March 2022 meeting: 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 nation-wide, and deliberately prison-like, workhouses.

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Radley during Covid – a new oral history project

Our latest oral history project aims to capture the memories of Radley people about the effect of Covid from spring 2020 to December 2021. We want to record these memories for the sake of future generations while they’re still fresh in people’s minds.

Because of Covid, we’ve not been able to make new recordings for some time, so we’re very excited to begin a new series. The Oral History Group has drawn up a framework of questions to ask and will be interviewing people who either live or work in Radley, or are involved with the Radley community about their experiences during Covid.

We’ve identified various categories of people to interview, ranging from those involved in key village institutions (church, shop, etc) and community organisations, those who run a business, were working from home, retired people, professionals such as doctors and nurses, to those looking after children or caring for someone. The information given by interviewees, who may well fit into more than one of our categories, will be used to produce a picture of the impact of Covid on the village as a whole.

For details of the Club’s existing series of recordings see the oral history pages of the website.

February 2022 meeting: Oxford 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 prospective purchaser of Radley Large Wood.

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Programme change for June 2022 meeting

Hubert Zawadzki’s talk, The Land of the White Eagle: The Story of Poland, which had to be cancelled at the last minute due to illness, will now be on Monday 13 June 2022 at 7.30 pm in Radley Church.

The talk by Liz Woolley, From Axtell to Zacharias: the men who built Oxford, which was originally scheduled for 13 June 2022 will now be on 14 November 2022.

January 2022 meeting: 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.

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.

Reports of previous meetings