Reports of our lectures held during 2016-7

We have reported our lectures in the Wilts and Gloucestershire Standard for many years. Each year for some years we have gathered these together at the end of each season and published them in late summer as one of our newsletters. If you should look through our past Lectures page or our publications pages, you can find which Newsletters have reports in them. Back copies of some of our Newsletters may be available on request from our editor. A copying charge may be made. Since 2014 we now only publish these reports online. We will keep paper copies solely for archive purposes. In general reports will appear online about a month after they have appeared in the Wilts & Glos Standard. If you would like to write up a report on a particular talk, contact a committee member as early in the season as possible, as we arrange a rota to ensure that every talk is reported.

 September 2016

The Blick Mead Project. David Jaques, University of Buckingham

Just south of the busy A303, as it heads from Amesbury towards Stonehenge, is the spring-head site of Blick Mead tucked below the north-eastern side of an Iron Age hillfort called Vespasian’s Camp. Protected by the private Antrobus estate and a survivor of 18th century park landscaping, it came to the attention of David Jacques more than ten years ago as a site likely to be rich in archaeology, considering its position in relation to the rest of the World heritage Site and the River Avon. 


Since then, from humble beginnings, reliant on volunteers and minimal funding, the project has grown to international significance. The information gained by David and his team about the Mesolithic hunter-gatherers of the Stonehenge area has filled in missing evidence about human and animal activity before the development of the nearby Neolithic monuments. Thousands of Mesolithic flints, microliths and animal bones have been found as well as possible human shelter and postholes dating to the early 8th millennium BC. This matches the date for the row of Mesolithic postholes close to, but predating, Stonehenge itself. Vast quantities of auroch bone have raised ideas about seasonal trapping and butchery of these wild and powerful cattle around the local river channels and side valleys across the Mesolithic time span. 


No human remains have yet been found but David gave the latest information gleaned from the dating and isotope testing of a dog’s tooth which places it around 4980-4808 BC. This showed the dog’s diet consisted of auroch, red deer, wild boar and fish and also that the dog originated in the north of Britain. Did it travel south with human companions? Were these the first residents in the area who were to meet the advance of Neolithic culture and social change? What is sure is that the pre-henge activity at this hub in our ancient landscape is no longer invisible. This report by Anne Buffoni was published in the Wilts and Gloucestershire Standard October 2016


Wilts and Gloucestershire Standard November 2016

October 2016

Caer Gloyw, Caer Baddon, Caer Ceri: Brythonic Kingdoms of the Costwold/Severn Region AD

410-577  – Will Parker

Our October meeting saw Will Parker telling us about that period in history between the Romans leaving and the Saxons establishing, which we will now have to call the “Not so Dark Ages”. Our common view is that the Romans left quite quickly in about 410AD. Will described how the Romans started losing control of the empire once it got too big to manage, mentioning the crossing of the Rubicon in 49BC as a start. Between 235 and 285AD, Rome had 25 emperors, all but two of whom died violently.


As the Romans took their eye off governing, towns became squalid as local authorities dwindled, and those who could afford it, moved to the countryside, building larger homes. However, Corinium grew in the fourth century, as a regional capital, while other towns declined. Even though a new dwelling had sixteen rooms, it is thought that half of the properties of the town were already derelict. It is possible that Britain no longer had Roman garrisons after 388AD. Richard Reece has said that Roman coinage was no longer in general use by about 400AD.In the absence of Roman power, localism became important, with landlords wielding control of a sort, but warlords, mainly Bryonthic speakers, gradually carved out areas of influence. 


In this area, the tussle was between Celts and Saxons, with the border moving this way and that. The border became firmer after the battle of Badon, near Bath in 490AD. The country was ravaged by plagues in 547 to 549. A battle at Deorham (present day Dyrham, near Bath ) finished off the Bryonthic warlords in 577, leaving the Saxons in control. Within about 200 years the language of power changed from Latin to an early form of English.

This report by Peter Watkins was published in Wilts and Gloucestershire Standard November 2016.

November 2016

Port to Port – The Gloucester to Sharpness Canal – Paul Barnett

At the November meeting, marine historian Paul Barnett told of a chance encounter when researching the history of the Gloucester-Sharpness Canal. A man in a pub gave him a set of black and white photographs taken in 1955.

They gave a wonderful insight into canal life at that time. By comparing his own colour photos, taken at the same locations in 2010, Paul could show the many changes over time.Opened in 1827, the 16 miles of deep canal allowed access for sea-going ships from the Severn at Sharpness up to Gloucester, thus linking the Severn estuary with the industrial hub of Birmingham.


During World War Two, the canal was of strategic importance for naval and commercial purposes and was nationalised in 1948. Many of the canal-side buildings have disappeared but a substantial number still remain, including the warehouses at Gloucester Docks.


Near Sharpness, a shipyard, which carried out building and repairs of large vessels, still functions and the Harbourmaster’s house at the canal entrance is now owned by the village. The original timber bridges have been replaced by steel ones, some motorised and some still hand-operated.


The main cargoes were timber for Morelands Match Factory; coal from the Forest of Dean; fish meal and oil.


In the 1990s the shipyard and surrounding area was privatised. Today, the canal still carries cargo; mainly cement, imported coal, timber and scrap metal for export.


Although many changes have taken place over nearly 200 years, the canal’s future seems assured both commercially and as a recreational and leisure asset.


This report by Kathleen Lindesay was published in the Wilts and Gloucestershire Standard on Jan 19th 2017

January 2017

Gertrude Bell – Archaeologist, Historian, Explorer, Dipomat and maker of a nation – Ruth Iliffe

It was a pleasure for CAHS to welcome one of its own long-standing members, Ruth ILIFFE, to present the January talk to the Society.Ruth’s illustrated talk gave a remarkable insight into the life of a largely forgotten lady, Gertrude Bell, who had enormous influence on the politics of the Middle East in the early part of the 20th century.

She was the first female officer in the British Colonial Service, as well as being an archaeologist, historian and intrepid explorer.Gertrude was born in 1868 into a wealthy northern family, who had made a fortune in the steel industry and it was her wealth that enabled her to indulge in her chosen interests. She was well educated and was the first woman to gain a first class degree in Modern History at Oxford, but as a woman in Victorian England, she couldn’t graduate.

She travelled extensively around Europe and eventually via family connections visited Persia, where she said she felt reborn. She took up mountaineering, but by 1899, archaeology had become a great interest and she took part in some of the ‘digs’ in the Middle East.


By 1913, she was a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society. She always travelled in style and dressed in expensive clothes, even wearing pearls on an archaeological dig!In 1915 she was recruited into the Arab Intelligence Bureau and worked alongside T.E. Lawrence. The end of WW1 unfortunately saw the land of the former Ottoman Empire divided up between Britain and France but with little thought for tribal loyalties – the cause of much of the trouble in the area today.


Gertrude realised the mistakes and in 1922 was given the task of creating a new country, Iraq. Churchill was keen to access the oil in the area for the Royal Navy’s ships.


The new king, Faisal, admired Gertrude and made her Honorary Director of Antiquities. She regulated excavations and prevented the looting of treasures. The museum in Baghdad was largely her creation. Even though over 10,000 artefacts were stolen or destroyed in 2003, her commemorative bust remained safe in the museum’s cellar.


She died in 1926, and was buried in Iraq, the country she had created and loved.


This report is by Aileen Anderson

FEBRUARY 2017 – The Croome Lecture

On Monday 20th February the Cirencester Civic Society jointly presented with the Archaeological and Historical Society and the Friends of the Parish Church the Annual Croome lecture in the Parish Church to a packed house. Dr David Robinson spoke on The Augustinian Canons in England and the Abbey of St. Mary Cirencester. This was part of the celebrations for the 900th anniversary of the founding of the Augustinian Abbey of St Mary, in Cirencester, by King Henry 1 in 1117. The abbey was supported by the patronage of Henry I with canons coming from Merton College.


David Robinson lectured on the Augustinians and their monastery and abbey that they built about a 100 metres to the north of the present church -which was much larger than the town church. It is with coincidence that William Croome was involved in the archaeological excavations that took place in the 1960s where much was discovered about the Abbey. Abbots and Canons of the Abbey wrote many books that have survived and four are able to seen in an exhibition at the Corinium Museun loaned by the Bodleian Library and Jesus College Oxford. 


The abbey had over 100 canons at its height but still maintained a healthy proportion compared with other monasteries. It was also one of the wealthiest abbeys, second only to Gloucester in the local area but still with a significant income. The Augustians and the Abbey had not been written about generally historically and it is only in the last 20 years or so that this has improved. Especially with the likes of Dickinson’s many essays on the subject. Saint Augustine of Hippo originated in North Africa around 400AD and his teachings evolved over the centuries eventually by 1067 having a structure by which monks could follow and adhere to. 


Augustians started their movement with abbeys and monasteries in France, Spain and Italy. St Botolph’s Priory in Colchester was the first Augustian establishment in England in 1104. The last being in 1359 in Lincolnshire. At its height there were in the order of 200 sites in Britain most of which had an annual income of around £200 with 40% having incomes of less than £100 and only 5 having incomes over £800. St Mary’s income was £1051, the largest of all! At one stage the income reached an astronomical £1330 thanks to the income from rents and fees from tenant farmers and market traders.


Hospices and hospitals also became part of the monasteries and St Mary’s was no exception although St John’s Hospice in Spitalgate was supported by the church. Cirencester was a large royal Minster and when the abbey was excavated in 1965 the foundations of a 9th century Anglo Saxon church was found. It was demolished with the Abbey built on top of it. . The Abbey helped in its patronage of a local school. The scholarly house continued with regular students being recorded at Oxford.


When the abbey was demolished after 1539 it was literally razed to the ground – ‘not a stone shall be standing’ and no significant remains exist today. This may well of been (sic) due to how the local populace viewed the abbey within the town with strong resentment.


This report by Cirencester Civic Society    

March 2017

Victoria County History comes to Cirencester c1540-1945 – Francis Boorman

Our talk on March 8th was by Dr Francis Boorman from the Victoria County History (VCH) research team in Gloucester. VCH is so-called as it started work in Victorian times to research the history of every town and parish in England, checking original documents.

This herculean task is divided into small chunks. Francis showed how little of Gloucestershire has yet been studied. Religious houses in the County, including our Abbey, were written up 110 years ago. Francis is leading a team studying Cirencester from 1547-1945.


Francis chose to tell us about the changing political culture during this period. Cirencester was a so-called “potwalloper” borough – all male heads of household could vote, which was unusual. It sent two MPs to Westminster until 1867. In the 16th and 17th centuries, these were mostly members of the Poole and Master families. Often there was no contest requiring an election. When the Bathursts arrived in the 18th century, if an election was called, the Bathurst family appointed the Returning Officer. In 1712 the electorate was about 600 males from a population of about 3600 males. Until 1754, Bathurst and Master families were regularly returned. When elections occurred, the turnout was 72-82%. No doubt there was some chicanery. In 1784, three deaths from drinking to excess at an election toast were recorded. Secret balloting was not introduced until 1872. Before that it was common for the poll to be open for several days – until the right result?


The 1832 Great Reform Act, aimed at getting rid of “rotten Boroughs” required the head of household to own land worth £10, which reduced the electorate from 731 to 261, though those who previously had the right to vote, kept that right until death. Political party was hardly mentioned on posters until the beginning of the 20th century. The Liberals came on the local scene in the mid-19th century. In 1859 there was a court case about the abduction of voters. 


The constituency was enlarged to form East Gloucestershire- roughly the area of the current District- in 1885, and enlarged further to be Cirencester and Tewkesbury 1918, being a safe Tory seat ever since, even though Tewkesbury is now lost.


Francis rounded off the evening by telling us of much bad feeling occurring between Parish Clerk and Sexton, as recorded in Vestry books from 1613-1836. This eventually eased as civil local government gradually evolved. 


This report by Peter Watkins was originally published in the Wilts and Gloucestershire Standard in March 2017


Some of the material of this lecture is now published on the VCH website for comment. (April 2017)

March 2017   The Mick Aston Lecture for Cotswold Archaeology. Animals and Society in the Roman Cotswolds –

Dr Mark Maltby

Reader in Environmental Archaeology at Bournemouth University, Dr Maltby has a background in prehistoric and Roman archaeology and has carried out extensive research in the field of zooarchaeologyReport To Follow

April 2017 Joint meeting with Cirencester Science & Technology Society

The Map which Changed the World – David Vessey


At the annual joint lecture with Cirencester Science & Technology Society on April 12th, David Vessey BSc delivered a fascinating talk on the work of William Smith who is credited with producing the first geological map of England and Wales.


William Smith (1769-1839) born the son of a blacksmith, was an intelligent boy who was fascinated with rocks, fossils and the structure of the Earth.


In 1787, he became assistant surveyor to Edward Webb, of Stow-on-the Wold, quickly learning his trade before moving to Somerset as surveyor to the Somerset coalfield and coal canal.


His survey work greatly assisted his understanding and knowledge of geology. His travels round the UK recording various soils and stone types enabled him to build a picture of the rock strata which he used to interpret the different landscapes.


This knowledge was needed to help identify locations for coal, iron ore, clays and other raw materials.


Using agricultural map design principles, Smith made a detailed, coloured map of the Bath area and in 1815, he produced the first geological map of England and Wales. This is remarkably similar to modern such maps.


Problems with business ventures and the victim of plagiarism of his geological map, Smith found himself in a debtor’s prison. After his release, he continued working as a surveyor and was responsible for building the Rotunda Geological Museum in Scarborough.


When Smith produced his ground-breaking map in 1815, he was overlooked by the scientific community as a commoner. However, in 1831, his achievements were finally recognised by the Geological Society of London with the first Wollaston medal conferred on him by the Society. The Society President referred to him as “The father of English Geology”.


This report by Alan Strickland was published in the Wilts and Gloucestershire Standard in April

May 2017

Exploring Sisters Longbarrow – Tim Darvill

At the May meeting Professor Tim Darvill of Bournemouth University gave an update on the on-going excavations at Sisters Longbarrow on Abbey Home Farm.


Depositing and honouring the dead in the Cotswold/Severn area 6000 years ago involved a particular tradition of constructing substantial monuments in the landscape which we now call longbarrows.


These huge trapezoidal mounds of stone and earth hide various patterns of chamber and passageway containing human bones covering three or four generations. Many of these sites, for example Belas Knap are well known to those interested in our local Neolithic ancestors, the earliest Cotswold farmers.


Occasionally, as is the case with Sisters Longbarrow, new sites are discovered through survey and observation. Thanks to the support of the owner, Will Chester-Master, Tim and his team of archaeology students and enthusiastic local volunteers have begun to uncover the long, low mound in his field and much information has been discovered.


The barrow is a complex one built carefully with a framework of ancient stone walling. Emerging evidence challenges some received wisdom on longbarrow types and has thrown fresh interest on neighbouring sites. The bones from one of the round barrows investigated and removed when Chedworth airfield was constructed in WW2 can now be dated as Neolithic. 


Could the unusual construction of Sisters turn out to be evidence for an original round barrow ‘modernised’ 6000 years ago into a more fashionable long shape? Adult and child bones have been discovered stuffed into an entrance passageway. Are they related? Were they born locally?


Cultural links with similar sites in Brittany and Normandy add more complexity to the mix. Once again more questions are raised than answers but modern scientific techniques are coming to the rescue.


The dig continues this August and is open daily except Mondays from 9th – 23rd, between 9am and 5pm. Please see The Organic Farm Shop website for details


.Report by Anne BuffoniJune 2017    


Cirencester Abbey – Digging into the Past  

A significant contribution to the Abbey 900 celebrations in Cirencester was successfully delivered to an appreciative audience in the Corn Hall, in the form of an evening of talks and presentations from the town’s main archaeological and historical bodies. 


Organised by the Society jointly with Cotswold Archaeology, Digging the Past focussed on what is known and is still being discovered about the site and history of the Abbey of St Mary, which is now of course the town’s much-loved Abbey Grounds public park.


Speakers each developed a theme, ably chaired by Tim Darvill, who is well-known as an archaeologist on the national stage and was here acting as Chair of Cotswold Archaeology, one of the evening’s sponsors.


Martin Watts described the excavations of the 1960s, much admired in their day, which firmly established the location of the abbey, and its earlier Anglo-Saxon church. The building outline is now marked out in the park.


Carolyn Heighway and Richard Bryant from Past Historic emphasised the significance of the study of the Abbey stonework and the quality of what survived its demolition at the Reformation in the mid-16th century.


Beth Hartland from the Victoria County History team currently studying Cirencester showed the value of historic research on surviving medieval documents and produced some very people-friendly stories of daily life.


Tim Darvill weaved the story together, from the foundation of the Abbey in 1117 (hence Abbey 900 celebrations this year) right through to the drama of closure and dispersal some 400 years later.


The Corn Hall proved to be an excellent venue, generously supported by Wildmoor Properties, a pleasure to hold such a public gathering in this historic venue again.


As Abbey 900 continues its programme through 2017, this evening of celebration provided some firm historical framework on which the celebrations can be enjoyed.


This report by David Viner was published in the Wilts and Gloucestershire Standard on 3 Aug 2017