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Ann Cottingham 1928-2022: Local historian and archaeologist

Ann Cottingham, who died on March 13th at her home in Shiplake at the age of 94, was an early active member of the Henley Archaeology and History Group (HA&HG), bringing to it energy and organising ability as well as knowledge and wisdom.

Her background was artistic, involved with stage design at the Old Vic, and she did her own delightful line drawings of the historical buildings in which she was interested. She had been involved with excavations of Roman buildings in London before moving to Shiplake, and when the HA&HG was formed in 1976 she was a founder member, from the beginning involved with many different aspects of its activities. Her first role was chairing its sub-committee on woodland archaeology, and for many years she produced the Group’s quarterly newsletters and its journal, writing much of the material herself. In the 1990s she also chaired the group.

Digs Ann was involved with included ‘The Old Rectory’ site in Hart Street ( prior to the modern rectory being built there)  which yielded medieval pottery; the site of a demolished barn behind 91 Bell Street (now Adam Court)  looking for the Ravenscroft Glassworks, although positive evidence of glass making was not found; and excavations at Parkside on Gravel Hill which unearthed the substantial flint footing of a medieval post mill, now protected as a Scheduled Ancient Monument in the garden of one of the modern houses there.  She also worked on excavations of the stables at the Old King’s Arms, now the King’s Arms Barn. This was dated to 1602, although earlier occupation levels were also found.  On the site of the old Co-op at 16 Market Place, an excavation in which Ann was involved in 1985 found a vaulted brick cellar as well as part of a medieval central hearth. She also took part in the exploration of a mound at High Wood, Harpsden, which uncovered Roman tiles and pottery although no buildings. More recent large-scale excavations by the South Oxfordshire Archaeological Group have revealed a much larger Roman site there including a temple.

As well as archaeology, Ann engaged directly in her own historical research, not least in a valuable initiative to record buildings in Henley and in surrounding rural areas – especially barns where she was much helped by her friend Ann Flinders Petrie who lived at Hambleden. She made a significant contribution herself, and supported the work of others, in the transcription of St Mary’s Parish Registers, nearly 30 books commencing in 1558, which was done by volunteers over a ten-year period. On her own, she catalogued the archive of the Congregational Chapel, now Christchurch; and, with Roger Kendal, also a founder member, the documents remaining in the Town Hall’s archives after the bulk had been handed over to the Record Office in Oxford. She also contributed to indexing the voluminous papers of the Henley historian, John Crocker, and collections of other local historians.

With Hilary Fisher, Ann co-wrote Henley-on–Thames:  A Pictorial History, published by Phillimore in 1990; and with Ivy Reeves, another founder member of the Group, a study of trades and professions in the seventeenth-century town which appeared in 1991. But her greatest personal contribution was her The Hostelries of Henley, an exhaustive history of the town’s brewing industry, pubs and beerhouses on which she worked for a number of years, drawing particularly on records in Henley and local newspapers. It was published privately in 2000. Her A Walk Round Henley, which includes many of her line drawings, has gone through a number of editions, the latest of which has just been published here on this website.

The HA&HG will maintain in its archive a collection of Ann’s papers, drawings and photographs, as a tribute to the significant and enduring contribution she made to the modern-day understanding of Henley’s past.

Contributions to this obituary from:  Ruth Gibson, Hilary Fisher and Michael Redley.

One of Ann’s many drawings of Henley on Thames