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  • Writer's pictureHenry Brougham

1st Quarter 2019 Newsletter

Updated: Jul 3, 2019

It is with sadness I have to report that Dorothy Scott, a member, died in January.

29thJanuary 2019

“A Gloster boy in defence of the Drift”

Alfred Henry Hook and the Battle of Rorke’s Drift – 22-23 January 1879

L.P. Barnett

The Zulu War took place in 1879 - the British fought the Zulus in an attempt to further expand the Empire. There were two main battles – Isandlwana (a crushing defeat for the British) and Rorke’s Drift. Rorke’s Drift was an isolated mission station and Isandlwanawas a hill some 10 miles south-east of Rorke’s Drift.

Alfred Henry ‘Harry’ Hook, VC (6.8.1850-12.3.1905) was from Westbury in Gloucestershire and came from farming stock. He enlisted in the Militia on 7.5.1869 and joined the 2ndBattalion, Warwickshires, 24thRegiment in 1877. He married Comfort Jones on 26.12.1876 and they had three children.

Photo: Immediate source:, Public Domain,

At the Battle of Rorke’s Drift, Hook defended a room in the hospital and sustained a scalp injury which plagued him for the rest of his life. He was in the hospital not as a patient (or under arrest as shown in the film ‘Zulu’) but as a cook and on the day of the battle he, together with five other Privates, were ordered to protect the 30 patients who were unable to be moved from the hospital. When he ran out of ammunition and the Zulus stormed in, one of the Privates, John Williams, broke a hole in a wall and he and Hook carried eight men to safety across the courtyard to the Redoubt. Although Hook got a VC, unfortunately John Williams did not. Hook was presented with the VC actually at Rorke’s Drift by Sir Garnet Wolseley (who had replaced Chelmsford as commander in chief) – the only soldier ever to be awarded the medal where it was won.

Hook bought himself out of military service on 25.6.1880 but did not go back to his wife. The speaker suggested this could have been because he lost his memory, rather than being a scoundrel, which is how he was painted in the film ‘Zulu’ (where he was played by James Booth). In the film he is portrayed as a big drinker but he was a teetotaller; the only time he took a drink was actually just after the battle at Rorke’s Drift. After his demob, he got a job as Inside Duster at the British Museum and joined the 1stVolunteer Battalion, Royal Fusiliers. He served with them for 20 years, progressing to the rank of Sergeant Instructor. He worked at the Museum until retiring due to ill health in 1904, dying of pulmonary TB in 1905. He was buried with full military honours at St Andrews Church, Westbury.

The speaker spoke about the film ‘Zulu’ and the many discrepancies between the film and actual fact. The tune played at Rorke’s Drift in the film was Men of Harlech but the troops were the Warwickshires, not a Welsh regiment. This mistake could have been reinforced by the fact that Stanley Baker (who played Lt. Bromhead) was Welsh and sported a Welsh badge on his helmet, which was also wrong! Other anomalies in the film are the rifles used – the actual weapons were Brown Bess not Lee Enfields.

Note: I am very grateful to Christine Howard who kindly volunteered to provide this text for the Kidlington News and for this Newsletter as I was unable to attend the meeting. Norma.

26thFebruary 2019

The Shipton on Cherwell accident 1874 and its contribution to railway safety.

Peter Webber

Most people know of the Shipton on Cherwell railway accident on Christmas Eve 1874 but very few of us know the actual cause and aftermath of this terrible event which left 34 dead and 69 seriously injured. Peter, a railway expert has studied the technical implications for some years so was the ideal person to talk to us on the subject. The train with 15 carriages and 2 engines left Oxford for Birkenhead12.15 already 5 minutes late as more carriages had been added at Reading and Oxford to cope with the large numbers wishing to travel.the Reading station master calculated there were 200 there waiting. This also meant an additional engine had to be deployed to move the increased number of carriages, travelers and their luggage – after the accident it was found part of the luggage was two barrels of oysters!

The track was slippery due to the weather and the train had difficulty keeping to time, although one of the engine drivers, Henry Richardson an experienced driver; and his fireman, James Hill, had worked together on that engine for a year. The speed was 35-40 mph and it was 12.26pm when the train passed Kidlington station. At this point the passengers in the first coach noticed a serious vibration and tried to attract the driver using the outside communication cord. As the wheel on the third-class carriage broke it went down the river embankment taking other carriages with it. The rear part of the train carried on for some distance. The owners of the Boat Inn looked after some of the injured including a two year old child. The child was Fanny Yeates who died later at the Radcliffe Infirmary on the 31stDecember. Her Mother Sarah also died and both are buried at Hannington, Wiltshire where Mr Yeates was landlord of The Dog. Men from the Hampton Gay paper mill helped – but it was over an hour before medical help came from Oxford. To this day it is the greatest accident in the history of the Great Western Railway, but it came in a year when there were 86 passenger deaths due to train accidents.

Peter had made a study of some of the people who died – two are buried at Hampton Gay; one Benjamin Taylor, gas fitter from Tettenhall, Wolverhampton aged 19. The second William Kavanagh also from Wolverhampton, bricklayer’s labourer aged 55. The death of a Harry Johnson was registered at Woodstock, but place of burial is not yet known. He was also from Wolverhampton, a carpenter, aged 23. A Edward Sylvester of Norham Manor, Accountant, was buried at St.Paul’s, Walton Street, aged c. 45. He was on his way to Manchester along with his sister-in-law who survived. John Thomas Trotter Pilkington, in his fifties, civil engineer was buried at Wrexham along with his son Augustus, aged 19. Augustus was a midshipman or mate on the “City of Carthage” – so far Peter has been unable to trace this ship. They were both going to a daughter’s/sister’s wedding in Wrexham. And a Harry van Tromp, of 21 Inverness Terrace, Bayswater was buried in London.

Some of the passengers that died had railway insurance which was common in the Victorian era. At the investigation into the accident Colonel William Yolland highlighted the lack of means of communication between passengers, drivers and guards; lack of guidance to drivers as to how to deal with this situation; lack of brakes on the train, which had not been properly marshalled; and the tyre that disintegrated on the first carriage (Peter showed us an image of what was left of the tyre) was old and of an obsolete design.

All these issues were eventually to be addressed in the years following the accident. This was an excellent talk and has Peter reminded us such accidents were common at the time but luckily it has been twelve years since we have experienced a moving train accident.

26 March 2019

Joanna Snelling,

Of bees and books: 500 years of an Oxford College Library

Joanna, a former Kidlington resident, is Librarian of Corpus Christi College, Merton Street, which in 2017 celebrated its 500 years. To celebrate this some of its treasures were exhibited in Washington and New York. Her talk, she said, was to be a gallop though 500 years of history. Corpus Christi was the first truly Renaissance College founded by Bishop Richard Fox, chief advisor to Henry VII and Henry VIII. Fox wanted his new college to study medicine, mathematics, astronomy and in particular Latin, Greek and Hebrew. Due to Fox’s influence the library houses the largest collection of Greek books printed before 1530. The first President was John Claymond (died 1536) who gave a printed text of Jerome which he had purchased for ten shillings.

The College was founded for twenty Fellows, twenty students and three lecturers. It was built on a small parcel of land belonging to Merton College. The first Statutes record a bee garden, the current gardener has been there for over forty years, and foxes have been seen in the grounds at night. The library was, and still is, on the first floor (to protect the books from damp) in the Front Quad, the famous Renaissance scholar Erasmus claimed it would equal the Vatican’s as a magnet for study. The library, which as expanded in space over the years, has been in continual use for 500 years and today supports the teaching and research of forty Fellows, 250 students, and 115 Graduates. It was originally a chained library and may possibly have been built by the workmen of the chained library of Hereford Cathedral. By the mid- eighteenth century the chaining of the books ceased.

Today the library houses more than 500 manuscripts, (thirty of which were in the library by the 1530’s) and include the “most important collection of Anglo-Jewish manuscripts in the world”. The medieval manuscripts include works by Aristotle, Bede and John of Worcester and works on medicine, mathematics, philosophy and music. The Lapworth Missalof the 1398, so named because it originally belonged to the parish church of Lapworth, Warwickshire has a full page illumination which is protected by a red silk curtain sewn along the top of the page. The library also contains a manuscript copy of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (early 15thcentury) and William Langland Piers Plowman(late 14thcentury).

One important Hebrew manuscript in the college is Ashkenazi Siddur (book of daily prayers)dating from the late 12thcentury this is the only example of Judeo-Arabic from medieval England. The owner was a Seyhardic Jew who fled to England and he has written inside the manuscript money spent since arriving in England. The National Library of Israel are going to mount images form this manuscript on their website.

Corpus Christi was actively involved in the early 17thcentury revision of the Bible, the King James Bible published in 1611. The project was first proposed by John Rainols (died 1607) President of the college, the translation was carried out by 6 teams, one of which met in Rainolds’s rooms in college. The college holds a copy of the notes made by the revising committee, it was transcribed by William Fulman, Fellow.

The library also houses more than 20,000 pre-1830 printed titles; of which 280 were printed before 1501; and 4,000 titles printed pre-1641 on the continent. There is a large collection of Civil War pamphlets.

The first catalogue was written in 1589 and of the 371 titles recorded a total of 310 are still in the library today. Of these ninety carry inscriptions saying they were donated by Richard Fox; and 75 were given by John Claymond.

Brian Twynne the first Oxford University archivist gave 350 printed texts in 1644 – these were mostly on medicine, Greek, and grammar. The college has a copy of the Second Folio of Shakespeare, unfortunately not the more valuable First Folio.

Joanna has to be congratulated for not only giving us a fascinating talk (you never know what is behind the walls of the Oxford colleges) but for mastering the new loud speaker system but also for bravely continuing while suffering from a heavy cold.

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