Meeting reports

After each speaker meeting, a short report is produced (with the speaker’s permission) for publication on the Club website and in the local parish magazine, Radley News.


January 2022: Romans in Oxfordshire

On 10 January, encouraging numbers of members and guests braved a dreich evening to hear Marie-Louise Kerr describe traces of the Romans in Oxfordshire.

Soon after their invasion in AD 43, the Romans established a fort at Alchester (near Bicester). Two wooden gateposts survived, which, from the pattern of the tree rings in their wood, could be dated to AD 44 or 45.

Photograph of tombstone of Roman legionary Lucius Valerius Geminus

At the Museum of Oxfordshire in Woodstock you can see this tombstone of a legionary who died around AD50. ‘Lucius Valerius Geminus … of the Pollia voting tribe, from Forum Germanorum, veteran of the Second Augustan Legion, aged 50(?), lies here. His heir(s?) had this set up in accordance with his will.’

The most striking Roman site in Oxfordshire is the villa at North Leigh, probably started around AD100, and later hugely extended. You can see remains of hypocausts, and some beautiful mosaic flooring.

Other important Roman, or Romano-British, sites include Cholsey, Goring (where there was a villa with a cold plunge pool), Long Wittenham, and near Broughton Castle.

In answer to a question after her talk, Marie-Louise confirmed that Dorchester had been an important Roman settlement, but suggested that few traces of it have survived.

November 2021: The Harcourt Arboretum one of Oxford’s brightest botanical jewels

On 8 November Timothy Walker described the Arboretum’s history from (about) 1712 until 2014, the end of his stint as Director of the Oxford Botanic Garden and Harcourt Arboretum.

In 1710 Sir Simon Harcourt had acquired the Nuneham estate, probably as an investment. His grandson Simon, the first Earl Harcourt, decided to live there, and organized the removal of the then village to its present site along the main road. In 1777 he drowned while rescuing his favourite dog from a well. George, the second Earl, enthusiastically continued laying out the gardens near Nuneham House, with notable herbaceous borders and a new ornamental church (whose dome is prominently visible from several places in Radley).

The earldom died out, and the estate passed to Edward Vernon-Harcourt, Archbishop of York, and, in 1861, to one of his sons, William Vernon Harcourt, a clergyman with a keen interest in chemistry. William, working with Charles Daubeny, Professor of Botany at Oxford (and saviour of the Botanic Garden), began laying out the Arboretum, planting many oaks and limes, expensively imported redwoods, and rhododendrons along a serpentine path.

In 1904 the estate briefly passed to Sir William Harcourt, who as Liberal Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1894 had reformed and increased estate duties. They may have been a factor in his grandson Viscount Harcourt’s decision in 1948 to sell the estate to the University of Oxford.

Initially the University saw the land as a source of income from forestry. In the 1960s the University proposed to sell it. Cyril Darlington, Professor of Botany, had to campaign for the Arboretum to become an adjunct to the Botanic Garden. From then on the Arboretum has been continually improved and enriched, and now includes two colourful wildflower meadows and a richly stocked pond.

Timothy Walker illustrated his talk with pictures of favourite trees, and revealed some of his pet hates, including the resident feral peafowl, squirrels, and people who trample the bluebells in order to pick the white ones. He described a trip to Heathrow to collect some palm trees from David Mulholland.

In an answer to questions after his talk, Timothy Walker confirmed that the effects of climate heating are visible at the Arboretum in earlier springs and later autumns, and more frequent extreme events such as the great gale of January 1990.

October 2021: meeting cancelled

September 2021: Radley in the 1930s and 40s – impressions from oral history
The good old days: village bakery and tea shop, wild swimming, few cars, no overflowing sewer …

On 13 September Radley History Club members were delighted to resume live meetings in the church. After a swift AGM, Scilla Dudding introduced, and David Findlay presented, highlights from one of the Club’s treasures: 28 interviews, conducted mainly by Tony Rogerson, in which Radley residents relate their memories, particularly of the 1930s and 1940s.

Thanks to much work by the Club’s oral history group, these recordings are now accessible in our Archive. Crucially, the group has prepared a catalogue indicating the main topics covered in each interview. This makes it possible to research a particular topic, and the recurring themes.

Several interviewees describe life before the arrival of mains services: well-water including frog-spawn; cesspits; and being told, when mains water did arrive, not to drink another drop from the well that had supplied the family for years. The first telephone was in the then Post Office (now 25 Lower Radley). Alternatively, you could go to the station and ask the signalman to phone an urgent message.

Many residents recalled swimming in the Thames. A ‘great big punt’ had provided a ferry service to Nuneham. Jean Deller’s uncle swam across, somehow keeping dry the uniform he would then use to wait at dinner in Nuneham House.

The house now known as Baker’s Close was the centre of the village, as a shop selling provisions and providing teas. There was also a bakery in Thrupp Lane. There were regular deliveries of coal, paraffin, milk and bread.

Until the mid-1930s, the only buildings near the station were the Bowyer Arms, the station master’s house, and the pair of large villas in what was later renamed Foxborough Road, and then lined with bungalows. One of these, opposite the Bowyer Arms, included a grocery and provisions shop.

As children, residents recalled playing in the quiet streets, almost free of cars, and lined with elms; having relatives living nearby; 3 classes in 2 rooms at the village school; its crude toilets; the punishment of walking round the school playing field in bare feet; and cycling to secondary school in Abingdon.

Many interviewees describe the station in its heyday, with trains to Abingdon. One heard Italian prisoners of war singing while working in the hut in the goods yard. The buses also took parcels, and would hoot to tell you they were waiting for you at your stop.

David Findlay illustrated his talk with fascinating photographs from the Club’s archive, and old large-scale maps (which are available online from the National Library of Scotland). 1930s Radley had been a happy place to live in, where you could leave your doors and windows open, and there were beautiful meadows down by the river.

Meeting reports for 2020-2021

Meeting reports for 2019-2020