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July 2021 meeting cancelled

We had hoped to make our meeting on 12 July the first one face-to-face in Radley Church since March 2020. Unfortunately, this is now not possible as the Prime Minister announced yesterday that the remaining coronavirus restrictions will remain until 19 July and the speaker is unable to give his talk virtually by Zoom.

We very much hope to be able to resume our programme of speaker meetings in September.
See the Events Calendar for details

Club visit to Botley War Graves Cemetery

On a warm and sunny July day, two groups of Club members enjoyed tours of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission site at Botley in west Oxford. The tours were led by CWGC volunteer, Dick Richards, who had previously given talks to the Club on the Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey and the work of the CWGC.

Group of Radley History Club members at the Botley War Graves Cemetery in Oxford
Grop of Radley History Club members with tour guide Dick Richards

Dick started the tour with a brief history of the cemetery and its key features – the Stone of Remembrance, the Cross of Sacrifice, and a domed shelter containing a cabinet with a register of the burials and a copy of the cemetery plan. The tour group then moved around the cemetery, with Dick talking about a selection of the burials he’d researched and pointing out interesting graves such as those of the only two military women buried there (a nurse from the First World War and a WAAF from the Second World War) and those of the oldest and youngest men buried there.

CWGC' cemetery at Botley in Oxford
Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s cemetery at Botley in west Oxford

The Botley War Graves Cemetery is the largest CWGC site in Oxfordshire with some 740 graves. It contains 156 Commonwealth burials from the First World War, during which the 3rd Southern General Hospital was housed in the Examination Schools and a number of other buildings in Oxford. In the Second World War, the cemetery was designated a Royal Air Force regional cemetery and was used by RAF stations in Berkshire and neighbouring counties. There are 516 Commonwealth burials (one of them unidentified) from this conflict. In addition to the Commonwealth war graves, there are some 70 graves of other nationalities (German, Italian, Belgian, Czech, Dutch, Polish), including that of the only Greek soldier buried in the UK. The cemetery became a CWGC cemetery in 1951; the yew hedge around the site dates from this time. The CWGC sits within the municipal cemetery, one of the four in the city of Oxford.

Information on the CWGC website including the Cemetery Plan

More information about the Oxford (Botley) CWGC Cemetery

Programme for 2021-2022 announced

All meetings are held at Radley Parish Church, Church Road, Abingdon OX14 2JN starting at 7.30 pm. Non-members are welcome – a donation of £2.50 is suggested.

Monday 13th September 2021 at 7.30 pm
Annual General Meeting followed by Radley in the 1930s and 40s – impressions from oral history
A presentation from the Club’s Oral History Group drawing on information from the ‘Radley Remembered’ series of interviews in the Club’s oral history recordings

Monday 11th October 2021 at 7.30 pm
The Land of the White Eagle: The Story of Poland

Speaker: Hubert Zawadzki
The talk describes the turbulent and complex history of Poland from its medieval origins to the present day. Dr Zawadzki, a former history teacher at Abingdon School and a member of Wolfson College Oxford, is the joint author of A Concise History of Poland and has appeared on BBC programmes involving Poland.

Monday 8th November 2021 at 7.30 pm
The Harcourt Arboretum: one of Oxfordshire’s brightest botanical jewels
Speaker: Timothy Walker
The Harcourt Arboretum at Nuneham Courtenay was founded in 1835 by the Harcourt family and annexed to the University of Oxford Botanic Garden in 1963. The talk looks at the 180-year history of the site and some of the highlights of the 130-acre Arboretum. Timothy is a former director of the Oxford Botanic Garden & Harcourt Arboretum.

Monday 10th January 2022 at 7.30 pm
Romans of Oxfordshire: Roman settlement and impact in the local area
Speaker: Marie-Louise Kerr
The talk covers the Roman invasion of Britain, life before and after the Romans arrived, and examples of Roman remains, archaeological finds, and sites of Roman occupation in Oxfordshire. Marie-Louise is an experienced museum curator caring for a wide variety of collections, and describes herself as ‘a curator without a museum’.

Monday 14th February 2022 at 7.30 pm
Oxford Preservation Trust – opening doors all year round
Speaker: Stephen Dawson
Stephen is the Operations and Development Manager of the Oxford Preservation Trust. In addition to organising the annual Oxford Open Doors weekend, the Trust is responsible for the management of various heritage sites and the protection of buildings and items of architectural significance in and around Oxford – work that never stops.

Monday 14th March 2022 at 7.30 pm
Poor Law in the 18th Century: the crisis in the parishes
Speaker: Deborah Hayter
The talk discusses the reasons for the increasing struggle by many parishes during the 18th century to pay the poor rate to growing numbers of poor people, and the variety of schemes they adopted to try to ‘balance the books’. Deborah is a tutor at Oxford University’s Department for Continuing Education, specialising in rural and landscape history.

Monday 11th April 2022 at 7.30 pm
Professors of Rowing’: The Early Oxford-Cambridge Boat Races
Speaker: Mark Davies
The talk details the early history of this famous and competitive event, highlighting the unusual alliance of Town & Gown in the crucial role played by the Thames’ watermen and boatbuilders in equipping and training the early Oxford crews. Mark is a local author and guide specialising in the history of non-university Oxford, with a particular focus on the city’s waterways.

Monday 9th May 2022 at 7.30 pm
Members’ interests
A chance for members to tell us about a person, place, event or object of interest to them which they’ve researched and wish to share their findings with us.

Monday 13th June 2022 at 7.30 pm
From Axtell to Zacharias: the men who built Oxford
Speaker: Liz Woolley
The talk examines some of the characters involved in the city’s enormous expansion during the Victorian period including builders, architects, property developers and landlords. Fortunes were made, reputations were lost, regulations were ignored, and political careers were boosted. Liz is a local historian specialising in aspects of Oxford and Oxfordshire, with a particular interest in the city’s ‘town’ as opposed to ‘gown’.

Monday 11th July 2022 at 7.30 pm
The Great Stink! Engineers, sewerage systems and the Victorian battle against dirt
Speaker: Tom Crook
The talk discusses the notorious ‘Great Stink’ of summer 1858 in London, its causes and the approach adopted to combat the problem. Tom is a Senior Lecturer in Modern British History at Oxford Brookes University.

August: No meeting

Monday 12th September 2022 at 7.30 pm
Annual General Meeting followed by:

Apples! The myth and mystery of England’s favourite fruit
Speaker: Tim Healey
Many fascinating facts are presented in this talk which has five themes: myths, the history of apples, apple rituals, working with apples, and local varieties. Tim is an Oxford-based writer, broadcaster and musician, making his third visit to the Club

June 2021 meeting: Spitfires over Oxfordshire

On 14 June Nic Vanderpeet, learning and outreach officer at the Soldiers of Oxfordshire Museum, Woodstock, described the wartime reconnaissance missions of the Spitfires based in Oxfordshire.

Reginald Mitchell (1895 – 1937) of Supermarine Aviation, Southampton, designed the Spitfire as an evolution from the firm’s successful seaplanes. After the flight of the prototype in March 1936, the test pilot commented ‘Don’t change a thing.’

The Spitfires in Oxfordshire were deployed in training and reconnaissance roles, based at RAF Benson, RAF & USAAF Mount Farm (around what is now Berinsfield), and RAF Bicester. The planes were equipped with stereoscopic cameras. Teams including many women, notably the famous Constance Babington Smith, identified features on the photographs in interpretation centres at Nuneham House and Medmenham (nearby in Buckinghamshire).

Key intelligence included sightings of the German battleship Bismarck in 1941, the construction of the ‘Atlantic Wall’, confirmation of the damage done by Allied bombing raids, and reconnaissance of the territory inland from the D-day beaches.

John Hugh Saffery, based at RAF Benson, recorded the hazards of flying at high altitude, including extreme cold and lack of oxygen. On YouTube, you can find a short film Spitfire 944 in which US pilot John Blyth describes his experiences at Mount Farm, including a crash landing. At ncap.org.uk the National Collection of Aerial Photography is available online.

Reports of earlier meetings

May 2021 meeting: The Oxford of Inspector Morse

On 10 May Alastair Lack explored the characters of Inspector Morse and his colleague Sergeant Lewis, as depicted in Colin Dexter’s books and three television series.

On holiday in Wales in the early 1970s, reading a poor detective novel, Colin Dexter exclaimed that he could do better. ‘Why don’t you?’ his wife replied. The result was Last Bus to Woodstock, published in 1975 to immediate success, and followed by 12 further Morse novels.

Colin Dexter’s favourite poet was A E Housman. Morse’s early life recalls Housman’s: unhappy in love at Oxford, dropping out without a degree, and initially taking an unsuitable job. Morse becomes a brilliant but wayward detective, still unhappy in love, devoted to opera and real ale. Lewis is the perfect foil: stolid, happily married, and almost always paying for the ale.

The novels make the most of their settings in and near Oxford, for example including Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor’s appearance in Dr Faustus at the Playhouse in 1966, as well as pubs in and around Oxford.

From 1987 to 2000 Morse and Lewis appeared in the famous and popular television series based on the novels, and then in further episodes written by gifted scriptwriters. Colin Dexter wanted to cast John Thaw as Morse – an inspired choice – and Kevin Whately was perfectly cast as Lewis. The scripts used Morse and Lewis’s sessions in famous Oxford pubs to recapitulate – for viewers’ benefit – the complex story so far, and to explain their next steps.

After a long day of arduous filming, Thaw in particular disliked being recognized in Oxford pubs, and preferred the relative seclusion of the Randolph Hotel, in what was later named the Morse Bar.

It is estimated that almost 19 million people watched the episode Twilight of the Gods in 1993. The cast included John Gielgud, as Chancellor of the University.

In 1999 Colin Dexter published what he firmly declared to be the last Morse novel, The Remorseful Day, in which Morse dies of a heart attack. This was televised in 2000, and was the 33rd episode. Thaw himself died in 2002. Whately went on to star in a new series, Lewis (without Morse) which also ran for 33 episodes. From 2012 a young Morse has appeared in a third series, Endeavour.

Answering the many questions after his talk, Alastair Lack confirmed that Colin Dexter had often appeared in Morse in cameo roles, including, most unusually, a speaking part as the Bishop of Oxford; and that Morse was often seen parking his famous Jaguar car outside Brasenose College but then, in the next shot, appearing in a different college.

Reports of earlier meetings