October 2020: Artists in Wonderland – Mark Davies

On 12 October, via Zoom, Mark Davies (local historian and author of Alice in Waterland) described and illustrated the adventures in Oxford of some of the Pre-Raphaelite artists, and their encounters with Thomas Combe, Printer to the University, philanthropist, and art collector; and Charles Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll, author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

In 1850 John Millais and Charles Collins were experiencing what Millais described as ‘Bottleyonian privations’, receiving poor fare at a boarding house near Wytham Woods. Through James Wyatt, an Oxford art dealer and picture framer, they met Thomas and Martha Combe. Martha supplied them with a meat pie; and Thomas assisted Millais in locating the shoes of the child model for The Woodman’s Daughter, so that Millais could paint them accurately. Collins later painted the flowers for Convent Thoughts in the garden of the University Press in Jericho, where the Combes lived.

The Pre-Raphaelite ‘Brotherhood’ in Oxford expanded to include Holman Hunt, Rossetti, Morris, and Burne-Jones. They attempted, without proper preparation, to paint murals of Arthurian legends in the Union Society’s  library. The daughters of Mrs Lipscombe, landlady of the Trout Inn, Godstow, were noted ‘stunners’. Rossetti persuaded Morris to journey to Godstow to ask one to model for Isoude. He met with a heated refusal, and returned crestfallen to Oxford.

Charles Dodgson was also in the Combes’ circle. His photographs are particularly valuable because he carefully identified and dated them: for example Holman Hunt and Thomas Combe in 1860, Millais in 1865, and Rossetti in 1863.

St Frideswide’s well at Binsey, which would probably have been known to the Pre-Raphaelites from sketching and walking over Port Meadow, was the inspiration for the treacle well in Alice. And the ‘Drawling-master’ is said to be based on John Ruskin. He and others, especially the Pre-Raphaelite sculptor Thomas Woolner, advised Dodgson not to use his own drawings, which led to him engaging Tenniel as his illustrator.

Martha Combe inherited Thomas’s collection, and bequeathed much important Pre-Raphaelite art to the Ashmolean Museum. Search for ashmolean.org to look at it online, and check about visiting.

Reports of earlier meetings

September 2020: The Wilts & Berks Canal: Past, Present, and Future – Martin Buckland

On 21 September, appearing via Zoom and resplendent in a luxuriant pandemic beard, Club member Martin Buckland related the history, and hoped-for future, of the Wilts & Berks Canal.

That, including the ampersand, was always its official name, starting with its enabling Act of Parliament of 1795. Canals were then prospering, because for bulky or fragile cargoes they were better than the rough – and often impassibly muddy – roads. The Wilts & Berks opened in 1810, offering a new 52-mile route from Semington (on the existing Kennet and Avon Canal) to Abingdon. This route was (and one day could again be) much shorter than via Newbury, Reading, and the Thames. The Wilts & Berks had branches to Chippenham, Calne, and Wantage; and later a link to the upper Thames at Cricklade.

The Oxford Canal had brought the price of coal (from Coventry) in Oxford down to £1.60 a ton, undercutting sea coal from Newcastle at £2.60 a ton, brought via London and the Thames. The Wilts & Berks hoped for lucrative traffic from the Somerset coal fields. It also carried grain for the Abingdon breweries. But there was little return traffic from Abingdon to the west.

The route passed through what were, in 1810, fields near the small market town of Swindon. From 1840, the canal briefly prospered, carrying materials for the building of Brunel’s Great Western Railway and the new Swindon railway works and town. But the canal thus brought on its own decline, because the railway captured much of its traffic. The canal bore increasingly unsustainable losses. Traffic had largely ceased by 1901, and the canal was formally abandoned by Act of Parliament in 1914. Its land was transferred to the adjacent landowners, although the local authorities retained responsibility for the bridges. Many stretches were built on or filled with rubbish, and some lock structures were used for demolition practice by the army.

In 1971 Jack Dalby’s pioneering book ‘The Wilts and [sic] Berks Canal’ was published, and awakened enthusiasts’ interest in restoring the canal to navigation. This is now being energetically taken forward by the Wilts & Berks Canal Trust, in cooperation with the local authorities and the national Canal & River Trust. Several short stretches are open to navigation, and there are credible plans for new routes past Swindon and through Melksham.

2006 saw the triumphant opening of the first stretch of a completely new section of canal leaving the Thames nearly opposite the Culham Cut, and planned to replace the original route from Abingdon through Caldecott. That is now irretrievably built over: only a pretty bridge at the mouth of the Ock remains as a memento of the Canal’s wharf there. A free downloadable leaflet is available to guide you on a fascinating walk around the old and new routes from Abingdon.

Reports of earlier meetings

More WW2 memories published

More accounts were added to the list in July and August.

July’s set featured three couples from Radley. Eric and Joy Riley both spent their childhood living in north London. Brian and Valerie Mott both came from the London area, though Valerie spent the war with family in south Wales. The final couple, Denis and Jenny Standen, were both children in Oxford.

For August, in recognition of the 75th anniversary of VJ Day, five short articles of people’s memories of World War Two taken from the Souvenir Programme for Radley’s celebrations in May 1995 marking the 50th Anniversary of VE Day were published. Read more

Below is a photograph from the Club’s archives of a children’s fancy dress party held to commemorate VJ Day. It’s likely the party was held in a field on the other side of the Lower Radley mobile home park (where 3 Lower Radley now is) which was opposite the old village hall. The photo is labelled ‘V.J. Party 1946’, which is a bit of a mystery. However, it’s possible that the party was one of a series held after 1945 until well into the 1950s to celebrate VE Day and similar events, and so the date of 1946 may in fact be correct.

Photo of children's fancy dress party held to commemorate VJ Day in August 1946 [sic]

Details of 2020-2021 programme announced

Note: Some of the details are provisional owing to COVID-19 restrictions.
The format/venue for each meeting will be added to the list once confirmed. Meetings will be by Zoom until a suitable venue is available that allows all members to meet safely. Talks possible via Zoom are marked below with an asterisk. Alternatives will be found, if necessary, for those talks not possible by Zoom.

2020

*21 September: Martin Buckland The Wilts and Berks Canal, Past, Present and Future. This historic canal linked the Kennet and Avon Canal near Trowbridge in Wiltshire with the River Thames near Abingdon. Martin’s talk tells us something of its history, its current status and the continued work of the Wilts & Berks Canal Trust to return the waterway to a ‘navigable state’.
ZOOM meeting (members will receive an email with details of how to join the meeting)

*12 October: Mark Davies The Pre-Raphaelites in Oxfordshire – Artists in Wonderland
Mark’s talk on the links of members of the Pre-Raphaelite group of Victorian artists with Oxford is illustrated with examples of their work. Mark has spoken to us before and is an Oxford local historian, author, and guide specialising in the history of non-University Oxford, with a particular focus on the city’s waterways.
ZOOM meeting (members will receive an email with details of how to join the meeting)

*9 November: Stephen Barker Oxfordshire in the Second World War
Stephen looks at the ‘home front’ in the county and significant events in which its people were involved overseas. Stephen is a historian and heritage adviser, and another return speaker. His talk was first written to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry attack on Pegasus Bridge during D-Day in 1944.
ZOOM meeting (members will receive an email with details of how to join the meeting)

*14 December: Victoria Bentata Einstein and the refugee scholars of Oxford
Victoria tells us about Albert Einstein and other academics who sought refuge in Oxford from Nazi tyranny. Victoria is an Oxford Green Badge Tour guide and member of the Oxford Guild of Tour Guides. She last spoke to us on Oxford and Medicine.
ZOOM meeting (members will receive an email with details of how to join the meeting)

2021

*11 January: Dick Richards “Unknown and yet well known”: the final journey of the Unknown Warrior
The 11th of November 2020 saw the first centenary of the burial of The Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey and the unveiling of the permanent Cenotaph in Whitehall. This talk tells the story of the Unknown Warrior from the conception of the idea; the selection; the journey to Westminster Abbey and the burial. In addition, we will learn something about the national remembrance monument that is the Cenotaph. Dick returns to the Club a year after talking to us about the history and legacy of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission for whom is a ‘Champion’ and Volunteer.

*8 February: Liz Woolley Kingerlee: the family and the building firm
Liz describes the history of this fifth generation Oxfordshire family business which celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2018. Liz is a local historian specialising in aspects of the history of Oxford and Oxfordshire with a particular interest in the city’s ‘town’ as opposed to ‘gown’. She is a regular visitor to the Club, having given us a talk each year for the past 11 years.

*8 March: Simon Wenham Living the Lexicon: James Murray and the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary
Simon describes the trials and tribulations behind the creation of this influential book by its editor, James Murray. Simon is a member of the part-time tutor panel of Oxford University’s Continuing Education Department, where he teaches courses on the Victorian period.

12 April: Tim Healey Pagans and Puritans: the story of May morning in Oxford
The talk discusses the history of the Oxford tradition of gathering at 6.00 am to celebrate May 1st. Tim is a broadcaster, musician and writer.

*10 May: Alastair Lack The Oxford of Inspector Morse
The Inspector Morse novels, by Colin Dexter and the popular television series based on them are set in Oxford. Alastair read history at University College Oxford.  He then had a career at the BBC, mainly working for the World Service. He is a Green Badge Guide and member of the Oxford Guild of Tour Guides.

*14 June: Nic Vanderpeet Spitfires over Oxfordshire
The Spitfire, the famous British fighter aircraft of the Battle of Britain, later played an important role in the invasion of Normandy in June 1944. Nic is a learning and outreach officer for the Soldiers of Oxfordshire Museum in Woodstock.

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

*13 September: AGM followed by Radley Remembered – a presentation of memories of Radley taken from the Club’s extensive oral history archive.