Gloucestershire Local History Association
Summer Events 2022
Celebrating a return to normal gatherings, GLHA arranged two successful events in May and June.
The Local History Day was held at the University of Gloucestershire which provided excellent accommodation for the speakers, history displays and over 90 participants from across the County. The theme of the Day was The History of Education in Gloucestershire and talks by four speakers included a variety of topics from Education in the Middle Ages to Stroud Technical School for Girls. Fifteen local history groups and organisations brought displays, information stands and bookstalls. A buffet lunch was enjoyed by all.
Painswick Local History Society won the prize for the best display. Click here to see the display in full.
The Day also included the announcement of the 2021 Bryan Jerrard Award, the winner of which was Nigel Spry, (pictured right) for his article, ‘In Memoriam: Gloucester’s Nineteenth Century Cholera Epidemics’, published in Glevensis 53.
The Summer Afternoon Meeting was hosted by Cheltenham Local History Society at St Andrew’s United Reformed Church in Montpellier. The afternoon included a choice of three different walks or two talks. The theme of the afternoon was Cheltenham’s Trade and Industry and included an extensive display on local shops and businesses. Over 80 members of local history groups attended and enjoyed the opportunity to meet others from different groups while taking part in the activities and the delicious afternoon tea at the end of the day.
One of the walks looked at two hundred years of trading history around Suffolk Parade and Suffolk Road. Other options included The Wilsons of Cheltenham and the famous landmarks around Montpellier.
The talks covered the history of shops and the story of Whitbread’s brewery in Cheltenham.
Cheltenham Local History Society
‘A Human Dynamo’ honoured
On 30 May Alfred James Miles of Cheltenham (1853-1932) coach builder, County and Borough Counsellor, non-conformist preacher and the antiquarian who compiled ten monumental scrapbooks, that now reside in safe keeping at the Archives, was honoured with a blue plaque on his former home at St Anne’s House, St. Anne’s Road, Cheltenham.
Cheltenham Local History Society volunteers have recently completed a four-year project that has consisted of listing the material - text, images and ephemera – in the 9,000 pages in the scrapbooks. Miles himself funded and witnessed the unveiling of blue plaques for Alfred Tennyson and William C Macready, and we in our turned felt that the ‘human dynamo’ also deserved a blue plaque to commemorate his achievement in compiling such an important source for local historians that covers the history of our town from prehistoric times to the early 1930s. The unveiling was also one of several events that pay tribute to our Society in our 40th year.
Sally Self June 2022
For more information about Cheltenham Local History Society visit cheltlocalhistory.org.uk/
Cheltenham Volunteers 2014-2022
Cheltenham Local History Society cataloguing volunteers was set up in 2014 following an invitation by the Archives to attend two training sessions to introduce us to the process of turning initial light weight cataloguing, by the Archive staff, into fully catalogued deposits.
Eight of us attended and those numbers have remained steady at between eight and ten for eight years. Around the same time Gloucestershire County History Trust took steps to complete the VCH Leadon Valley volume and to extend their support to a VCH volume on Cheltenham (Vol. 15). The cataloguing supported this move by embarking on cataloguing several large solicitors’ deposits. Other projects involved deposits related to Dowty, and maps and 20th century deposits from Cheltenham Borough Council, local Societies deposits. Other smaller deposits with particular relevance to Cheltenham and its environs, such as the Skillicorne (Cheltenham) and Prinn, Hunt and Russell (Charlton Kings) deposits have been tackled.
While Covid led to several ‘lock outs’ we have always returned, with similar numbers, as soon as restrictions were lifted. We have catalogued around 700+ boxes, numerous files, maps and folders, with the number of boxes increasing monthly. We are currently working on the D2202/acc 5213 which consists of around 80 boxes of a further deposit by Cheltenham solicitors’ Winterbotham and Bell, later Winterbotham and Gurney with Jessops. This task will be finish in the next month or so, and Kate Maisey is currently searching for our next task, which is planned to support early work on the parish of Charlton Kings or gaps in research for Cheltenham and Leckhampton.
Other members are currently working on cataloguing and repackaging Cheltenham photographs from the 20th/21st century and researching Leckhampton records to support Louise Ryland-Epton.
We have become a very social group who enjoy working at the Archives with the support given to us by the Archives’ staff.
VCH researchers with Cheltenham volunteers
11 July 2022
Do you know about Woodchester Mansion?
Woodchester Mansion is a house like no other, and offers lots of interest for everyone who enjoys historical buildings. It is an incomplete Gothic Revival house hidden in a secluded Cotswold valley, a few miles S of Stroud. It will never be finished. You can walk through the shell of the building and see the bare bones of the construction, a quite different and unique experience to viewing a finished property with fine furniture and paintings.
The quality of the craftsmanship in the local limestone is outstanding. Visitors can admire the splendid gargoyles and the roof bosses in the chapel, inspired by the plants in the surrounding valley. Children can spot the many carved animals.
The Mansion was built for the wealthy Catholic convert William Leigh (1802-73), and we are very lucky in having a collection of family letters and photographs. These are in Gloucestershire Archives for safekeeping, and form the basis of the many displays in the Mansion (catalogue number D12584). One of these answers the million dollar question – why was the Mansion never finished?
Gloucestershire Archives also house a collection of the architects’ drawings for the Mansion, which tell us about the development of the building (catalogue number D1011/P15/2 and D1011/P16). They range from rough sketches to completed presentations for the client, and some can be seen in the house.
Over the last two years nearly £1m worth of work has been done on restoration of the Mansion roof, but the bill for the remaining work, including the focus of the building, the wonderful Neo-gothic chapel, approaches £5m.
The Mansion (The Woodchester Mansion Trust) is situated in the beautiful Woodchester Park (National Trust) with its eighteenth century landscape and chain of lakes. Visitors can enjoy a walk in the park as part of their visit to this unique house.
Mansion open: Fri/Sat/Sun 11am – 5pm (last admission to house 4pm) until Sunday 30th October. Adult admission £8.50, under 16s free.
Café at Mansion (snacks, real coffee, light lunches, tea and cake) on open days 11am – 4pm.
For more information visit www.woodchestermansion.org.uk – please view for directions, we are not easy to find!
The Woodchester Mansion Trust
Registered Charity No 900315
Art and Design
The stories they tell us
Buying antiques to furnish one’s home is a relatively cheap way of setting up home, and is a much greener and sustainable way of buying items which have already had a life, and which can be “recycled” or repurposed many times over. There is a resurgence of interest, today, in anything old for one’s home, whether shabby chic, mid-century modern, upcycled, or vintage.
My dining table, for example, is a late Georgian, round, tilt-top pedestal supper table, dating from about 1820. It is matched with 4 hand-made ladder back dining chairs with rush seats. All of this furniture is in dark, highly French polished English oak, with the patina of around a couple of centuries’ daily use. I like to imagine the meals eaten at the table, the characters who would have used it, sometimes by candlelight, the letters written, and the afternoon teas enjoyed around it. These are country, vernacular pieces of furniture, which would have been hand-made and sold locally, probably from workshops rather than shops, and quite often handed down from one generation to the next.
My small dining table will have been used by people who will have witnessed the dawn of the Regency era, the Crimean War, the reign of Queen Victoria, the First World War, the Art Deco period and roaring 20’s, World War Two, and so many other national and international events in their lifetimes. I like to think of the stories such humble pieces of furniture could tell if only they could speak! I find that art and antiques not only give me a sense of the past, but put me in touch with history and heritage in a very tangible way.
If you’re interested in the history of the home, a good place to visit is the former Geffrye Museum, now the Museum of the Home, in London. Or, closer to home, the Avoncroft Museum of Historic Buildings in Bromsgrove. Or, if you like reading, consider Bill Bryson’s “At Home – A Short History of Private Life”. And for decorative, domestic arts, nothing can surpass the V&A. Consider, also, the popular TV series, “A House Through Time”, presented by historian David Olusoga.
Design is all around us, even if we don’t consider it to be so. Think about advertising hoardings – they define an age and can date a moment in time; for example, the colourful, very stylised images used on the Tube, in London, in the inter-war years (now highly collectable) or the red and white “Keep Calm and Carry On” posters always associated with WW2. Visual art and design actually define an age in a way that very few other things do – save for the built environment and, to some extent, fashion. Museums are excellent sources rich with ideas and possibilities to inspire us.
Art and design endure in a way that very little else does. It is always worth fixing old items; just think of the popularity of BBC1’s “The Repair Shop” which is not only about the old items, but about the human stories associated with them, often reflecting the lives and experiences of generations. Art and design is always about the task, and the need, of reflecting human experience – whether in the shape of a well-crafted antique table or a colourful Art Deco poster on the underground; it is, above all, about expression. As William Morris said, that doyenne of the Arts & Crafts Movement, “Have nothing in your home that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” That is, I think, as true today as when he first coined the phrase well over a century ago.
Book Review - National Treasures: Saving the Nation’s Art in World War II
By Caroline Shenton
Have you ever wondered what happened to the art collections at the National Gallery, the V&A, and the National Portrait Gallery – even the Crown Jewels – during World War II? This book by Caroline Shenton tells all. Published in 2021, it tells the story of the evacuation from London of our historic and cultural treasures, held in trust for the nation, on the outbreak of war. It covers art galleries, museum artefacts and archives. It is meticulously researched and well written. Caroline Shenton, although now a full-time writer, was formerly an archivist at the National Archives, in Kew, and at the UK Parliamentary Archives.
The book is narrated chronologically, starting with preparations at the outbreak of war, by the then Ministry of Works, and ending when hostilities cease. There is also a useful epilogue. The index is easy to use, and the book is well structured. It includes several photographs of the period. It is full of interesting facts and figures, and several heroes emerge.
One of the things I enjoyed most about the book is the portrayal of several eminent figures in the art world at the time, including Kenneth Clark (then the Director of the National Gallery), who went on to publish the seminal art history book Civilisation (made into a ground-breaking BBC2 documentary of the same title, in 1969, and recently re-made for television). The book explores related themes such as propaganda, maintaining morale during the blitz, and the emergence of what has become popularly known as “The Monuments Men”; art, archives and museum experts who were tasked, in the aftermath of WWII, with looking at the restitution of art works, across formerly occupied Europe, that were seized by the Nazis.
There are interesting and insightful anecdotes shared throughout the book. One of the most intriguing concerns the 4 extant copies of Magna Carta. In the early years of the war, before the USA entered the war as our allies, but were supporting Britain with aid and armaments, an interesting suggestion was put to Winston Churchill. As a means of thanking the American nation, the UK government considered presenting Roosevelt with a copy of the iconic, and priceless, Magna Carta (the one from Lincoln Cathedral, but on loan to the USA for an exhibition, at the outbreak of war), as a permanent gift (pp.209-210). But this gift to the American nation – due to be announced on BBC radio on 15th June 1941 – never came to pass. I’ll let you read the book to find out why!
I thoroughly enjoyed the book; I thought I already knew quite a bit about this period and what it meant for our national treasures, but this book sheds so much more light on a fascinating episode of WWII. I wasn’t so interested in the lengthy discussions of logistical issues involved in safely transporting huge art works across the UK, to safe havens, but very amused by the in-fighting, professional one-upmanship and quarrels between those who played a major part in this little known story. Highly recommended.