Reports of our lectures held during 2015-6

If you would like to write up a report on a particular future talk, contact a committee member as early in the season as possible, as we arrange a rota to ensure that every talk is reported.

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.

Berkeley Nuclear Power Station: Construction, Operation & Decommissioning

by David Brown on 09 September 2015

The combined audiences of Cirencester Science and Technology Society and Cirencester Archaeological & Historical Society were provided with a fascinating brief history of the life cycle of the UK’s first fully operational nuclear generating station. 


The Berkeley Power Station was conceived in the early 1950s as a scaled up version of the trial installation at Calder Hall based on two reactors of the Magnox type with work starting on the site in 1957. The archive film that formed part of the lecture recorded the important stages of the construction process that culminated in plant commissioning in 1961 and full operation in 1962. 


With a maximum output in the order of 300MW the plant remained in operation, apart from a shutdown in 1983, until final closure in March 1989. During its working life, spanning a little over a quarter of a century, Berkeley Power Station produced approximately 40 billion units of electricity at an initial capital cost of approximately £36m. 


Most of the lecture described the long process of de-commissioning that started with the de-fuelling operation that took place between 1989 and 1992. This was followed by the “Safestore” period between 1993 and 2010 and the removal of the massive boilers in 2012-2013. 


The period required for first stage radioactive decay is estimated to be some 70 years after final shutdown in the late 21st century. The speaker stressed the importance of the lessons that should be learned from the careful documentation of the whole process of building, operating and closing down the UK’s first commercial nuclear power station. Not the least of these lessons is the need to retain a suitable number of core staff whose knowledge of the operation of plant and accumulated experience is vital in the final de-commissioning stage in the life cycle of nuclear installations. The lecture demonstrated the important role that Berkeley has played in the development of our knowledge in the management of nuclear plants from start to finish. This report by CS&TS was published in Wilts & Glos Standard, 17 September 2015

Tales from Gloucestershire Railways by Tony Conder on 28 October 2015  

Tony Conder has worked for many years in museums and archives and was Curator of the British Waterways Collection for 25 years after coming to Gloucester in 1988 to open the National Waterways Museum in the city docks. He has extensively researched the canal and railway history of the county and used his in-depth knowledge to give a fascinating insight into its railway network.  


He showed how the pattern of railways developed, the core part of which survives in use today, explained the competition between the Midland Railway and the Great Western Railway to extend their influence, and in particular the pinch-point of competition between them in and around Gloucester.  


Tony also had a good look at the quite intensive pattern of railways throughout the Forest of Dean, intended to exploit the area’s industrial resources, and by contrast the various cross-country routes across the Cotswolds, which have also largely disappeared.  


There was a nod to Cirencester’s two stations, Town and Watermoor, serving quite distinct routes, with the town station still standing as a silent reminder of the ways things once were.  


The point was well made that the Beeching cuts of the 1960s were not an isolated experience, but an accelerated part of a much longer process of railway closures and contraction as lines became increasingly uneconomic. A good part of this was essentially the legacy of wartime neglect of infrastructure and the changing habits of the population from the later 1950s onwards.   Today’s much slimmed-down railway network nevertheless still continues to represent the county’s transport needs, at least between the major centres of population and beyond.

David Viner

The History of Allotments in Gloucestershire by John Loosley on 25 November 2015  

The Society’s final lecture of 2015 was given by John Loosley on a topic he has been researching for a number of years. It is well known that the allotment movement in Britain really took off as a result of both world wars. After the 1914-18 war land was allocated to returning servicemen. In World War Two disruption to shipping necessitated national self- sufficiency in food production, hence the slogan, ‘Dig for Victory’. 


But the allotment movement goes back much further, with its origins in the late 18th  century. In Gloucestershire in 1797 land for allotments for poor cottagers was provided in Long Newnton and Shipton Moyne by Mr Estcourt.  A few other landowners followed his lead and improved nutrition and a significant drop in applications for Poor Relief was noted. As a result of the Industrial Revolution and urbanisation, malnutrition became widespread.  


In 1830 a London surgeon founded the Labourers’ Friendly Society and landowners were persuaded to allocate land to be rented to cottagers, thus enabling them to grow food for their families.  


The aim of the Society was to improve the living standards of the poor and to reduce ‘drunken dissipation’.  A monthly publication was circulated and rules drawn up; these included quarterly payment of rent, banning use of a plough, digging with a spade and to keep at least one pig per allotment.   


Agents were employed to travel the country, encouraging landowners to subscribe and provide land. In 1833 Mr Perry, the local agent, visited Stroud and Uley, where 33 acres were made available. Gradually the movement gained momentum.   


Colonel Kingscote supplied seed potatoes, poles for pigsties were donated, and loans made to provide for purchase of pigs. In November 1833 Mr Perry came to Cirencester.  Mr Blackwell of Ampney Park chaired a meeting and a local committee was formed.  


Farmers were suspicious of these developments, fearing their labourers’ independence, but a dramatic reduction in crime ensued as men spent less time in the beer shops. Rent was generally paid regularly and very few gave up their allotments.


The Smallholdings and Allotments Act of 1908 placed a duty on local authorities to provide land for allotments according to need but a massive increase occurred at the end of the First World War.   The speaker was warmly thanked on behalf of the Society for a most interesting lecture.   


This report by Kathleen Lindesay was published in Wilts & Glos Standard, 07 January 2016

 Women’s Suffrage and the Cotswolds by Sue Jones  on 27 January 2016  

The timing couldn’t have been better for the Society’s talk on Women’s Suffrage and the Cotswolds as the popular film Suffragette is receiving glowing reviews.   So Sue Jones’ illustrated talk bringing the subject to the local area was viewed with great interest.   


Sue explained that she had developed an interest in the Suffragette movement after hearing stories from an aunt about a lady who had actually tried to poison Lloyd George.   


When Sue returned to the Cotswolds, she began to research the Women’s suffrage movement in this area where there were a number of well-educated and often economically independent ladies including the well-known Dorothea Beale at Cheltenham Ladies College.   


She explained that not all those in favour of women’s suffrage were suffragettes; the non – militant suffragists often had their peaceful rallies attacked because of the violence of the militants.   


There was probably a society in Cirencester at the end of the 19th century, but there is little evidence of this.   However, in 1911 Mrs Pankhurst herself did come to Cirencester, and Sue had a wonderful picture of her in the car she was presented with – decorated in purple, white and green, the movement’s colours, on her release from prison. Her visit had been arranged by Ada Flatman, who lodged in Ashcroft Villas.   


Drawing room meetings were held by ladies including Mrs Melville of Stratton House, and Mrs Evelyn Dives of Cecily Hill, and there was a meeting in the Bingham Hall. But as most of the seat cost 2s.6p, it is easy to see that few working people were involved.   So the Suffrage movement soon began to fizzle out in Cirencester, as many of the key figures in the town did not give any support.   


It was interesting for us, a hundred years later, to see Sue’s collection of photographs of these often brave ladies, and to hear of their struggles.   


This report by Aileen Anderson was published in Wilts & Glos Standard, 03 March 2016

 The Croome Memorial Lecture 2016:

Traditional Festivals of England by Prof Ronald Hutton   on 24 February 2016  

This annual free lecture was first held in 1969 and is jointly organised by Cirencester Archaeological & Historical Society and Cirencester Civic Society.   This year the venue was Cirencester Parish Church and the event kindly sponsored by the Friends of the Parish Church. Once again it did not disappoint a fascinated audience.   


Professor Ronald Hutton of the University of Bristol led us through a calendar of Traditional Festivals of England with eloquence and style, demonstrating his extensive research into folklore and the marking of significant events by pagan and then early Christian communities.   


With him we were able to unravel some of the reasons behind modern celebrations, and observe the changes in emphasis as society and priorities changed through the millennia.   He explained how the natural world was the focus of the earliest festivals, with themes that included summer cleansing with fire, autumnal fun and fear with its mocking of the coming dark and communing with spirits, midwinter lights against the dark and gift-giving to welcome the increasing daylight, and then the springtime blessing of produce and animals.   


Prof Hutton observed that misrule and a long period of feasting and relaxation could only happen in the mud and dark of winter when communities felt safer from attack, and that romance and love were better celebrated in warmer weather, when more comfortable privacy could be found in the hedgerows and meadows!   


Although modern customs retain many of the basics despite the influence of the Victorians and more recently American culture, the speaker concluded that humanity has replaced nature; we put ourselves and escaping the workplace at the heart of our celebrations.   He pointed out as an example that the focus on family relationships at Christmas, and the New Year emphasis on adults and friends, can aggravate loneliness in many instead of bonding us in our communities alongside the natural world that sustains us. 


This report by Anne Buffoni was published in Wilts & Glos Standard, 10 March 2016


A Literary Tour of Gloucestershire By Mary Moxham on 9 March 2016  

Mary Moxham, a Blue Badge Guide for Gloucestershire, gave a fascinating armchair Literary Tour of Gloucestershire, a guide to the county’s rich literary connections, covering all areas and introducing some unexpected associations. It is believed that Shakespeare, though not a native of the county, visited Gloucestershire on several occasions and his references to shepherds, sheep shearing and shearing parties in The Winter’s Tale are probably based on witnessing these near Dursley. Berkeley Castle features in Richard III as does the view from Stinchcombe Hill. 


Ledbury was the birthplace of John Masefield and he later returned to the area. He was inspired by the clump of trees on May Hill. This area is noted for its wild daffodils which were taken by train to London daily. Masefield was visited by the poet Edward Thomas whose train, returning to London, made an unscheduled stop at Adlestrop. This inspired his poem ‘I Remember Adlestrop’. The railway remains but there is no station today. 


A group of poets who lived or visited the area around Dymock in the years preceding the First World War, known as ‘The Dymock Poets’, published a journal called ‘New Numbers.’ Contributors included Robert Frost (‘The Road Less Travelled’),  Rupert Brooke (‘The Soldier’), John Drinkwater, Eleanor Farjeon (‘Morning has Broken’) among others.


Tewkesbury has connections with Daniel Defoe and Dickens’ characters in ‘The Pickwick Papers’ visited hostelries there on their journey from Bath to Birmingham. Much ale was consumed there. The novel ‘John Halifax: Gentleman’ by Mrs. Craik is based in Tewkesbury. 


The author and conservationist John Moore (1907-1967) wrote about the countryside and was a founder of the Cheltenham Literature festival in 1949. A house in Broadway, now The Lygon Arms, was owned by an actress, Mary Andersen, and her husband. It was frequently visited in the pre-WWI years by John Singer Sergeant, Elgar, J M Barrie, Hugh Walpole, Francis Brett-Young and others. Barrie rented Stanway House each summer and William Morris was a frequent visitor. Nearby, at Aston-sub-Edge, T S Eliot drew inspiration from the Burnt Norton gardens for one of his ‘Four Quartets’. Graham Greene lived for a while at Chipping Campden. 


Nearer to home, the poet Alexander Pope is associated with the layout of Cirencester Park through his friendship with the first Earl Bathurst.  He is commemorated by the folly known as Pope’s Seat. In more recent times the Slad Valley has become famous through Laurie Lee’s novel ‘Cider with Rosie’. But perhaps the most widely-known literary reference to the county is through Beatrix Potter’s ‘The Tailor of Gloucester’. Mary Moxham told us the true story which inspired this delightful tale.   


This report by Kathleen Lindesay was published in Wilts & Glos Standard, 31 March 2016

The King under the Car Park –  Cotswold Archaeology: the Mick Aston Memorial Lecture

By Richard Buckley 16 March 2016

The free annual lecture sponsored for some years by Cotswold Archaeology with the support of the Bingham Hall Trustees is held in memory of Prof Mick Aston, a great supporter of archaeology in and around Cirencester and a former trustee of CA, now one of the largest independent archaeological units in the UK. 


This year’s subject was the story of the discovery of the remains of King Richard III in a car park in Leicester in 2012 and was given by the project leader, Dr Richard Buckley of the University of Leicester. The national and international press interest this aroused and the challenges the team faced to authenticate the burial as that of the last Yorkist king of England was a key theme of the talk. Dr Buckley found himself in the spotlight throughout and enjoyed recounting the experience to his large and appreciative audience.


Richard III was King of England from 1483 until his death in August 1485, at the age of 32, in the Battle of Bosworth Field in Leicestershire. He was the last of the Plantagenet dynasty and the last English king to die in battle. 


Just a year ago, more than 500 years after his death and less than three years after his bones were found, he was laid to rest in Leicester Cathedral where his tomb can be viewed today. A Dynasty, Death and Discovery visitor centre tells the story of the remarkable project of archaeology and scientific investigation. 


Much mythology surrounds Richard, the man and the king. Shakespeare portrayed him as a hunchbacked toad-like creature but the skeleton shows that this was not the case. Richard would have been about 5ft 8in tall without his scoliosis of the spine, about average for a medieval man. His scoliosis would have reduced his height to below 5 feet.


Richard Buckley showed in detail how the skeleton was examined, via a variety of scientific analytical processes, including DNA, and revealed the striking facial reconstruction which concluded the project to dramatic effect. His talk was set in context of medieval Leicester and the significance of his burial place in the church of the Greyfriars, home of the Franciscans in the town. A fascinating subject well told by its acknowledged expert. 


This report by David Viner was published in Wilts & Glos Standard, 07 April 2016 

Investigating the Landscape – Recent Archaeological Projects  Wednesday 27th April 2016

Student Presentations from Cirencester College & the Royal Agricultural University

The Society’s April meeting was the third in a series giving students their chance to show off their archaeological skills. This year Cirencester College A Level students were joined by students from the new RAU foundation course to give us three presentations. Aiden Scott, their enthusiastic tutor, introduced the mechanics of the A level course and showed us some new field finds by the group before introducing the individual studies. 


Joe White introduced us to Dry Heathfield barrow near Crickley Hill and a neighbouring barrow about 100m away, asking if it is a long barrow and not a round barrow. Searching the literature he found that it had been excavated in 1845 and 1860 when a number of bodies were found. On site he found the barrow much reduced by cultivation, and the second barrow not visible. Joe got permission from the landowner and English Heritage and made a resistivity survey of a large area, not without interference from the horses sharing the field. This showed both barrows with undisturbed ground between making it probable that it was never a long barrow. 


Alice Austin studied a field at Buscot Wick on the banks of the Coln. The literature showed slight evidence of a Neolithic cursus (a large linear structure) running down towards the riverbank, with a ring barrow nearby. No previous excavations were found. A fieldwalk was done at which very little was found, a few worked flints, and a little Roman pottery. A resistivity survey of the area clearly shows one of the cursus ditches and a small part of the other. Alice surmised how the ancient people would have found and used the open landscape. 


The five RAU students including Alice then took turns to describe their group investigation in Bushy Hay field, just behind the buildings at RAU’s new Harnhill Centre. After a large area resistivity survey, they chose a potentially interesting area at the junction of two walls not visible on the ground today to excavate. A strange cobbled area was found, unfamiliar even to experts, and large numbers of animal bones. More questions than answers as they continue their studies.  


At the end of the evening a prize of a £50 Book Token was awarded to Joe White for best A level study this year. This report by Peter Watkins was published in the Wilts & Glos Standard 16 May 2016

Left to right: 

Victoria Vizard(RAU) 

Aiden Scott, 

Joseph White (CC), 

Trevor Rutherford(RAU), 

Alice Austin(RAU ex CC), 

Thomas Gower(RAU), 

Rosie Nagle(RAU)


All RAU students were in the 1st year of a Foundation Degree in Archaeology and Historic Landscape conservation


Stand and Deliver! Gloucestershire Highwaymen By John Putley  25 May 2016

The Society’s final lecture before the summer break was given by John Putley from Gloucestershire Archives who gave an entertaining and informative talk entitled Stand & Deliver! Gloucestershire Highwaymen. 


John explained that the image of highwaymen as Gentlemen of the Road and as romantic heroes was far from the truth as the reality was that they were thieves and criminals.  Highway robbery traces back to the 14th century, with the golden age being the 17th century when travel by coach increased, providing greater opportunities for robbers.


Highwaymen came from many groups including Royalist officers ruined after Charles 1 was defeated in the English Civil Wars, jealous footmen and servants and young men from wealthy families. A number of women also became highway robbers dressing in men’s clothes as a disguise.


Highwaymen were ruthless thieves carrying and using flintlock pistols, preferring to operate in groups, with stolen horses, and they would target lone travellers as easy prey. Information on expected coaches was often learned from landlords at coaching inns and great advantage was gained by staying within their local area which made ambushes and escape relatively easy. The robbers would always hope to steal money as rings and jewellery had to be sold on and this was a potential risk. 


Hounslow Heath was a particularly bad area, being the route travelled by the wealthy to Windsor and the West Country. Main coaching routes were popular and active Gloucestershire blackspots are recorded around Andoversford and Birdlip.


The highwaymen could gain large rewards, however the risks were high with the possibility of being shot or convicted and hanged. 


As roads improved and the speed of coaches increased, mail coaches started carrying guards with blunderbusses, rich travellers with armed escorts and with the growth of police forces the demise of the highwayman quickly followed. 


This report by Alan Strickland was published in Wilts & Glos Standard, 16 June 2016