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In memoriam: three Club stalwarts

In the first four months of 2017, Radley History Club sadly lost three long-standing and loyal members. Read about the contribution of David Buckle MBE to public life, the contribution of Robert Sephton to local history, and an appreciation of the work of Stanley Baker, who was the Club’s archivist for many years.

David Buckle MBE

David Buckle MBE lived in Radley for many years. He served on Radley Parish Council for 51 years from 1951 to 2002, being chairman from 1995 to 1997, and again from 1999 to 2003. He was also a county councillor from 1989 to 2001 (chairman 1996-1997) and served as a magistrate in Abingdon for over 30 years. David was awarded an MBE in 1988 for public services and an honorary doctorate from Oxford Brookes University in 2001 for services to society, politics and justice. Sadly David died on 21 January 2017 aged 92. Read his obituary in the Guardian and in the Oxford Mail.

David’s books
Following a talk in September 2010 to Radley History Club, David was encouraged by fellow members to write about his experiences as a production line worker, a shop steward and a full-time union official at the Cowley car works who was involved in local, regional and national negotiations. The book, Turbulent Times in the Car Industry: Memories of a Trade Union Official at Cowley, Oxford, is the result and is his personal account of important events affecting the car industry during the second half of the 20th century. It also includes memories of his visits to German and Russian car plants in 1978 and 1984 respectively. This book was preceded in 1999 by the publication of David’s autobiography (written with Jan Greenough) entitled Hostilities Only – an autobiography.

Robert Sephton

Robert, who died in February 2017 aged 90, had been a member of Radley History Club since at least 2005/2006 and a regular attendee at meetings until the last few months. He lived for many years in Kennington, travelling by bus to and from RHC meetings, only moving to Radley in 2013. He was also an active member of the Oxfordshire Local History Association (OLHA). The news came through between Robert’s death and his funeral that he had received an award from the British Association for Local History for published research and in Robert’s case was for the article ‘The Striking Women’ which was published in the Winter 2015/15 issue of Oxfordshire Local History. Read his obituary in the Guardian and in the Oxford Mail.

Originally from Lancashire, Robert was a Bevin Boy and later moved to Oxfordshire, where he was for many years Librarian at what was then the College of Further Education in Oxford. Robert was a very unassuming man but he made a valuable contribution to local history research, having a particular interest in Kennington and the development of the railways in Oxford. He wrote the RHC publication, A Brief Account of Oxford University Golf Club, contributed to the Club’s farms and church books, and published extensively in his own name. List of books and articles by Robert Sephton

On hearing of Robert’s death, Chris Hall, editor of the OLHA journal, wrote: “Robert was an apparently insignificant person (rather small and very deaf) who was in fact a scholar with a probing mind, and the ability to expound clearly his findings. A serious loss to local history. To my knowledge, he made two original and definitive contributions: (1) through his work on railways and (2) through his examination of district nursing in Radley and Kennington which demonstrated the move towards publicly-funded health care several decades before the NHS was born.”

Stanley Baker

Stanley Baker, known to most people as ‘Stan’, passed away on 27 April 2017 aged 92. Below is an appreciation of his life by Club chairman, Richard Dudding.

“Stan was a remarkable person who, despite serious disability, made a major contribution to local history both in his village of Radley and more widely across Oxfordshire.

Stan was born on 27 August 1924 in Ashmore, a small village near Shaftesbury in Dorset. The family moved to Oxfordshire in 1935 and he won a scholarship to the City of Oxford High School for Boys. He left at 16 to help the family earnings, but by then he had learnt enough Latin to stand him in good stead later. After wartime employment in a factory making aircraft parts and service as an air raid warden, he worked for Oxfordshire County Council as an assistant archivist, a job well suited to his talents. He continued in that role until 1960, but, remarkable though it might seem, the rules prevented him progressing further as an archivist because he lacked an honours degree. He trained instead as a legal executive, working in local government until retirement. Meantime he had married, had two sons and a daughter, and moved to Radley a few miles south of Oxford.

Stan’s wife Mollie died in 1987, and then in 1996 he contracted Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a rare disorder of the nervous system, which initially manifested itself in falls and severely limited his mobility for the rest of his life. It did not, however, limit his mind and the less able he became to move around the more he seemed able to extract meaning from the most unpromising of documents. He embraced the new world of Information Technology, which enabled him to visit electronically what he could not visit in person, to zoom in on difficult texts and to generate material of his own.

Radley History Club was formed in 1997. Stan was one of the first members and joined the committee. After a spell as programme secretary, he took charge of the Club’s archive – what was at that point a grand title for not a lot. He continued as Club archivist until his death, by when he had built up a very rich and diverse repository of knowledge, all ordered and catalogued with meticulous care, building on his early professional expertise. As well as manorial records, estate records, maps, wills and probate documents, and Victorian photographs there is much about everyday life in more recent times and also a collection of discs on which are recorded the early memories of older Radley residents. At the same time, Stan found time to help his old employer, Oxfordshire County Council, which was creating an electronic catalogue of its photographic archive, so that it was searchable online. He processed some 70,000 items, over half the collection.

In 2007 Stan’s work for village and county was recognised by the British Association for Local History, which gave him its annual Award for Personal Achievement. Despite his failing mobility, he was able to receive this in person in London. The award was accompanied by an appreciation of his work in Local History News (on which this piece draws) aptly entitled ‘A Tower of Strength’.

But he did not stop there! In his last few years Stan turned his attention to the transcription of Radley manorial records, wills and probate documents – most from the early sixteenth to the early eighteenth centuries. These had been sitting in national and county archives, but largely unexplored and unexploited. Some were in a terrible state, with much of the parchment eaten away by time. What could be read was often faint, in the unfamiliar handwriting of the time, and not only in Latin but in the coded version of that language which was used for such documents. His brilliant deciphering of this rich material enabled life in the village to be reconstructed and was crucial to the Club’s book, Early Modern Radley 1547-1768, published in 2014.

Also published by Radley History Club in 2014 was The Changing Boundaries of Radley and Sunningwell, a book which Stan himself co-researched and co-authored with Peter McWhirter (another Club member of the same vintage as Stan). This again demonstrated Stan’s ability to focus on fine detail and unconsidered fragments of evidence to unravel the past.

As well as being a key person in local history circles, Stan was a well-known and popular figure in his home village of Radley. In 2006 he received a Contribution to the Community award from his local MP. Many recall the monthly brain teasers which he set for Radley News and he was a leading light in the Radley Retirement Group. He was to be seen out and about on his mobility scooter, which he drove a little too rashly, in the pub near his home and at local events. He was normally wearing a boyish smile as in the photo which accompanies this article.”

Stanley Baker at the Radley History Club Christmas DInner, 2004
Stanley Baker at the Radley History Club Christmas DInner, 2004