The following reports of meetings in the 2021-22 season are available:
Sep 22: “Lady Craven and Benham Park” by Helen Lockhart
The Hungerford Historical Association celebrated a small return to normality with its’ first live talk since February 2020 and a tour de force from its’ own Secretary, Helen Lockhart, that kept the 100 plus audience of members and guests riveted.
The subject of her fascinating talk was the life and times of the scandalous and charismatic eighteenth-century socialite, Elizabeth, 6th Baroness Craven, who lived at Benham Park in the Parish of Speen on the outskirts of Newbury. It explored Lady Craven’s identity as aristocratic landowner’s wife, glamorous society hostess, female philanthropist and interesting local figure, within the context of her magnificent Palladian country house Benham Park, designed by leading designers of the period Capability Brown and Henry Holland. The talk examined her tempestuous marriage to Lord Craven, with infidelities, their scandalous separation, her departure from Benham Park and her return with a second husband. Lady Craven’s scandalous and extravagant lifestyle was revealed in salacious detail in eighteenth century press reports and in accounts of her by contemporaries, including the gossipy and waspish observations of Horace Walpole.
The talk also drew on Lady Craven’s memoirs and analysis of her portraits by Joshua Reynolds, Angelica Kauffman, George Romney, Thomas Beach and Ozias Humphry.
She was born in 1750, daughter of Augustus 4th Earl of Berkeley, at Berkeley Castle in Gloucestershire and at the age of 17 married William Craven who two years later became the 6th Baron Craven. In 1772-75 the Cravens built and moved into their Palladian country house, Benham Park. Here they raised their seven children; 3 sons and 4 daughters.
However, the marriage was tempestuous with infidelity on both sides and they separated in 1783, with Lady Craven losing custody of her daughters. She then departed for the Continent to pursue life as a socialite, traveller and writer. In 1786 she travelled through the Crimea to Constantinople and wrote her travel journal.
In 1791 Lord Craven died and in the same year she married the Margrave of Anspach who had connections through both his parents to both the Prussian and British royal families. They returned to England pursuing their interest in horse breeding and residing at Brandenburgh House in Hammersmith and also at Benham Park where he died in 1806. In 1819 Lady Craven moved to her villa at Posillipo on the Bay of Naples and in 1826, at the age of 76 published her memoirs. She died there in 1828.
Sporting footnote: The original Craven Cottage was built by Lord Craven in 1780.
Oct 27: “Yanks in the Kennet Valley – the Friendly Invasion of the Marlborough Area by the US Army in WWII” by Neil Stevens
Neil Stevens was born in Marlborough and in 1986 and still a student experienced what could be called an epiphany whilst camping with the Territorial Army and listening to the radio commentary on England playing out a nil, nil draw against Morocco at the Mexico World Cup. This took place on the remains of the old WW2 airfield south of Ramsbury where Neil got to wondering what might have happened on that very spot. That moment led to some 34 years of research and the evening’s talk entitled ”Yanks in the Kennet Valley - The Friendly Invasion of Marlborough by the U.S. Army during WW2”. Over those years Neil accumulated a wealth of information, recollections and photographs
not only from contacts who had served with the U.S. forces and their descendants, but also from the local population many of whom befriended the ‘G.I. Joes’ and their colleagues. Neil himself had always been fascinated by the fact that a great aunt who lived in the States had married an American soldier in Marlborough in WW2.
The talk was based on his extensive research of all WW2 U.S. forces in a 6-8 mile radius of Marlborough and used over 100 wartime images, a large proportion of which had been shared by the veterans and their families back in the States. It covered the amazing infrastructure and support functions put in place to deal with transportation, casualties and the mental and physical wellbeing of the army personnel in the local area.
The US Army’s Railway Transportation Office (RTO) HQ was located in a grounded railway carriage at Marlborough’s High Level Station. The sergeant in charge was responsible for all forms of transportation, not just rail, and 16 stations over a large area. The High and the Low Level stations and the RTO would have seen a huge amount of traffic with troop movement, ambulance trains and the proximity of the Savernake Forest ammunition dump.The ambulance trains were made up of carriages converted to hold hospital beds, with each carriage similarly equipped and staffed.
From May 1944 until July 1945 Marlborough Common was home to the U.S. Army’s 347th Station Hospital providing 1,150 beds with 764 buildings, 390 tents and manned by 75 nurses, 400 enlisted men, 49 officers and many local volunteers. After D-Day on 6th June 1944 the hospital received air-evacuated casualties directly from the Continent to local airfields including Ramsbury and Membury. On arrival at the airfield or hospital, a stretcher case could be manoeuvred by just one porter using an ingenious device looking something like a rickshaw with two bicycle wheels, a single axle and a frame to which the stretcher could be attached. This proved invaluable in dealing with the high volume of casualties; on one day totalling over 4,000. Patients typically spent just one night in Marlborough being
assessed and stabilised before being moved by ambulance train or road to a specialist facility elsewhere in the U.K. During the period it operated it cared for over 62,000 patients with less than 10 deaths. The Station Hospital was the forerunner to what became the MASH unit of the Korean War. After years of hints but no solid evidence Neil finally obtained confirmation from a high ranking witness that “Old Blood and Guts” General Patton did indeed visit the camp.
There were several opportunities to compare ‘then and now’ photos which were very instructive. One such topic was Marlborough’s American Red Cross Service Club that provided a little taste of home and rest and recuperation to locally based US servicemen and was located on the High Street. Outwardly, there appeared very little difference. There was also an American Red Cross Clubmobile service which took the taste of home directly to the troops in the form of converted single deck former Green Line London single deck AEC buses serving doughnuts and coffee and the chance to speak to girls from back home.
And lastly, as a treat for the mostly Hungerford audience, Neil was able to show extremely rare movie footage of General Eisenhower on Hungerford Common on August 10th 1944 reviewing and addressing the 18,000 troops assembled there.
Sadly, Father Time has taken its toll and Neil is now in contact with only one of the veterans who witnessed these events but there is no sign that he will stop researching what for him has and will no doubt, continue to be his passion and mission.
[Bob Hitchenor, Committee member]
Nov 24: “London 1851 and the Great Exhibition” by Mick Gilbert
Michael Gilbert delivered a truly fascinating and immaculately researched talk on London and the Great Exhibition. He explained how Prince Albert proposed to the Royal Society of Arts in 1849, the notion of an exhibition to demonstrate to the world how Machinery, Science and Taste could be combined to create an ideal of industry and art. The exhibition opened to the public on 1st May 1851. Over a five-month period it was visited by more than 6 million people.
The great success of the enterprise was due to the enthusiasm and patronage of Prince Albert, the organizational skills of Henry Cole, the civil servant overseeing the project and the inspirational design of Joseph Paxton who created the massive exhibition space. His innovative cast-iron and glass structure became known as the Crystal Palace and was influenced by his earlier design for the lily glass house at Chatsworth.
Construction work on the building began in 1850. The structure was supported by 1,000 columns and 2,000 trellis girders. It was 1,848 ft long and 408 ft wide, with the central transept rising 108 ft. Half a million people attended the opening ceremony, with around 30,000 people assembled in the amazing glass edifice, surrounded by exhibits and three elm trees which had to be incorporated inside the building.
Queen Victoria described the scene in her diary entry for 1st May 1851:
"the sun shone and gleamed upon the gigantic edifice, upon which the flags of every nation were flying…..The sight as we came to the centre where the steps and chair (on which I did not sit) was placed, facing the beautiful crystal fountain was magic and impressive. The tremendous cheering, the joy expressed in every face, the vastness of the building, with all its decoration and exhibits, the sound of the organ….all this was indeed moving."
The display comprised 100,000 objects displayed from across the world. The British half of the exhibition was dominated by machinery and inventions, while the other half was devoted to the rest of the world, mostly displaying objects derived from art and technology. The exhibition successfully highlighted Britain as the leading nation for industrial development.
[Helen Lockhart, Secretary]
Jan 26: “Fuelling the Town – A History of Hungerford’s Petrol Filling Stations” by Roger Day
Local historian Roger Day gave a most enjoyable and superbly researched talk, accompanied by a wide range of fascinating slides showing old prints and photographs, for the January meeting of the Hungerford Historical Association.
As Roger explained Hungerford’s location had always been a popular stopping-off place for travellers along the Bath Road (A4). This continued with arrival of the motor car in the early 20th century, making the town an ideal place for local businesses to start selling fuel.
The oldest of these businesses, originally an iron foundry, was started in 1824 by Richard Gibbons and remained in the family for 90 years, with motor engineering becoming the company’s main line of work. The business was taken over in the 1930 and renamed Kennet Motor Works. In the 1950s it was bought by the Regent Oil Company and by 1963 was run by Bill and Joy Cunningham. In the years that followed it was a Texaco filling station and is now owned by the Co-op Group.
The Shell establishment on the opposite side of the A4 was owned by the Cottrell family from 1869. The business was bought in 1922 by Alfred Campbell and Billy Norman and was then known as Eddington Garage. Redeveloped and modernised, the site was bought by Total Oil in the 1980s, operating as a filling station and convenience store.
Manor House petrol station was located along the High Street on the present-day site of Coffee #1. In the 1950s this site had been a doctor’s surgery, but it was pulled down in the 1960s and replaced by a petrol station, which survived for about a decade but was then knocked down and replaced by a supermarket.
At the start of the twentieth century James Stradling became agent for Benz motor cars, opening his first branch at 14 Charnham Street. A few years later he moved to a larger site at 21 Charnham Street and leased more space on the opposite side of the road. Following WWI he relocated his workshop to a site formally owned by the Bear Hotel. In the 1930s a modern garage complex was built on the site, which is now Dick Lovett’s BMW dealership.
Public houses like the old Sun Inn on Charnham Street also sold petrol. Roger displayed a watercolour c.1930s, showing three petrol pumps outside the pub facing the A4. This site was redeveloped in the1950s and is now the location of Dick Lovett, Mini.
After, his informative and entertaining talk, Roger was enthusiastically applauded by the audience.
[Helen Lockhart, Secretary]
Feb 23: ‘’The Ship, the Lady and the Lake - The Extraordinary story and rescue of a Victorian Steamship in the Andes” by Meriel Larken
Meriel Larken is an extraordinary local lady. In the 1980s she found, rescued and restored an abandoned iron-hulled Victorian steamship in the Peruvian Andes. Meriel’s tale was one of courage, determination and sheer force of will, taking her on a sometimes exhausting, intrepid adventure through an inhospitable terrain.
Originally commissioned by the Peruvian navy, the Yavari was constructed in West Ham, London in 1862. It was then taken apart and transported to South America where it was carried in 2,766 pieces across the Andes to Lake Titicaca by mule. Here, 12,500 feet above sea level, the Yavari was rebuilt and for 100 years was a working ship that ran on Llama dung. By the time Meriel found the ship it had been converted to diesel but was now a sad sight ready for the scrap heap. A survey revealed the remarkably good condition of the iron hull and this determined English woman set about finding the engineers and volunteers, not to mention the funds, to restore the ship to her former glory and become a tourist attraction.
Meriel illustrated with over 50 images the difficulties and the successes of the project that took around 25 years to complete. Prince Philip had seen the ship on his world tour of 1962.
He encouraged Meriel to rebuild the ship in a letter now framed in pride of place on the ship’s bridge. During the restoration project, Michael Palin filmed Meriel aboard the Yavari during his Full Circle TV documentary in 1997; the series has been shown several times since.
Meriel and her volunteers faced many challenges out in Peru; communication with London for equipment and supplies was far more difficult in the 1980s and 90s and did not help the situation. Perseverance and a love for the people and communities with whom she worked kept her going. The ship is now a tourist attraction offering bed and breakfast accommodation. The link with West Ham was celebrated in 2015 when a group of 12
disadvantaged young people from the area were given the chance to experience the challenge of travelling to the ship on Lake Titicaca by trekking along the original mule-train route across the Andes.
[Caroline Ness, Chairman HHA]
Mar 23: “A Nice Quiet Life - The story of a Merchant Seaman 1908-1946” by Rob Chicken
Local historian Robert Chicken gave his fascinating talk “A Nice Quite Life- The Story of a Merchant Seaman 1908-1946” at the Hungerford Historical Association on 23rd March to a most appreciative audience.
As an experienced sailor himself with a solid background in engineering, Robert has collated biographical notes left to his family by his grandfather, Alfred Burlinson, detailing his exciting life as a marine engineer in the Merchant Navy from 1908-1946. Robert’s talk based on his research about his grandfather’s life and supplemented with an array of fascinating old photographs, provided a vivid sense of Alfred’s lifetime of adventure, hardship, and happiness on all the different ships he sailed in, from grand liners to rusty old hulks. His travels took him around the world to Shri Lanka, New York, Texas, Italy, South America, Indonesia and the West Indies.
Alfred was born in the great ship-building area of Sunderland in 1884 and when as a boy of 12, he was asked what he was going to do, he said he wanted a nice quite life, but as Robert’s talk revealed the opposite proved to be the case. Alfred served on some legendary ships including the Oceanic, the Olympic and the Britannic, while he almost sailed on the Titanic. In 1911 the Olympic smashed into HMS Hawk on a voyage from New York into Southampton causing damage to both ships. The Olympic was then taken to the Harland and Wolff Boatyard in Belfast for repair, where it stood in dry-dock alongside the newly build Titanic. Originally, Alfred was going to be an engineer on the Titanic but was fortunately transferred to the Olympic before the former ship made her fateful voyage in 1912. He also served as Chief Engineer on the Qwentland taking coal to Antwerp. As an officer he was allowed to take his wife and children along with him on board the ship. At one stage the ship got stuck on the “Manicles”, magnetic rocks just off the coast of Cornwall and miraculously managed to get going again without being wrecked. During the First World War Alfred was a volunteer tugboat engineer at the Gallipoli Landings and later rescued a ship from sinking due to a torpedo strike. During the Second World War he survived two shipwrecks from torpedo strikes and narrowly avoided yet another sinking, thanks to the Enigma code breakers. After a long and adventurous career at sea Alfred retired, spending his later years at Newport in Wales where he died aged 91 in a care home for merchant seamen.
Apr 27: "Salt from the Hellath-du: A History of the Mines and Brines of Cheshire" by Dr Chris Carlon, BSc, PhD, FSEG, FGS.
Dr Chris Carlon, our speaker this month, last gave a talk to the HHA in 2013. His subject then was titled “The Really Ancient History of Hungerford - Reading and Interpreting Rock Archives”. Covered in the talk was an explanation of Sarsen Stones prominent in the landscape around Hungerford including Avebury, Great Bedwyn, Stype, Kintbury and Hamstead Marshall. Those stones go back as far as the Paleogene Period some 66 million years ago.
Chris’s latest talk was titled “Salt from Hellath Du – A History of the Mines and Brines of mid-Cheshire”. Chris grew up in Northwich, Cheshire and before moving to Froxfield worked around the world for 40 years as a mineral exploration geologist. This latest fascinating talk took us back a bit further to the Triassic Period, some 220 million years ago, to look at the historic presence of rock salt, its’ discovery, modern uses and the affect that extraction had had on the local population and in particular his hometown of Northwich.
Although the occurrence of salt in mid-Cheshire had been known before the Roman occupation of Britain it was not until 1670 that the source of the brines was discovered and solid rock salt found in the bedrock just north of Northwich. Until the mid-1800’s salt was mostly used for the preservation of food for the winter months. With the coming of the Industrial Revolution rock salt became a vital ingredient for chemicals necessary to the nearby emerging industries.
In addition to the wonderful black and white photographs of the huge ‘rooms’ where miners laboured stripped to the waist, ponies who would spend their whole lives underground hauling buckets of salt to be hoisted to the surface, and unfeasibly thin pillars of rock salt used in stead of pit props, there were also photographs of the town of Northwich and the sometimes comical but often catastrophic ground collapses in the centre of town. There were several photographs of residents and businessmen standing outside their properties as their ground floor progressively disappeared below the level of the pavement. As a consequence of these events the 1891 Brine Subsidence Compensation Act was introduced. In addition to the Act and compensation there was also a special mode of construction recommended for buildings to cope with salt mining. As a result, light timber framing (giving parts of town a somewhat Tudor appearance) was introduced. Buildings had jacking points in their frames so even if the ground sank, a building could be jacked up or even moved.
Today rock salt is used almost entirely for road de-icing in winter conditions and the contents of the yellow roadside bins we are all familiar with will have come from the Meadowbank Salt Mine in Winsford where it is estimated that another 75 years of rock salt is available. The Meadowbank site also plays host to the company DeepStore who began storing some 2 million ‘information’ boxes in 1998 along with police evidence, paintings, scale models, data and some of the National Archives from Kew; the dry conditions and temperature being ideal for the purpose.
[Bob Hitchenor, HHA Committee Member]
May 25: "Historic Clockmakers of Hungerford" by Dr Hugh Pihlens
Jun 22: AGM and Social