Cuddington | Buckinghamshire

History Society

Sadly, the Cuddington History Society is no longer in existence.




Prisoner of War Camp at Norman Cross

Paul Chamberlain gave an excellent illustrated talk on the almost forgotten Prisoner of War camp at Norman Cross near Peterborough, which held up to 7,000 men during the Napoleonic wars. The site of the prison became the subject of national attention in 2009 when Channel 4s Time Team excavated the remains of the prison.  The three day dig revealed a fascinating glimpse into life on this site 200 years ago, including the remains of straw, bone and wood artefacts fashioned by the prisoners to sell at the prison market to villagers.

The causes of death were studied from death certificates.  Most were a result of dysentery, typhoid and consumption.  The wet seasons caused flooding and contamination from seepage.

This camp had been set up because the hulks (derelict ships) at sea had become overcrowded.  There were, apparently, few escapes – the prisoners wore a distinctive yellow jacket.  After Napoleon had been beaten and consigned to St Helena, the surviving prisoners were repatriated and the camp was closed.

The next History Society talk is scheduled for Tuesday 19 March at 7.30pm in the Playing Fields Clubhouse.  Tom Farrell, who competed in the Olympic Games at Melbourne and Rome and was chaplain to the British team at the Munich Games, will speak on “The Olympics, Past, Present and Future”.


Outing to Highclere Castle and Sandham Memorial Chapel

An air of excited expectation was evident in the coach taking 24 members and friends of the Cuddington History Society and 21 members of Haddenham U3A on an outing to Highclere Castle and Sandham Memorial Chapel, on 4th September.  A mood that was fully justified.

The group visited Highclere first.  Now the location of “Downton Abbey” it has more long lasting claims to fame.  For example it was the 5th Earl of Carnarvon together with Howard Carter, who discovered the tomb of Tutankhamun in 1922.

The present Castle was the responsibility of the 3rd Earl who employed Sir Charles Barry to mastermind a major rebuild which was commenced in 1838 and completed 40 years later in 1878.  The present building is certainly dramatic, set in an extensive estate the Castle dominates the landscape. 

There is an exhibition of Egyptology in the basement, a delightful garden hidden from view and an impressive interior (although some of the party were impressed most by the lack of bathrooms!) all complemented by varied catering options and adequate toilet facilities.

The group left Highclere after lunch and proceeded to Sandham Memorial Chapel at Burghclere.  Built and decorated by Mrs Behrend and her husband as a memorial to her brother Lieutenant Henry Willoughby Sandham, it is regarded as the seminal work of Stanley Spencer.

Lieutenant Sandham died in 1919 as a result of illness contracted during the 1st World War. 

The unprepossessing exterior in no way prepared us for the stunning interior.  The side and rear walls are richly decorated with scenes depicting Stanley Spencer’s war experiences.  A deeply religious man, Spencer was able to include allegorical references which were explained to us by the expert guide.  No account or photo of the chapel does justice to its glory.

Of course not everyone was as impressed as I was by the chapel nor as dismissive of the castle. However I am confident that it was a day that held something for every one and proved to be a wonderful social event.  Thank you Peter Wenham for researching and arranging it all.

Zachary Taylor playing the lyre 

An Anglo-Saxon Lyre, Origins and Performance

For the speaker, Zachary Taylor, to start the evening by loudly declaiming Beowulf in its original English was some what surprising, the more so as the talk was entitled “An Anglo-Saxon Lyre, Origins and Performance”. Having grabbed our attention Zachary proceeded to recount the origins of the lyre, how it was made and how it was used to accompany a storey teller helping the audience to remember the storey. All the while illustrating his talk on the beautiful instrument he had brought with him. 

This instrument was made by Zachary from drawings he had made of lyre found in an Anglo- Saxon burial chamber, circa 630 A.D., in Essex. Only the use of modern archaeological methods such as MRI scanning allowed accurate measurement to be obtained for once the instrument was exposed to the air it disintegrated. 

Having made the drawings (it was no surprise to learn that Zachary has degrees in both engineering and music), Zachary started the search for the correct wood in order to make the instrument authentic. To his surprise oak, holly and maple were all used in the original, the bridge of which no trace was found was made of brass fashioned like “two kissing horses”. The strings were originally of gut although 3 of the 6 had been replaced by nylon which we were told is just as good. The finished instrument is a beautifully crafted work of art.

Zachary compared the lyre to a guitar and a small harp he had brought along, both of which he had made, He played all the instruments and liberally scattered anecdotes from his fascinating life throughout the talk.

It was a very entertaining evening given by a very entertaining man.

Bethlem Hospital 

The Victorian Asylum and St. John’s Hospital

Dr Sarah Rutherford delivered a most interesting talk entitled “The Victorian Asylum and St. John’s Hospital”, which was not what may have been expected as Sarah trained as a horticulturist at Kew Gardens and ultimately obtained a PhD from York on the Landscapes of the Nineteenth Century Lunatic Asylums.

Sarah started by quoting the Oxford English Dictionary definition of “asylum” as a place that offers refuge and protection.  Her interest in the buildings and landscapes of these Victorian institutions was stimulated by personal experience as her father was a patient at St. John’s Hospital, Stone for the last fifteen years of his life.

The first lunatic asylum to be built was Bethlem in 1676 situated in Moorfields, the first Public Park. Sarah showed a slide of Hampton Court Palace and of Bethlem challenging the audience to identify the buildings.  She then explained the similarities of the external buildings especially the landscaped approaches the theme of the talk.

As history relates, the care of the patients at Bethlem lacked compassion, allowing them to become objects of entertainment and derision for fee paying voyeurs.  The altruistic Victorians commenced a programme of asylum building that used the environment as an instrument of treatment.  The hospitals were built to resemble grand country houses reflecting the wealth of the community which they served (St. Johns’ was relatively humble).  Fresh air was considered very beneficial and, to attain this, airing courts were built with gardens and even mounts to better view the surrounding countryside.  Some were contained by ha-has rather than the more obvious restriction of high walls.

To protect the patients from society, and I suggest society from the patients, the asylums were built in the country.  Most were built on a similar model, with a male and female side, a lodge at the entrance, an administrative block, wards leading off a main corridor and villas in the grounds.  The medical superintendent had his own house on site and there was accommodation for the staff.  The extensive grounds and home farm were maintained by paid staff and the patients.

In the late twentieth century psychiatric treatment had become based on medication, society changed to an emphasis on the “individual” and the asylum was viewed as a place of unhealthy institutionalisation.  Care in the community was reinvented and the asylums were redundant.  Sarah regretted the wholesale destruction of these historical sites, giving examples of developments that retain the original asylum buildings and grounds now stunning apartments set in extensive, well maintained private parks.  St John’s did not fare so well and is now a fading memory.

While recognising that not all care in the asylum reached the benevolent standard intended, Sarah gave a warm and instructive account of the good work and environment of these fascinating hospitals.


History Society Meeting and AGM 17th January 2012

The AGM was presided over by the Chairman, Peter Wenham, and attended by 26 members.  Peter reported on the success of last year’s speakers and of the outing to Chinnor Steam Railway.  Thanks to the generosity of the Fete committee the Treasurer reported a balance at the start of the year of £712.95 allowing the subscription to remain at £7.  Peter thanked the members for supporting the Society and the committee for their work.

The AGM was followed by a fascinating talk entitled “The Windsor Fire and the Restoration” given by Richard Day.

Mr Day was born in Windsor where he still lives.  He worked for 45 years as a book binder at Windsor Castle, eventually becoming the Queen’s Head Book Binder.  During this time he became a part time fireman and it was he who led the first fire crew into the Castle on 20th November 1992.

Mr Day gave a vivid and systematic account of the fire, the devastation it caused, the evacuation of the furnishings, art and books, and the amazing restoration of the destroyed wing of the Castle lasting five years.  The talk was comprehensively illustrated by excellent slides showing Windsor Castle before, during and after the fire.  Mr Day quoted a list of statistics on things as diverse as the amount of water used to quell the fire to the number of soldiers needed to remove a large carpet (150).  Perhaps the statistic closest to his heart was that it took six and a half hours to evacuate the library and seven months to replace the contents.  The restoration was possible due to the salvaging of a vast amount of debris and the skill of British crafts men and women.  Windsor Castle today is a true phoenix risen from the ashes.



Jane Robinson, author, returned to speak to the Meeting, her subject was “Bluestockings”, a history of the struggle of women to access higher education.

Jane started by telling us that the term bluestocking was originally applied to a man, Benjamin Stillingford, who attended informal society gatherings of a group of women seeking knowledge beyond the domestic that was expected of them. Subsequently all studious and intellectual women became known as bluestockings, not always a complement.

The first women’s university college to open was Girton. Originally situated in Hitchin and called Benslow House, it was close enough to Cambridge for lecturers to travel  but far enough away not to cause offence. Girton College moved to its present site in 1872 two miles outside Cambridge. The women undertook the same courses as men and sat the same examinations but Cambridge did not award women degrees until 1948.

Not all universities were so reluctant to recognise the abilities of their alumni; London awarded women degrees in 1881, 3 years after admitting women students.

Educated women were thought by many men to be against the natural order and that by being educated their uteruses would shrink and they would become infertile. The medical profession were amongst the most vocal in objecting to women graduates. Dr Maudsley, after whom the famous psychiatric hospital is named, thought women were incapable of learning, that they would wear out their brains and were at risk of becoming sterile. Jane reminded us of how Gail Trimble, a brilliant contestant in “University Challenge” was pilloried by the press for her unfeminine academic prowess as recently as February 2009.

These early women undergraduates were mostly from families able to support them financially. However Jane told the heart warming story of Trixie Pearce, who came from a large and poverty stricken family. Trixie’s mother supported her bright daughter through school and when Trixie applied to Oxford and was accepted did everything to ensure that she got there. The family fortunes became worse and worse until Trixie had to be informed of their dire plight. However she was able to continue her studies as bursaries were found for her from the college. Later she learnt some of these had been from her tutor’s own pockets. When Trixie graduated Mrs Pearce attended the ceremony in the Sheldonian Theatre, as she made her way to the back with the other parents the Dean stopped her and led her to the front amongst the VIPs in recognition of her fore sight and sacrifice. Mrs Pearce had always maintained that by ensuring that Trixie reached her full potential the rest of the family would also improve their lot, which was to be the case.

Jane’s talk was spell binding, leaving us with much to reflect on. We hope that Jane will return in the future to talk about the W.I. the subject of her latest book “A Force to be Reckoned With: A History of the Women’s Institute”.


The Experiences of a FANY in World War II

After the summer break, the autumn season was opened by Heather Forbes Russell who gave an excellent talk entitled “The Experiences of a FANY in World War II” in which she recounted her Second World War experiences.

Heather commenced by giving a brief history of the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (FANY) which was founded in 1907 following the Boer War where volunteers had acted as a first aid link between the front line fighting units and the field hospitals. During the 1st World War FANYs ran field hospitals, troop canteens and soup kitchens showing remarkable bravery which was rewarded by many military  decorations not only from Britain but also from France and Belgium. In World War II, FANYs formed the nucleus of the transport service of the ATS. They also became part of the Special Operations Executive (SOE), working in coding and signals, aa well as acting as conductors for agents many of whom were themselves FANYs.

Heather applied to join as soon as she was 18 in 1944 and was sent to Boot Camp in order to establish if she was a suitable “gal” to become a FANY. Having passed muster, Heather was interviewed in London, allocated to SOE and signed the Official Secrets Act. Even her parents were not to be told what she did. FANYs had automatic officer status which meant that their uniforms were made to measure, however their regulation underwear was not, the khaki bloomers were much scorned by these young recruits and despite warnings to the contrary were soon replaced by the sexy cammi knickers of the day!

Heather worked in Signals, receiving decoded messages and deciding on there distribution. This necessitated an understanding of the significance of the message received, an enormous responsibility for an 18 year old.  

Social life was fast and brilliant. For example pub crawls with friends such as Thor Heyerdalh and tea dances run by the Marchioness of Reading at the Grosvenor Hotel.

By 1945 it was clear that the war in Europe would soon end, Heather wanted to continue her work so was told that if her parents consented she could be posted to India. She persuaded them to sign the appropriate papers and on reaching India was posted to Kandy, Ceylon to Mountbatten’s Allied Command. Conditions were primitive and basic both at work and in the billets. Heather was promoted to sergeant and one Saturday night received a message about Japanese troop movements. With great difficulty she located a senior officer at H.Q. in order to impart the information. A week later the officer sought her out and was able to tell her that as a result we had “Got the buggers”, an accolade indeed.

Following further adventures Heather returned to England in February 1946, a journey in a converted Sterling bomber peppered with flack holes as big as a fist which took 9 days. Today the same journey takes 9 hours.

Heather’s account of this time in her life was lively and impressive making many of us sorry we had not been a part of it. The F.A.N.Y.s exist today as Princess Royal’s Volunteer Corps but have not given up their iconic name which although causing much amusement and innuendo over the years they are justifiably proud of.

Claydon House 

The Verneys of Buckinghamshire

Colin Oakes made a greatly anticipated return to tell the Society about “The Verneys of Buckinghamshire”.

Colin’s interest was first aroused in the family as a school boy when he questioned a master on who “Verney House” was named after.  The story of Edmund Verney, standard bearer to Charles 1st, who lost his life at the Battle of Edge Hill 1642, was recounted to us with all the ghoulish zeal of that school boy.

The Verney family is recorded as being in Buckinghamshire from the 14th century, with Verneys known to have been born in Fleet Marston in the 11th century.  This influential family had its fair share of good men, rogues and eccentrics, three of whom Colin selected as being of the most influential on the present day.

The first two were father and son, Ralph and Jack, who amassed the largest collection of personal letters and documents of the 17th and 18th centuries in the world.  These lay undisturbed in a wainscoted room at Claydon House until they were found by Harry Calvert (who changed his name by royal warrant to Verney) when he inherited the House in the 19th century.

Harry recognised the value of these papers which were examined and arranged by his second wife, Parthenope Nightingale.  Today, we were told, all accounts of the English Civil War refer to these documents.

The influence of the Verney family in Buckinghamshire is evident by many roads named after them.  There were two railway stations, Verney Junction and Calvert, that also bear witness, and although Calvert station is derelict the line is still used to transport waste to the landfill site.

The National Trust now owns Claydon House allowing us all access, a visit highly recommended by Colin.

This brief account of the talk can not do justice to the enthusiasm and energy that Colin gave to his subject.

Santa Maria De Nuova 

Hospital and Art in Renaissance Italy

The subject for the March meeting was "Hospital and Art in Renaissance Italy" which the speaker Dawn Cumming, introduced by saying that it is only recently that the importance of hospital art at this time has been recognised.  Hospitals, she explained originally offering hospitality to pilgrims by the 13th century began caring for the sick. 

The priest was as important as the doctor as not only was medicine often ineffective but religion an integral part of everyday life. 

The hospital Santa Maria De Nuova in Florence was the fore runner of modern hospitals, founded by Falco Portinari on the insistence of his servant Mona Tessa.  Not only were the Chapel and interior decorated with paintings by renown artists such as Fra Angelico (The Coronation of the Virgin), Botticelli (The Adoration of the Magi) and Hugo Van Der Goes (The Pontinari Tritych), all now in the Uffizi Gallery, but the outside was also adorned.  In a lunette above the door was the "Christ of Sorrows" a torso of Christ The Healer now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. 

The "Ospedale Dei Innocenti" also in Florence was built in 1419 as a foundling hospital.  Brunelleschi built the portico that is adorned with roundels by Andrea Della Robbia, Lucca Della Robbia sculpted a glazed terra cotta of the Madonna and Child while Sandro Botticelli a painting of the Madonna and Child. 

Both hospitals are in use today, Ospendale Dei Innocenti now a centre of paediatric excellence. 

In Sienna the hospital of Santa Maria Della Scala boasts a magnificent frieze depicting everyday life in the ward.  Dawn explained the significance of the saints and the allegories showing for example the confrontation between a dog and a cat thought to represent the mutual disdain of the physician and the surgeon.  Little changes over the centuries!  

Dawn spoke of other art forms such as the beautiful apothecary jars that grew up in association with hospitals.  Perhaps the most fascinating although artistically crude, was the painted hospital bed.  A delightful object that is difficult to place in the context of our modern concept of a hospital. 

Dawn said that she was so fascinated by the Italian Renaissance that she sometimes felt she must have lived during the time, on this Tuesday evening she took the audience of the History Society with her.