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.


July 2022: The Great Stink! Engineers, sewerage systems and the Victorian battle against dirt

On 11 July, in the welcome cool of the church, Tom Crook related how inadequate sewers in London led to the Great Stink of 1858.

In the 1800s, as the population grew, there were blockages in the sewers, intolerable pollution in the Thames, and outbreaks of typhoid, dysentery, and cholera.

An enlightened lawyer, Edwin Chadwick, led an Inquiry into the ‘Sanitary Condition of the Labouring Population of Great Britain’. Their report, published in 1842, recommended better water supplies and public sewers. Unfortunately, the first attempts, for example in Croydon, failed because the new sewers were narrow pipes, which blocked.

In the hot summer of 1858, the Great Stink in the Thames became unbearable in Westminster, and the Government empowered the Metropolitan Board of Works to put into effect a plan prepared by their chief engineer Joseph Bazalgette for a huge network of local and giant main sewers, pumping London’s sewage to outfalls at Beckton and Crossness. One sewer ran under the newly created Thames Embankment. Bazalgette’s scheme worked, and still works. With hindsight, it would have been better to separate foul and rain-water drainage – as London and many other places around the country are now finding out.

Note from The History of Radley: In Radley, mains water was brought to the village in the 1940s and mains sewerage in the 1950s. Before then villagers relied on wells and cess pits.

June 2022: Land of the White Eagle: the story of Poland

On 13 June 2022, Hubert Zawadzki spoke about The Land of the White Eagle: The Story Of Poland. The White Eagle is the symbol of Poland and Hubert recounted how its appearance on the Polish flag changed during the country’s history, reflecting its shifting boundaries and political vicissitudes.

Poland’s emergence dates from the 10th century, with the adoption of Christianity in 966. In 1385 it united with Lithuania and there followed 300 years during which their federal union thrived and religious tolerance was established. Yet it was also in this period that serfdom was consolidated, lasting until the 19th century.

In the final decades of the 18th century, Poland’s fortunes waned as its more powerful neighbours, Prussia, Russia and Austria, divided the country among themselves, with the Polish state disappearing in 1795. The 19th century was a period of failed insurrections and high emigration, especially to the USA, but also great artistic and scientific achievements (many by Poles living in exile).

Poland re-emerged after the first World War, only to be divided between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany in 1939 and occupied for most of World War Two by the latter, with devastating effects. From 1945 to 1989 Poland was a satellite of the Soviet Union.

Over the past 30 years, as an independent country, Poland has forged closer ties with the west, joining the EU in 2004 and enjoying rapid economic development. Hubert concluded that, despite these successes, recent history has left deep scars and a politically polarized society; there may be a bumpy road ahead.

May 2002: Members’ evening

The evening provided a chance for members to give a short talk about a person, place, item, event or topic they’d researched.

By careful examination of various sources including census returns, street directories, electoral registers and old maps, Joyce Huddleston has traced successive locations of the Radley (sub) Post Office. In the second half of the 19th century, it was in a now demolished cottage on the corner of White’s Lane and Church Road; a VR postbox survives, opposite the church. By 1901, the Post Office had moved to what is now Baker’s Close, Lower Radley, where there was a thriving bakery and shop. By 1921, Alice Machin was the sub-postmistress at Walnut Cottage, Lower Radley. The last location, from the early 1920s until its closure in 2013, was 23 Church Road (formerly 4 Council Houses). You can see the VR postbox on the Radley Heritage Walk.

Charlie Milward reported a tale of hope and tragedy. In the 1870s, agricultural workers in England suffered poverty and deprivation. Many emigrated, in the hope of a better life. In 1874, 17 members of the Hedges and Townsend families from Shipton-under-Wychwood embarked on the Cospatrick to sail to New Zealand. The ship caught fire 700 miles from the Cape of Good Hope and all the emigrants died. There is a memorial to them on Shipton village green.

By complete coincidence, Harriet Moggridge related a happier emigration story. Harriet’s mother Cass has published a book on the successful maiden voyage of the Charlotte Jane, 1848-1850, carrying emigrants and cargo to Australia, returning via China. Captain Alexander Lawrence (Harriet’s great-great-grandfather) was accompanied on the voyage by his young wife Miriam and their baby daughter. The book draws on a memoir written by Miriam and the ship’s logbook. It recounts losing and replacing a mast, storms, rows among the emigrants, and arriving in the ‘incomparably beautiful’ Sydney harbour.

Using material from the Club archives, Joyce Huddleston related how Radley celebrated the Coronation in 1953. There was a procession up to Radley College, a dinner for older residents, street parties and a quarter peal of bells.

Richard Dudding described the Club’s extensive archives, which include wills, photographs, maps, journals, sound recordings – and a cricket scorebook. You can find the archive catalogue, and details of how to contact the archivist, on the Club’s website.

To round off the evening, members toasted the 25th anniversary of the Club’s first meeting.

April 2022: The early Oxford-Cambridge Boat Races

On 11 April, Mark Davies related the early days of the Oxford and Cambridge (men’s) boat races. The idea came to two school friends, Charles Wordsworth (Christ Church, Oxford), and Charles Merivale (Cambridge). In March 1829 Cambridge University Boat Club issued a challenge to the University of Oxford ‘to row a match at or near London, each in an eight-oared boat, during the ensuing Easter vacation’.

Stephen Davies, boatbuilder at Oxford, was requested to post this challenge ‘in some conspicuous part of his barge’. Davies acted as coach to Oxford college crews, and became known as ‘Professor of Rowing’.

The first race took place at Henley, actually in June 1829; watched by large crowds. Oxford won. The rowers from Oxford wore dark blue, the Christ Church colours; the Cambridge crew was in pink or scarlet. In 1836, after protracted arguments about the course, Cambridge won the second race, from Westminster to Putney. This time the Cambridge boat was adorned with a light blue ribbon.

In 1843, again in Henley, Oxford won, though rowing with only 7 men. Their boat was displayed opposite Grandpont House, near Folly Bridge, where it became rotten and decayed. In 1867 Thomas Randall, a tailor who lived at Grandpont House, purchased it and had it incorporated into the President’s chair inside the university barge.

From 1845 the course was between Putney and Mortlake.

March 2022: Club news and Poor Law in crisis

At our meeting on 14 March, members recorded their thanks to Charlie Milward for his stalwart service as Treasurer since 2015, and to Colin Orr Burns for agreeing to take over the task.

Colin reminded members of the importance of oral history. Collecting it requires care and skill: from personal experience of mis-remembering when he had heard a particular song, Colin could attest that memories can be unreliable. The Club’s Oral History Group’s current interviews are focusing on Radley residents’ memories of life during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Deborah Hayter then spoke about Poor Law in the 18th century. Poor Law had been codified by the Act for the Relief of the Poor, 1601. This empowered voluntary church officials in each parish to collect rates for the relief of the parish’s sick, elderly, orphaned, ‘unable’, or ‘impotent’ poor. A few parishes set up workhouses, providing ‘indoor relief’. More commonly, the poor received ‘outdoor relief’ of food and clothing. The officials ‘moved on’ vagabonds.

In the 18th century the cost of poor relief hugely increased, in some places beyond ratepayers’ ability to pay. There was growing disquiet about the ‘undeserving’ poor. In 1771 Arthur Young, agricultural reformer, wrote that ‘Everyone but an idiot knows that the lower classes must be kept poor or they will never be industrious.’

In 1795 the magistrates in Speenhamland (near Newbury) devised a scale for linking benefits to the price of bread. This was widely copied, but growing disquiet about its cost led to the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834, which instituted nationwide, and deliberately prison-like, workhouses.

February 2022: Oxfordshire Preservation Trust

On 14 February, Stephen Dawson, Assistant Operations Director of the Trust, described its history, sites and activities. The Trust began in 1927. It aims to enhance Oxford’s buildings and its green setting, conserving the best of the old and encouraging the best of the new.

The Trust’s first purchase was the Old Berkeley Golf Course on Boars Hill, then threatened with development. Now you can relish the justly famous view of Oxford’s ‘dreaming spires’. In Marston, the Trust is working to improve the meadows beside the Cherwell. It owns the Victoria Arms pub, leased to a brewery, and hopes to restore the historic ferry.

In Kennington, the Trust owns meadows by the river, and the Memorial Field, notable for its huge ant hills (and reachable from Radley via Radley Large Wood). You can book a visit to the Trust’s mediaeval Merchant’s House in East St Helen Street, Abingdon, remarkable for its beautifully restored gallery window.

The Trust was bequeathed the delectable Wolvercote Lakes and owns Wolvercote Community Orchard, for which it charges an annual rent of a basket of apples.

The Trust was a key player in the regeneration of the Oxford Castle Quarter, now a rich resource for education, theatre, and, recently, spectacular son et lumière. (Search on YouTube for: Oxford Castle 950 years.) It has restored a former butcher’s shop in the Oxford Covered Market and looks after the famous painted room at 3 Cornmarket. It is currently restoring the railway swing bridge which led to the former LMS station in Oxford.

The Trust comments on all significant planning applications and is currently urging planning authorities to adopt strategies for the sensitive siting of solar energy plants. It makes annual awards to recognize outstanding new buildings, conservation, and sustainability. It has published a series of guides to Heritage Walks around central Oxford, with text by local historian Malcolm Graham and illustrations by Edith Gollnast, former conservation officer at Oxford City Council.

Every year the Trust organizes Open Doors, letting local visitors see inside properties that are normally closed: book 10 and 11 September 2022 in your diary.

Answering questions after his talk, Stephen Dawson noted that the Trust hopes to engage with the purchaser of Radley Large Wood.

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