March 2019


Our illustrated talk this evening was entitled ‘HIGHWAYS AND MARKERS AROUND THE THREE COUNTIES of Worcs, Hereford and Glos’ By Jan Scrine. Jan gave us a most enjoyable talk on the different types of designs and evolution of the various types of markers used throughout the ages, starting even before the Romans.  Our first routes   – the causeways and ridgeways are thousands of years old which we can still can see in the landscape.  We can see the old drove roads where people used to take their animals to market as well as the roads the romans carved out in the countryside when they invaded Britain.


It was necessary for people to know where they were going, so we see the evolution of ways of identifying the various routes people followed.  The romans marked their roads with honorific pillars showing the distance from a. to b. where many of these roads had causeways at the side.  We can see also the Holloways such as that shown at Droitwich which marked ancient tracks.


As time went on it became clear that roads and routes needed to be more defined and formally marked, so in the 17c. an Act was passed which stated that local roads became the responsibility of the local parish.  Jan showed pictures of the various designs of markers and boundary stones which had been used in the past; many of which it is pleased to say can still be seen. The early sign posts were wooden but have now rotted away, but many of the milestones in stone and concrete still exist. The first maps showing routes in the countryside started to appear in the 16c. such as the famous illustrated maps by Jon Ogilby and John Speed.


It was necessary for roads to be paid for as the parish was only responsible for the local traffic, so in the 18c. Turnpike Trusts were set up. To pay for the upkeep of their roads tolls were charged for their use. For example, the wagon etc.  was charged on the size of the rim of the vehicle – a most impossible task, so a more uniform tax was used.


We see the advent of the mail coach and the posting houses they used, still to be seen like ‘The Feathers’ at Ledbury, but as the main roads became more and more congested it became necessary for government to be involved and in 1880 main roads became the responsibility of the local county councils.


More modern styles of milestones were introduced made out of concrete; many examples of which can be found on the outskirts of Feckenham.  In contrast, an old original milestone can still be seen on the bridge at Feckenham.  Many people still enjoy looking and recording this aspect of our local history and are members of ‘The Milestone Society’.




February 2019



Max Keen in his inimitable style regaled us last night with the story of Horatio Nelson as ‘England’s Greatest Hero’ (1758-1805) and his love affair with Lady Emma Hamilton.


Nelson started his career in the Royal Navy at the age of twelve as a mid-shipman on HMS Agamemnon under the patronage of his uncle.  At the age of fourteen he sailed to the Arctic and saw action for the first time. He passed his exams to become a lieutenant in 1777 and then as a captain at the age of twenty years. Lockyer was a great influence on him.  Nelson had a bout of malaria and embarked on a dispute over the emerging colonies with the Admiralty.  As a result of which, he was unemployed for five years.


He married Frances Nisbett but they had no children and returned to live in Norfolk.  He was then re-employed as a skipper on the HMS Agamemnon.  He was able to hand pick his crew and it became his favourite ship.  Nelson was present at the Siege of Calvi and as a result almost lost all his eye. As a captain he instituted various naval reforms, because at the time life on board ship was very harsh.


Admiral Sir John Jervis recorded that Horatio Nelson was a tactical genius, as is shown at the Battle of Cape St. Vincent, where he lost his right arm, and went on to win the Battle of Aboukir Bay.


In 1797 he put down a rebellion in Naples where he met and became the lover of Lady Emma Hamilton.  In 1801 Emma gave birth to their daughter Horatia.  He was second in command to an expedition to the Baltic where he defeated the superior Danish fleet at the Battle of Copenhagen. Created a Viscount in 1803, he was then given a command in the Mediterranean involved in fighting the French.  Eventually he caught up with the combined French/Spanish fleet off Cape ‘Trafalgar’ and in a single day’s fighting virtually annihilated his opponents. He himself was mortally wounded by a sharpshooter.


A triumphal progress was carried out after his death as he was massively popular with the ordinary man. He is buried in St. Paul’s. A postscript to the story records that Emma was imprisoned for debt and died penniless in France.




November 2018


The talk last evening was given by Margaret Rowley on the History and Restoration of the Droitwich Canal. The talk was illustrated with many slides and maps on how the canal had been changed from almost complete dereliction to the attractive and useful canal which it is today.


The story starts in 1771 when the Droitwich Barge Canal was built to serve the salt industry. This was connected to the Droitwich Junction Canal in 1854 with links to the Worcester and Birmingham Canal, but eventually saw a decline in the canal system due to competition from the railways.  The last barges used on the canals was in 1918/19 and the Droitwich Canal system was officially abandoned in 1939.


By 1973 we see a great movement which saw the resurgence of interest in bringing new life to these neglected water ways.  The slides show 100s of enthusiastic volunteers bringing new life to the canal system.  The Droitwich Restoration Trust worked with the local councils and the Water ways Trust to bring about canals being navigable again and this was achieved in 2011.  Two of the major jobs were 1. a major bridge construction across the A449 and 2. the M5 crossing.


The Droitwich Canals Trust carried out much restoration work including return to navigation of the top pound of the barge canal in partnership with British Waterways.  The total cost of the restoration was approx. £12.7 million. The partnership secured funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund and Advantage West Midlands, British Waterways, Wychavon and Worcester Councils alongside public contributions.


People can now sail on the canal system through Droitwich, to where it joins the River Severn and back up to where it joins the Worcester to Birmingham canal again – a beautiful journey and scenery with much wild life looked after by the Trust.


October 2018

Ann Bradford the well- known local historian who has written many books on the Redditch area;  including various subjects such as ‘ghosts, murders and scandals’, gave, in her talk this evening  ‘The Rise and Fall of the Royal Enfield Car’.

Ann described the local surroundings of Hunt End and Redditch where the car was first born in the factory - ‘The Givry’ works at Hunt End where they were well established as manufacturers of needle stamping equipment and all types of bicycles, called ‘The Enfield’, the roadster amongst others’.

There were two major families, amongst other families connected with the business  - Townsend and Edie, and Ann told us many amusing stories about them.  Another family, that of Robert Walker Smith, a brilliant engineer had joined the company in the late 1800s.  By 1897 the Givry Work were employing 600 workers and producing 300 to 400 cycles per week.

In about 1896 R.W. Smith was building himself a motorised vehicle. It was simply a bike with four wheels with a French (De Dion) engine perched under the saddle.  By the turn of the century, there were three main models; one of these incorporated a brilliant patented design – a two speed gear. The company expanded, employing a Belgian engineer to design new models. As they did not have the capacity to build new models they bought in from other manufacturers.  

The first Royal Enfield car was built in 1901. – A replica of the French model. The first two cars had been built at Hunt End but more space was needed and premises were rented at British Mills in the centre of Redditch.  In 1906 a new company – The Enfield Autocar Company Limited was formed.  Unfortunately, from 1906-07 the company was hit by a slump in car sales. Too many manufacturers were chasing the small number of customers.  Then in 1907 a bomb fell. At the second Ordinary Meeting of September 1907 of the Enfield Autocar a loss of £19,274. was revealed. Two days before Christmas 1907 the shareholders met the directors and it was decided to opt for voluntary liquidation.  In April 1908 the company plant and stock was put up for auction.  The reserve price was not reached but was sold the following Friday to the Directors of Alldays and Onions Pneumatic Engineering Company Small Heath, Birmingham. So ended the history of the Royal Enfield Car. However, the name Royal Enfield lives on in the world of cycles and motor cycles.


September 2018


The society held its first lecture for the year 2018/19 at Feckenham Village Hall.  Dr. Kate Round from the Red Cone Factory and Museum gave a most interesting talk on the history of Stourbridge Glass – although as Dr.Round pointed out, it was made at Wordsley! The museum is in the process of having a completely new look and will be situated on the opposite side of the road to be called The White House Cone Museum.


Dr. Round’s talk was illustrated with many pictures and diagrams – in one showing us the largest piece of continuous glass called an arc power rectifier -  A true reflection of the glass makers art.   We were told of the reasons why glass making came to Stourbridge. They were; the sources of fuel, the raw materials, other industries and more importantly the canal system, which made transporting of glass all over the world possible.


Glass making is a migratory industry, and Dr.Round traced its history through time, from the Middle East, Europe, France until it finally settled in England, first on the south coast at Nailsea and then in Stourbridge, where it had an abundance of all the items needed to make glass, including the development of the blast furnace. Another important factor was the local geology which included the layer of blued marl, necessary for the making of the crucibles.


We were told about the decorative techniques involved and the skills of the glassmaker, in the beginning working by daylight with no artificial light.  Life was hard as the men were on piece work.  Inside the cone they were divided into groups with a very skilled man at the furnace who controlled the exact temperature. They worked six hour shifts but even then, when at home still worked, making the specialist tools that were necessary for their craft – many of the slides illustrated their uniqueness.


We were given the three stages of glass making; pot making, glass blowing and moulding.  In cold glass decoration the difference between engraving, intaglio and cameo.

The main ingredients of glass are: sand, soda and potash, calcium oxide, and lead oxide

Dr. Round finished her talk by showing us two famous examples of the glass makers art; The Portland Vase which took four years to make and a goblet in which there is a depiction of The Last Supper – truly unique examples.


We were very sad to hear of the passing of Brian Draper who has delighted us for many years with his talks on the river Severn.  Ann Bradford from Redditch has kindly stepped in and will give our next talk, which is on The Royal Enfield Company. She is the author of ‘Royal Enfield’ and many other books. 



April 2018

After a short AGM, our speaker Tim Bridges gave us a talk on Warwickshire Churches.  Tim did not disappoint us.  Tim is the Churches Support Officer for Herefordshire as well as an Officer with the Victorian Society which covers the West Midlands.  He is well qualified to describe the different aspects of Warwickshire architecture and gave us an overall impression of what one might see, in all the various examples he used.

In Wootten Wawen we see the evolution of local churches -Wootten is said to be the oldest church in Warwickshire, it has its roots in Saxon times, where a medieval church is used as a parish church. There are a number of churches which have Anglo-Saxon remains but not at first glance; they have to be searched for, as in the magnificent crypt found in St. Mary’s Church Warwick.  In some churches we can see the Norman architecture shown in beautiful doorways like that at St. Mary’s Warwick. At Beaudesert near Henley one can see a fine example of a Norman chancel arch.

In the medieval period we see the development of art form in gothic architecture. Brailes in the south of the county flourished in the period of sheep farming and the wool trade and its church reflects its prosperity with a splendid 14c. chancel in gothic style.  Other distinctive styles of architecture are reflected in churches built by groups of friars.

The last style discussed was the ‘perpendicular’ style, illustrated because of its strong vertical lines seen in Stratford on Avon’s church.   

Tim looked at so many facets of church architecture including medieval wall paintings, beautiful stained glass still to be seen and the many medieval fonts like one at Coleshill.  One gets effigies of people like that of Shakespeare while Knowle church has a marvellous example of a wooden carved rood screen.

Tim inspired us to go and study all these forms of church decoration and architecture.


March 2018

Andrew Harris, son of the founder of Harris Brushes and a well- known local historian, who has written extensively on various aspects of the history of Hanbury as well as the history of the Pakington family; gave us the first part of a two -part talk on the Vernons of Hanbury Hall.  Andrew traced the history of the Vernon family to their roots in France from the village of Vernon, from whence they took their name. There are many branches of the Vernon family but Andrew concentrated on those mostly connected with the village of Hanbury.  The Vernons arrived in Hanbury in the 1580 when Richard Vernon became rector of Hanbury.  The manor of Hanbury passed through various owners when it became the possession of Thomas Vernon a famous lawyer who ‘by his profession’ added much to the estates of the family.

Hanbury Hall built around 1701 for Thomas Vernon was designed by William Rudhall of Henley-in-Arden.  It is a beautiful house – now held by the National Trust.  Members of the Vernon family held Spernall Hall and Hanbury Hall until 1962.  One of the Vernons  - Edward Vernon lost much of his money during the Civil War.  He had supported Charles I and was captured by Cromwell’s army after the siege of Worcester in 1646.  However as had been stated the Vernon fortunes were restored by Thomas Vernon. Thomas Vernon also owned extensive estates in Shropshire and Lincolnshire.  His purchase of about 400 acres in 1707 in, what had been part of Feckenham Forest was one of his most important acquisitions.

A commission by Bowater Vernon  (Thomas Vernon’s cousin, who had inherited the estate) of a complete survey of the Vernon estates in Hanbury was drawn by John Dougherty of Worcester in 1731. Emma, Thomas Vernon’s descendant married Henry Cecil in 1776 but it was a disastrous marriage and they quickly ran through Emma’s fortune. She eventually eloped with the curate of Hanbury Church .

Andrew ended his talk on the first part of the Vernon history at this point and we look forward to hearing the second part next year.


January 2018

Brian Draper as always, painted a marvellous picture for us, of a journey down the river Wye, starting at its source up in the mountains as it travelled down the valleys and hills of Wales. As we followed the route of the Wye, each town or village, illustrated with slides taken by Brian, was embellished with fascinating asides from his personal recollections of the all the places. The river Wye (welsh name Afon Gwr) stretches for 134 miles from its source at Plynlimon in mid Wales to the Severn Valley Estuary. The river also forms part of the border between England and Wales.

One of the first towns we were shown is Rhayader, (meaning waterfall) home to the spectacular dams and reservoirs of the Elan Valley. These reservoirs supply most of Birmingham’s water supply. The river valley is an area of outstanding natural beauty, and many people chose to take the listed walks shown on local maps. Kilvert (of diary fame) also visited Rhayader.

Glasbury and its castle Maesllwych is an important crossing point connecting the counties of Breconshire and Radnorshire. There is a chapel here with a lovely view of the Black Mountains.

At Hay-on-Wye now known as the book shop of the world also has a castle and is now famous for its annual Literary Festival. We come to the lovely church at Llowes which has a beautiful celtic cross. Sadly in Llowes graveyard lies the grave of a ten month old evacuee from Liverpool who probably came to Llowes to escape the bombing in the Second World War.

At Clyro Court (now the Baskerville Hotel) connected with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and may have been the idea behind the story ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’. The Rev. Kilvert was curate here (1865-72) where he wrote his famous diaries. We come to the toll bridge of Witney-on-Wye which was built in 1797 part of the drovers road from Wales in to England to Smithfield Meat Market.

Bredwardine another attractive town survived the terrible floods of 1700s. How did they get on in the contemporary ones? Builth Wells lies at the confluence of the River Wye and Irfon. It is the site of the Royal Welsh Show. The arts centre has decorative red panels and Builth is also home of the red kites. Above the doorway of the former post office is the symbol for ER 1936 – the only one in England listed for Edward VIII. It is also the last resting place for Llewellyn the Last. Then down towards Hereford.

The first part of the trip finishes at Hereford and its Cathedral. We look forward to Brian’s second instalment – which will be from Hereford to the Severn River Estuary.

November 2017

Howard F Robinson gave us an illuminating talk on the life and death of Simon de Montfort. Howard had been a teacher originally but in retirement became a guide at Worcester Cathedral – which developed his interest in the Plantagenets especially, as we know King John is buried at Worcester Cathedral and Simon de Montfort is one of his descendants.

Howard showed us how the families of Henry III and Simon de Montfort were so closely linked by blood and marriage as he married Henry III’s sister. Simon is a difficult person to quantify. His character was mixed. He has been described as partly idealistic and megalomaniac. One might describe such a controversial character as also very self- seeking.

Simon de Montfort 6th Earl of Leicester (1208-1265) was born in Normandy but moved to England when he became the 6th Earl. He worked for the King but was forced to resign following a revolt against his administration. In 1258 he emerged as leader of the baronial reform party and was one of the 24 who drew up the ‘Provisions of Oxford.’

In 1264 he led a revolt against Henry III and became a de facto ruler, by establishing a constitutional monarchy and revolutionised the representation in parliament – the future Commons - by including commoners as it included shire representatives as well as borough (or town) representatives.

The barons went in armed revolt and - with Simon won the battle at Lewes in 1264 capturing Henry III and Edward his son. Soon after Edward escaped, gathered an army and defeated and killed Simon at The Battle of Evesham in 1265.

October 2017

Max Keen our speaker this evening has visited us many times – always with a witty and informative talk and this evening was no exception. His topic: King John the Worst King but the greatest legacy?

Dressed in contemporary costume as William Marshall (who was King John’s chief adviser from 1213) Max outlined the history of John’s reign. He described the evolution of the weaponry and armour of the time and how it helped in John’s war with France. John was described as being fairly short with red hair as shown in contemporary drawings. He was a typical Plantagenet and sportsman who went hunting in the local forests of Kinver and Feckenham. He could be jealous, oversensitive and full of rage over small incidents. This was shown in the wanton cruelty, manner and behaviour he showed towards his courtiers and barons which contributed to the barons’ hostility at his actions. This resulted eventually in the signing of the Magna Carta.

He plotted against his father Henry II and his brother Richard I and was also a womaniser – the list goes on in the description of John as a thoroughly unpleasant man . Through his actions against France he lost much of his Angevin Empire. He tried to regain his French possessions until 1213 when the cause collapsed. John’s reign also saw confrontation with the church. Which resulted in the Pope placing the kingdom under interdict. John also faced the opposition of his own barons who regarded his rules, in particular the methods used in raising royal revenue as despotic and in 1215 was forced to sign the Magna Carta. In fact, it was not signed but sealed with the Great Seal.

As Winston Churchill said there was very little good to say about him – but his legacy – The Magna Carta.

John died in 1216 and is buried in Worcester Cathedral.

May 2017

At our meeting last night, Dr Richard Churchley, a well- known local  historian, author and editor of our local history magazine gave a most lively and fascinating talk on the history and derivation of local place names.

He introduced his talk by describing the origins of place names; how most of them can be traced back to Anglo-Saxon England. But, as he pointed out their origins are not an exact science nor are they necessarily based on folk lore.  Rather they had a useful role in describing to people who could not read or write a description of a place and where it was.  These descriptions were mostly topographical – using the principal features such as hills, rivers etc.  These names have survived the Norman Conquest but have been altered and adopted over time.  Sometimes place names have the addition of a local land owner to make it  clearer which settlement is being referred to.

Richard described the origins of county names – how some were ‘shared’ -  the origins of ‘shire’ and that others were originally kingdoms like Wessex or Sussex or Northumberland.  Others were more local like Arrow (tribal name).  Also, interesting names like Bredon Hill which means ‘Hill,Hill,Hill!

To help with identifying other place names, Richard had prepared a fact sheet listing the various elements which make up the history of place names.  These included the four headings: Old English Place names, Single Elements, Initial Elements and final elements.

In each of these he gave various examples.  For example a single element may be Hill or Moor; an initial element might be N, S, E or W Norton or Sutton, others might denote the presence of animals or a descriptive adjective like Defford (deep ford).

The longest list included the final elements such as ‘Beorg’  berrow, hill – Inkberrow (Inta’s hills) through the alphabet to Wudu (wood).

The talk finished with a lively and successful discussion with many questions from the floor.

The society’s next meeting  is at Feckenham Village Hall, Tuesday 13th June 7.30p.m. with a talk entitled ‘Churches of Warwickshire’ by Tim Bridges.  There is a walk also arranged round Evesham on Saturday 17th June start 10.30a.m. {Please contact our Secretary Jan Cooper for details.}


April 2017

The evening started with a short AGM for members of the History Society, when the present committee were re-elected. Local Historian Alan Godfrey then gave us a most enjoyable talk on the history of Alcester, entitled ‘A Walk Round Alcester’. With the aid of a wide range of slides from the many eras and epochs in the history of the town he painted a moving picture of the changes that had taken place.

He started off by describing the coming of the Romans and Alcester’s importance as a Roman town as many artefacts had been discovered from the Roman occupation – many of which could be seen at Alcester’s Local History Museum. Alcester’s name is derived from the meaning ‘Roman Fort on the River Alne’. The site of the present ‘Waitrose’ is the site of the roman wall and granary for example. There were very few Saxon influences to be seen relating to Alcester, we have to wait until the medieval period for more information. Alan discussed the founding of the Court Leet and its manorial origins and showed us a slide of some of the inhabitants who had been jurors in the past, also the fact that Alcester was one of the few towns which were still allowed to carry on the ceremonial duties of the Court Leet – like Ale Taster, Bread Weigher etc.

Each street was described with its name, such as Butter Street its name being self-explanatory. We were shown the beautiful church and description of the monuments inside as well as the Market Hall – whose columns had been infilled and the upstairs section was now used for meetings. Alcester’s buildings possess a variety of different architectural styles, shown in his slides picturing the various roads and streets - from Medieval half-timbering, to Georgian, to the industrial period of the needle making firms to the present day.


March 2017

‘Sentenced To Beyond the Seas’ is the absorbing story of eight Worcestershire female convicts, who were sentenced at the court held in the Guildhall in Worcester in the late eighteenth century. The punishments were extremely harsh and all were sent for transportation to the new territory of Australia.

David Clark painted a marvellous picture of the privations they had to put up with, starting with their time in the cells and prison in Worcester to their journey down to London where they were held in a prison ‘hulk’ which was moored on the river Thames. There they stayed until they were put on to a convict ship called the Lady Penrhyn. David painted a superb picture of the harsh social conditions of the time where people were punished for what now seemed to us very minor offences. These eight convicts came from various villages in Worcestershire, but were all in the same boat as they had been sentenced at the same time by the judge at The Guildhall.

When they eventually reached Australia after seven months at sea they landed at Botany Bay, a new settlement. Two never left the colony while some went to live on Norfolk Island. David Clark researched the interesting lives of each of the women – what happened after they had served their sentence, who they married, or how many children they had. It is interesting to note that only one of them had a ‘brush’ with the law after they were freed. These ex-prisoners were all given land afterwards. They all stayed in the colony except one, Ann Inett; she came back a wealthy woman, and went to live in Worcester – where her descendants still live.

One of the female convicts named Olivia Gascoigne, has thousands of descendants bearing her name who are scattered all over the world and they have yearly conventions.



January 2017 – Bridgnorth to the Mouth of the Severn

Brian Draper a well-known commentator on the Severn River gave us, as always, a most informative funny and fascinating account of the history of the river – this time, the section of its course from Bridgnorth to the Severn Estuary.  On the way he told us many stories, both historical and topographical, some of which are outlined below.

He described the red sand stone rocks which line the banks of the river, which was quarried and taken down river until the coming of the railways which destroyed the trade. He referred to the two villages of Arley and Highley, situated on opposite sides of the river bank; the former a very pretty village, while the village of Highley is much more industrial in character where the houses are more uniform in character, built to house the miners who used to work at the local colliery. Hampton and Hampton Lode used to be crossed by a ferry until relatively recently.  The word Lode is an ancient word for ferry and Hampton itself is a stop on the Severn valley Railway.

There are several bridges designed by Thomas Telford which cross the river at Bridgnorth and Bewdley. From Bridgnorth the course of the river loses its distinctive valley hillsides and descends into the flood plains, as so many towns and villages testify.  Bewdley for one, which has now good defensive barricades, but one can also see the marks of the floods on the buildings in places like Ashleworth. During low water in the summer it is occasionally possible to ford the river, notably at Bewdley or Bridgnorth; but one cannot talk about the river without mentioning the Severn Bore which can be best viewed when the tide comes in at Minsterworth.

The river has many beautiful houses on its bank including Dudmaston Hall and Deerhurst which is the site of the earliest Christian worship on the Severn, while Tewksbury a beautiful city, has more listed buildings than many others. The talk finished up at Sharpness, on the estuary of the river with a view of the magnificent bridges which cross the river into Wales.



November 2016 Pioneers in Petticoats

This evening Jo Roche gave us an interesting talk based on her book, the history of Kidderminster High School for Girls, entitled ‘Pioneers in Petticoats’. She combined the history of the school and its founders, with the history of education and how it impinged on the schools’ life.

Jo traced the early history of the two founders of the school – Miss Bennett and Miss Ridley, their background from local families to their becoming governesses and finally founders of the school. This back ground in conjunction with the changing views of society towards the education of woman and the growth in provision of education generally led to the two ladies establishing the Kidderminster High School for Girls at Broomfield Hall. The school under the two ladies flourished; a kindergarden was established as well as a junior school, and more subjects were added to the curriculum. New ideas on the education for women were put in to place, including teacher training colleges for women which enabled more women to train as teachers.

The school moved to the Hill Grove estate. In 1907 the school was taken over by the local county council and maintained by them. In 1911 new buildings in Chester Road were opened, with Miss Jordan as Headmistress.

The schools’ evolution as a girls’ school continued until 1977 when it ceased to exist as a separate entity. It was amalgamated with King Charles I Grammar School and Queen Elizabeth I School to become a comprehensive school.


October 2016 Alfred's Wessex

Our speaker Bernard Pumfrey gave a most interesting talk to our society entitled ‘Alfred’s Wessex’. However, it was not a conventional history  - but, rather a look at all the different modern counties which Wessex encompassed.  Wessex pre-conquest covered most of southern England and we were taken on an illustrated tour of each of the different modern counties: which did not exist as such in Alfred’s time.  Bernard picked out one or two unique examples from each - starting with Kent.  We were shown slides of Dover Castle and the magnificent Cathedral as well as Penshurst Place.  Moving along the coast to Sussex we saw another famous town, Chichester. In Hampshire we visited Winchester, the original capital of Wessex and seat of government.  Each county was visited, with various important houses and buildings brought to our attention, and all through the talk Bernard regaled us with tit bits of interesting stories about each of the various places he had visited.

We had guided tours of all the county towns as well as some of each county’s beautiful gardens and homes including Sissinghurst in Kent and lesser known ones like Painshill Park an eighteenth century landscape garden near Cobham in Surrey.

An enjoyable evening was had by all.


September 2016 - Feckenham Forest 

Michael Sharpe a family historian gave us a talk on the personal connection of one of his ancestors – William Connard - with Feckenham Forest in the 1600s. His interest started with a photo of his maternal grandmother, as he had already researched the paternal side of his family and became intrigued with his mother’s side of the family.

As he looked into where his maternal forbears originated he found they came from Stoke Prior and when he researched the family tree, found that it had connections with the Connard family. The Connard family was connected to Feckenham and before that to Droitwich. From research in the parish registers Michael found they named an Edward Burhill Connard whose memorial plaque is in the chancel in St’ John the Baptist Church Feckenham where he is listed as a needle maker from Burrow Hill. From more research carried out on ‘Google’ Michael discovered that a William Connard (a relative of Edward) had been made a ranger in Feckenham Forest. 

This sparked his interest in Royal Forests and Feckenham in particular and the part that William Connard played in the administration of the forest. Michael gave a resume of what made a royal forest; the legal aspects of royal forests and their special laws and hierarchy of which William was a part. (He was a ranger and landholder.) By the 1600s, royal forests were not used so much for hunting; the royal exchequer was short of money and one way of financing the royal purse was to sell off royal forests (called Disafforestation) – including Feckenham.

A commission was appointed to allocate the land in the forest into portions; that to the crown, the landlords (of which William Connard was one), commoners and freeholders of the forest. Wide resentment ensued over the amounts allotted to the tenants culminating in riots where hedges and ditches were destroyed. However, the final decree for disafforestation went through in 1632.

William Connard stayed on in Feckenham and married the widow of Lord Leighton (Lord of the Manor of Feckenham until it was bought by Earl of Coventry).


May 2016 Aspects of Tudor England

Bernard Pumfrey did not disappoint us this evening. He gave us his usual interesting talk; ‘Aspects of Tudor England’ full of fascinating information on the Tudor Dynasty. To help us put the Tudors in perspective he started his talk with a brief synopsis of the history of the Tudor family, starting with Henry VII. He then reminded us of Henry VIII, his ill fated wives, his children Edward, Mary Tudor and of course Elizabeth I, their loves, lives and political intrigues – never a dull moment. 

Bernard then illustrated his talk with a remarkable set of slides, showing many aspects of Tudor architecture. We were reminded of the magnificent palaces built by the Tudors, including Hampton Court, originally built by Cardinal Wolsey but taken over by Henry VIII. Bernard showed us slides of the unique rooms and ceilings in the palace and we saw other slides of famous buildings like that Hardwick Hall and Christchurch Oxford. 

Then we saw illustrations of a different type of architecture – that of those built with timber and beautifully decorated like Morton Hall, Cheshire and Speke Hall Liverpool. Bernard pointed out that the main items of building materials were stone, bricks and wood, using these buildings in his slides as examples, also, talking about the wall hangings and furniture, which complemented the buildings. Then down in size again, looking at yeoman’s cottages made of wood wattle and daub. 

He finished off his talk with pictures of many of the famous politicians of the time. 



April 2016 Alfred the Great

A short AGM of the History Society, when all present committee members were re-elected was followed by a talk given by Max Keen, a well known local speaker, who gave us a riveting account of ‘Alfred the Great’ and why he was famous. Max announced his talk with a fanfare of horns and came dressed appropriately in full Viking/Saxon regalia, brandishing all the weaponry a fighter of the time would have possessed, and showing us a warrior’s prize possession which was his broad sword, a beautiful piece of armoury.

Max then went on to recount Alfred’s life. He was born in 849AD in what is now modern Wantage, the youngest of four brothers.  He was not originally destined to become king, but unfortunately his elder brothers died leaving him in line for the throne.  Alfred went at an early age to Rome which encouraged his love of learning and Christianity. England at this time was made up of a group of kingdoms, including amongst others Mercia and Wessex – which Alfred’s family ruled at the time.  But, there were always power struggles taking place between the kingdoms as well as the threat of invasion by the Vikings and Danes, which culminated in 878AD, in the famous Battle at ‘Edington’.  It is probably here that the famous story of Alfred burning the cakes originated.  The subsequent peace with the Danish leader Guthrum gave the Danes much of the control over the east of England. Alfred was renowned for his love of learning and crowned at Winchester.  In the years that followed Edington, he built a system of ‘burghs’ (fortesses) and developed a fleet to fight the Danes.  His patronage of learning brought scholars like Asser to his court. Alfred also translated works from monks like Bede from Latin into old English.  He is also noted for his laws, and was seen as a ‘Great’ man.  He died in 899AD.  


March 2016 Redditch Then and Now

Derek Coombes, a member of Redditch Local History Society gave an interesting illustrated talk on ‘Redditch Then and Now’ using old photos and contemporary illustrations to compare the difference between the old and the new town. He pointed out that although Redditch was designated a New Town in 1964, there had been two other periods when Redditch had been considered for expansion – 1918, and 1948.  As we know Redditch celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2014, when the local history society put on an exhibition to illustrate the changes. A booklet has been produced entitled ‘Redditch Heritage Trail’ in which people who are interested in the town’s history can follow its story through the guide.

As we saw, much of the old town was demolished to make way for the new Kingfisher Centre.  However, some of the old town survives; for example Church Green East and West around St. Stephen’s Church, with The Band Stand and Water Fountain, although many of the other original buildings have gone.  But, one can still see the Palace Theatre at the bottom of Alcester Street, which has been restored to its former glory.  Many of the cinemas have disappeared but the cinema on Unicorn Hill (formerly the Danilow) still remains, under another guise.

It was suggested that to see a view of the town, one should go to the top of Car Park 2 to see how green the surroundings are. Near the sculptures of needles and the Library, is also ‘Debenhams’ a major department store -  which was the last development in 2004, when Royal Square was demolished.  The needles sculpture is a reminder of Redditch’s industrial past.


February 2016 200 Years of the Worcester and Birmingham Canal

Ian Hunter, former Town Planner and member of the Society, gave a talk on the history of two hundred years of the Worcester and Birmingham Canal. Originally commenced in 1772, it was finally completed in December 1815, with large crowds celebrating its completion. Starting in Birmingham at the Gas Street Basin it wends its way through 29 miles of town and country encompassing tunnels and 58 locks in total; the longest stretch of locks, thirty in all, being at Tardebigge.

One of the canal's first aims was to connect the two places to the South Staffordshire coal fields to help businesses springing up in the new industrial areas, which needed a ready supply of coal for the manufacture of goods, including businesses like Cadburys. Near King's Norton one can see the interesting guillotine lock which is permanently open.

Ian illustrated his talk with beautiful slides of the main points along the canal, passing through the recently restored part of the canal at Droitwich through to Diglis Basin at Worcester. He pointed out that canals went into decline with the advent of the railways, but now because of enthusiasm for pleasure boating, we see how popular the canal has become. It is now part of the Stourport ring of Worcestershire canals, which is one of the popular rings for cruising holidays.


Worcestershire in the Civil War

The speaker at our October 2015 meeting was Malcolm Atkin, former County Archaeologist and author. He gave a very interesting talk on 'Worcestershire in the Civil War'. He used a reference from Henry Townsend's diary (a local man from Emley Lovett) written in 1646 to show how important the use of propaganda was, for the first time in warfare, as Worcestershire saw both the first and last serious engagements of the English Civil War.

Many people see the Civil War through rose covered spectacles, helped by Charles II's version and other people in Victorian times; neither do many enactments help, when carried out by various groups. For example, the real view was, the Scot's Army was disunited and Worcester City was not to be trusted in their allegiance.

He traced the history of the war from Charles I's view of 'the divine right of kings' which placed the problem of religion as one of the primary sources for the conflict. He pointed out the focal position of Worcestershire, which covered the key routes of both armies, both Royalist and Parliamentarian and the effects of the behaviour of both sets of soldiers on the local population. Most people wanted to stay out of the conflict, especially when both sides taxed the local people or they were fined to pay the local armies. The dogged determination to survive against repeated plundering, showed in their stand for impartial law and order. Garrisons had to be set up in Worcester and Evesham and resistance was growing by 1644, shown by the rise of the Worcestershire Clubmen - who wished to defend their locality against all comers, with the local gentry being their natural leaders.

The history of wars tends to concentrate on battles and sieges, when such events had little to do with ordinary people. Malcolm's talkconcentrated on the effect that the English Civil War had on the ordinary lives of Worcestershire folk. This was seen when Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660, because he came to the throne as the result of the wishes of the people


The Origins of Kidderminster

At our September 2015 meeting, Nigel Gilbert of the Kidderminster Civic Society gave us an interesting talk on the origins of Kidderminster. The first known reference is from a charter dated 743AD, and from this information, it was felt more could be found out about whether there had been a monastery or minster originally on the town’s site, as suggested by the town’s name.  An archaeological dig was carried out in 2013 funded by a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.  Although many interesting objects were discovered, unfortunately no remains of earlier buildings of a monastery or minster were found.

Kidderminster grew in the medieval period as a centre of the cloth industry – Caldwall Tower, a medieval landmark in the town, is centred in Castle Street.  There used to be a Market Square, but it is now difficult to find as a result of the architectural changes which took place in the 1960s as well as the building of the ring road which has dissected the town.  The statue of Roland Hill the founder of the Penny Post, one of Kidderminster’s well known figures has been kept.

Kidderminster grew in importance as a manufacturer of carpets in the 1800s. One influence was that of the rise of non-conformism; a form of worship followed by many of the prominent industrialists of the time such as the Broome family.  Although many of the old buildings have disappeared a group of weaver’s cottages still remain.  These are interesting as they are three storeys high, because the top floor housed the looms used for weaving. The 1850s was a difficult time for the carpet industry with quarrels over patent rights, but Kidderminster was known all over the world as the centre of the carpet industry.  It kept this place until the 1960s when the industry gradually declined, until now, when there are only two or three manufacturers left. 


Local Market Towns

The speaker at our May 2015 meeting was Dr. Richard Churchley, a well known local historian, member of our committee and editor of The Feckenham Forester, who gave us a sparkling talk on all the local market towns.  He captured our interest by pointing out how old the origins of the towns were; going back to medieval times or even the Roman period.

Richard put them into context by describing their history, function and importance to their outlying communities.   Their origins were often based on charters given by the local Lord of the Manor, who saw it as a way of generating income. It was very important that the market towns did not compete with one another but were intertwined with the rural communities, by marketing local produce and so became the pole, focus or nerve of the surrounding countryside.

Tewksbury was one of the towns described, as an important market town where the Lord of the Manor designated the markets.  Sometimes there are little alley ways in old established towns called ‘Tuers’ which led to the site of the goods being sold.  Many towns had individual areas for various goods, and, as time went on, various towns became associated with a particular produce. Like Redditch for example, known for its needles, fish hooks and springs.  As well as goods sold,  towns had their own fairs or ‘Mop Fairs’ where labourers could be hired with a Market Cross in the centre.

Some towns had their own Market Hall which became covered over time, Alcester being but one local example.  Goods had to be sold at certain times and it was useful to have a covered hall to sell butter, cheese etc.  Other towns had a Bull Ring, as it was believed that the meat from the cow would be tenderer if it had been ‘baited’.

Richard concluded his talk by explaining that not all market towns were successful; there were failed towns which did not keep their original premise for whatever reason, like Alvechurch.  Birmingham changed its function as a market town into an enormous manufacturing city, although vestiges of its original roots remain, with names like ‘The Bull Ring’                                                                


Shropshire Churches

The Society’s AGM was held on 14th April 2015 in Feckenham Village Hall.  The minutes of the last AGM were read and signed, with the Chairman, Treasurer and Secretary presenting their reports.  The Chairman and Committee were re-elected ‘en bloc’, with that part of the evening finishing at 8p.m.

Afterwards, Tim Bridges from the office of the Diocese of Hereford gave us a most interesting talk on many of the churches in South Shropshire – which is part of the diocese.

He presented the churches chronologically – and pointed out that many of these churches are in very remote situations, like that at Hope Bagot for example.  Hope Bagot’s church also has a Yew Tree in the grounds near to a spring, suggesting that it might have been a pre- Christian site.  The list of illustrations included many of those from the medieval period such as Ludlow which has a round chapel in the middle of the ruined castle, while another fascinating church is that at Tong which has a group of marvellous memorials.  The church near the Roman Site at Wroxeter incorporates some of the Roman remains.

Each church chosen was illustrated by little fascinating nuggets of information from Tim, who is a known expert on all these churches. The Arts and Crafts movement was included with a picture of All Saint’s Church, Brockhampton (in Herefordshire.)  and the talk finished with slides on the marvellous windows designed by the Pre-Raphaelites, some of which are in St. Mary’s Church Whitton.


After the Society’s AGM on Tuesday 8th April at Feckenham Village Hall, our members welcomed Dr. Chris Upton, Reader in Public History at Newman University Birmingham, who gave a most interesting talk on ‘The Lunar Society’.  This Society; which flourished in the late eighteenth century,  so called because it met during the full moon, which enabled people to travel in extra light, to their various venues in members’ homes such as Soho House, the home of Matthew Boulton.

Its members were leading industrialists, thinkers, inventors and intellectuals, such as James Watt, Matthew Boulton, Josiah Wedgewood and Erasmus Darwin.  It is said they found England  a rural society, but through their inventions left it urban and industrial.  They were part of the movement called ‘The Enlightenment’ a time of interest in science and invention.

This is clear from their many wide spread interests: in new forms of transport, materials, measurements, gases, mining,  medicine, and the application of science to industry.  Central to their method was experiment, chance, or the observation of events and their outcomes.

Dr. Upton went on to describe in detail the many important inventions their members were involved in such as the steam engine, invented by Newcomen and Watt who introduced a separate condenser which made water power superfluous.

The meeting closed with the members enjoying their usual refreshments.

The next meeting will be on Tuesday 13th May at Webheath Village Hall, with a talk entitled ‘Hereford Churches’ by Tim Bridges