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" – Jon Willis
Exactly 100 members and guests visited the Corn Exchange to hear a talk by Jon Willis whose career was in London, responsible for directing a number of strategic transport studies and the development, evaluation and authorisation stages of major transport projects including the initial Docklands Light Railway and its major extensions to the City, Lewisham and Beckton, the Jubilee Line Extension and Croydon Tramlink and most recently Crossrail.
The usual route through these projects establishes the problem itself, solution(s), affordability and approval; these finally result in an ‘OK’ to build – “then it gets difficult”.
He has been a volunteer at Crofton Beam Engines for over 10 years, including 3 years as Chairman.
Early trading in the Pool of London was chaotic and only improved in the 16th & 17th centuries when Legal Quays were established by Parliament on the Tower (North) side of the Thames where duties were paid on ships from abroad. Goods from ‘local’ ports were restricted to the South side. By the 18 th Century the PoL was attracting 33,000 vessels with an additional 2,000 smaller ‘lighters’ to transfer goods to the wharfs. In 1796 a Select Committee opted to allow just two main companies, The East India Co. and The West India Co., but overall control was still lacking.
‘River Pirates’, ‘Night Plunderers’ and ‘Light Horsemen’ (who attacked the Lighters), ‘Heavy Horsemen’ and casual robber were just some of the ways that cargo could go missing. In 1800 it was estimated that £500,000 was lost annually, a huge sum in those days.
Six main docks were established by 1868, London, Surrey Commercial, West India, East India, Victoria and Millwall Docks brought some order. The basis of the docklands was augmented from around 1840 when the London & Blackheath Railway was woven into the map, followed by numerous other independent routes all adding to the confusion and vying for a share in the trade brought by the increased size of the ships in the mid 19th century, including by 1919, frozen lamp from New Zealand, the first goods to be unloaded by cranes.
Jon’s photographs revealed the addition of canals into and around the docks and highlighted how much of the East London landscape was now consumed by housing following the reduction in trade from its peak in the 1960s. The layout was further re-arranged and infilled to allow the use of ‘lockable’ containers, which required huge ‘backlands’ behind the quays.
Jon’s conclusion focussed on the modern additions now benefitting the local economy including the DLR, extensions to the famous Underground, London Overground, Crossrail etc which seeks to allow 60-80% of commuters to use public transport to access areas on both sides of the river, often via very deep tunnels made by steerable monster drills through the underlying clay.
Mark Martin (Secretary)
27th Mar 2019: "The Real Wolfhall" – Graham Bathe
Almost 150 members and guests filled the Corn Exchange to hear a talk by Graham Bathe who has 40 years experience in wildlife conservation for charities and in the public sector, both in this country and overseas. Graham worked on the formulation and implementation of the Commons Act 2006 and is committed to commoning as a mechanism which integrates the agricultural, cultural, historical and environmental values of the countryside. He retired to concentrate on historical research and is chairman of Britain’s oldest conservation body (founded 1865), now called the Open Spaces Society. He has conducted an intensive 20-year study of Savernake based on hundreds of original documents dating from the 1100s onwards, which provides the context for historical research into Wolfhall and the famous Seymour family of Tudor Burbage.
The current Wolfhall is a multi-phase building, comprising a substantial brick and timber-framed Tudor range, with a mid-18th century Georgian north frontage and a Victorian extension. It incorporates architectural features of the Tudor villa of Wolfhall, which in turn was built on the site of earlier medieval buildings.
This part of the Kennet and Avon Valley has been inhabited for at least 1,000 years and a modest Manor House is listed here as Ulfela in the Doomsday Book of 1086. Modifications made in the 1400s produced a massive stone Mansion with a Chapel. In 1531 the buildings received a palatial makeover to accommodate the visit of King Henry VIII in 1535. However, by 1575 the place was empty and decayed and was eventually replaced as the family home by Tottenham Park. A Wolfhall farmhouse was later mentioned in 1633. Maps dating from 1175-99 showed the huge extent of the Savernake estate which was divided into Bailiwicks, each one extending out from the pond which is still visible today at the South end of Burbage High Street opposite the petrol station.
In order to try and ‘reconstruct’ the layout of Tudor Wolfhall some geophysical studies (more commissioned for 2019) have shown an extensive system of underground ‘tunnels’ across the site built in brick; they are really the drains required to service each of these buildings. Some show structured inlets directly below the garderobes (latrines) from the more opulent rooms in the buildings above.
No original paintings or drawn information survive from Tudor times but the estate accounts give detailed insights into elements the building fabric by costed references to repairs required over the years, including clearing out of the drains.
The Tudor residence, built in the very latest style of intricate red brickwork, shows it as contemporary with Hampton Court Palace and it must have had all the trimmings associated with somewhere awaiting the visit of the King and his Court, all of whom required accommodation and feeding at lavish banquets. Brickwork had not been commonly used since the departure of the Romans, the site had its own brickworks.
Mark Martin (Secretary)
Apr 24: "Art in the House of Commons" – Richard Kelly
Almost 90 members and guests filled the Corn Exchange to hear an illustrated talk by Richard Kelly who is one of 80 staff in the Research Service of the House of Commons Library. The Research Service provides a bespoke enquiry service for Members of Parliament and their staff in all aspect of their parliamentary duties eg debates, constituency work and media interviews.
In addition to bespoke enquiries, the Library produces briefings for debates and on a wide range of topics that Members have demonstrated an interest in. These briefing papers are available on the parliamentary website.
Richard has worked in the Library for just over 15 years and now works in the Parliament and Constitution Centre, one of eight research sections, where he covers Parliament and the Legislative Process.
The collection of artefacts extends to some 8,500 pieces including pictures, statues, sculptures, photographs and stained-glass windows, much of which can be viewed over the internet, all of which has been accumulated since the 1830s following the devastating fire of October 1834. It was reported that the King & Queen could see the glow of the fire from Windsor Castle.
The accommodation was rebuilt after competition in the Gothic style. The design, awarded to Charles Barry, was developed in collaboration with Augustus Pugin and took 25 years to complete. Members can request that certain items from the collections are shown in their private offices, and along with special exhibitions, in the public spaces.
Richard took us through the development of the institution through the decades from voting being by a public show of hands to secret ballots, the influence of the Suffragettes, the Jarrow March of 1936, the Race Relations Acts and the increase in the number of women members. Increased member numbers is reflected in the growing size of the Parliamentary Estate, for example in 1870 the Library had 4 or 5 staff and now requires 70 to 80.
Mark Martin (Secretary)
May 22: “The Chindits Operation – Burma 1943-44” – Col Piers Storie-Pugh, OBE, TD, DL