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Kidlington & District Historical Society Newsletter
Chairman: Norma Aubertin-Potter
1st Quarter 2013
Reporter: Henry Brougham
The Society meets on the first Tuesday of every month at the St John Ambulance Hall.
Meetings Start at 7.50pm.
Oxfordshire Past 2013
We are hosting the Oxfordshire Architectural & Historical Society’s annual event, Oxfordshire Past 2013, at Exeter Hall on Saturday 1st June, from 10.00am to 4.20pm. The programme consists of 10 lectures from experts on various aspects of the County’s history, archaeology and architecture, including one from the our Vice-chairman, John Amor, on ‘Kidlington-on-the-Green’. The full programme is on the OAHS website.
Attendance costs £7.00 and must be booked in advance. This includes tea and coffee but not lunch. Tickets are available online from http://oxfordshirepast.org, or from Shaun Morley, Tithe Corner, 67 Hill Crescent, Finstock, OX7 3BT (cheques payable to Oxfordshire Architectural and Historical Society).
We need volunteers to help with providing tea and coffees before the event and during the breaks, and to help sell our publications from our stall. Members helping will be able to attend the event free of charge. Please contact Olive Williams, Social Secretary if you can help with teas and coffees, and Henry Brougham, Secretary, to help with publications.
Register of Local Heritage Assets
Cherwell Council will shortly be drawing up a register of buildings and other structures which are not of a standard to be listed, but which are worthy of recognition as part of the local heritage, or provide a positive impact on the area. Examples might include such local structures as WW2 pillboxes, or conceivably, the grain silo at Water Eaton P&R, which has formed part of the local landscape for many years. Think about buildings and structures in the area which form part of its heritage. We will keep you posted on when they can be put forward to the Council for inclusion in its register.
The Coming of the Railway to Oxford
Liz Woolley described how the railway came to Oxford, and its environmental, economic and social affects. The Great Western Railway (GWR) reached Steventon in 1838, and almost immediately coaches began running the 10 miles between there and Oxford to give the city a rail connection. The GWR reached Oxford itself in 1844, via a branch line from Didcot to Grandpont, near Folly Bridge. It had taken three Parliamentary bills before approval was finally granted in 1842. The University, originally concerned at the moral effects on undergraduates of rapid access to London, dropped its opposition in exchange for rights for its officers to police the new station. The City, apparently, did not see the need for a rail connection, but did not object. Construction of the bridge over the Abingdon Road was held up by the erection of a paper house by John Towle, owner of the Weirs Mill paper factory, in an effort to obtain compensation (the house lasted until 1996, when it was demolished after a tree fell on it). The Railway Lake is a gravel pit created to build the railway embankment – it was taken over by the Corporation to use as a water supply for the city.
In 1850 the line was extended to Banbury, which made the terminus at Grandpont inconvenient, as through trains had to reverse out of it. A new station was erected on the current site in 1852. There was already a London & North Western Railway (LNWR) station next door, the terminus of a line from Bletchley. This station, known as Rewley Road, had opened the same day as the Great Exhibition – in fact the station had been built by the same engineers as the Crystal Palace, by the same prefabrication techniques, which is why it was listed Grade II*, and when it had eventually to be dismantled to make way for the Said Business School, was re-erected at Quainton Railway Centre. The swing-bridge across the Sheepwash Channel by which the station was accessed was designed by Robert Stephenson and is a national monument awaiting preservation. The remains of the geared hand cranks by which it was opened and closed can still be seen.
Grandpont continued in use as a goods station until 1872. The line was redeveloped for housing, and is now Marlborough Road. The gardens are lower than the houses, which are on the old embankment. In 1886 a new spur was built to the expanding gas works at St Ebbe’s: the bridge remains and is the last reminder of the gas works.
There was an unsuccessful proposal for a large North Oxford station in 1852 as part of proposals to build to London on the part of the Oxford, Worcester and Wolverhampton (The ‘Old Worse and Worse’); and in 1883 there was a proposal, also unsuccessful, to extend the Brill Tramway to St Clements. Oxford would have looked very different if these had been successful.
In 1908 the GWR introduced steam rail motors serving frequent local halts, but these services were dropped in 1915 because of bus competition.
Because most rail development was outside what was then the built-up area, the railway did not have the destructive effects in Oxford that it did in other cities, expecially London.
Economically it had positive and negative effects. It destroyed Oxford’s extensive coaching trade, which at its peak had seen 250 coaches a week through the city. The canal held its own initially, but eventually went into a long decline. In the 1880s the coal trade moved to the railway. Local fishermen were driven out of business as fresh sea fish could be delivered by train.
Other activities expanded as transport became quicker and cheaper. There were nine breweries in the city in 1875, together with a maltings in Becket St. Archer Cowley Removers became a major firm in the business and Cooper’s Oxford Marmalade became a national product. Its new factory was opposite the railway station.
The railway encouraged tourism: one example was excursion trains from a wide range of destinations to St Giles Fair, as well as opportunities for residents to go on excursions or holidays to new destinations. The joke about a tourist only having 30 minutes in Oxford before the train leaves for Stratford can be found in a 19th century cartoon. The hotels built for the tourist trade, such as the Randolph, were very different from the old coaching inns.
The railway drove population change. The first wave was navvies building the railway, who were often housed in common lodging houses, but they tended to move on to the next job. There followed immigration from rural Oxfordshire and beyond – the population more than doubled in the 19th century. This growth in turn created new suburbs, the first was New Hinksey. Osney followed in 1853, and the censuses show than many of the residents held jobs on the railway. These jobs were prized for their security and steady pay. Railway employment formed the basis for many non-work activities, such as sports teams and self-improvement activities.
Oxford missed an opportunity to become a more significant rail centre in 1865, when the GWR proposed build a carriage works here. The Corporation welcomed the proposal, which would have brought 1,500 skilled male jobs to a city short of such opportunities, and offered a site, but the University successfully opposed it because of the major change it would bring to the character of the city and the works went to Swindon instead. The University was much resented in the city for this.
Daily Life in Tudor Times
Martin Sirot-Smith dressed as a newly wealthy Tudor landowner and took the part of Lawrence Washington, Lord of the Manor of Sulgrave and Stuchbury, to describe daily life in Tudor times. It was a world we can barely imagine. Of every 10 babies born, 6 died within a year and only one in 10 lived to 40. Two out of every five women died in childbirth. For most people – over 90% were peasants - life was a struggle from one harvest to the next. A strong belief that this world was only the preparation for eternity helped our ancestors cope. However, it was during the Tudor age that the spread of education, the Reformation and the availability of the Bible in English began a change in the belief in a settled hierarchy on this earth, mirroring that in Heaven.
‘Lawrence’ gave us a detailed description of his clothing. Since he was a nouveau riche wool merchant turned landowner his clothes (cloak, cap, trunk hose, doublet, shirt, ruff, hose and cross-garters) were as smart as was allowed by the sumptuary laws. These reserved bright colours like purple and red, and fine materials, such as silk, for the nobility, to prevent people aping their betters, and reduce conspicuous consumption. Clothing was expensive, and often handed down the generations. An important aim of clothing was to keep the wearer warm in an age before central heating and damp-proofing. Most of his clothing was wool. His doublet was wool lined with linen (hence the name). There was no cotton, so linen (coarse for the poor, fine for the rich) was important. Lawrence’s fine linen shirt was his only undergarment, and the only one of his garments that would be washed at all often. The codpiece was a fashion accessory introduced by Henry VIII. Lawrence’s demonstration that it was only for show brought tears to the eyes of many of the males in the audience. His linen ruff was a sign of status, and very labour-intensive to wash and iron. From his belt hung a purse, a scabbard with his own eating knife, and a pouch with his spoon, the latter having his seal on the end of the handle. The fork had not yet been introduced from Italy.
There was a complex etiquette to the formal Tudor meal, with numerous courses, known as removes. You ate from the serving dishes, and cut the meat with your knife in the right hand, picked it up with the left, and ate it with the right so that none of your spittle touched the serving dishes.
The staple of the Tudor diet was bread – up to five loaves per day, which is why the harvest was so crucial. Bread for the rich, known as manchet, was made from finely sieved wheat flour. Bread for the poor, maslin, was made from a variety of coarse-ground grains – and was probably more nutritious. The rest of the diet was based on meat and fish for the rich, and pottage for the poor, with little in the way of milk, vegetables and fresh fruit, thought to cause flatulence, for either. As a result, most people were less than five feet tall and in poor health. The rich drank wine, but everyone drank beer as brewing purified the water. Adults’ teeth were often in a terrible state. Queen Elizabeth’s were particularly bad because she loved the new prestigious sweetener, sugar.
Finally, if we stepped out of a time machine into Sulgrave Manor in the 1500s, our first impression would be the smell. Clothes -and people - were rarely washed (indeed people were identified by their smell), there was no sanitation, the house would be smoky from all the fires, and the floor covering of rushes was only changed a few times a year – on Rush Sundays.
The Washingtons of Sulgrave were the ancestors of George Washington, and their family crest, a shield with stars and red bars, is often seen as inspiration for the US flag.
The Mary Rose
Bob Foster began by introducing the Mary Rose trust, which exists to preserve the remains of the Mary Rose and the artefacts found in and around her for the benefit of the nation in perpetuity.
His talk set out the history of the warship from her construction to the present day. Built in Portsmouth in 1509-10, she was part of the fleet that Henry VIII constructed for the wars in which he tried, unsuccessfully, to emulate the victories of his ancestors in France in the Hundred Years War. Ironically, she was named for Henry’s sister who married the King of France.
She was 120 feet long and 40 feet wide and carried a crew of 250-300. She was built in the English style, known as ‘race-built’, by which the speed and manoeuvrability of English galleons was improved by mounting cannons low in the hull and by the reduction in size of the huge fore and aft fighting castles featured on foreign ships.
The Mary Rose sank in the course of an inconclusive battle with the French off Portsmouth on 19th July in 1545, so she was in service for about 35 years, contrary to the legend that she sank on her maiden voyage. She was heavily loaded with additional troops for the battle, bringing her total complement up to 500, and appears to have sunk when a sudden gust made her heel so much that her open gun ports went under water – although there is speculation that she may have been damaged by a French cannonball. She sank very quickly and only about 35 men out of 500 were saved. A contemporary picture of the battle shows the masts and yards of a ship rising above the water. Presumably this is the Mary Rose.
Efforts to raise her failed and she lay on her side 20-30 feet down, the side exposed to the tides being worn away, while the lower one was preserved in the silt which filled the space between her decks, by now nearly vertical. Her exact location was forgotten until 1836. In that year the Deane brothers, inventors of the diving helmet and suit, were given the contract to work on the wreck of the Royal George. They were directed by local fishermen to a wreck that had snagged their nets. They found cannon with Henry’s coat of arms on them and other artefacts, which were sold at auction, but the location of the wreck was forgotten again after they stopped work in 1840.
Fast-forward to 1965, when local historian Alexander McKee, with the local diving club, set out to find the Mary Rose. Helped by experimental sonar, which found her outline, the hull was finally located in 1971. The strong tides and poor visibility have made working conditions very difficult but divers found artefacts, including cannon, which clearly identified it as a Tudor ship. From then on the flow of artefacts has ranged from warlike cannon to domestic pepper-mills and backgammon boards for leisure-time. Firsts include the earliest gimbal compass and a chest of yew longbows – the first examples of England’s medieval battle-winning weapon ever found. The large number of combs recovered testified to their importance in controlling the wildlife in Tudor heads of hair. Final proof of her identity was the recovery of her ship’s bell. In all, 19,000 items have been recovered – an archaeological treasure trove.
The culmination of this process was the raising of the hull by a huge floating crane in October 1982. Many will remember the heart-stopping moment when part of the lifting equipment snapped – fortunately without ill-effect. She was moved into a Portsmouth dry-dock near the Victory. The hull was continuously sprayed with water to prevent the wood drying out, shrinking and cracking. The water has gradually been replaced with polyethylene glycol, which will enable the hull to be displayed without spraying. A new museum has been built around her and will open on May 31st.