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Ruth Gibson presented with the Town Medal!

The Henley Town honour awarded to longtime member of our Group

On 18th March, before an audience of fellow local historians, family, friends and Councillors – the Mayor of Henley, Kellie Hinton, invested Ruth with the Town Medal. It is awarded only rarely and is a real honour. Ruth’s name is now on a board in the Town Hall.

In her introduction, the Mayor mentioned the detailed survey Ruth did with Ann Cottingham in the 1990s of the streets bordering Market Place, Bell Street and Kings Road in response to a development plan, her recording project to describe and interpret pre-1940 houses and farm buildings in Henley and the local Chilterns, and her significant contributions to the Victoria County History volume on Henley and its environs published in 2011. Previously a Conservation Officer for Bedfordshire County Council, Ruth had also done invaluable work over the years in reviewing development plans for the Council and for the Henley Society.

After the investiture, Ruth spoke of her work as a member of HA&HG, discovering the history of the town through its older buildings, recording and ensuring greater appreciation and protection of Henley’s past. The talk was called ‘Henley’s Hidden Past’. She had first been involved with a small recording group of six people, working on barns which were generally easier to get close to than houses. They included the Kings Arms Barn in the town but extended also to the countryside around. The survey work in the town,  led to dendro-dating, in a programme beginning with 74 – 78 Bell Street, dated to 1405, and including the Red Lion and Chantry House,  both dated to 1461.

Ruth showed several remarkable ‘cut-away’ drawings of older buildings in the town revealing them as ‘hall houses’. She remarked that there was a lot of measuring in the early days with the help of members with suitable backgrounds, such as John Howard and Roger Kendall. There was much scrambling up rickety ladders into small roof spaces. But among the wonderful finds were roof timbers still blackened with the soot from open fires in the hall below before floors were later added; and the remarkable crown-post roof structure found, for example, in the Old Bell (dated to 1345), where it remained intact, and at the Old White Hart (currently Zizzis) in Hart Street, dated to 1471, with its remarkable coaching inn range at the back,  with a date of  1530.  At 78, Bell Street, Ruth also mentioned the discovery of barley grains, suggesting that the house had been used to store the grain for Brakspear’s malting house that is known to have been at the back.

Ruth spoke, finally, about the Old Broadgates in the Upper Market Place, dated to 1453/4, with its remarkable ‘Gothic’ door with pointed arch, its jettied front, and smoke-blackening timbers,  including another crown post roof. She finished with a description of the process of dendro-dating, and a photograph of  Dan Mile extracting a core from a ceiling joist in the Chantry House. His dendro-dating experience, derived from work on timber buildings around the world, had been invaluable, as had money Kellie Hinton had made available for the dendro-dating work from her South Oxfordshire District Council grant.

Well done Ruth, and many congratulations!