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.


In this talk, local historian Emily Grieg walked us through the efforts of a Victorian mission to improve the lives of people living in East Oxford. The talk started by explaining the changing national religious landscape and then went deeper to describe how the local religious movements in Oxford attempted to deal with the local population’s living conditions worsening with urban poverty on the rise and housing and sanitation systems not keeping pace with population growth.

East Oxford, the area on which the talk was focused, was also during this time undergoing significant changes and challenges of urbanisation during this period. East Oxford went from fields and farming with small numbers of cottages to significant housing development.

Emily explained how the well-connected Father Richard Meux Benson took over as the parish vicar of Cowley and later formed the Society of St. John the Evangelist known locally as the Cowley Fathers. The Cowley Fathers left a visible legacy on East Oxford in part due to their wealthy benefactors with numerous buildings, including the St John’s Home, SS Mary and John Church as well as several schools in the area.

Conversely, the nonconformist Oxford City Mission (OCM) was very much funded by local people for the people, with donations coming in from ordinary people. The annual reports of the group showed that OCM’s aim was to encourage personal conversion and to tackle the consequences of poverty such as alcohol abuse, which was a common daily struggle for some families faced in East Oxford. Their legacy was less visible than perhaps the Cowley Fathers, but their work was no less important at a difficult time for many.

October 2023: Apples! The myth and mystery of England’s favourite fruit

On 9 October 2023, Tim Healey spoke about Apples! The Myth and Mystery of England’s Favourite Fruit.

Tim Healey is a freelance writer, broadcaster and musician and previously entertained the group with a fascinating talk ‘Pagans and Puritans – the story of May morning in Oxford’ back in April 2021. Tim’s talk this time weaved its way through the many fascinating myths and mysteries surrounding apples.

Through our culture the apple has had a fairly regular presence, how we often associate the apple with Adam and Eve but also how the apple is linked to the place ‘Avalon’ (Island of Apples) featured in Arthurian legend. Apples have often been associated with birth and fertility, and are often considered a lustrous fruit. If you cut an apple in half laterally a five-pointed star will be observed in the centre. Apples have featured in paintings by notable artists such as Raphael and John Everett Millais of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood to Rene Magritte and the widely recognised ‘Son of Man’ painting. More recently apples have appeared in A Dish of Apples, a collection of poems by Eden Phillpotts (1921), in the book Cider with Rosie (1959) by Laurie Lee, and in several best-selling songs by the Andrew Sisters.

From a historical perspective, the apple most likely originated from Kazakhstan c. 8000 BC as a wild apple (Malus pumila) and was spread by people travelling via horse as the apple could be consumed by both rider and horse on their journey. In Roman times Cicero urged his fellow Romans to save apple seeds in order to develop new cultivars and, in Roman religion and myth, the goddess Pomona was associated with fruitful abundance and plenty. In 1204 the Pearmain variety of apple was recorded in England as being associated with cider making and some rents were payable in apples and cider to the Church under the Tithe Tax. In 1390 the first apple pie recipe was recorded and later Henry VIII took an interest in developing new cultivars of apples. After an apple fell from a tree in front of Isaac Newton, he developed the theory of gravity and so physics has much to thank apples for! In the early days of settling North America, apples were spread across what would become the United States of America by Johnny Appleseed.

In the modern day, approximately two-thirds of the apples purchased in the UK are grown and imported from outside the UK and apples undergo a number of preservation treatments before being presented to the consumer. The annual tradition of Wassailing, which involves blessing the apple trees in the hope of a good harvest, continues still to this day and those curious to experience this apple rite are highly recommended to check out the annual event in Brightwell-cum-Sotwell. The talk concluded with the notable history of apples in Oxfordshire and the varieties developed in the area such as the Hanwell Souring, the Bampton Fairing and the Blenheim Orange. Tim also highlighted that, if you are interested in owning a rare or Oxford breed of tree, then you can visit Bernwode Fruit Trees at Ludgershall (between Bicester and Aylesbury). Or if you want to view the largest collection of fruit trees in England, then the National Fruit Collection at Brogdale Farm in Faversham, Kent is also well worth a visit.

September 2023: Cemeteries of Oxford: More than a Century of History

On 11th September 2023, Trevor Jackson spoke about the Cemeteries of Oxford: more than a century of history.

Between 2005 and 2017 Trevor was the Registrar and Manager of Oxford City’s cemeteries at Wolvercote, Botley, Rose Hill and Headington.  He and his team were also responsible for maintaining the grounds of 11 closed Anglican churches in the city. 

In the first half of the 19th century, Oxford’s churchyards were filling up, partly as a result of high mortality from repeated cholera outbreaks, and in 1855 all of them were closed to further burials.  In 1848 the Diocese of Oxford opened two new cemeteries, at Osney and in Jericho (St Sepulchre’s), but further outbreaks of cholera in 1849 and 1854 ensured that they also filled rapidly.  In 1889 and 1890, Oxford Corporation, as it was then known, purchased land for three municipal cemeteries and in 1894, Wolvercote, Rose Hill and Botley cemeteries opened.  Oxford’s fourth cemetery was established after Headington parish was subsumed into Oxford in 1928; an existing burial ground there was extended to make Headington cemetery.   All the cemeteries have chapels, with those at Wolvercote, Rose Hill and Botley being of similar design; these three cemeteries also have gate lodges, though these are now private homes.  Interments in the four cemeteries since the 1890s total about 58,000, and both Rose Hill and Headington are now closed to new burials.

Oxford’s cemeteries contain many famous people; they are also popular as filming locations. Botley Cemetery is nowadays notable for its large Commonwealth Graves section.  Trevor’s talk included numerous stories from his time as cemeteries manager, some sombre, others, perhaps surprisingly, very humorous.

Reports from 2022-2023