History Group update

On 18th February 16 members of the History Group met in the Town Hall for talks on historical subjects by ten of those present First was an account of a Museum visit to the Kremlin, Moscow, which was of interest to the speaker as she was of Russian descent. The Armoury Museum she talked about was one of many in the Kremlin and this one housed beautiful costumes and dresses, elaborate crowns and magnificent thrones etc handed down through the generations of Tsars, Tsarina Catherine the Great’s wedding dress and an ornate sleigh as well as the gold and jewelled encrusted ornaments. This was followed by a talk on a 1912 Liberal Monthly where a reader suggested the establishment of a new Parliament House just for women, this was at a time of Women’s Suffrage. Another item was an 1847 Conveyance Indenture regarding the sale of two cottages for £115 that were occupied by a Malster and a Carrier, both in Burford. We next heard of Nadine Gordiner who lived in South Africa, was politically active in 1960 and was anti-apartheid, joining the African National Congress party and helping members to hide from the authorities. She was a writer with many books published and was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Queen Emma’s Dyke is a road in Witney that another member researched to find out why it was named. Queen Emma was the daughter of Richard Duke of Normandy, married the English King Ethelred the Unready and when he died she married the Viking Cnut, King of Denmark and Norway who became King of England, by virtue of invasion. Emma granted the Bishop of Winchester an estate in what is now Witney and here he built a palace (remains seen next to St Mary’s church). The Dyke was a drainage ditch that surrounded a large area now occupied by a large area of Witney and named after the Queen who once owned that land. Next came a talk on RAF Little Rissington, from a member whose father once worked there, but mostly on the war memorials and graves of RAF servicemen of which there is a great many from the 2nd World War; also in the church there is a window to them. In the graveyard are 76 graves of RAF servicemen, 45 of those from the 2nd World War, these include those airmen from the Commonwealth. The Red Arrows team were once based there and some who died are buried there as well. Then came a talk on Oxford and Beating the Boundary, this event occurred on the church’s Rogation Days and was originally means of marking the parish boundary with stones. The care of the poor was by the parish and a marked boundary of the parish, before maps were drawn, meant only residents could be cared for. In Oxford the annual procession around the Boundary of the city centre headed by church officials, choirs and dignitaries still takes part on Ascension Day. Next was a talk on a member’s ancestor Robert Huntington who was a Major in Cromwell’s Army during the English Civil War who realised that Cromwell did not just want King Charles to lessen his authority but to rid him and the Monarchy altogether. He resigned his commission and presented his reasons why Cromwell was a traitor to the House of Lords but the House of Commons didn’t want to hear them so he published his report for others to read. Another member also had a family member to be proud of but this was her own father who was a Battle of Britain RAF pilot flying a Spitfire, won many awards, was based at RAF Duxford and settled there after the war. He became interested in flying after seeing a notice that flying lessons were available at a nearby airfield for 10/- (50p!!). He was awarded a very special brooch of a tiny golden caterpillar that was awarded to those who bailed out by parachute and which his daughter was proud to show us. Animals on trial was the next subject, in medieval times animals were named as servants of the devil but had the same rights as people, if they broke the law they were tried, convicted and usually hung! If they were lucky in church courts the animals had a lawyer. In Oxford a baby was left on its own, a pig ate it, went to trial, found guilty and hung. Not only pigs but other animals such as cows, horses, dogs, cats and rats were put on trial, found guilty and hung. It was said that these public trials were put on to act as a warning to people to control their animals or maybe just for entertainment. The last talk was on Roman remains found in our county. Sometimes these were found in Victorian times during excavating old buildings in order to build new housing and builders finding Roman remains of villas underneath, these would be put on public view before building resumed on top. Building on top of previous ancient ruins was not unusual as the Romans often used to build over Iron Age Settlements sites. Among other sites mentioned were Cirencester, named Corinium by the Romans, and Chedworth Villa, which the History Group had visited at an earlier time and was most impressing. This was a most interesting afternoon listening to ten quite different historical subjects and I regret I had to edit them for brevity so apologies to the authors. The session ended with us having refreshments and then being thrown out of the Town Hall – due to a fire alarm, not for bad behaviour!                      WENDY MORGAN