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OXPAST Conference, Henley-on-Thames, June 2012

The recently extended and modernized Baptist Church was the pleasant venue for this all-day conference on all matters of research into Oxfordshire’s archaeology and history. It was ably organized by Shaun Morley for the OAHS with HA&HG as local co-organizers. The speakers were either professionals working in these fields or dedicated amateurs; all illuminating surprisingly large areas of work and knowledge which exist in our county and which are well worth knowing about.

Alan Simpson from the Oxon Family History Society gave a quite breathtaking account of how to record large numbers of gravestones and to put the names, dates, locations, etc onto a fully searchable database. This is a gift to anybody intent on finding his Oxfordshire ancestors! If you want to find out more about this or wish to do some recording of gravestones yourself contact Alan directly on

Susan Lisk from the Archaeology Dept of OCC looks after the Historic Environment Record there, which logs all archaeological work in the County and gave numerous examples of finds and excavations. To find out about a particular site log into their Heritage Search Home Page; or contact Ms. Lisk on

Tony Hadland from OLHA (Oxon Local History Association) referred to their research, publications of newsletters, journals, and activities such as interesting study days. This year’s topics included William Morris, Garden History, and the Civil War.
On their display table, laden with back copies, I noticed Joan Dils’ publication on Dame Lady Perriam’s school (it occupied the middle floor of the Old School House, now called the Chantry House, before merging with King James School and becoming the Henley Grammar School). We are affiliated to OLHA and get their newsletters. Tony Hadland can be contacted on

Valerie Alasia’s talk on the Henley Workhouse demonstrated our chair’s deep knowledge of this social subject. For all those who have had to miss the talk, there is the prospect of being able to read up about it as Valerie is intending to publish her years of research into this rather sad aspect of the social history of our town. Particularly shocking was to hear how families were completely separated; men, women, boys, and girls all lived – and often died – alone in different wings behind tall walls in what can only be described as prison conditions. However, there was a school for 100 children, offering them a chance of education and a better life than that of their parents, the ‘undeserving poor’.

Carol Anderson from the Oxfordshire Museums Service told us about the savage 40% cuts they are experiencing. Cogges Manor Farm is now being operated by an ‘independent body’, i.e. no longer in the C.C’s ownership? Despite the cuts, they have been able to expand their storage facilities for archaeological finds but will have to be increasingly critical of what they can take in. The message was loud and clear: ‘don’t bring boxes of poor quality tiles, sherds, and plaster, especially if of indeterminate provenance’. Contact us first! She ended by showing us the very fine Anglo-Saxon West Hanney brooch, the find of which led to the excavation of a burial site. The broach is on show in West Hanney, will then go to the Vale & Downland Museum and later be on loan to the Ashmolean.

Ruth Gibson has continued to look out for medieval roofs even after the two VCH books had been published. At the start of the research, not a single medieval roof had been mentioned in the Henley Greenback( Listing entries); now we are aware of four crown post roofs, one scissor brace roof truss, and some 10 houses with crown strut roofs. The latter type seems to be an experiment by carpenters with side purlins to support the rafters in the first half of the 15th century to get away from the timber hungry crown post roof type. Good quality examples of these crown struts were also shown from other locations, such as Abingdon Abbey, Ewelme Almshouses, and The George in Dorchester – all locally important buildings.

David Radford from Oxford City Archaeology gave an account of the huge amount of work carried out there. Starting with the many-layered archaeology of the Christ Church quad he rushed from site to site ending with Maudlin College and its origins as a St. John the Baptist hospital. The speed of the presentation (as he was only allowed 30 minutes, but the talk would have more comfortably fitted into an hour) left this listener rather confused. For details please contact David directly on

Simon Townley gave an account of the work of the VCH since Vol. XVI, the Big Red Book on Henley and surrounding parishes had been launched in October 2011. Vol. XVII on Kelmscott & Langford is in the final proof-reading stages and work is continuing apace on Vol. XVIII, which covers the Ewelme Hundred. Ewelme’s medieval history is closely connected with the Chaucers and the de la Poles, Dukes of Suffolk. Most of their magnificent mid 15th C. buildings survive and archaeological work is going to be carried out on the site of the former palace. The Hundred covers an area as far as Nettlebed and it will be interesting to find out more about the medieval pottery, tile, and later brick production there and the influence of this local industry on Henley.

Heather Horner from the Oxon Buildings Record gave details of measured, photographic as well as oral recordings of Mill Farm, Church Enstone. It is located on the river Glyne and retains much of its machinery in the form of bearings, cast iron wheels, some with wooden teeth, as well as the millpond and mill race. OBR members had advice from a SPAB mill specialist who helped to identify the various parts and their uses in the milling process. The building itself is of many phases from the 17th to the 19th centuries and one part was used as a bakery well into the C19th. Heather ended with the welcome mention that at Abingdon Abbey’s Long Gallery dendro work has been commissioned; a chance to get some definitive dating of the crown strut and scissor brace roof structures there.


The HA&HG stall
The mayor visits and meets Peter Anderson, her cousin, thrice removed ! Pam Syrett and Cynthia Robinson looking after the stall and conference members during a coffee break.

Ruth Gibson, June 2012