Tag Archives: meetings programme

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

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

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

April 2021 meeting: Pagans and Puritans – the story of May morning in Oxford

On 12 April Tim Healey explained how pagans and puritans have shaped the celebration of May morning in Oxford. See Tim’s website, May Morning Oxford, for photos and details of recent events on 1 May in Oxford.

Magdalen College choir launches the day at 6 am by singing, from the top of the tower (or, in 2020, online), the Hymnus Eucharisticus. This was (until the current plague forbade it) followed by morris dancing in the streets, and then general shenanigans in the pubs and elsewhere. Historically, the hymn is relatively recent, the dancing is ancient, and the shenanigans go back thousands of years.

The custom of ‘bringing in the May’ (hawthorn blossom) has distant origins in the Celtic festival of Beltane and Roman celebrations of Flora, goddess of the spring. In 1250, the Chancellor of Oxford University forbade ‘… all dancing in masks or with disorderly noises, and all processions of men wearing wreaths and garlands made of leaves of trees or flowers or what not.’

Morris dancing was first documented in England at the Goldsmiths’ feast in 1448. By the 16th century, it was widespread in many villages. At Maytime, there was often a cheery complicity between the parish church authorities, the gentry, and the revellers. But the Puritans were horrified, and in 1589 had the constable of Banbury ‘take down all Maypoles … and repress and put down all Whitsun ales, May games and morris dances and utterly forbid any wakes or fairs …’ In 1648 the Oxford diarist Anthony Wood recorded ‘zealous persecuting of the young people that followed May-Games, by breaking of Garlands, taking away fiddles from Musicians, dispersing Morrice-Dancers, and by not suffering a green bough to be worn in a hat or stuck up at any door, esteeming it a superstition or rather an heathenish custom.’

Jollification returned with the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, and in 1695 Wood recorded that at Magdalen ‘the choral ministers … do, according to an ancient custom, salute Flora every year on the first of May, at four in the morning, with vocal music of several parts.’

In the 18th century, the performance still had a secular character: ‘a merry Concert of both Vocal and Instrumental Music … lasting almost 2 hours.’ Then, according to Dr Routh, President of Magdalen from 1791, one wet May morning the choir just sang the Hymnus Eucharisticus.  It was mercifully short, and, being the college Grace, needed no rehearsal.

In Victorian times, a famous painting by Holman Hunt, and Henry Taunt’s photographs and postcards made May morning in Oxford widely known. From 1923 university, town, and (for a while) police morris ‘sides’ have danced in the streets, inviting the famous ‘sides’ from Headington, Abingdon and Bampton to join them, and afterwards enjoying a well-aled morris breakfast in St Edmund Hall. Sides often include a ‘Jack in the Green’, a dancer completely encased in foliage.

In the lively questions and comments after Tim Healey’s talk, Christine Wootton mentioned the vicar’s report of Radley’s May celebrations in 1895. Young Mark Villebois was Jack in the Green. ‘After silently enduring the heat for some time, he at last broke loose from his leafy dungeon, and saved his life.’

May Day celebrations at Radley, 1894
May Day celebrations at Radley, 1894
May Day at Radley, date unknown

Reports of earlier meetings

March 2021 meeting: Living the Lexicon – James Murray and the OED

On 8 March Simon Wenham presented James Murray’s work on the creation of the New English Dictionary on Historical Principles, now known as the Oxford English Dictionary.

Murray was born in 1837 in Denholm, in the Scottish Borders. From childhood he was fascinated by words and languages, but his father, a tailor, could not afford to keep him at school beyond age 14. At 17, he became a teacher at Hawick Grammar School. In 1862 he married Maggie Scott. In 1864 their baby daughter died of tuberculosis, and Maggie also contracted it. They were advised to escape the Scottish winters, and chose to move to London. However, soon Maggie also died. In 1867 Murray married Ada Ruthven. Murray’s friend Alexander Graham Bell was best man. Murray prized (but did not use) his wedding present of a telephone.

Murray had taken a job in a bank, but continued to study languages, and in 1868 joined the Philological Society. Under the enthusiastic but ineffectual editorship of Frederick Furnival, the Society was amassing material for a New English Dictionary on Historical Principles. The plan was to record the evolving meanings of every English word from Anglo Saxon to modern times, illustrated by copious quotations, sent in on paper slips by volunteer readers. Progress was slow and chaotic.

In 1878 Furnival persuaded Oxford University Press to take on publishing the Dictionary, and to appoint Murray as editor. He was then a teacher at Mill Hill School, north London. A formal agreement was signed in 1879: the project was expected to take 10 years. Murray had a corrugated iron shed built in the school grounds as a ‘scriptorium’ to house and organize the quotation slips. Murray was said to work a 77 hour week: 20 hours teaching, and 57 in the scriptorium, with a small team of assistants, and a torrent of quotation slips sent in by volunteer readers.

The first ‘fascicle’ (instalment) was published in 1884. It covered A to ant. Many subscribers could reasonably wonder whether they would live to receive the whole dictionary. At the Press’s insistence, Murray recruited more assistants, and moved to Oxford, at 78 Banbury Road, where he installed an enlarged scriptorium. The editorial team was expanded, and fascicles continued to appear regularly, but still slowly.

One of the most effective volunteer contributors was William Chester Minor, who (Murray eventually learnt) was imprisoned in Broadmoor asylum after having been found not guilty of murder by reason of insanity. This story became a book by Simon Winchester and, in 2019, a film (mis)titled The Professor and the Madman.

As a (congregationalist) non-conformist, Murray was not fully accepted by the University establishment. Benjamin Jowett befriended him, but no college offered him a fellowship, and he was awarded an honorary D Litt only in 1914.

By 1914, the project had reached Sh. Murray died in 1915 and is buried in Wolvercote cemetery. Murray’s co-editors completed the work in 1928. In 1933 the dictionary was reprinted in 12 huge volumes with a supplement, and rebranded the Oxford English Dictionary. The latest version is now available online, and under continuous revision.

Reports of earlier meetings