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Our Latest Newsletter – 4th Quarter 2018 - Published by Henry Brougham on 1st Jan 2019


Dorothy Hughes, former Kidlington resident and long-time member of the History Society died on 7thDecember aged 94.  Dorothy was the first woman Chelsea Pensioner. Her funeral, a full military one, will be held at the Royal Hospital Chelsea on 16th January 2019.

The Committee would like to thank Mary and David Phipps for bringing along to some meetings copies of the History Society publications for sale.


30th October 2018

Art and Design in the Chilterns

Graham Tremlow

Last year Graham gave us a fascinating talk on posters of the 1930’s and 1940’s and tonight he followed this up with a talk on the Chilterns and its influence on art and design. Have you ever noticed that the outline of the Chilterns matches that of a Red Kite in flight – no I hadn’t either until Graham demonstrated this!

He told us that the Chilterns has influenced artists over the years, possibly the first was Jan Siberechts who in 1698 painted Henley from Wargrave Road. At the French Revolution artists who normally would have gone abroad stayed in this country and looked to the landscape around the Chilterns for inspiration. One such artist was J.M.W.Turner who in 1808 painted Dorchester Mead showing the River Thame.

But the area had the most influence on the two brothers John and Paul Nash who lived and painted in the area in the twentieth century. Their first studio was in a converted barn in Chalfont St Giles. Both were war artists during the First World War, John most famous war picture is Over the top and Paul’s We are making a new world.  Paul, by using images of the Chilterns,  was perhaps the more prolific of the two, producing among others Wittenham Clumps (1912); Behind the inn (1922); Whiteleaf Cross (1931) and Wood on the Downs (1930).  He died in 1949 and at the time was living in Oxford, there is a Blue Plaque on his house 106 Banbury Road.

John Nash produced The Cornfield (1918); Winter scene (1920); and Garden under snow (1930). John Piper was another artist influenced by the Chilterns, he travelled with his camera and the c.50,000 photos he took are now in the Tate Gallery and are a vital historical research for scholars of the landscape and buildings. Piper also painted the ruins at Hampton Gay and Windsor Castle.

John Betjeman worked on the series of books the Shell Guides, and John Piper produced the Oxfordshire volume. Piper also designed the Shell poster People prefer Shell showing a clergyman in his study. One of his most famous achievements is the stained glass window in Nettlebed Church.

Clare Leighton (1898 – 1989), the wood engraver in her first book Life in the Country used images of the Chilterns. Her next book Four Hedges she named after her house.  She also designed stained glass.

Eric Gill (1882 – 1940) lived just north of High Wycombe. In 1929 he designed the lettering for W.H.Smith & Son. His lettering is plain, influenced by the clean lines of the Chiltern fields.

Finally Graham ended his interesting talk by showing us a painting by William Manners entitled Wayside Cottage, Kidlington, painted circa 1890. He challenged us to tell him where it was. I thought it was Bent Cottage, Lyne Road but no one was really sure and our archivist John Amor was not at the meeting.

27th November 2018

An Armchair Walking Tour of Oxford

Magnus Macfarlane

This was a gallop around the streets of Oxford starting at Trinity College Gates in Broad Street and ending there fifty minutes later. We started in 4,000 B.C. when the level of the land was 21 feet 7 metres lower than it is today.  An artists impression shows the original buildings of a henge in 2,000 B.C.; bigger than Stonehenge, today the remains are under St. John’s College.   Originally called “Oxonfordia” the ford where cattle crossed the river this was possibly located near today’s Folly Bridge. The University came to Oxford in 1167 when Henry II decreed that no Englishman should attend the universities of Paris and Bologna.  Trinity College itself was founded by a pope – Thomas Pope. In Broad Street is the Museum of the History of Science, the original Ashmolean Museum, and the oldest museum in Europe. It contains the original blackboard with its calculations still on it on which Albert Einstein demonstrated his theory of relativity.

The Divinity School in the Bodleian Library was the scene of 4 Harry Potter films. This has a magnificent ceiling designed by William Orchard.  Above the Divinity School is Duke Humfrey’s Library also the scene of some Harry Potter films.  During the Reformation books from this library were burnt in its quadrangle. The Bodleian Library is a copyright library which means it is given a copy of every book published in this country. Currently it is said to have 13 million books. Around the quadrangle are the original teaching rooms with the names of the subjects inscribed in gold and in Latin above the doorway. No-one, not even the reigning monarch, is allowed to borrow a book from the Bodleian Library.

James Gibbs, a Catholic and a Scotsman, designed the Radcliffe Camera – its dome mirrors that of St.Paul’s which was designed by Christopher Wren. The “Young Sherlock” was filmed around the Radcliffe Camera and artificial snow made of salt was scattered all over the buildings and the lawn – this killed off the grass and the film company paid for the grass to be re-laid and the iron railings to be erected around the building. Facing the Radcliffe Camera is Brasenose College named after the Brasen Nose door knocker which was on its front door until stolen in the sixteenth century, today it is back in college and displayed high up in the dining hall. On the other side of the square is St. Mary the Virgin Church, the tower was built in 1280. It contained the first library in Oxford with 20 books, it was also the venue of the University Parliament, a class room and an examination room. Before 1871 the Thirty Nine Articles had to be signed by members of the University saying they followed the Protestant faith, this requirement was dropped in 1871 and the University became open to all.

The Sheldonian Theatre designed by Christopher Wren then a Fellow of All Souls College is used by the University for its matriculation and graduation ceremonies. Today an estimated 10,000 students come from 140 countries outside the United Kingdom.  The ceremonies are overseen by the Vice Chancellor who is in office for 7 years; todays Vice-Chancellor Professor Louise Richardson is the first woman to hold the post and is also the 274th Vice Chancellor of the University.

The University is formed by 38 colleges, all self -governing. In 1878 ladies were allowed to attend the University but not take degrees; it was not until 1920 they were allowed to graduate. By 1974 the colleges began moving to being co-educational and by 2008 all the colleges had become mixed colleges.  The Bridge of Sighs spans New College Lane and was built so students of Hertford could access both sides of their college without leaving the building. Turf Tavern down St. Helen’s Passage from New College Lane is the credited with being the oldest public house in Oxford, on one side of its boundary is the city wall and it is overlooked by the bell tower of New College.

For many years Oxford worked to Oxford Time (indeed Christ Church does) but eventually the University adopted Greenwich Mean Time. The expansion of Oxford began when Fellows were allowed to marry and live outside the college – the result was the rapid growth of North Oxford.

Oxford residents are quite used to seeing film crews in the streets;  in recent years Morse, Lewis, Endeavour and Mamma Mia, and of course the Harry Potter films have used college and Catte Street locations.

11th December 2018

Christmas Social

Many thanks to Olive Williams and her team for organizing a splendid Christmas social, as always it was enjoyed by all, not only the food and the drink but the opportunity to talk to other members.

Fun in the Dark

Ian Meyrick

I was unable to be present at this meeting and I would therefore like to thank Ian Meyrick for supplying the text and Christine Howard, a member of the Society for organizing this.

This talk examined how moving pictures came into being and traced the history of how they reached  Oxford and Oxfordshire.

Projection of images had been around for hundreds of years in the form of shadow plays and, later, the camera obscura and lantern slides. The invention of practical photography meant that from around 1839 photographic images could also be projected; increasingly sophisticated magic lanterns enabled beautiful and exciting shows to be presented, including ‘dissolving views’ which created  effects such as a day scene gradually turning into night.

‘Persistence of vision’ enabled toys like the Zoetrope to present the illusion of movement of simple images, and the Mutoscope (more commonly known as ‘What the Butler Saw’) flicked through paper photographic images. All these were for individual viewing and it was the invention of celluloid film by George Eastman which made the goal of projecting moving images a real possibility.

Many inventors worked on the technical challenges of taking and projecting moving images, and in December 1895 the Lumière brothers presented the Cinematographe in Paris. Two months later in February 1896 they gave the first public performance to a paying audience in the Royal Polytechnic Institution on Regent’s Street, London, in a hall which is again operating as a cinema. The show quickly transferred to the Empire music hall in Leicester Square.

These shows of short ‘subjects’ quickly spread throughout the country, and came to the New Theatre in Oxford as early as September 1896 as part of a show called The Gay Princess, which was enthusiastically received. Soon, animated pictures were to be seen as sideshows at fairs throughout Oxfordshire, and in 1904 there were six separate picture shows at St Giles Fair in Oxford.

As films got longer and became more established, permanent homes had to be found. In Oxford, films were a regular part of shows at the Lyric Hall/Empire Theatre/Palace Cinema in Cowley Road; the Oxford University and City Baths and Wash House in Castle Street became the Oxford Electric Theatre in 1910; and the East Oxford Picture Palace in Jeune Street opened in 1911. This latter is still operating as The Ultimate Picture Palace, despite closure from 1917-1976! The Oxford Cinematograph Theatre in George Street and the Electra Palace followed, and the North Oxford Kinema in Walton Street (now the Phoenix) opened in 1913.

Of the supers which opened from 1930 onwards, the Majestic in Botley Road was notable for its conversion into an emergency evacuee centre in 1940, never to reopen as a cinema. The Ritz became the home of Todd-AO, with The Sound of Music running for 58 weeks in 1965/66.

The Huddleston family of Witney built The Sterling in Kidlington, opening in 1938, based on the expected Garden City project which was curtailed by the outbreak of war. With over 900 seats it struggled until the RAF started pilot training at the airfield. The memories of Cyril and Kathleen Hawken were recorded, and extracts and photographs illustrated the life of this moderne-style cinema until its closure at the end of 1977.

Cinemas opened in the main towns and several villages of Oxfordshire, only to close from 1960 onwards due to television. However, over the last few years, several new cinemas have opened, the most recent being the Curzon in Westgate and the Guildhall Abingdon.


Ian Meyrick is the author of Oxfordshire Cinemas and The Ultimate Survivor. He is Vice-Chair of the Cinema Theatre Association.

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