Thursday November 20th 2014 : House Deeds

Martin Lee-Brown gave a fascinating talk on the origins and development of land ownership in England through the centuries starting with that most invaluable source of reference: the Domesday Book of 1086. Following the Norman Conquest much of the land was taken into Royal ownership and some of it was then granted to loyal followers. Proof of ownership was required and land was subsequently passed on to family members, or sold off (often to pay for debts). The administrative work required for proof of ownership led to the art of conveyancing and the birth of the all-important deed. The management of the recording and transfer of land and property ownership eventually became part of the remit of the solicitor.

To illustrate his lecture, Martin shared with the audience several local deeds from the 18th and 19th centuries. He pointed out that the descriptions of property in some of these deeds often left much to be desired and undoubtedly resulted in confusion and possibly legal action. He reviewed some of the early Fairford solicitors starting with George Symonds White (who acted for the Raymond Barkers among many others), and later firms such as Wilmots and Hitchman Iles. He mentioned the Fairford Booke (which has been transcribed by the FHS) as an invaluable source of information on early Fairford property.

Martin then continued to tell of his own experience as a solicitor in the Fairford district and how the various changes in legislation relating to land ownership and tenancy helped to define the law more precisely. Greater accuracy in the description and mapping of ground plans and the current practice of creating and storing online documents have also helped to improve the service provided by today’s solicitors.

The Fairford Booke

A 17th century book deposited at Gloucestershire Archives by Wilmots Solicitors containing Fairford register of deeds to church lands, (1601-74), including schedule of lands, (1662) GA D1070/X/2

Schedule of land
Schedule of land, 1662

F_Booke 001a_small

Thursday October 16th 2014: The Black Death comes to England

Tim Porter’s account of the arrival and the consequences of the Black Death for England provided an excellent and thought provoking study. He cast doubt on many of our certainties – for example he insisted there was no evidence that the disease that reached these shores, probably from Gascony in the late 1340’s, was in fact bubonic plague even if some of the numerous later plagues certainly were. He noted the timing of the plague and the outbreak of the Hundred Years War with one that consequence that war was postponed for a time.

What particularly impressed about the talk was its wide-ranging perspectives. For example the issue of climate was important – in the early 14th century there was a period of cold with miserable summers and seriously reduced harvests. The effect was a population with reduced resistance to disease. A significant conclusion was that where people have assumed deserted villages must have been produced by the Black Death in fact very few can be shown to be directly connected or there were more significant factors. So the loss of population through famine and plague created a situation where farmers abandoned agriculture and turned to raising sheep. Sheep required fewer farm workers so many peasants left the land and moved into towns. A linked factor was that this surplus labour had more freedom to choose what employment they took up. Previously they had been tied to the land and had to do what their masters dictated.

An intriguing aspect of the subject was the church’s struggle to find a theological explanation for the plague. They tended to fall back on explanations about God’s justifiable anger with mankind’s behaviour but the democratic range of death when the good and bad alike suffered made such explanations inadequate.

Thursday September 18th 2014: Industrial Heritage of the Cotswolds

Dr Ray Wilson took members for a gallop around the industrial heritage of the Cotswold covering a surprisingly wide range of subjects considering the agricultural nature of the area (apart from the Stroud valleys). The subjects covered included mills, railways, canals and industry.

The buildings included Lower Slaughter Mill, Northleach Prison, Culkerton Chapel and many more. The were reminders of former industry as at Tobacco Lane in Winchcombe and an example closer to home is Gas Lane in Fairford.

The information about Leckhampton quarries was fascinating. The stone was quarried from about 1798 to provide for the expansion of Cheltenham. By 1830 a network of tram roads were linked by inclined planes cleverly using gravity. The Devil’s Chimney is a pillar of stone left by quarry men.

The interesting building at the Seven Springs junction was a place where packages were left to be collected, a much more trusting society than now where the postman will no longer leave packages at houses.

The Gloucestershire Society for Industrial Archaeology (GSIA) have produced an informative booklet entitled ‘Exploring Gloucestershire’s Industrial Heritage’ which lists all features that are still visible over the County. Available from GSIA.


Thursday June 19 2014: AGM, Show and Tell and FHS’s 10th Anniversary


The FHS celebrated its 10th anniversary during its AGM in June. About 60 members attended. The business meeting was over quickly and Geoff Hawkes, the Chairman, gave a review of activities and achievements of the past ten years mentioning some of the highlights and remembering some of its past members.

A ‘Show and Tell’ session followed with about 12 members talking for around three minutes each on a treasured possession:- a cup and saucer from the Royal Yacht, a first camera with separate light meter, a 4ft-long 1918 photograph of RNVR personnel, a Honeybone clock, a print compositor’s tray, a piece from a Wellington bomber, fossils found near Fairford, George Loughton’s wood working tool, a selection of old bottles found in the garden, a large picture of sailing schooner based in Falmouth sailed by the owner’s grandfather, a piece of shrapnel that fell in the owner’s cot during an air raid during WW2 – ‘there by the grace of God go I’ and some 18th Century deeds found in Keble House and a leather letter pouch with “Revd Keble” inscribed on the brass catch. This item was then presented to the Society by the owner.

There were also displays of the FHS’s activities over its first ten years as well as material which had been deposited in the FHS Archive.

Members then enjoyed a selection of Gloucestershire food and drink and piece of birthday cake cut by the President June Lewis-Jones. A very enjoyable time was had by all.


Thursday May 15th 2014: From Swinedown to Swindon


A presentation on the history of Swindon was given to us by members of the Swindon Society. Actually it was given almost entirely by Bob Townsend but David Bedford and Diane Everett from their seats in the front row offered occasional corrections or suggestions and even some embellishments. It was an entertaining talk well illustrated by pictures from Swindon’s history. We visited many aspects of Swindon’s past in no particular order but it proved very absorbing. So we went from the settlement on the hill with its early church now only a fragment of its past glory via the railway works to a centre for 21st century high-tech business. One of Bob’s recurring themes was the failure to look after some of the town’s more significant buildings, for example the Mechanics Institute. This has been allowed to rot and decay for many years. Nevertheless alongside that long-running disaster has been the successful preservation of its neighbour development, the Railway Village. It was surprising that a town with important factories situated around a railway junction sustained little serious wartime damage. This was in part thanks to the siting on the Downs of deceptive structures aimed at misleading bombers and drawing them away from the town. We were left with a clear impression of the enormous rate of change undergone by Swindon in a short historical period.



March 20th 2014: Dad’s Underground Army by Bill King

Coleshill Park Gates (2013)

Colehill gates

At the March meeting Bill King gave his usual informative, entertaining and gripping talk about Dad’s Underground Army, the Auxilliary Units an intentionally uninformative title. These were part of the precautions taken during WW2 if the German invasion had taken place. Bill has had a 35-year interest in this secret organisation. All members had been bound by the Official Secrets Act, and therefore never spoke about it. In 1994 a reunion was organised. Advertisements were place in national newspapers asking all ex-Auxilliers to meet at their old HQ [not named], about 100 ex-Auxilliers turned up. Thus a lot more information has been found out about these brave men.

Each unit was made up of 7-10 people who did not know anyone else. They had three underground ‘hides’ hidden in their area of about a five-mile radius within striking distance of targets suitable for being sabotaged in the event of an invasion. The bunkers were built by Canadian Engineers who were employed to dig holes not knowing where they were or what they were for. Suitable civilians who showed signs of leadership qualities were identified and recruited as suitable candidates for these. They carried on their day jobs as usual but if invasion had come a password meant they would have all disappeared underground away from the families who would not have known they were part of it. In 1940 the password was ‘Cromwell’ and at this time the country had been within a hair’s breadth (or 21 miles across the Channel) of invasion. These units had their specific targets to sabotage, their life expectancy was about two weeks, they would not have survived.

Having given the background Bill went on to explain about the bunkers and equipment that was used and the methods of sabotage which might have been employed. Coleshill House was the training centre for men and Hannington Hall for the women. The men were given a railway ticket to Highworth and told to present themselves at the Post Office, a pre-arranged conversation took place concerning stamps and change and the postmistress, Mabel Stranks, went to the back of the shop ostensibly to get change but in fact ring up Coleshill to come and collect the men.

This is just a very brief snapshot of Bill’s talk in which there was a huge amount of detail.

In June Bill will be conducting a walk around Coleshill, there are a few places left, please contact A mock hideout has been built and there is some evidence of the former occupation of the site. It is thoroughly to be recommended.

Entrance to one of the hides at Coleshill (2013)

Hide entrance at Coleshill



February 20th 2014: Fairford Farms by Edwin Cuss and Chris Peachey


Over 60 people attended the ever-popular February daytime meeting. This year the topic was ‘Fairford Farms’. Edwin Cuss showed about over 100 slides on an agricultural theme. He started off with a general section about local agriculture and the associated trades and activities in the area, including blacksmiths, saddlers, butchers, the Young Farmers, markets, fatstock events and ploughing matches.

 After the coffee break he covered the local farms in the area: Home Farm that provided foodand rehabilitative therapy for the patients of the asylum (now Coln House School); Horcott, Waiten Hill, Milton, Totterdown and Rhymes Barn farms on the west side of

town. Manor Farm Park Farm, Moor Farm in the centre and east of the town. He also covered smallholders.

 As always each picture was accompanied by an excellent informative commentary and this year with the added expert knowledge from local farmer Chris Peachey, which gave the whole event an extra dimension. As well as technical information about breeds of animals and types and uses of farm machinery, Chris commented that Bert Cuss’s horse ploughing was the straightest and cleanest furrow ever ploughed with horses and there were some of his former girlfriends among the photos!

 Everyone thoroughly enjoyed the morning and we wonder what the topic will be next year. The two pictures show Park Farm about 1870 and Bert Cuss showing a fine example of a furrow at a ploughing match

 Picture 79 (2)

Novenber 21st 2013: The Gloucestershire Regiment in World War 1 by Graham Gordon of the Soldiers of Gloucesershire Museum

November 21st 2013: The Gloucestershire Regiment in World

War 1 | Graham Gordon of the Soldiers of Gloucestershire



Graham Gordon from the Soldiers of Gloucestershire Museum gave FHS members an excellent, informative and entertaining talk on the Gloucestershire Regiment’s role in World War 1. The Gloucestershire Regiment is the only Regiment in the British Army to have a cap badge back and front – the ‘back badgers’.


He explained the wider picture of the situation in Europe that cause Britian’s inevitable declaration of war – the German invasion of Belgium -the resulting push to increase the size of the Armed Forces – Kitchener’s Army and the excitement of the enlistment of ordinary men who probably hadn’t travelled more than a few miles from their home town before, illustrated by the happy scenes of the call up in Gloucester.


He explained the campaigns of the war, illustrated by sometimes gruesome pictures of the details of the trenches, how people where killed, sometimes drowned in mud weighed down by their 80lb back packs, the dangers of the gas attacks, sniper fire and the shells. He showed pictures of the beautiful Ypres Cloth Hall before and after its destruction, the Menin Gate and Hell Fire Corner, Loos and Passchaendale. Fairford Men died at each of these places.


He interspersed the talk with personal details of individual soldiers, the Cheltenham footballer who lost his leg and Private Miles age 20 who won the VC for extreme bravery and another who wrote to his family that he was safe in hospital but by the time the letter reached home he had been recalled to the Front and was dead. The youngest man [boy] to have a War Grave was aged 14, the youngest to enlist was age 12.

He finished the talk by the moving call of the last post reminding us that we must never forget those who died in the service of our country.




October 17th 2013: Anglo Saxon Gloucestershire by Carolyn Heighway

Carolyn's book written in 1987
Carolyn’s book
written in 1987

At our October meeting Carolyn Heighway gave us a vivid and authoritative account of Gloucestershire from the end of Roman rule to the coming of the Normans. It is a long period, over 600 years, and only thinly documented through at least the first half of that time. We rely on Gildas as one of the few voices from what we used to call ‘the Dark Ages’ and Bede who was much later and also quite partisan.
She drew our attention to the high quality of artefacts, notably from the recently discovered Staffordshire hoard, that show a skill and sophistication that contrasts with our picture of Anglo-Saxons as being rather primitive. A local example would be the finds from the cemetery at Butler’s Field, Lechlade which are well displayed at the Corinium Museum.
She also looked at civil organisation using the system of ‘Hundreds’ and religious organisation through minsters. By the end of the Anglo-Saxon period the parish system had been generally established with each parish having its own church.
The talk illustrated well the importance of archaeology in filling out our knowledge of a period in which the written word only gradually came into prominence.

September 19th 2013: Fairford Park: a lost treasure / The Tames of Fairford


Our September lecture was a double header, both halves delivered by Chris Hobson. In the first part of the evening we looked at Fairford Park, the fine house built by Valentine Strong in the mid 17th century. We were given the context of who had been lords of the manor and how the office came into the hands of Andrew Barker. We also had the valuable context of other buildings by the same architect. Fairford Park evolved with time with notable changes made by Sir John Soane. The last part of the talk was the sorry tale of the demolition of the great house. Like other fine houses that disappeared in the 1950s a combination of war-time damage, economic change, the limits on National Trust funding all contributed to decisions owners had to make on the survival of their property. There were some vivid photographs of the dismantling and destruction of Fairford Park. But there were also illustration of the survival of some items from the estate such as the orangery now to be found in Yorkshire.


After a pause for coffee and chat we reassembled for a session on the Tame family. Chris has been working on a book about the Tames. In the course of his remarkably thorough researches he has uncovered many new facts. Most notably the phrase in Leland asserting the Tames came out of the house of Stowell was shown to be a confusion and that John Tame’s forbears had actually lived in Fairford. Most helpfully Chris had been able to frame a family tree of the Tames. We were given a portrait of an upwardly mobile family living against the background of Tudor England with all its glories and uncertainties. Clearly the Tames made themselves useful to the powerful men of the period, having enough money to lend to the mighty and reap the rewards. We intend to publish the results of Chris’s labours.