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Radley Heritage Walk launched

Radley History Club’s new leaflet describes a walk around the village that combines glimpses of everyday life in days gone by in Radley with an introduction to its historic buildings.

Discover the history of Radley by comparing old photos with what you see now. Pick up a free Heritage Walk leaflet from various sites around the village, including the Bowyer Arms, where the walk starts. The leaflet features 24 points of interest and includes a map.

The walk is in two halves, both starting at the pub. One half includes St James the Great church and the ancient ‘Radley Oak’ in the grounds of Radley College. The other explores some of the old farmhouses and cottages of Lower Radley, and the River Thames.

Find out more and download a copy of the leaflet

Front cover of Radley Heritage Walk leaflet

November 2023 meeting: Glimpses of the other Oxford through the eyes of a Victorian mission – a 19th century battle for hearts and souls

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.

The Men commemorated on Radley’s War Memorials

Ahead of the commemorations on the 11th and 12th November to remember the dead of the two World Wars, details of the men behind the names on Radley’s War Memorials have been made available on the website. Click here to view

The village’s World War memorial is on the wall in Radley Church where there is also a board listing the names of ‘Those from Radley who served in the Great War 1914-1918’. The presence of the latter did not go down well with the Diocese of Oxford, whose Chancellor refused to ‘grant a citation for the memorials because the inscription includes a memorial to living persons, which is not permissible in my opinion inside a church’. A number of other churches around the country, however, have similar lists of the men from their communities who served as well as those who died.

After the Second World War, the memorial plaque in the Church was extended to add the names of a further six men from Radley who died serving in that conflict.

Memorial to the men of Radley who died in the two World Wars
War Memorial on the wall of Radley Church

Radley College staff are commemorated on separate tablets on either side of the central pillar of the Memorial Arch. On one side is a tablet listing the College servants who died during the First World War and, on the other, the masters who died during the Second World War. The two much larger boards commemorating former pupils who died in the two World Wars are on the inner walls of the Arch.

Memorial Arch at Radley College, November 2006
Memorial Arch at Radley College

October 2023 meeting: 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 meeting: Cemeteries of Oxford

On 11th September 2023, Trevor Jackson spoke about 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.

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

Radley’s World War graves spruced up

Most of the men commemorated on the village War Memorial in Radley Church died overseas. Just three of those named on the memorial are buried in Radley. To mark the War Graves Week (20-28 May 2023) organised by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (GWGC), Village Lengthsman Chris Lee took the time to clean the headstones and tidy the area around their graves, including planting low-level flowering perennials in front of the two white CWGC headstones in the Lower Cemetery.

Private Harold Edward Betteridge, died 27 September 1918, aged 18

When Harold’s mother Edith died soon after he was born on 5 September 1900, his father Edward and Harold moved from West Bridgeford in Nottinghamshire to live with the family of his uncle, Francis Betterridge, at Minchin’s Farm in what is now Lower Radley. Harold sang in the choir at Radley Church and attended Abingdon School from May 1910 until March 1917 where he excelled at cricket, football and athletics. After leaving school he worked for a short time as an engineer at Messrs Wilder of Crowmarsh near Wallingford, qualifying as a motor tractor driver. He pursued this career until he enlisted in the Royal Marine Artillery at Portsmouth the day before his 18th birthday. Sadly Harold became ill and died in the Infirmary at the RMA training base at Eastney near Portsmouth some three weeks later on 27 September 1918 from pneumonia (possibly a consequence of Spanish flu). His body was brought home to Radley and buried in the Churchyard on 1 October 1918 following a funeral service attended by many villagers. The inscription on his headstone reads: ONLY GOOD NIGHT BELOVED – NOT FAREWELL. A LITTLE WHILE AND ALL HIS SAINTS SHALL DWELL IN HALLOWED UNION, INDIVISIBLE (an extract from the poem The Christian’s “Goodnight” by Sarah Doudney). CWGC database entry

Grave of Harold Edward Betteridge, died 1918, in the Churchyard of St James the Great, Radley
Grave of Harold Edward Betteridge in Radley Churchyard
Memorial in St James the Great, Radley, to the men of Radley who died in the two World Wars
World War Memorial in Radley Church

Ronald Arthur Engelbretson Coke, died 12 April 1943, aged 21

Ronald (Ron) Coke was an Aircraftsman 2nd Class in the RAF Volunteer Reserve. He was the son of Arthur Barnard Coke and Ethelthorn Coke, who in 1939 were living at 61 Foxborough Road in Radley. The cause and circumstances of his death are not known, though the family headstone says he ‘passed peacefully away’. He was buried at Radley on 17 April 1943. His grave is in the north-west part of the Lower Cemetery on Church Road. The inscription on the CWGC headstone reads: ‘ONE OF THE DEAREST ONE OF THE BEST, NEVER FORGOTTEN. LOVED BY ALL.’ GWGC database entry

Grave of Ronald Arthur Engelbretson Coke, died 1941, in the Lower Cemetery at Radley
Grave of Ronald Arthur Engelbretson Coke in the Lower Cemetery at Radley
Grave of Alfred Thomas Baber, died 1943, in the Lower Cemetery at Radley
Grave of Alfred Thomas Baber in the Lower Cemetery at Radley

Alfred Thomas Baber, died 17 December 1941, aged 33

Alfred was born in Oxford, the son of Alfred Richard and Rose Mary Baber. His wife Phyllis Mary (née Ford) was the daughter of the Ford family of 18 Whites Lane, Radley. Alfred and Phyllis had one son, born in 1937. When Alfred died on 17 December 1941 he was a Sergeant in the RAF Volunteer Reserve. His death occurred in Newark in Nottinghamshire due to a motor accident. He was buried on 20 December 1941 at Radley in the northwest part of the Lower Cemetery; his address in the Register of Radley Burials is given as 18 Whites Lane. The personal inscription on his CWGC headstone reads: REST IN THE LORD. His widow Phyllis married Leonard George French, a gunner in the Royal Artillery, at Radley Church on 27 March 1943, when her address was given as 18 Whites Lane and her age as 30. CWGC database entry

Note: Details of Harold Betteridge’s life and war service are taken from:
Radley Farms and Families 1600-2010 by Christine Wootton
Gone for a Soldier: Radley Service Men 1885-1920 by M.B,J. Mawhinney
Information supplied by Sarah Wearne, Archivist, Abingdon School