Fairford History Society

Fairford History: Meetings

Upcoming meetings

  • September 21 2017 - Marston Meysey: some notes on the history and geography of a single-street Wiltshire village by Owen Humphrys
  • October 19 2017 - Archaeology of Chedworth Roman Villa by Nick Humphris
  • November 16 2017 - The private lives of the Tudors by 2018
  • January 18 at 10 am 2018 - Show and tell or something similar
  • February 15 (half term) at 10 am 2018 - Fairford Carnival, 1919-1939 by Edwin Cuss
  • March 15 2018 - John Keble: Fairford’s most famous son by Allan Ledger
  • April 19 2018 - History of Cheltenham by Steven Blake
  • May 17 2018 - Fairford Folk songs by James Driscoll
  • June 21 2018 - AGM and talk to be arranged

All meetings begin at 7.30pm at Fairford Community Centre, except for the January and February meetings at 10am.

May 19 2016: The Young Laurie Lee by Howard Beard and 16 June 2016: AGM followed by Highwaymen by John Putley

In May Howard Beard showed members a presentation of pictures of places in the Stroud area that Laurie Lee might have seen or visited when he lived at the village of Slad. It was really interesting to see how the town had changed over the years, especially the shops. It was an excellent pictorial presentation from an entertaining speaker.

In June the news at the AGM was that Rob Winney has resigned from the Committee and Syd Flatman has taken his place. After the loss of our President, June Lewis during the year, David Perry has taken her place. The FHS funds were healthy and the work outside of meetings continues apace. A full Chairman’s report is in Fairford Flyer 23.

John Putley then gave us his usual informative, entertaining, well illustrated talk – this time on Highwaymen. He brought his pistols along (replicas) and told us about the practicalities of being a highwayman. This was pre-enclosure days so riding across country to escape was easy, after enclosures the obstacles of fences, ditches and turnpike gates made escape less certain. Local horses were easily identified so it was difficult to be anonymous. The words ‘Stand and deliver – your money or your life ‘ were actually reported as being said in court cases.

April 21 2016: The Bells of St Mary’s by Peter Harris, Tower Captain

The history of bell-ringing with practical illustrations from the bell-ringers

Peter Harris, St Mary’s Tower Captain with some of the St Mary’s team and with the help of ringers from Cirencester enlightened, informed and entertained over 50 FHS members on the technique, science and history of bell ringing.

Since Saxon times bells have been used to summon people to worship, using either hand-bells or fixed bells on a simple spindle. Up until the 14th century the bells were hung on quarter and half wheels but it was after the Reformation when bells were rehung on whole wheels that bell ringing became more popular. In the 17th century bell ringers were of two types, those that were paid and the more wealthy who did it for sport and leisure.

Now the bells could be rung in sequence (a round consists of eight strikes on each bell), one ringer following another. Change ringing which is ringing the bells in a different order began in the late 16th or early 17th century this was subsequently worked out by mathematical compositions, and given names such as Grandsire Triples and Bobs. These sequences have to be memorised, 168 change takes 5-8 minutes.

The treble bell (1) is the lightest and the tenor (8) the lowest note and the heaviest bell. The tenor bell at St Mary’s weighs 17 cwt and at Cirencester Church the tenor bell weighs 27 cwt. The bell is stored in an upright position and controlled by a stay. It rings 360º clock forewards and backwards. The oldest bell in St Mary’s is 1539-40 but the bells were recast in 1927.

It is a peculiarity that change ringing has only developed in Great Britain and other English speaking countries – on the continent carillons are used. There are 50,000 active bell-ringers all over the world.

The members really enjoyed this talk on a subject most of them knew little about. The bell ringers efforts on Sundays will now be much more appreciated. Thanks were expressed to Peter Harris and his team for such an interesting talk and what a lucky coincidence that the talk on bell ringing coincided with the 90th birthday of Her Majesty the Queen and the bells rang with extra joyousness for the special day.

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March 17 2016: Tudor Medicine by Cherry Hubbard

With her colourful and fragrant baskets of herbs and spices we shall journey into the Tudor world

Cherry Hubbard is a social historian based in Cirencester. She explained to members what life was life in Tudor times for ordinary people, She, herself has experienced the life of aTudor person for a year at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.

The Tudor home was a dark smoky place, the main light was the fire. If you were suffering from an illness home remedies that had been passed down word of mouth down the generation e.g chamomile has been used since ancient time for its anti-inflammatory properties and calming influence. The only advice available was from a local wise woman – a barber surgeon could supply the service of setting bones and pulling teeth. Life expectancy was 20% during childbirth and to the age age expectancy was 35-45 years. People had a different outlook on life than nowadays.

Some remedies

for any ache

In May take henbane and bruise it well put in in a pot and a pint of sallat oil and set it in the sun till it be all of one substance, then anoint the ache therewith .

for the falling sickness 

during the waning of the moon or when it is the sign of virgo eat berries of asterion and bear the berries next to the skin

Cherry was dressed as a Tudor woman and had a lovely table of items for members to inspect, she also passed round examples of items that were usual in Tudor times

inspect, smell or feel.

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February 17 2016: Along the River Coln by Edwin Cuss

At a well attended February daytime meeting Edwin Cuss gave a slide presentation of pictures of the River Coln from Mossy Bridge near Quenington to the Broad Boards south of Fairford. Edwin was as usual, extremely informative about the history, people and places on and by the River.

In the bad winter of 1947 there was severe flooding in Fairford and after that the road at Mill Bridge was raised 18 inches. Edwin mentioned that this really spoilt the whole symmetry and line of the Bridge. He also showed change in the Mill House buildings. During the War it had housed a generator and pump for Fairford Park which his father had to monitor daily. During this time the Mill House fell into a state of disrepair.

He also showed the method of clearing out the River of unwanted fish, (e.g. pike and coarse fish) in the early days by netting and then layer by charging the water with electricity and stunning the fish. The ones wanted were thrown back and the others eaten if suitable.

Fishing in the Broadwater by Fairford Park

November 19 2015: Those adventurous Cowleys by Chris Barrett

Chris Barrett, a descendant of Robert Cowley and Mary Sandling through Jacob the eldest son of 12 children gave a fascinating account of the Cowleys who left the small town of Fairford and travelled out in to the wider world in the mid 19th century.

Jonathan Cowley (1784-1865) from the previous generation was a soldier in the Napoleonic wars and served in the 82nd Regiment of Foot from 1806 to when he was wounded at the Battle of Vitoria, 1813.

His son Robert (1805 -1865) was one of the ‘Machine breakers’ in Fairford in 1830 and was transported to Tasmania and after five years was released and went mining to Dunnolly, Victoria where he died

Isaac Cowley (1813 – 1892) set off with his family to D’Urban, S. Africa where he was responsible for building the first stone buildings in the town (he had been a mason) and founded and built the Baptist Church. He became know has Pastor Cowley.

Jesse (1837-1909), Isaac’s eldest son went off to Australia in 1856 and became a town clerk for Paddington and Newton in Sydney for many years. His grandson Cecil Cowley and his son met an unfortunate end in the volcanic eruption of Mount Laming ton in 1951. His wife and daughter survived.

Isaac’s son Alfred Sandlings Cowley (1848-1926) went to Australia and became a member of the Queensland parliament. His son Campbell Cowley (1881-1919) served in the Boer Wars in South Africa, had a game hunting venture then went back to Australia where his obtained some land in Papua New Guinea. Unbeknown to his Australian family he had a a liaison with a PNG lady Bagunai, and had a son in 1916. he then went of the to WW2 and served in the Middle East, came back returned to PNG and while on the search for labour contracted ‘blackwater fever’ and died. Campbell’s son Punch was well educated and set up a successful township in PNG until the country gained its Independence and Australia withdrew its support. He had three ‘wives’ and children by two of them.

Abraham Cowley (1818-1887) (went of to Canada was a Church of England missionary. Fairford, Manitoba was named in honour of him. he had 12 children and Chris met a descendant John Peter Cowley when he visited Fairford, Manitoba. Fairford, Manitoba is keen to reopen links with Fairford, Gloucestershire.

This is just small snapshot of a very adventurous family that came from a small Gloucestershire town and there were others whose story Chris did not have time to to tell.

October 15 2015: Magna Carta by Tim Porter

Tim Porter was up to his usual high standard when he gave a talk to FHS in October on the Magna Carta, highly appropriate as the country is celebrating the 800th anniversary of its signing Runnymede in June 1215.

He gave a comprehensive background to the events leading up to the signing, the power of the King, the growing resentment of the Barons and quarrel between the Pope and the King on the appointment to the post of the Archbishop of Canterbury. The Pope was in favour of Stephen Langton, the King was not. Between 1209 and 1214 there is an Interdict imposed on England, at the the end of 1214 the King capitulated.

Tim outlined the drafting and issuing of the Magna Carta and the several later amended editions (the last one being produced in 1300). Although King John had no intention of abiding by the Magna Carta, many of its 63 clauses later formed the basis of English law and its unwritten constitution and the great Charter of Liberties is now regarded as the most important document in English history.

September 17 2015: The Upper Thames Patrol

At the first meeting of the new subscription year, Geoff Hawkes, Chairman said that David Perry who had been Vice President of the Society has agreed to be president.

The first speaker was an old favourite, Bill King who talked to members on the Upper Thames Patrol (UTP) or ‘Up the Pubs’ as they were known as they so often met in pubs. This was an organisation formed in August 1939 (before the Home Guard) to defend the upper reaches of the Thames, from Teddington Lock to Lechlade. The Thames has 46 locks, 44 road bridges and 4 rail bridges and if there had been an invasion it would have been essential to have these crossing points well defended or destroyed if necessary. There were about 6000 members of the UTP consisting of Thames watermen and recruited civilians some of whose boats were recruited as well. The UTP was divided into the seven counties and within that each section had a stretch of river, e.g. from Lechlade to Oxford there were 30-60 men in three sections. Their duties included patrolling the banks of the Thames and looking for anything suspicious; sabotage was feared. Bill showed the defence plan for Radcot Bridge which through history had always been strategic crossing point of the Thames.

This was no exaggerated threat, there were German spies dropped in the area in WW2 who were captured and shot. The Upper Thames Patrol performed a valuable service from August 1939 – December 1944. Some of the boats still exist and Bill attends a Small Boat Rally which takes place after Henley Regatta with also the Dunkirk small ship survivors attending.

As it is the anniversary of the Battle of Britain taking place, it is important to remember that the threat to this country was very real, and although to the modern eye it seems like ‘Dad’s Army’ these men would have defended their patch to the death.

June Lewis-Jones 1935-2015

It is with very great sadness that we report the death in August of the President of Fairford History Society, June Lewis-Jones. June was always so supportive of FHS, ready to lend a hand with information and advice.

She worked at Farmor’s School for over 37 years and taught many people in the town to type. She was passionate about the countryside and in her younger days she was a Cotswold Way warden and wrote a book on the Cotswold Way. She also had a great love for the Cotswold Lion breed of sheep, one of whom attended her wedding to Ralph in 1998.

She was so involved with many things in the town, an inveterate raiser of funds for Fairford Hospital and for the Church. The proceeds of her latest publication and first children’s book are for the preservation of the beautiful Church windows.

She wrote 29 books and wrote for Cotswold Life since it started about 1960 and also contributed to the Gloucestershire Echo and Wilts and Glos Standard regularly.

Our condolences go to Ralph, her husband and his family.

 

Thursday April 16th 2015: Letters from St Helena

‘An awfully nice place for a camp’

Fiona worked as a volunteer at Gloucestershire Archives and was involved with cataloguing and transcribing some of the Hicks Beach collection deposited at the Archives some years ago. The letters described were a small group written home by Michael Hugh Hicks Beach to his mother when stationed on St Helena, 1900-01.

The Second Boer War took place from 1899-1902. The 4th Gloucestershire Battalion were stationed St Helena to guard the South African Boer prisoners where they had been confined in the first so called ‘concentration camps’ (because a lot of people were concentrated in one place).

St Helena is a rocky isle in the Atlantic, 10 miles long. In 1900 it took a six weeks boat trip from England and three weeks from South Africa. Its capital is Jamestown. Usually the island was a supply station for ships in transit, the goods had to be unloaded and loaded from lighters as the big ships could not get close in. If anyone had escaped from the island there was no where to go.

Michael writes home about the conditions in both the soldiers’ camps and the Boers’ camps. At first they were all in just tents but later on the Boers were allowed to build their own huts. He writes abut the food, the Boers were useless as bakers but very good at butchering meat, and there were pictures of them with meat cleavers and carcasses. Some of the pictures came from the Soldiers of Gloucestershire Museum, others from pictures that Michael has taken from the Archives.

At the time Michael’s father was Chancellor of the Exchequer and home was Downing Street. Letters arrived by mail boat every six weeks, but there was also a cattle boat that departed just before or after the mail boat. Michael writes to his father that if he sees the Postmaster General could he ask him to change the timing of the mail boat so they get mail every 3 weeks and it so happened, it was changed.

Fiona talked about the leisure pursuits of the soldiers as boredom was a great problem on the island. As in any community there was the social hierarchy, there was a Governor of the Island and Lady Bathurst with another lady had come out to join her husband, the Colonel-in-Chief; they lived at Longwood House, where Napoleon had been exiled. Michael and Lady Bathurst were good friends and hockey, tennis cricket were among the activities. For the soldiers there were games and competitions.

This was a really interesting, well illustrated talk about a place and event that little was known about. St Helena is getting an airport very soon as the regular ship the RMS St Helena will be retired, hopefully this will bring more benefits and prosperity to the Island.

Thursday March 19th 2015: On the run behind the lines (WW2)

In March Air Commodore Graham Pitchfork talked to FHS about some of the RAF aircrew who crashed or were shot down behind enemy lines in Europe during World War 2 and tried to evade capture.

They were mostly helped by the extremely brave local people in the Resistance who put themselves and their families in extreme danger. There were three main escape routes across France:

  • the Comet Line. In August 1941 Andrée de Jongh (nickname Dédée) arrived at the British consulate in Bilbao with a British soldier James Cromar from Aberdeen and two Belgian volunteers, having travelled by train from Paris to Bayonne and then on foot over the Pyrenees. She requested British support for her escape network (later named ‘Comet line’)

  • the Pat Line (named after Pat O’Leary) ran from Paris to Toulouse via Limoges and then over the Pyrenees via Esterri d’Aneu to Barcelona

  • the Shelburne Line which ran from Paris to Rennes then St Brieuc in Brittany, where men were shipped to Dartmouth.

Graham told us tales of some of the individual’s adventures and the heros who helped them. He had personally met some of the evaders and the heroic people of the Resistance. He has written several books on the subject, the latest being:-

Shot Down and On the Run: The RCAF and Commonwealth Aircrews who got home from behind enemy lines, 1940-1945