Oxted and District History Society Lectures

4th November 2008

The Middle Kingdom of
Ancient Egypt

Suzanne Lax-Botjos gave an illustrated lecture to the Oxted & District History Society on ‘The Middle Kingdom of Ancient Egypt ‘.

The Middle Kingdom lasted for 400 years from 2050 – 1650 BC.  The pharaohs were now buried in brick pyramids with stone-cladding or caves cut in rock.  Much interesting jewellery has been found from this period, made of gold, turquoise and lapis lazuli – amulets, jewelled collars and girdles.  Jewelled wigs were also popular among the wealthy.  Fish, cobras and bird-claw motifs were used i0n jewellery, providing protection for the wearer.

Osiris (god of the dead) was very important in the Middle Kingdom.  He became democratised and no longer just a royal god.  The god Amun, representing fertility was also worshipped as was Horus.  The Pharoah was semi-divine, able to intercede with the gods on behalf of his people.

Life in the period is depicted on wall-paintings and in tomb models.  Tax collection, visiting barbers, servants, foreign traders, fishermen, soldiers and children playing are all to be found.  Wooden models were made of imported wood as little wood was available in Egypt.  During the Middle Kingdom, literature  developed in stories, medical and mathematical works written on papyri.  There were also schools at this time.

18th November 2008

The Holly Story

Chris Howkins, an ethnobotanist and author, gave a lecture to the Oxted & District History Society on ‘The Holly Story‘.

Most Christmas festivities, particularly the use of holly, have pagan roots, dating back to Babylonian times.After the autumn equinox, the sun appeared to be dying and becoming weaker.  Bonfires were lit and evergreens hung up to encourage the sun’s return. In temperate climates holly was used and holly oak in warmer areas. Saturnalia, with feasting, was celebrated at the winter solstice and the king of winter’s sacred tree was holly. With the adoption of Christianity in the Roman Empire, the birth of Christ was celebrated at the same time. Holly, with its thorns, red berries and white flowers represented the crown of thorns, Christ’s blood and purity.

Holly was not to be brought indoors before the birth of Christ on Christmas Day. From Medieval records we find that holly was not bought by urban churches before Christmas Eve. Vast amounts were used and made into a huge decoration with large candles and hoisted by pulleys above the congregation.

More recently, in commuter areas, like Oxted, articles in ‘ The Lady ‘ recommended tasteful table decorations representing the Holy Land. One wall of the parlour was to be covered in evergreens with a seasonal message in dried flowers.

2nd December 2008

Sea Routes to Riches

Professor Patrick Alderton, Chairman of the Oxted & District History Society and a specialist in Maritime Economics, gave an illustrated lecture to the Society on ‘Sea Routes to Riches’.

Trade is one of the indications of civilisation. From 5000 BC there were ocean-going boats with trade between places up to 1000 miles apart. Much of the early trade was by the Phoenicians, then by the Minoans, Greeks and Romans. Later trade was dominated by the Byzantines, Vikings, Venice, Genoa and the Hanseatic League. In the 13th Century, Bruges was by far the leading port in Europe, followed by Antwerp in the 15th Century, Amsterdam in the 17th Century and London from the 18th Century.

Between 1000 and 1800 world trade grew up to 15 million tons. As the tonnage increased, the cost of transport per ton went down. Lower costs created more demand. British shipping was supreme in the late 19th Century and early 20th Century. Britain was also the prime source of coal, as important then as oil is today.

The quest for riches was important in driving trade. With considerable demand trade grew from luxury items such as spices and silk to the everyday goods which we now expect from the far corners of the world.

16th December 2008

Medieval Carols

At the Christmas meeting of Oxted & District History Society, Shirley Dunnicliffe gave a brief introduction to several ‘Medieval Carols‘ which were sung by Janet Brealey, Judith Louis and John Tolley.

Carols were joyful songs and gradually developed more religious themes. The Boar’s Head Carol was composed before boars became extinct in Britain. Early carols were sung in unison although several were subsequently harmonised by composers such as Ralph Vaughan-Williams. The Angelus is 800 years old, originally in Latin and mentioned by Chaucer. In the carol Gabriel announces the coming of Christ.

The Wassail Song has many tunes. Wassailers visited houses, obtained refreshments and moved on elsewhere. Nova, Nova is another version of the story of the Annunciation. Carols were also sung as part of Mystery Plays performed in Medieval churches. One example is the Coventry Carol which is still well-known today. Waits were originally guards but developed their musical role in the 15th and 16th Centuries. Some groups became very famous, particularly the group of waits from Norwich.

Following the Medieval carols, members of the History Society enjoyed their Christmas Party.

6th January 2009

A Look at
Victorian Oxted & Limpsfield

Roger Packham, President of the Bourne Society, gave an illustrated lecture to the Oxted & District History Society on ‘ A Look at Victorian Oxted & Limpsfield ‘.

The lecture was illustrated by slides, mainly of postcards but with some earlier illustrations of buildings and street scenes in Oxted, Limpsfield and Limpsfield Chart. Most of these were photographs taken in late Victorian and Edwardian times, following the opening of the railway in 1884.

Before the railway’s arrival, all of Oxted, except the church, was centred in Old Oxted and illustrations were shown of the pubs, the brewery, shops and school in Old Oxted. Houses and shops were soon developed in New Oxted and postcards show the newly developed mock-Tudor shops in Station Road West and the Hoskins Arms, built in the 1880s. Station Road East consisted of a few shops near to the station but contained mainly houses.

Limpsfield was much more of a self-contained community than now with a variety of shops. Some illustrations showed the decorations put up for the visit of the Prince and Princess of Wales and Princess Maud in 1896. Others showed the now demolished Plumbers’ Arms and views of the shop and windmill at Limpsfield Chart.

20th January 2009

The Cold War Revisited:
A War of Attrition

Keith Addis gave a lecture to the Oxted & District History Society on ‘The Cold War Revisited: A War of Attrition‘

By 1945 capitalism had been in grave difficulties for 30 years with two world wars and a depression: there was reasonable doubt whether the capitalist or Marxist systems would prove more durable. In the 1950s and 1960s Khruschev expected the Soviets to catch up within 10 years. Soviet growth at 7.5% per annum was twice that of the West. Even in the 1970s it was still possible to argue that the Soviet system might be superior because the West went through an economic crisis with very high inflation.

It was not until the 1980s that the Soviet system began to crumble. Gorbachev’s 5 year plan, starting in 1985 was clearly failing by 1987. The greater openness of perestroika and glasnost revealed widespread incompetence among Soviet managers. Communist governments fell in Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria and Romania in 1989, when the Berlin Wall was also demolished. The Cold War ended in 1990 and Gorbachev dissolved the Soviet Union itself in 1991.

Despite the various crises of the Cold War, the most serious of which was the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, neither side was prepared to start a nuclear war because of the potential consequences to themselves.

17th February 2009

Tamburlaine the Great

Keith Louis, assisted by Judith Louis, gave an illustrated lecture to the Oxted & District History Society on ‘Tamburlaine the Great‘.

Tamburlaine the Great (1336-1405) tried to recreate the empire of Genghis Khan. Excerpts were read from Marlowe’s ‘Tamburlaine the Great‘ (1587) and played from Handel’s opera ‘Tamerlano‘. Both works emphasised his bloodthirsty cruelty.

Timur ( meaning ‘iron’ ) was Tamburlaine’s real name. Born near Samarkand he controlled the city and surrounding regions by 1370. He conquered Persia and much of Russia, fighting at Moscow, Kiev, Constantinople, in India and in China. He sacked Baghdad and Damascus. Some 17 million people died in his conquests. In 1404 he invaded China during a freezing winter but died, aged 69, in 1405.

Local folklore predicted dire consequences if his tomb was disturbed. In 1941 the Russians exhumed his body, which they found was racked with TB. Within hours Germany attacked Russia. It was re-interred in a more magnificent tomb in 1942, shortly before the turning point of Stalingrad.

The slides showed magnificent fortresses, mosques and palaces built by Tamburlaine. He encouraged a golden age of the arts and culture with paintings, poetry, music, ceramics, carpets and tapestries.

3rd March 2009

ATW Penn:
Photographer of S. India

Christopher Penn gave an illustrated lecture to the Oxted & District History Society on his great-grandfather ‘ATW Penn: Photographer of S. India‘.

Born in Street in 1849, ATW Penn travelled to India and established himself as one of the best photographers of S. India during the Raj. Christopher Penn discovered a small album of his great-grandfathers photographs in the family home in England. He found more in the British Library, at the Royal Commonwealth Society in Cambridge and those used to illustrate Thurston’s book ‘Castes and Tribes of S. India‘.

The photographs include pictures of the Todas tribe, who lived in the Nilgiri Mountains and of buildings and scenes near ATW Penn’s home at Ootacamund and in Madras. He was commissioned to take photos of the families who suffered in the Bangalore Famine of 1876-7. He also recorded the growth of the Ooty Botanical Gardens, established with finance from some Indian princes at Ootacamund. In the Botanical Gardens, experimental crops were grown, including tea, which as a result became widely grown in the area. ATW Penn died, aged 75, in 1924. As a result of Christopher Penn’s researches he has now been able to write a book about ATW Penn entitled ‘In Pursuit of the Past ‘.

17th March 2009

AGM & Party

At the AGM of the Oxted & District History Society the Chairman, Patrick Alderton, was able to report a successful year with good attendances at a varied programme of lectures. Membership was up and there was a small financial surplus for the year. The Committee and other helpers were thanked for all their hard work during the year. The retiring Chairman, Patrick Alderton and Treasurer, Keith Addis were also thanked for their contributions over several years. Following the meeting Society members enjoyed their end of season party.

Elected for the forthcoming year were:

  • President - Stephen Miles
  • Joint Chairmen -  Betty and Brian Shearing
  • Vice-Chairman - Trevor Burrage
  • Secretary - Moyna Bridge
  • Treasurer - Anna Burrage
  • Programme Secretary - Kathleen McCarthy
  • Membership Secretary- Shirley Dunnicliffe
  • Equipment - Peter Bush and John Elliot
  • Auditor - Vincent Grant
  • Publicity - Stuart Paterson

During the summer the Society has arranged two outings, in May to the Red House, Bexley and in June to Bodiam Castle. There are vacancies on both outings for anybody wishing to take part. Lectures for the 2009-10 Season start on 6th October, when Nick Pollard will give a lecture on ‘Heathrow from Stone Age to Jet Age‘.

6th October 2009

Heathrow from Iron Age to Jet Age

Nick Pollard, Chairman of the Sunbury and Shepperton Local History Society and Spelthorne Museum, gave an illustrated lecture to the Oxted & District History Society on ‘Heathrow from Iron Age to Jet Age‘.

The Heathrow area is very flat with fertile river terraces and was attractive to early settlers. An early Iron Age village on the airport site was excavated in 1944. There was a Bronze Age field system and some Neolithic remains. General Roy’s Baseline of 1784 across Hounslow Heath marked the beginning of the Ordnance Survey and accurate maps. Heathrow was a small hamlet near the Bath Road, consisting of several farms and Heathrow Hall.  There were several early aerodromes in the area at Hounslow Heath, Heston and on the present Heathrow site.

In 1944 Heathrow was requisitioned by the RAF and opened as a civil airport in 1946. The original terminal was in a large tent. In the early 1950s operations were still on the north side of the airport, near Bath Road. New terminals and administrative buildings in the centre of the airport, reached by a road tunnel from Bath Road were opened in 1955.  Terminal 4 to the south of the airport was opened in 1986 and Terminal 5 to the west in 2008.

17th November 2009

A Community in Peace & War:  Surrey in Film

The Oxted & District History Society made history at last Tuesday’s meeting with its first presentation using moving film, showing pictures of Surrey community life in Peace & War, by Matthew Piggott, who works at Surrey County Council’s Archives Centre. The footage included a mixture of professional propaganda films and amateur cine-camera films. Specially composed music accompanied the silent films.

The coverage started before the First World War in 1911, with a procession of army and civilians in Godalming.  Reigate’s 1926 Carnival included a huge wooden Trojan Horse, complete with fighting Greeks and Trojans in the procession. There was attractive amateur footage between the wars of the Gowland and Emberton families at home.  Pictures were shown of World War II processions in Reigate, including the women of the Red Cross and a propaganda film of how women could help the war effort by working as Land Girls. There was film shot in 1945 of flags flying to celebrate the end of the war and a family gleefully getting rid of their black-out window screens. The programme finished with Horley Cricket Club’s Fete to commemorate the Queen’s Coronation in 1953. The programme provided a fascinating insight into our local social history.


1st December 2009

Broadwood Pianos: 200 Years of Musical History

Robert Simonson, an archivist working in Surrey, gave an illustrated lecture to the Oxted & District History Society on ‘Broadwood Pianos: 200 Years of Musical History‘.

The predecessor company to Broadwood was founded by a Swiss immigrant, Shudi, in Soho in 1728. He originally made harpsichords and quickly developed a reputation for high quality.  He made harpsichords for Handel, Frederick, Prince of Wales and Frederick the Great of Prussia. John Broadwood was working for Shudi by 1761 and in 1769 married Shudi’s daughter. He soon took over management of the business, continuing to make harpsichords but soon making early pianos. Pianos quickly became more popular than harpsichords, being made for sale, hire and with an associated tuning business.

The business was inherited by John’s sons on his death in 1812.  They both bought country estates in Surrey at Capel and Mickleham. James was involved in public life, standing twice for Parliament.  Meanwhile the piano business grew from strength to strength.  In Pride and Prejudice in 1815 Jane Austen describes the arrival of a Broadwood piano. Broadwood pianos were exported all over the world and the company continued under the direction of the Broadwood family until 1975.

Tuesday 5th January 2010

What were we doing when the Society was founded 50 years ago?

In a mini-symposium held last night to start the Oxted & District History Society’s 50th Anniversary Year, there were 4 presentations by members on ‘What were we doing when the society was founded 50 years ago?’

Keith Addis was one of 14 Colonial Service staff managing an area of Eastern Nigeria the size of Yorkshire.  As a District Officer he had a wide variety of duties requiring effort, tact and good judgement.

Ruth Hughes, an agronomist, went to the Sudan with her botanist husband in 1950 and stayed for 20 years.  Her husband worked in cotton management while she drafted scientific reports.

Stephen and Joy Miles spoke about the Dar-es-Salaam Mutiny in January 1964.  The small Tanzanian army mutinied against its British officers.  Stephen Miles liaised with President Nyerere and Duncan Sandys in the British Government to obtain help from the British Navy while Joy accommodated and fed 60 British citizens taking refuge at her house during the Mutiny.

By contrast, Michael Compton, an art historian, was Director of the Ferens Gallery in Hull.  The Gallery’s income of 4000 a year enabled him to acquire pictures with a then value of 100,000 for a little over 20,000 over 5 years by purchasing modern art and old masters, including a Frans Hals portrait, in lieu of death duties.  He later worked at the Tate in London.

Tuesday 2nd February 2010

Oxted in the 1950s and 1960s

Members of the Oxted & District History Society heard presentations from 4 people at their mini-symposium on ‘ Oxted in the 1950s and 1960s ‘.

Dr. Richard Cockerill spoke about Medical Life & Services in Oxted.  He remembers the regular surgeries in Oxted and those in Hurst Green and Limpsfield Chart as well as on Sunday mornings at Oxted Hospital where he also assisted with operations.  The Group Practice at the Health Centre was set up after the 1966 Charter for GPs.

Shirley Dunnicliffe gave an account of Aspects of Music Making and in particular the Limpsfield and Oxted Music Society.  Leading musicians of the day visited for meetings and concerts.  She highlighted the contribution of Joyce Cohen, Secretary for 30 years, and others.

Stella Thomas spoke about the Barn Theatre and Oxted Operatic Society.  In the early days of the Oxted Operatic Society there were many performances of Gilbert & Sullivan but a wide variety of musicals have been put on since , including ‘My Fair Lady’ and ‘Carousel’.

Frank Widdowson talked about the Sounds of Oxted.  Generally quiet at night, other sounds were of the emergency siren, aeroplanes from Croydon, Redhill and Biggin Hill Aerodromes, steam trains on the railway, the hooves of cattle and horses pulling delivery carts and woodmen coppicing local woodland.