2018-19 programme

All talks, presentations and meetings are open to visitors and are held in the Cramphorn Theatre, Fairfield Road, starting at 7.45 pm. There is no need to book but there is a nominal charge of £3 for members and £5 for visitors, payable on the night.

All outings leave from outside the theatre. Group members will have received booking terms and instructions with their Newsletter.

Parking is via Coval Lane only. Charges apply but there is an alternative car park next to the County Hotel which is free in the evenings and at weekends.

Click any event for details.

Annual General Meeting

The agenda for our AGM is as follows:

  1. A drawing of a microphoneApologies for absence
  2. Minutes of the last meeting
  3. Matters arising
  4. Chairman’s report
  5. Treasurer’s report
  6. Centre funding of NT projects
  7. Election of President and Vice President
  8. Election of Committee
  9. Election of Honorary Examiner of Accounts
  10. Any other business

After the AGM John Frankland will tell us the fascinating story of William Potter. You may not have heard of William Potter but that does not matter!

The history of the handbag

A pink handbag 
Come and learn the history of Maggie’s favourite accessory from Sarah Shehadeh.

Outing to Kentwell HallReport by Alan Arnot

We couldn’t have asked for better weather for our first outing of 2018. Our short journey to Kentwell Hall was done in glorious sunshine and it stayed that way for the whole visit. The Hall was having one of their “themed” days which, on this occasion, was Elizabethan. Volunteers in period costume greeted us with a cheerful “Good day” and maintained the authenticity by continuing conversations in the English of the Elizabethan period.

People of all ages, some carrying flags, walking towards the front of a large Elizabethan buildingThere was plenty to do in the grounds: feed the huge shoals of fish in the moat using food purchased from the shop; watch the blacksmith at work in the forge, or see how candles were made, but many were relieved to enjoy the cool of the Hall itself. Cooks were busy in the kitchen preparing lunch using just the ingredients and utensils that would have been available in Elizabethan times. You could also try writing with a quill or chat with the present owner's family in the Great Hall. On the down side, we saw the havoc caused by the leaking roof during the winter storms; the whole library area was closed off while repairs were being carried out.

Activities continued into the afternoon, culminating in the raising of the maypole and the crowning of the May Queen, selected from a group of about twenty girls, all wearing long white dresses. Following tradition, she was abducted by an evil intruder, “Jack-in-the-Green,” before being re-captured by the angry crowd who then turned on Jack. Music was provided by a small group playing period instruments, who then accompanied the communal dancing.

As we made our way back to the coach for the journey home, spirits were high. We’d got off to a good start!

President’s event

We visited Coggeshall at our President’s invitation.

Outing to Chiltern Museum and Ascott ParkReport by Alan Arnot

This was a popular and over-subscribed trip with Tim once again being our driver for the day.A Nissan hut The sky was overcast on the non-stop ride but the sun started to break through as we arrived at the the Chiltern Open Air Museum located near Amersham. We had a longish walk from reception down to the barn where we were served coffee/tea with a nice pastry. It was now warm enough to sit outside. There was a variety of buildings to look at in the immediate vicinity, including a thatched cottage, an RAF Nissen Hut, a 1940s prefab and a mission chapel. Further exploration took us to a Victorian farm, an Iron Age house and the High Wycombe Toll house, to name a few. There were also the attractive gardens by the site office near the entrance, laid out by Gertrude Jekyll. The large site meant that members were somewhat spread out on returning to the coach, which then left for the next destination, Ascott House.

A formal path leading to a Tudor houiseThis was a former hunting lodge dating from the 16th century which was donated to the National Trust in 1949 by Anthony de Rothschild, together with its collection of paintings, many being of horses with George Stubbs featuring prominently, and the large ceramic collection, much of which was oriental. We had timed entries so some had a quick look at the gardens, particularly the topiary section, before going in. Photography, with or without flash, was not allowed in the house, but the grounds were very photogenic, including the lily pond.


Outing to Lamport and Kelmarsh HallsReport by Alan Arnot

This was a midweek outing, which initially was over-subscribed but a few had pulled out at the last-minute, meaning that the coach was not completely full. We set off with our driver, Tim, to Northamptonshire, via the M11/A14, with a comfort stop at Cambridge services. It was cool and overcast but the sun broke through later and stayed with us for the rest of the day. Neither of the properties belonged to the National Trust and both were now administered by private trusts.

A large grey stately homeWe were welcomed at Lamport by a volunteer and led round to the entrance where we were divided into two groups for the tours. Both guides were interesting and knowledgeable, but there was a lot to take in. The present house dates from 1655 and owes its existence to the Ishams, who were one of Northamptonshire’s wealthiest families. They were keen Royalists but managed to survive the ravages of the Civil War.

The line of succeeding Baronetcies was complex and included some notable eccentrics, such as Sir Charles Isham, 10th Baronet, who had bought the oldest garden gnome in the world and which was on show in a glass case! The 12th Baronet, Sir Gyles Isham, had to restore the house after it been used – or rather misused – by billeted soldiers during World War II. Apparently, the hall had been offered to the National Trust but they had declined the offer because of the extensive restoration work that would have been needed.

Two large red-brick buildingsTim had to negotiate a very narrow entrance to our next property, Kelmarsh Hall. A volunteer met us and explained that we were to be divided into five groups, two of which went straight to the tearoom for a late lunch.

The house had been started in 1618 by William Hanbury, but the present building was developed in 1722, using the designer James Gibbs to establish its Palladian style. Unlike Lamport, Kelmarsh was not handed down through an inherited lineage but had a series of owners, being used extensively as a hunting lodge, as was evident in the many horsey paintings. As we left for home we saw in the distance the herd of the distinctive Kelmarsh cattle.

Outing to Sissinghurst and Great DixterReport by Alan Arnot

This was a hassle-free trip with no delay at the Dartford Crossing but our driver, Tim, had to be very careful negotiating the last half-mile down the narrow lanes that led to Sissinghurst. The National Trust volunteer who welcomed us gave us our maps and small tokens for any re-entry we wanted to make. She admitted that, because of the long summer heatwave and the recent heavy rainstorms, the gardens were not looking at their best. Regrettably, we had to agree but we made the most of it. Some brave souls even managed the climb up to the top of the towers!

An interesting “first” for Jackie and me was that the library was open and we were able to see where Vita Sackville-West did most of her work.

Several in the party had booked to have lunch in the restaurant, with its stunning views over the Kent countryside, but there was a bit of time left to go back into the gardens before returning to the coach.

A walled garden photographed from an elevated spotGreat Dixter gardens were only a twenty-minute drive away and the coach dropped us near a barn on the property where a film was showing. This time the house was open as well as the gardens and it was a fascinating experience to wander round. The original structure was Elizabethan and one of the guides was even able to point out some Tudor graffiti that was just visible on an overhead beam with the aid of a torch. Photography was not permitted, even without flash, but I was able to get a nice shot of the sunken garden through an open top floor window. The gardens had clearly been looked after lovingly, revealing a riot of colour wherever we wandered. Particularly impressive was the long border which we walked along before working our way round to the tearooms for a welcome cuppa. A few of the members had purchased plants to take home. They seemed to have survived the journey back to Chelmsford!

Group holiday in DevonReport by Shirley Deering

A river side town

Monday 3 September

The heavy early morning mist showed that autumn is just around the corner, but it had cleared by the time forty of us had assembled outside the Cramphorn Theatre for the start of our summer holiday. Sadly two members had had to cancel at the last minute due to health problems, while an even greater sadness was the knowledge that one of our members had died earlier in the year. All were thought about and much missed.

Our Kings coach arrived in good time and we set off promptly at 9 am for the first stage of our long journey to Tiverton. We were pleased to see our driver was the unflappable Marc, whose skill at driving in reverse down seven foot wide country lanes is legendary! All went well until after our second comfort stop at Fleet when we encountered a stop-start crawl due to a collision between two lorries. We could only hope that the driver of the second lorry was not badly injured as the state of his windscreen suggested.

Late arriving at Montacute House, a real “showing off” piece of Elizabethan architecture. By now the weather had turned into a gloriously sunny, hot summer day, and it seemed more sensible to concentrate on the varied gardens, rather than visiting the house. The portrait gallery alone is 52.5m (172 feet) long, there was no time to appreciate everything in what was now reduced to a two-hour visit.

Leaving Montacute promptly at 5 pm, the hour’s journey to our hotel at Tiverton was completed without incident. On arrival we were treated to tea and coffee in the lounge while our cases were taken up to our rooms. A very welcome arrangement as the hotel had no lift!

Tuesday, 4 September

>p>Not too early a start for our first visit of the day. At 9.45 am we were all aboard the coach, ready for the fifteen minute drive to Knightshayes. An hour later, after a very scenic journey, we arrived at Knightshayes to be greeted by a very cheerful member of staff who assured us that no-one can find them. The advice is to ditch the sat-nav and do it the old-fashioned way by following the road signs. The weather being, if anything, more summer-like than yesterday’s, the gardens seemed a more attractive proposition for our now-shortened visit to the house. The property itself is Victorian, but parts were designed in a Medieval style. It was owned by the Heathcoat-Amory family. It was built for the owner of a lace-making factory, who had a reputation of being a benevolent employer, providing homes and many benefits for the welfare of his workers. Later generations of the family turned to politics and many people well remember a member of the Heathcoat-Amory family as a post-war Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Leaving Knigtshayes, we journeyed on to Killerton House and gardens. A surprising link with Chelmsford is that the house was designed by John Johnson, the architect of the Shire Hall. Although not a top-flight architect it may be that he had a friend in Devon who recommended him to Sir Thomas Acland, who only wanted a temporary home built. Sir Thomas planned to have a grand mansion built nearby but abandoned his plans after his heir was killed in a duel. Today Killerton is a comfortable family home, with a relaxed atmosphere.

Wednesday, 5 September

A day of journeys through breathtakingly beautiful countryside. Our President, David Simmonds, and Winifred his wife were with us. Winifred was born near Tiverton and she and David have spent a lot of time in the area so we had the pleasure of a running commentary from David on the scenes we were passing through. David pointed out a bridge which is said to have been the inspiration for the song “Bridge Over Troubled Water”. Although they did stay at a guest house overlooking the scene, Simon and Garfunkel deny it inspired their song, but it’s a nice story.

Our first destination of the day was Dunster Castle, undoubtedly the most dramatic of the places on our itinerary. Owned by the Luttrell family for over six hundred years, the interior was converted into a lavish country home in Victorian times. Its ruined tower and Medieval gatehouse are reminders of its less peaceful past. On top of a steep hill, it’s a great place for those who enjoy panoramic views.

The journey from Dunster to Arlington Court was quite amazing. The bright clear sunny day meant you could see the Bristol Channel with shipping and then Wales beyond. Another feature of the journey despite the narrow and at places very steep gradients we met oncoming traffic at the most convenient of places – real luck!

Arlington Court is the home to eleven generations of the Chichester family, distantly related to Sir Francis Chichester, the ‘round the world’ yachtsman. Sadly, the family died out with an unmarried daughter, Rosalie, who bequeathed the house and estate to the National Trust in 1949. Rosalie was a tireless traveller and collector and the stark-looking home houses an incredible collection of items. Teaspoons, sea shells, textiles, it seems that anything Rosalie could pay for and pack in her suitcase came home with her.

There is another Essex connection. In one display cabinet is a tiny cross, made from a fragment of a Zeppelin, shot down over Essex in 1916 with a note to say “sold in aid of the LNER War Seal Foundation’.

Thursday, 6 September

The only day when the weather let us down, with a series of intermittent showers, not long lasting, but some quite heavy. Our latest start time, as our morning destination, Powderham Castle, does not open until 10 am. Not strictly speaking a castle, but a fortified house, Powderham Castle is home to the 28th generation of the Courtenay family! Of course, this is not by direct descent, the succession has moved sideways a couple of times. Visitors are not allowed to go around the house unaccompanied, but have to be in a party with a guide.

The house has many impressive historical features, but an amazing and an amusing one is the large number of secret doors to be found. One room alone has seven! Our guide, a man with a light-hearted approach to history, took great delight in revealing the hidden openings. He also had a nice line in jokes and funny stories, explaining that the family had once made a fortune from whaling, he described the whale meat being transported to London by “whaleway”! The home includes a small chapel, with elaborately carved pew-ends. A very moving feature is the small brass plaques on one wall, commemorating three estate workers, a game-keeper and two footmen, who were killed in the First World War.

Leaving Powderham, we made the half-hour journey to Exeter for an afternoon of free time. The weather was not kind and, apart from its cathedral, which is of overwhelming magnificence and grandeur, a purely personal view is that Exeter has nothing to recommend it. Moving swiftly on, we returned to our hotel and packed all but a few essentials, ready for our cases to be collected before tomorrow’s breakfast.

Friday, 7 September

After a hearty breakfast the party boarded the coach for the final visit of the holiday, Barrington Court. This was the National Trust’s first major purchase of a large house and estate and looked like being the last. The property was in need of such extensive repair and restoration that it seemed the cost would cripple the organisation. Step forward the jaw-droppingly wealthy Colonel Lyle of Tate & Lyle sugar. His vision of restoration, carried out between 1920 and 1025 has given us the home and grounds we see today. Sadly, the house is now devoid of contents, everything having been sold off a part of the settlement of what must have been a very messy and complicated divorce case. However, Colonel Lyle had a passion for collecting top quality panelling from abandoned county houses, all of which he installed at Barrington as part of the restoration. There is even a magnificent staircase, salvaged by the good Colonel from a Scottish Castle. (Don’t ask!).

Three hours was too short a time in which to explore this splendid house and the glorious gardens, the layout of which was planned in consultation with Gertrude Jekyll. The weather having returned to warm and sunny it was a real wrench but we had to admit our holiday was over and board our coach for the final stage of our homeward journey. Happily, it was a journey without incidents and by 6:30 pm we were in Chelmsford.

Thanks were given to Paul and Janet for a perfect programme, intricate itinerary and their recce. Also of course to Marc our driver who can get a coach through the eye of a needle!

Talk on Markets, Mildmay and Marconi

A blue plaque commemorating the first radio broadcast by Marconi
 A talk by Yvonne Lawrence.

Outing to Wimpole Estate

The original building was constructed between 1640 and 1670, and extended in 1713 to 1721, with other additions and improvements over the years. In 1938, Captain George and Mrs Elsie Bambridge bought Wimpole, almost entirely empty of contents. Over the next 40 years they slowly furnished and decorated the house. They sought out pieces that were once housed at Wimpole, two highlights being the 1780s State Bed, and the Cows in a fieldexquisite gilded sofas that had been made specially to fit the curved walls of Sir John Soane’s Yellow Drawing Room, which was the setting for Queen Victoria’s reception in 1843. As well as many beautiful formal rooms, the basements give a wonderful example of life below stairs, where bells would ring among the hustle and bustle, mixed with the smells of food being cooked in the kitchen.

Outside there are the Pleasure Grounds, a Walled garden, a Parterre, Parkland and Woodland Belts to explore. The Home Farm is one of the largest Rare Breed Centres, set in an 18 th century, and a modern farm yard, containing Shire horses, Longhorn and White Park cattle, pigs, sheep, Shetland ponies and goats. Daily events include pig feeding, meet rabbits and shire horses, and watch donkey grooming. For the more energetic there is an adventure play ground - no age restrictions as far as we know!

The Old Rectory Restaurant serves light lunches or a three-course meal. The Farm café sells drinks and snacks, and the Stable Kitchen provides light lunches, drinks and ice creams.

Talk on Chelmsford’s SuffragettesReport by Keith Otter

A woman sitting at a desk behind a sign telling people to register to vote title=Stephen Norris spoke to us about Chelmsford’ own Suffragettes, supporters and nationally-known visitors to the town (as it then was0.

There were two main bodies promoting the cause of women’s suffrage in the early years of the twentieth century. They were the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (“NUWSS”) and the Women's Social and Political Union (“WSPU”). The suffragists tried to promote the cause of votes for women through persuasion and joined the NUWSS. The suffragettes were not enamoured with the merits of quiet persuasion, were prepared to resort to law-breaking and attacks on property, and joined the much more militant WSPU.

Chelmsford’s involvement started in the middle of the nineteenth century with the well-known local Quaker, Anne Knight. In 1847 she published the first pamphlet advocating women’s suffrage and in 1852, together with an Anne Kent, she founded the first women’s suffrage society in Sheffield.

Around the turn of the century there were occasional public talks in the town about women’s suffrage. Some were held in the now-demolished Corn Exchange. One lady was ejected from the Corn Exchange but continued to address the crowd outside “on the gun” (ie perched on the artillery piece captured at Sevastopol and now displayed outside the Chelmsford Museum). When the WSPU”s “General” spoke “on the gun” on another occasion the police had to escort her back to the railway station for her own safety.

A byelection was held here in 1908. The day before the election four rallies were held in the town, including one organised by the NUWSS and one by the WSPU. The WSPU asked all the candidates three questions and offered to support whichever candidates answered “Yes” to them all. Unfortunately no record has been found of the questions but it is known that both the leading candidates gave a negative answer to all three! In the event the Conservative candidate credited the WSPU for his win and the Liberal candidate blamed them from his loss of the byelection. The Conservative went on to serve Chelmsford as MP for the next fifteen years.

In 1912 a number of women, including some from the Chelmsford area, were arrested for attacking property in central London. One group threw stones at the Mansion House window, which prompted the judge trying their case to comment that they must either be criminals or lunatics. One lady who was subjected to a jail term was given a signed certificate by Emily Pankhurst on her release.

The suffragettes’ violent campaign was suspended when war broke out in 1914. What gained women the vote in 1919 was their importance to the war effort.

The Christmas Post

Today we explore a lesser-known London district with a very important place in the history of our nation. We will be told the story of posting a letter from earliest times to the coming of the GPO, visit the brand new Postal Museum and take a ride on the MailRail beneath the streets of London. We will see London dressed for Christmas – beautifully illuminated buildings old and new, classical and challenging. Floodlit London is stunning.

We arrive in London to meet our Blue Badge Guide with free time to buy lunch in Exmouth Market. There are a variety of food stalls as well as traditional pubs and cafés. Once we are suitably refreshed we visit the nearby state-of-the-art Postal Museum, where five zones lead the visitor through five centuries of world-class curiosities. From the original sculpture of Queen Elizabeth II used to produce the iconic image replicated on 220 billion stamps to a rather quirky five-wheeled Victorian post man’s bicycle and a priceless sheet of Penny Blacks.

Stylised picture of a miniature underground train in a tunnelWe enjoy a 20 minute tootle on MailRail, the 100 year old Post Office railway with miniature trains, stopping at original station platforms where impressive displays show how the Post Office Pneumatic Railway once whizzed four million letters a day beneath the streets of London.

Watch the iconic Night Mail film with by W H Auden with music by Benjamin Britten and then step into a replica Travelling Post Office and try your hand at sorting the mail just as in the film.

As dark falls we begin our special Christmas Post tour combines telling the story of posting a letter from Roman times to the coming of the GPO with the lights and sights of Christmas London. We begin our explorations as the commuters make their way home. The rush hour is a joy to watch when you’re not struggling in it!

Seeking out visible reminders of our postal history from the coffee houses of Samuel Pepys’ day to the old inns where scarlet-clad blunderbuss-wielding guards announced their departure with a blast of their mail horns. We’ll see the Christmas lights in the shopping streets but remember it’s not just about Oxford Street any more as many London buildings and bridges are now beautifully illuminated at night. We finish off with a one-course Fish & Chip supper with a hot drink, ready to head home on emptier roads at 7 pm.

Talk on Henry VIII and his six wivesPay on the door

Computer image of a woman in a pink Tudor dress
A talk by Tony Strange.

“From Crossbow to CrossRail”Pay on the door

A crossbow
A talk by Marit Leenstra on the archaeology of a major transport project.

Talk on the history of spoken EnglishPay on the door

A bearded man in Saxon dress 
A talk by Charlie Haydock.

Annual General MeetingPay on the door

A drawing of a microphone 
Followed by an exciting update by the Hatfield Forest Team.

“My journey as a designer”Pay on the door

A pair of scissors
A talk by Amanda Sutherland, fashion designer.

Group holiday centred on YorkNot yet open for booking

Details will be given in the Spring newsletter.