Reports of our lectures held during 2017-18

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 2017

Living on the Hill – Simon Sworn

The Society’s first talk of the 2017/18 season began with a fascinating overview of discoveries made prior to the development of Spire View and Swinford Close, off Siddington Road. Simon Sworn of Cotswold Archaeology reported on excavations in 2015 which revealed that what might at first have seemed a ‘green field’ site has, in fact, been inhabited for at least 5000 years.


The earliest inhabitants lived in the Mesolithic period, around 4000 BC. They were hunter-gatherers who would have taken advantage of the gently sloping ground overlooking the River Churn to watch for passing game. They left behind multiple circular pits, one of which contained flints.


By the Neolithic period (4000-2,400 BC) people were living permanently on the site. Rubbish pits left behind contained flints, pottery and animal bones that showed signs of butchery. A bell-shaped storage pit was discovered that would have contained grain or other foodstuffs. This had been back-filled with rubbish including debris from hearths.


By the Bronze Age (2400-AD 43) inhabitants of the field had built roundhouses. There was evidence of at least two, possibly three, all roughly 16metres in diameter. Entrances to these roundhouses faced east, down the slope, giving a view over the river and catching the early morning sun.There was also evidence of a ditch around the site and a quern stone (used for grinding grain) was found.


Interestingly, there is no evidence that the site was occupied during the Roman period. Did the earlier inhabitants move towards Cirencester or further afield? 


Saxons re-occupied the site some 400 years later (410-1066) with evidence of at least six sunken floor or ‘grub-houses’.  They left behind plenty of artefacts including: worked bone pins, hair pins, pottery, a copper alloy ring and tweezers. They also collected Roman ‘knick-knacks’ – a habit found on other Saxon sites- as shown by the discovery of two Roman coins in the context of one of the buildings.


All the artefacts are currently being analysed and will eventually be offered to the Corinium Museum.


This report by Alison Wagstaff was published in the Wilts & Gloucestershire Standard on 19th October 2017

A Spencer Love Affair – scandal in the 1790s – Alan Ledger

The Society’s October lecture ‘A Spencer Love Affair’ was given by Alan Ledger, a retired school master and guide at Blenheim Palace who has extensively researched the 18th century history of the theatrical performances and social life of the Palace.


Private theatres were very popular in the 18th century, first on the Continent and then with the English aristocracy. A private theatre was created at Blenheim in 1787 when the Orangery in the Kitchen Court was converted to provide space for theatrical productions which were performed for invited audiences.


Lady Charlotte Spencer favourite daughter of the 4th Duke of Marlborough, performed in these theatricals and fell in love with another performer, the Revd Edward Nares an Oxford vicar. 


The daughter of the Duke and Lady Caroline Spencer was expected to marry into one of England’s noblest families to maintain family status, rather than marry for love. Edward Nares was therefore considered an unsuitable match for Lady Charlotte.


Despite fierce opposition to the relationship, twenty eight year-old Lady Charlotte and Edward Nares were married in 1797 at Henley, but not one of her family was present. Lady Caroline was furious and Charlotte was banished from Blenheim Palace. The whole episode became a society scandal.


Lady Charlotte and Edward Nares moved to Biddenden in Kent where Edward was rector for many years. They had three children and sadly Charlotte died in 1802, never having returned to Blenheim Palace.


This report by Alan Strickland was published in the Wilts & Gloucestershire Standard on 16th November 2017

November 2017

400 years of Stroud Textiles – Ian Mackintosh

Although it was a miserable, windy late November night, this didn’t deter members and friends from attending Ian Mackintosh’s lecture on 400 years of Stroudwater Textiles.


A founder member of Stroud Preservation Trust and Stroud Textile Trust, Ian gave a fascinating introduction to the history of the cloth industry, important in the Stroud and Cirencester areas for over 700 years and explained the different processes involved in cloth production. 


At its height, there were over 170 fulling mills in the Stroud area alone, and early pictures show the famous Scarlet cloth drying out on tenter-hooks in the fields.


Interest to the talk was added by slides showing the cloth-making process, especially the early machinery, largely hand or water-driven. Samples of cloth and teazles to card the cloth were passed round the audience. 


Cloth from Stroud was exported around the world and by 1770, the East India Company was even selling it to the North American Indians. For the talk, Ian wore a waistcoat made of Stroud Scarlet; the cloth used for officers in the British army during the Crimean War. Indigo –dyed cloth was produced for the Royal Navy.


As machinery grew larger, the mills needed to be larger than the steep-sided Stroud valleys could accommodate and by the 1830s, more cloth was being produced in Yorkshire, so many of Stroud’s mills moved over to dyeing finished cloth instead.


However, some mills such as Marling’s Ebley Mill the largest cloth manufacturer in the south-west, did continue into the 20th century, only ceasing production in the 1980s.


This report was by Aileen Anderson

January 2018

Tudor Medicine – Cherry Hubbard

What makes us ill? – was the question at the January lecture meeting when Cherry Hubbard, local social historian spoke on Tudor Medicine.In the 16th century illness was considered to be caused by bad smells, amongst other things and the audience was given many insights into the history of medicine, the Tudor perception of health and the way people thought the human body worked.At a time when books were extremely costly and rare, and educated physicians only for the rich, barber/surgeons and apothecaries had important roles along with religious faith and astrology.So the practical knowledge of plants and remedies was at the heart of survival for ordinary folk. This had to be passed through the generations from one household to the next. Cherry provided many examples of remedies, some more fanciful than others, and brought with her a very interesting display of herbs and artefacts which she encouraged the audience to handle.There are many differences between modern attitudes to health and those of the Tudors, not least in terms of personal hygiene and the need to wash. However, by the end of Cherry’s fascinating talk it was clear that not all of these early customs and ideas have disappeared from our culture. Some, indeed, are making a welcome return, though maybe not in a form a Tudor person would recognise.This report was by Kathleen Lindesay

February 2018

Annual Croome Lecture – Joint Meeting with Cirencester Civic SocietyCirencester: The Development and buildings of a Cotswold town.

British Archaeological Report 12 Christopher Catling MA FSA

Cirencester: The development and buildings of a Cotswold town is a subject with great relevance to local residents today. 


Christopher, now head of the Royal Commission on Ancient and Historic Buildings of Wales, described how his childhood experiences in Cirencester guided him towards his career. He assisted Richard Reece, now pre-eminent In Roman studies and numismatics, to write the ground-breaking report during his gap-year in 1975.


Their example of innovative practice and efficient approach went on to guide a generation of people involved in appraising and assessing the newly formed Conservation Areas nationwide.


Since then Dr Reece’s studies have added a wealth of new information, not least concerning the waterways and historic mills of Cirencester. Whether or not modern building has provided classic examples with future historic value is up for debate. 


A copy of this British Archaeology Report 12, with street by street description and analysis, can be found in the Local History section of the Bingham Library. Perhaps your house is recorded and described within!

March 2018

Cotswold Archaeology Mick Aston Lecture Last March of the Tanks – Richard Osgood. Report not available

March 2018

The “Family Names of Britain and Ireland” Project – Dr Simon Draper

Our March meeting saw Dr Simon Draper tell us about the Family Names of Britain and Ireland Project at the University of the West of England, run with the aid of a large grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council. The 1881 Census was searched for all family names with more than 20 occurrences. This resulted in 45,000 names, many with large numbers of variations. Experts were needed to deal with the regional varieties, Irish and Welsh in particular, not being familiar to English scholars. 


The resulting work, showing variations through time, was published in 4 volumes in 2016 as a book and online as an e-book. It is not widely available as it costs £400. The online version includes data from the 2001 census, and contains many maps showing the regional occurrence of names. Simon used his surname as an example, showing may variations. Using our Programme secretary’s name, it was shown to originate in Westmoreland. Many names seem to cluster around Liverpool, showing this as an important port of immigration, especially from Ireland.


Simon’s part in this project was as historian, delving back into the variations. Pre-1066 there were no surnames, nicknames being used if needed, such Ethelred the Unready, so they were appended by others, not the person! The Normans brought hereditary names with them, listed in the Domesday books. By 1200 most knights had hereditary names. Between 1250-1350 surnames spread mostly in the south. The 1381 Poll Tax Lists give many surname examples. 


Most surnames are locative, occupation, relationship or derived from nicknames. It is not easy to follow family names in medieval times, as written examples, often in legal documents show a person to have many aliases, even if not a criminal mastermind. 


Church registers started in late Tudor times, and while these are the first time that all married and baptismal names are recorded, there are often variations recorded, perhaps due to little literacy. Welsh surnames only get common in the 17th century, initially mainly patronyms. It will be interesting to see how surnames develop in our modern fast-moving world.


Report by Peter Watkins

April 2018

Rolls Royce Aero – Chris Bigg

Chris Bigg gave a lecture to a joint meeting of the Cirencester Archaeological and Historical Society and the Cirencester Science and Technology Society on 11th April. An audience of more than a hundred heard a fascinating, fast paced talk about the history primarily of the Rolls Royce Bristol aero-engine site.


Chris is a retired Rolls Royce manufacturing engineer, with a real love of his subject: aircraft and their engines. Although the well-illustrated talk covered the whole of Rolls Royce’s history, it concentrated on the Bristol site, covering the early development of engines by successive companies such as Brazil, Straker & Co, Cosmos Engineering, then the Bristol Aircraft Company. 


During the period when piston engines powered aircraft, Rolls Royce Derby developed the water cooled in-line engines, like the famous Merlin that powered Spitfires and Lancasters. However Bristol developed radial air cooled engines, mostly successors to the Jupiter engine, one of the most successful aircraft engines between the wars. The Hercules, its successor powered many Second World War British military aircraft, including the Bristol Beaufighter.


Bristol were slow to start developing jet engines, but by the time of their merger with Armstrong Siddeley to form Bristol Siddeley in 1950, had prototypes flying. The topic of whether the joining of Rolls Royce and Bristol Siddeley in 1966 was a merger or take-over was briefly mentioned, the lecturer favouring a take-over.


Although the RB211 jet engine was mainly a Rolls Royce Derby design, the Olympus engine was predominantly a Bristol design. It famously powered the Vulcan and was the core of the Concorde engine.


This was a meeting enjoyed by both historians and scientists.

Report by Lynton Mogridge

May 2018

A Cotswold Garland – Martin Graebe

In the final talk of the 2017-18 season, Martin Graebe, an authority on the West Country folk song collector Rev Sabine Baring-Gould, charmed his audience with songs collected within a ten-mile radius of Cirencester, and with stories of the people who documented and preserved musical, dance and other traditions in the area.


Many early twentieth century folk song and dance enthusiasts were members of the middle classes who learnt and in some cases revived, the traditions of working class people.  


Thanks to the efforts of women such as Mrs Bruce Swanwick of Coates (Commandant of the VAD hospital at the Bingham Hall during WW1), Cirencester was the first town to start a branch of the English Folk Dance Society.  Mrs Swanwick helped to form a Morris dancing team in Coates, and her friend, the well-known folk song collector Cecil Sharp, noted down details of the local mumming play, together with several songs and dance tunes, from Daglingworth postman Charles Smith.  


However not all collectors were from the privileged classes. Alfred Williams of South Marston, who was born and died in poverty, cycled 13,000 miles to collect the words of over 500 traditional songs from the Upper Thames valley (not musically trained, he couldn’t take down the tunes).  


American collector J M Carpenter noted down wassail customs, mummers’ plays and ballads and had the advantage of a motor car, in which he sometimes slept!  


In earlier times Cirencester had printers, such as William Clift, whose printed ballads (often with inappropriate illustrations) would later enter the repertoires of the local singers, to be collected by Sharp and others.


Report by Karen Mogridge