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]