Reports of our lectures held during 2014-5

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.

The UK’s atmospheric research aircraft

Dr Guy Gratton, University of Cranfield 10 September 2014 – Joint meeting with Cirencester

Science & Technology Society

Dr Gratton’s lecture started with a brief, but detailed, history covering more than a century of the UK’s valuable and pioneering development of aircraft and meteorological research. He traced this story from the early days of the Royal Air Corps Met Division during and after the First World War through to the inter war period when daily met flights were based at Duxford in Cambridgeshire. During the Second World War high altitude research into the problems of condensation trails became of extreme importance and for this the wooden framed Mosquito proved to be by far the best aircraft for the job. 

Between 1946 and the start of the 21st century cold war science was the driver for the met research flights based at Farnborough. One of the key findings of high altitude work in and just below the stratosphere was the discovery that air pollution from a single source could spread anywhere in the world within a mere 3 days. This sobering result alerted everyone to the dangers of nuclear fallout. By the early 1960’s satellites were beginning to be used effectively and efficiently in regular weather forecasting tasks with the result that the role of manned aircraft concentrated much more on key scientific research. 

Between 1978 and 2001 the UK employed a modified Hercules transport aircraft nicknamed “Snoopy”. However, this was replaced in 2004 with a highly specialist version of the BAE 146 – 301 operating for the newly created Facility for Airborne Atmospheric Measurement (FAAM). Over the past decade this highly sophisticated flying research laboratory, able to fly as low as 100 ft above the sea and up to an operating height of 35,000 ft and possessing amongst other unique equipment 400 mile distance radar, has been involved in a number of highly worthwhile research projects. These have included important findings related to aircraft safe flying limits following the 2010 volcanic eruption in Iceland, gas leakage measurements from the Elgin platform in the North Sea, research into arid zone surface temperatures in Arizona in 2013 and work on Tundra gas emissions this year. 


Dr Gratton believes that this fascinating research aircraft has a further ten years’ or more of highly relevant work relating to climate change and airborne research before needing to be replaced. This report from CS&TS was published in the Wilts & Glos Standard, 18 September 2014

Landscapes and Changes in England – Jeremy Lake 22 October 2014

Jeremy Lake of English Heritage, an Historic Environment Analyst, described some of the different landscapes of the country, and how in some areas previous human arrangements of the land can be seen from pre-Roman times. For example west Cornwall has some of the oldest agricultural landscape in Europe. Landscape change by human action has only been going on for about 3500 years, as early peoples started clearing trees for static living. Even today built-on land in England only occupies 7.5% of the land, and that includes 4.5% as gardens, agricultural land about 72%, roads and railways about 2.5%. 


We have the lowest ratio of forested land in Europe at 8.6%, and the largest farms. Until recent times the “Village England” of John Major, with its cricket and warm beer, was only a narrow strip from north to south through the middle of England. The rural areas either side were characterised by more dispersed settlements with farms and other buildings spread across the countryside, rather than clumped in villages.


Since 1851 the population has doubled, but houses have increased by over six times, as we live in smaller family units. Likewise while there are now fewer larger farms, there is a great growth in small “lifestyle” farms. The loss of small family farms has left many agricultural buildings no longer needed, and indeed the growth in rural housing has been through conversion of many of these. 


Jeremy closed by showing that many early building still exist around the country, with pictures of cruck houses from a number of areas, and a rather nondescript barn which has recently been found by dendro-chronology to be several hundred years old. 


This report by Peter Watkins was published in the Wilts & Glos Standard, 30 October 2014

Archeoscan – recent local excavations and projects – Tony Roberts 26 November 2014

Tony Roberts’ company specialises in archaeological surveys and instructional training for individuals, community groups and schools providing a hands-on experience of archaeology for all. Training using different types of geophysical survey equipment, field walking and desktop research is used to identify potential areas for possible excavation.


The lecture was illustrated with examples of various geophysical survey scan results with an explanation of how each has been interpreted for a given site. Recent survey work and archaeological projects were explained, working with local councils, local societies and individuals around the Cotswolds. These included a geophysical survey of the former Chipping Campden House site, revealing the layout of paths and features of the formal gardens. 


At Linton Farm, Gloucester large numbers of finds by metal detectorists had been recorded; a resistance survey identified the route of the old Roman road into Gloucester with possible buildings adjacent. At Guiting Power the remains of a Romano-British settlement were found, and a Roman villa site at Downton, South Gloucestershire. In Miserden geophysical surveys identified an extensive network of roads and ditches.


 Further surveys and excavations are planned around the Cotswolds for 2015, where again individuals or local groups can experience hands-on archaeology under expert guidance. Following a find of coins in a field by a Tetbury farmer in 2010, Archeoscan were called in and carried out a full excavation. An intact pottery vessel and 1,437 Roman copper-alloy coins from the 3rd century were found. Following fundraising, the collection has been conserved and the vessel with a selection of coins is now on display in the Corinium Museum. 


This report by Alan Strickland was published in Wilts & Glos Standard, 04 December2014

Cirencester and World War One  By Dale Hjort 28 January 2015

As part of the Cirencester Commemorates 1914 – 1918 project, the Society was pleased to welcome one of its own members, Dale Hjort, to talk on how people in Cirencester were affected by the events of the First World War. Dale explained that he was really talking about the reactions of ‘Ordinary People in Extraordinary Times’. With other Society members Linda Viner and Florence Beetlestone Dale had done a great deal of research into the lives of the many men whose names appear on the War Memorials in the town, and he traced for us what had happened to many of them. 


He referred to two butcher’s boys, George and Walter who had responded to Kitchener’s call to join a Gloucestershire Infantry Regiment, and how initially, there were no uniforms or rifles, as the depot was full and they were sent home – only to die later. Initially there was little for girls to do, but many became nurses, and the Bingham Hall became a hospital where over 2,000 men were treated. Dale had photographs of some of them relaxing in the grounds of Watermoor House. 


Some people became fund raisers, and Cirencester was quickly able to supply three ambulances, which were Sunbeam lorries converted by Bridges Garage. At least one Cirencester soldier, Frank Webb, was involved in the famous Christmas Truce of 1914, and he sent home 3 German buttons which he had exchanged for 3 from his own uniform. We know that 15 men from Cirencester had already been killed by Christmas 1914! 


Women and girls at home often became involved in Queen Mary’s Needlework Guild, and there are records of girls at Lewis Lane School knitting for the soldiers. There is even one woman, Julia Herbert, on the town’s war memorial. She became an assistant cook at a military hospital in France. By 1916 conscription was introduced to replace the numbers killed. It made us all realise the enormity of the situation when we learned that 19,000 men, the equivalent of the present population of Cirencester, were killed on the first day of the Battle of the Somme. Dale also had records of men in the naval battle at Jutland, and those in the Royal Flying Corps. 


Discovering what happened to local men made this talk so relevant to us all. I’m sure we will all think of the great sacrifice the men behind all the names on the town’s War Memorials made for us and future generations. 


This report by Aileen Anderson was published in Wilts & Glos Standard, 05 February 2015

 The Annual Croome Lecture

The Tudors and Anne Boleyn By Leanda de Lisle on 25 February 2015

While the story of the Tudors currently enjoys national prominence on television, it was at this year’s 47th Croome Lecture in the Parish Church that the historically rigorous tale of lust and violence was brought to life. The annual Croome Lecture is jointly arranged by Cirencester Civic and Archaeological & Historical Societies in memory of prominent local churchman Will Croome who died in 1967, and it has been held every year since 1969. 


This year’s lecture was delivered by Leanda de Lisle, a well known writer for historic publications and national newspapers. Leanda eloquently explained the humble origins of the Tudors and the slightly comic manner in which the name came to prominence. A Welsh commoner, Owen Tudor, fell while dancing into the lap of Henry V’s widow, Catherine of Valois: it was this that ultimately led to their marriage. When their grandson defeated Richard III at Bosworth, he was crowned King Henry VII on the battlefield. This violent beginning to the Tudor dynasty continued in similar vein. While they successfully did away with other rivals, close relatives included, producing male heirs proved more difficult. 


It was Henry VIII’s forceful measures to produce a son that brought about Cirencester’s connection to the Tudors, The Anne Boleyn Cup. This was made in 1535 and has lived in a glass safe in the Church since 1968. John Lawrence, a Church Guide ,told the story. 


Its journey to Cirencester began with Henry VIII’s first wife, Catherine of Aragon who was Catholic. Henry broke away from Rome to divorce her and marry Anne Boleyn. The Act of Supremacy made him Head of the Church in England and he closed the monasteries to obtain their wealth. Anne Boleyn managed only to produce a female heir, Queen Elizabeth I. Following the reversion of Cirencester Abbey, Dr Richard Master, physician to Queen Elizabeth, purchased the land from her and built ‘a fine seat, with handsome gardens’ on the site, now the Abbey Grounds. 


Although it is known that Richard Master exchanged New Year gifts of Plate with Queen Elizabeth, there is no record of the Cup passing from Anne Boleyn to Queen Elizabeth, nor of it being given to Richard Master and thence to Cirencester Parish Church. However, a Cup is first mentioned in the Church’s Vestry Book in 1614, identified in 1633 as ‘one little gilt cupp with his cover and case & one brazen Eagle (falcon badge)’ This badge is personal to Anne Boleyn. Experts are now satisfied that the Falcon finial is both genuine and contemporaneous with the Cup. While accepting that the early history of the Cup is obscure, the legend of how it came to Cirencester is likely to be accurate. 


This report by Martin Portus was published in Wilts & Glos Standard, 12 March 2015

Archaeological Science in commercial excavations By Dr Sylvia Warman on 11 March 2015

The Society’s March lecture on Archaeological Science in Commercial Excavations was given by Dr Sylvia Warman who is Science Advisor for English Heritage Greater London Region, and a member of the Society.  


Dr Warman explained how archaeological evaluation is part of the planning system and archaeological science an important part of this process. Scientific techniques are used in the early stages of assessment. The local archaeological advisor works with the planning system to determine the extent of any buried archaeology in order to set out an agreed scheme of investigation to mitigate risk. The assessment may include small trial trenches, core sampling analysis, and geophysical surveys and the information sp gained determines whether further investigation is necessary. The developers, builders and archaeological specialists work closely together to find appropriate solutions to avoid delays and allow construction to continue. 


Plans are then developed to reduce damage to archaeologically sensitive areas. Various techniques are used, including setting out new piling clear of important buried archaeology, or covering and protecting it with a geotextile membrane and sand and building a concrete raft foundation. This allows construction works to proceed without disturbing the archaeology underneath. 


Archaeological science is now used in many different ways. The methods employed include environmental archaeology, dendrochronology, material science, biomolecular archaeology, osteology and strata analysis. Once excavations on site have been completed, the scientific work continues with detailed analysis of the different finds and samples gathered.  Many different scientific techniques are again used including, X-rays and carbon dating. 


Dr Warman showed a variety of slides explaining various scientific techniques and how archaeological science continues to evolve and play a significant part in archaeological assessment. This may be for a minor building extension or major projects like Crossrail or HST. 


This report by Alan Strickland was published in Wilts & Glos Standard, 26 March 2015

the future

Grismond’s Tower and Cirencester’s western Roman cemeteries By Prof Tim Darvill and Neil Holbrook

The Cotswold Archaeology Mick Aston Annual Lecture on 18 March 2015

Based at Kemble, Cotswold Archaeology is now one of Britain’s largest independent archaeological bodies, operating all over the UK and currently celebrating its 25th anniversary.  True to its local roots, the Trust sponsors an annual lecture in Cirencester devoted to a local theme, held in association with Cirencester Archaeological & Historical Society and this year the Roman Society. 


This 2015 lecture was the first dedicated to the late Prof Mick Aston, a leading and dedicated field archaeologist, well known for his work on Time Team and for fourteen years a CA trustee. Mick’s work especially in the Cotswolds is much missed. 


Some 250 people attended the Bingham Hall for this year’s lecture on two very local, topical and related subjects. Prof Tim Darvill of Bournemouth University has been CA chair since 1992 and he presented the results of a study into Cirencester’s largest scheduled ancient monument and certainly the least known. Grismond’s Tower is hidden in the private grounds of Cirencester Park, but stands very close to the old Tetbury Road and its large mound can be just be glimpsed through the trees. It is enigmatic and has attracted the interest of historians and visiting writers back to Leland, visiting in 1540.  


Tim explained the many sometimes fanciful interpretations offered for what is basically a very large round barrow, a tumulus, of presumed prehistoric date. It was later converted into use as an ice house for the Mansion, and last used in 1935, another  part of the story. Standing some 4m high and 30m diameter, it is impressive, hence one of the several variants of its place name, as Grosmunt, a French word meaning ‘great hill’. One theory Prof Darvill has been researching is its proximity to a spring source, now the lake in the Park, creating a focal point for the significance of water. Tim also noted that Cirencester has two other such supermounds, on the other side of town at Tarbarrows. Together, a continuing mystery and a fascinating topic for the audience. 


Neil Holbrook, CEO of CA then summarised the recent work literally across the old Tetbury road on former Romano-British cemeteries, in advance of new building. Discoveries of burials and cremations here go back to the 1960s when Bridges Garage was built. Used more recently as a car park, further finds including a beautifully preserved Roman bronze cockerel were found a few years ago. 


In February, as reported in the Standard, came the dramatic find of a well- preserved Roman tombstone, complete with inscription and frieze which Neil described to his appreciative audience in some detail. The lecture was well timed and well presented in this now well established annual local community event. 


This report by David Viner was published in Wilts & Glos Standard, 23 April 2015


Investigating the Landscape – recent archaeological projects

By Aidan Scott and students at Cirencester College on 22 April 2015

In an annual event for the Society, five A level Archaeology students from Cirencester College presented their projects. Aiden Scott, their tutor, set the scene by describing the course.


Tom King took as his subject St Andrews Church in Shrivenham and how it and the village have changed over time. The church is unusual in having a central tower. Tom had visited record offices in both Oxfordshire and Berkshire, and had compared a number of nearby villages and their churches, and made a building survey and photographic survey. He concluded by showing how the church had been built in several periods, and that the tower was the oldest surviving part. 


Sarah Brown asked if Lydiard Park has been a high status location since Roman times. She had studied old records of the park and the church immediately to the rear and chosen an area to use the resistivity tool. With this she found evidence of an unknown track at the front of the current building that was aligned with the church behind, and gave reasons why it might be Roman. 


Isaac Levi’s theme was Leckhampton through the ages. The earliest existing buildings are sixteenth century. He cunningly showed how an area to search was bounded by ridge and furrow and other disturbed ground, and was lucky enough to find evidence of part of an old building with his geophysical survey.  From its form, he deduced that it may be part of a Romano-Celtic Temple, showing us examples to justify his assumption. 


Becky Mellor was unfortunate to find that she could not connect to the internet in the hall, so bravely carried on without any slides. Her study was of Down Ampney Church, and why it is some way from the village. 


James Townsend studied Ashley and Culkerton, having been inspired by finding a Roman coin in his garden. He gave a fascinating description of changes over the centuries. 


CAHS offers an annual prize to the best all-round archaeology student, which was awarded at the end of the meeting to Tom King. 


This report by Peter Watkins was published in the Wilts & Glos Standard, 14 May 2015

The Wilts & Berks Canal By Chris Coyle  on 27 May 2015

Chris Coyle, Company Secretary and a Trustee of the Wilts and Berks Canal Trust, gave the Society’s May meeting a detailed account of the Trust’s origins, purpose and the restoration progress it has made.


The Wilts and Berks was built during the Industrial Revolution to provide quicker and cheaper transport of goods, notably Somerset coal and building materials, from rural areas into rapidly developing towns. In 1793 a meeting called in Wootton Bassett decided to construct a canal linking with the Kennet & Avon canal at Melksham and the Thames near Abingdon. A survey was carried out and work on the 70 mile long canal took place between 1796 and 1810 with no mechanisation, just men with picks and shovels. 


Development of the railways a few years later resulted in the canal becoming unprofitable. By the early 20th century it was derelict. 


In 1971 a group of people interested in the canal met to discuss its restoration. This resulted in the formation of the Wilts and Berks Trust in 1987, its objective being the restoration and rebuilding of the canal. This was described as “an impossible dream”.  


The Trust is now linked with many authorities and organisations which support its work.  Many locks have been restored, also bridges, banks and branches. There is much still to do. 


There are several good reasons for restoring a canal, including the creation of a leisure reserve for the 21st century for boating, walking and cycling. Another aim is the preservation of a valuable wildlife corridor. Water voles and great crested newts, both endangered species, thrive along this canal, and the restoration of the original built canal heritage becomes a living memorial. 


Whilst trying to maintain the original route, in some areas this is not possible, for instance in the centre of present-day Swindon, but planners and authorities are cooperating in finding solutions. 


The Trust raises funds by events, sponsorship and grants from many organisations. In 2013 it was honoured to receive the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Work in Diamond Jubilee Year.


This report by Kathleen Lindesay was published in the Wilts & Glos Standard 11 June 2015

An evening visit to the Royal Agricultural University (RAU) Cirencester

Led by Lorna Parker, the University’s Archivist on 24 June 2015


A ‘Flaming Star’ stained glass design by William Morris in the University Chapel, heraldic crests highlighted against dark panelling, and a longhorn bull called Shakespeare gazing philosophically from one of the impressive 19th century livestock oil paintings on display from the Orwin Collection– these were some of the many highlights of the Society’s summer visit to the Royal Agricultural University in Cirencester. 


Organised by Lorna Parker, Archivist at the RAU’s Library, we made the most of a warm June evening. After browsing amongst archived periodicals and journals in the Library, we explored the site, which was designated with university status in 2013.


Stepping between its Victorian Gothic original College accommodation, through a 16th century Tithe Barn, past modern purpose-built teaching and residential areas, it was clear the University has successfully managed the marriage of heritage and practicality to take it successfully into the future