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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 2021 meeting: The Harcourt Arboretum 1712-2014

One of Oxfordshire’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.

Reports of previous meetings

September 2021 meeting: 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.

Reports of previous meetings

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