorious Revolution during which Hungerford played a key part.
[Dr Caroline Ness]
Feb 26: "Coaches and Coach Horns – their history from the golden age to the present day” – Colin Pawson
Carriage driver Colin Pawson swept HHA back to the eighteenth and nineteenth century with his lively and colourful history of the golden age of coaching. Dressed head to foot in his scarlet nineteenth century coach guard’s uniform, Colin certainly looked the part.
The coaching era of the late Georgian, early Victorian period was Hungerford’s golden age too; it brought new wealth to the town. Coaching inns such as The Bear and The Lamb were very busy. Huge road improvements at the turn of the eighteenth century meant that lighter and faster horse drawn transport was possible and journey times shrank as a result. The heyday of coaching was a relatively short period of time as trains superseded horse drawn commercial travel in the 1840s.
Theatre manager John Palmer of Bath, frustrated with the length of time it took to get to London, was responsible for the first passenger carrying Royal Mail coach. He suggested a new system of ‘stage’ coaches that stopped to change horses at each eight to twelve mile stage rather than wait for one team of horses to take lengthy rests on their journey. Palmer’s method was trialled by the Royal Mail in 1784 and he reduced the journey between London and Bath from three days to an astonishing seventeen hours. Passengers on the fast mail coaches paid an expensive fare for cramped conditions. Only four passengers sat inside with a further three outside accompanying the guard who sat at the back above the mail box. The guard blew a series of calls on his brass horn to alert other road users of their presence, which side they might overtake, and when to get ready to open toll gates or change horses. The coach kept up a furious pace and fines were meted out to anyone who impeded His Majesty’s mail.
Competition for passengers led to independent coaching operators. The Post-chaise was a private two or four horse light coach for two to four passengers. The Travelling Chariot was a larger, more expensive carriage in which to ride, pulled by a team of four horses. At its peak, it was not unusual for coaching inns to stable 300 horses; some could house up to 3000 on the busy roads to London.
In 1841 the GWR was opened by Brunel and train travel crippled the coaching industry. However, in 1880 Subscription Road Coaches revived coach driving for wealthy travellers on the road from London to Brighton. Coaching Clubs were formed by gentlemen who loved coaching and some are still going today. In 1888, for a wager of 1000 guineas, James Selby drove from Brighton to London in seven hours fifty minutes by changing his team of four horses in an incredible 40 seconds at each ‘pit stop’ stage.
A light horse harness instructor and carriage driver for over thirty five years, Colin is involved in raising money for charity through a series of Coach Tours and also works with the Riding for the Disabled Association. Look out for him at the County Show. He finished his wonderfully enthusiastic talk with a skilled demonstration of the original calls made on his three authentic coaching horns.
[Dr Caroline Ness]