Lecture Summaries

Below you will find summary reports of recent lectures given in the current season.  The most recent is on the top.


Thursday 10th April 2019

Reminiscences: Banbury in World War II

Led by Karey Morley

Karey Morley started the evening by informing the BHS members present about the ‘Times Gone by Oral History Archive’ through which memories are recorded for posterity. She invited everyone who wished to contribute to just put up their hand and to speak in their normal voice ignoring the microphone. She said that previous recordings had been used when devising the metal tokens in Parsons Street. The Parkside development artist is also using the recordings for her piece of public art. She reminded everyone who contributed to sign the copyright permission form before the end of the evening. Karey also said that the memories could be of events that had happened elsewhere than Banbury.

Before the recording commenced the audience was shown a film about children growing vegetables on bomb sites.

Peoples’ reminiscences included all sorts of interesting trivia. The St Mary’s school children were each allocated a house where they were to run if the sirens went off. Another memory was of the frequent siren testing in Oxford – no bombing there. Someone else said there was so much bombing their family gave up trying to sleep in the house.  Anderson shelters were supplied by Northern Aluminium to their employees in Banbury. One person said their shelter was only used once, when the RAF dropped a practice bomb outside their house! Families without shelters often retreated under the kitchen table and one mother always had a stick with her to bang to alert rescuers if their house collapsed on top of them. People talked about keeping chickens and bees and growing their own food. More than one commented that at the end of the war they had to be shown how to eat a banana.

After the interval some of the recording was played back to the audience. Then an edited recording of ‘Christmas during the War’ was heard.

A very different evening for BHS members. 

                                                                                                 Clare Jakeman


Thursday 14 March 2019.

“It will do him more good than going to school”: Child Labour in Nineteenth century Oxfordshire.

Liz Woolley.

The quotation which began the title of Liz Woolley’s lecture comes from a poor law guardian at Cottisford and reflects an attitude that was widespread in rural England in the nineteenth century – that it was perfectly normal – and indeed necessary - for children, even those under the age of ten, to contribute to family income by undertaking full-time work. Building on the work of the late Dr Pamela Horn, Liz Woolley used a variety of sources, including school log books, poor law records, census returns and some remarkable photographs, to give a detailed picture of ways in which young children were employed in the county, in agriculture and domestic service virtually everywhere, in lacemaking around Bicester and Thame, in glove-making around Woodstock, in brickmaking at Headington Quarry and in slop tailoring around Abingdon. Liz showed how, in the early decades of the century, parish apprenticeships might be sent to employers in distant parts of the country, to Benjamin Smart’s cotton spinning mill at Milverton, Warwick, to fishermen at Gorleston or to a coal mine at Dudley. It was cheering to hear that research on a topic which has been well-investigated in the past is taking forward our understanding of the county’s past. 

Barrie Trinder


Thursday 14 February 2019

Discovering the Broughton Hoard and the Broughton Roman Villa

Keith Westcott

We expected a good house for a talk by one of our members on these much-publicised pieces of local history, but in the event we were overwhelmed by a record attendance. Every seat was filled, we brought in extra chairs from the café and we had members and visitors standing at the back and sitting on the floor at the front.

Mr Westcott described how diving on the wreck of HMS Ramillies off the Devon coast was one of the events that sparked his interest in archaeology and led him to take up metal detecting. He admitted that metal detecting could be destructive, but argued that it was of real historical value if used responsibly. It was important that detectorists brought in the archeologists at the early stage of any significant discovery.

He emphasised the importance of doing your research before choosing a site for metal detecting. It was this approach that led him to wonder whether the area around the long-gone eastern bridge over the moat at Broughton Castle might bear fruit. In 1966, with the permission of Lord Saye and Sele he started to explore and almost immediately found  some sixteenth and seventeenth coins within a very small area. He consulted the Ashmolean who gave their approval to him exploring further. In all he found 16 coins which were declared Treasure Trove at a coroner’s inquest in the following year. This collection was eventually acquired by the Ashmolean Museum where it is now on permanent display.

Moving on to the discovery of the Roman villa, Mr Westcott said that he had always been curious about the discovery in 1963 on the Broughton Estate of a lead-lined stone coffin containing the remains of a woman in her thirties who died in the third or fourth century. This was the key to his discovery of the Broughton Roman villa, one of the biggest ever found in Britain. It seemed to him unlikely that this high status burial was in the middle of nowhere; it was surely in the vicinity of a substantial settlement. With approval of the owners, he started to explore the topography of the area of the burial and soon found evidence of terracing. He then found a piece of earthenware which, as a specialist heating engineer, he recognised as part of a hypocaust tile of the sort used to carry hot pipes up the walls of high-status Roman buildings.

Geophysicists were then brought in to survey the whole area. Their scans revealed the outline of a terraced villa, not much smaller in area than Buckingham Palace. At the side of a large courtyard was the outline of a large aisled hall, probably used as a grain store. The next stage was a trial dig of five sites by Oxford Archaeology, in which Martin Fiennes was heavily involved. This dig produced a wealth of significant artefacts.

The five sites have now been filled in and crops are growing on top of them. Excavation of the whole site would cost about £2 million. The hope is that universities or the Heritage Lottery Fund might be willing to fund the project.



Report on BHS lecture of 10th Jan 2019.

‘The rise and rise of Alice Chaucer, Duchess of Suffolk’.

Dr Rowena Archer, a medieval historian who has studied Alice Chaucer (c 1405-1475) and her family for many years, gave the first lecture of 2019. The Duchess was a formidable woman who rose to great wealth from a commoner background who was also an adept politician in the turbulent years of the mid fifteenth century.
Her father, Thomas (son of Geoffrey Chaucer) probably acted as an example; five times Speaker of the House of Commons he was prominent in assisting Henry V and in manoeuvring advantageous marriages. Alice herself was married at the age of about 10 to Sir John Phelip, who died almost immediately after the battle of Agincourt, leaving her with the jointure of all the Phelip lands; an important start to her subsequent landed wealth, some of which also came to her from the estates of her mother, Maud Burghersh. As a wealthy widow she remarried Thomas Montagu, fourth earl of Salisbury (d 1428) and thirdly William de la Pole, the fourth earl, and subsequently, first duke of Suffolk. He was Steward of the Household of Henry VI and an influential minister to the king, but was exiled in 1450 as a result of his impeachment by the House of Commons. Murdered by pirates on his way to France he left Alice with a young child, John, and immense wealth which she used for influence and to consolidate her lands.
At her husband’s death that wealth was calculated to include property in 22 counties, six London houses and five castles. all richly furnished in a manner which suited her status, and jewellery previously estimated to be worth 3000 marks. Surviving accounts suggest that her income was at least £1500 per annum and probably more like double that; she adroitly avoided a state trial in 1451 and although her origins were Lancastrian she switched sides in 1455 when she organised the second marriage of her son John to Elizabeth of York, sister of Edward IV and Richard III. She used the de la Pole entourage to annex additional land in Norfolk, infuriating the Paston family amongst others, but nevertheless was appointed a Lady of the Garter and is depicted wearing the garter on her wrist on her fine tomb at Ewelme church.
Although she lived at Wallingford castle for much of her life (which had come to her through the de la Pole family) she eventually retired to the Palace at Ewelme which she and William de la Pole had built, together with the church in which she is buried, the alms-houses and the school. The grandeur of her three-part alabaster tomb, the trappings around her and the richness of the decoration attest to the stature which she thought herself due and probably the awe with which she was regarded. The tomb itself, with an unusual lower part containing an effigy of her body in death, is a striking testament to a powerful and successful woman of the mid fifteenth century whose influence has been underestimated.
Helen Forde




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