Summer visit to the Museums Resource Centre – Standlake 24th May 2018

On Thursday 24th May some members of the History Society were shown round
the Museums Resource centre in Standlake. They were greatly helped by two
Society members – Roger and Caroline Mentz, who work as volunteers at the
centre.

Before we were taken round we were given a brief summary of the history and the
work of the Centre, which had been founded in 1963 to serve Oxfordshire
museums. It was a purpose-built store and one of the first in the country. It is
home to about 100,000 objects, most of which are items of Social History, and
about 17,000 of them are classed as Archaeological objects.

Then we were shown a few of the most interesting pieces in the Centre’s
collection. Roger and Caroline had selected 5 items under the headings of Earth
Air, Fire, Water and Ether for special examination which they described to us and
which we could look at in more detail.

The first piece was a seal which had belonged to Roger de Cumnor, a lawyer in
13th century Oxford. He was known to have lived in Cumnor, at Cumnor Place, but
the seal had been found in Park End Street, Oxford, so it had probably been lost.
The second object was a fan that had once belonged to Alice Liddell, of “Alice in
Wonderland’ fame, part of a large collection of Alice’s belongings kept in the
Centre. It was beautifully decorated and made of tortoiseshell and a form of
plastic. Apparently plastic in its early days (late 19th century and early 20th) was a
high status material.

The third item was a rush taper holder, probably from the late 18th Century or early
19th. It had been one item in the ‘founding’ collection in the Centre, and at that
time the records were less complete than later.

Item no. four was a painting of Iffley Mill by ? Shaffrey. The Mill burnt down in
1908, and the painter had made paintings before and after the fire. Interestingly,
Iffley Church is in the painting, but not in the right place.

Item no 5 was a replica of an Iron Age mirror, beautifully decorated with marks that
seem to recall the surface of water, and burnished to resemble gold, though in fact
it is bronze. The reference to water raises the question whether at the time water
was a sacred material.

After this, the group was taken round the Social History section of the collection.
This is a vast and fascinating collection of objects of all kinds – from farming,
industry, commerce and the home, and ranging from old Mangles and Lawn
mowers through Typewriters, early TV sets and Photographic equipment to Farm
Wagons, a Witney Blanket Loom and a horse-drawn Carriage from Waterperry.
The visit was a really engrossing insight into the past of Oxfordshire.

AGM talk – “Oxford Pubs” (members only)

Speaker: Dave Richardson

Dave Richardson is a freelance journalist and author, and a resident of Kennington for over 30 years. Although he has specialised in travel and tourism for most of his career, he also now writes about pubs and brewing and is editor of the Oxford Drinker, the bi-monthly magazine of the Oxford branch of the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA). Through CAMRA, he was approached by Amberley Publishing to write its book Oxford Pubs (one of a series covering many places), which duly appeared in 2015. His most recent book, Let’s Go – a History of Package Holidays and Escorted Tours, came out in 2016.

There will be some copies of Oxford Pubs for sale after the talk at a discounted price of £12.50 (cash only).

Memories of the Vale Before the Railways

On March 8th Julie Ann Godson gave a talk on Memories of the Vale before the Railways . The source material came from two books edited by Julie: Memories of the Vale by Rev. Lewin George Main and The Scouring of The White Horse by Uffington born Thomas Hughes, the author of Tom Brown’s Schooldays.

Lewin Main (1828-1897) was curate in Stanford in the Vale from 1859 until 1866 when he became Vicar of St Lawrence Church Reading. He was a town person at heart and had started his professional life as a bank clerk in London. Observation of local poverty moved him to join the church and on completion of his training, he was sent, to his surprise, to the Vale. His first impressions on moving into the Rectory with his wife were not favourable. He observed dilapidated buildings, poorly dressed and downtrodden workers and a relatively primitive way of life in all the local villages. Nevertheless he enjoyed access to all the local families and set about collecting a rich variety of memories and folk lore going back many years, which he described in his book. He regretted the loss of traditional farm clothing of men’s white smocks and women’s bright red cloaks, many of which were family heirlooms.

Main described the daily round of work on the farms starting with the gathering of all the village cattle, summoned by the sound of a cow’s horn at dawn. The main meal of the day was taken at 11.30 and tea in the farmhouses was taken at 3.30.Transport was dominated by horses and every village had a blacksmith. Older farmers still remembered manure being taken to the fields in large baskets carried by horses. They also remembered the dog whipper, paid four shillings a year to keep the large number of strays out of the village church. Village games and pastimes remembered included cock fighting, hockey, skating in winter, marbles and the occasional fox hunt. Churchwardens’ records gave details of charitable work at Whitsun to raise funds for the poor, including the sale of ale in the church, regarded by some as a pagan practice. Local dialect interested Lewin Main and he concluded that in the Vale it was predominantly of pure Anglo Saxon origin. An example cited was the word for a new year gift: a hansel. He also noted that in the years after the civil war Christian names changed dramatically and those based on Old Testament characters became much favoured.

In the second book edited by our speaker, Thomas Hughes described the history and practice of the annual refurbishment of the White Horse known as Scouring. Villagers and visitors would gather to clean the chalk monument, thought in those days to be associated with King Alfred and his wars with the Danes. We now know it was constructed in the bronze age. The local squire provided food and drink for the workers including two eighteen gallon barrels of ale. The event was also embellished by many sporting activities known as  ‘The Pastime’ to which as many as twenty thousand visitors were attracted. Local men complained that men from Somerset had an unfair advantage in the boxing because they had less blood in their heads as a result of excessive cider consumption!

In conclusion Julie Ann told us that the Rev. Main had a somewhat ignominious change of career when he and his wife suddenly fled to Yorkshire in 1874 following a ‘domestic affliction’. When Mrs Main died twenty years later Lewin was joined by the governess from his Reading vicarage and they lived together until his death three years later. She lived on until 1936 when she died aged eighty nine.