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
Feb 23: ‘’The Ship, the Lady and the Lake - The Extraordinary story and rescue of a Victorian Steamship in the Andes” by Meriel Larken
Mar 23: “A Nice Quiet Life - The story of a Merchant Seaman 1908-1946” by Rob Chicken
Apr 27: "Salt from the Hellath-du: A History of the Mines and Brines of Cheshire" by Dr Chris Carlon, BSc, PhD, FSEG, FGS.
May 25: "Historic Clockmakers of Hungerford" by Dr Hugh Pihlens
Jun 22: AGM and Social