Our 3rd Quarter 2017 Newsletter

25th July 2017

Before Silvia began her talk Henry told us that at the previous weeks Gala Day £177 of books had been sold, mostly John Amor’s excellent recent history of Kidlington.

And also that this Tuesday was the first anniversary of the move of the Society to Moorside Place. The members  agreed it had been a success.

Elizabeth of Bohemia.

Silvia Johnson.

Elizabeth was the daughter of James VI of Scotland and James  1 of England and his wife Anne of Denmark. Her date of birth is unknown and it could have been either 15th, 18th,or 19th of August. We know she was baptised at Holyrood Castle on 28th November 1596.  As a child she was entrusted to the care of Lord Livingstone at Linlithgow Castle.  In June 1603 after the death of Elizabeth I, she and her mother moved to London where she was looked after by Lord Harington of Coombe Abbey, near Coventry.  She was taught French, Italian and music and she loved pets especially monkeys.

Elizabeth adored her elder brother Henry,  he was interested in shipbuilding, but died 6th November 1612. It is said that his last words were to ask for his sister.  When looking for a husband for Elizabeth the Catholic Royal families of Europe with available sons were frowned upon and finally Frederick V, count palatine of the Rhine was chosen, and the wedding took place in the Chapel of Whitehall Palace on 14th February 1613, the ceremony cost her father £100,000. There were fireworks on the Thames and both Frederick and Elizabeth wore a cloth of silver at the wedding.

The couple settled in Heidelburg in April 1613.  Frederick suffered from melancholy. And Elizabeth failed to learn German and was not good at household management. And her low-cut dresses were frowned upon.

In 1619 Frederick accepted the throne of Bohemia, and they went there with 153 wagonloads of household effects. But after a year Frederick was ousted and they fled to The Hague, Elizabeth stayed in  The Hague when Frederick died and lived there 40 years.

After the Restoration of Charles II she arrived uninvited in London in May 1661. She was to have lived in Ashdown House built by Lord Craven near Coventry but it was not finished by the time of her death in 1662.  Elizabeth was buried in Westminster Abbey, and at the time little notice was taken of her death.

She and Frederick had 13 children – some died young and some of the daughters entered into a religious life.  It was said that while a good Mother she was not a loving one. One daughter Louisa was an established artist.  But Sophia her youngest daughter married the first elector of Hanover, George I of England was her grandson.  Today all the current Royal families in Europe are descended from Sophia.

The Oxford University Press are in the process of publishing her correspondence in three volumes at a cost of over £100 each.

5th August 2017


Thirty members and friends went on the coach trip to Avebury organised by Olive Williams.  Despite the typical English summer weather – rain and sunshine in turns – all enjoyed the day.  The stones are amazing and I personally spent much of time marvelling at how the stones were moved without today’s technology.  Thank you to Olive for a perfect day.

29th August 2017

Rotten Votes and Secret Gold – the tale of Frank Gray MP of Shipton Manor

Martin Wainwright

Henry announced at the beginning of tonight’s talk the sad news that Jackie Slay had died on 4th August, aged 92.  Jackie, a former nurse, had been for many years a strong supporter of the Society but due  to advancing years had not been able to attend the meetings at the St. John Ambulance Hall.  Since our move to Moorside Place, where she herself had moved to as a resident, she had been able to attend some of the meetings.

Martin told us that the book The other Oxford by Charles Fenby, published in 1970, was excellent for the history of Frank Gray and Shipton Manor. The artist William Turner of Oxford originally lived at Shipton Manor and then of course it has been the home of Richard Branson.  But in the early twentieth century it was the home of Frank Gray.  Frank was the son of Sir Walter Gray (1848-1918) a property speculator and local politician. Walter had started life as station master of Waddington Station, Lincolnshire. There he had been spotted by John Shaw-Stewart of Keble College. In 1870  Shaw-Stewart offered Walter Gray the post of steward in the new College. He stayed there for 13 years, Dr Edward Talbot who was the Warden of Keble continually asked Gray’s advice on investments. In 1881 Gray was Conservative councillor for Oxford’s north ward. In 1883 Gray became the official liquidator of the Liberal-dominated Oxford Building and Investment Company.  He then worked closely with St.John’s College in building houses for Dons (who could now marry but not live in colleges) in North Oxford – these are the red brick houses in Banbury near Park Town;  the yellow brick ones were built earlier by the Oxford Building and Investment Company.

Frank, born 1880, his son, was educated at Rugby School and finally became a solicitor. Frank’s  friendships with chimney sweeps, bookmakers and other local characters not on the right side of the law made him infamous. With William Morris he ran a private bus company which was very successful.   In February 1917 he enlisted as a Private in the Army having refused the rank of an Officer. He saw action at Passchendale. After the war he retired as a solicitor in 1919, having been defeated as Liberal candidate for Watford in March 1918. But in 1922 he gained the Liberal seat for Oxford City.  In 1924 his Parliamentary agent was found to have exceeded his election expenses  and Gray  resigned.

After this he served on Oxfordshire county council and Ploughley rural council. Becoming interested in the life of tramps he disguised himself to be on the road so he could see for himself conditions in the local workhouses.  Many tramps were welcomed into his home at Shipton Manor, one wing being set aside for them to stay; and he tried to find work for them. In 1926 he drove from Laos to the Red Sea.  In 1928 he established the Oxford Mail , the city’s first evening newspaper., and a rival to the Oxford Times.  And then he established Kidlington Zoo, the “gateway to Oxford”.  Gray also became a volunteer fire fighter.

He died at sea on 3rd March 1935, on the way home from South Africa where he had gone to recover from a bout of illness. The coffin bearing his body was lost!! But it was finally found and at the funeral  on 6th March, rested on the back of a fire engine and taken from Shipton Manor to Wolvercote Cemetery.  Frank was famous for always wearing a black stock tie, sponge-bag trousers of a pronounced check, and slightly oversize great Homburg hats.  He believed a politician should make himself recognisable and he succeeded with this outfit.

26 September 2017

Valerie Offord

Miss Jemina’s Excellent adventure – the tale of the first Thomas Cook Package Tour

At the end of World War II an old tin box was discovered in a bombed warehouse in London; it was found to contain documents relating to the early history of Thomas Cook and Son Ltd and two small volumes containing the description of the first tour of the Alps arranged by Thomas Cook. The mid-nineteenth century saw the growth of mountain climbing and the introduction of package tours opening up countries to the poorer people not just the rich elite.  The volumes in the tin box were by Miss Jemina Morrell (1832 – 1909)of Selby, Yorkshire; daughter of a bank manager; she, along with her brother William (1837 – 1904) and four unmarried women and three unmarried men set out on 26th June 1863 for the first Thomas Cook conducted tour of Switzerland.  The members of the Junior Alpine Club authorised her to be their official journal writer and artist.

On 26th June they left Newhaven Harbour for Dieppe and from there onto Paris.  On the 27th  they left Paris at 5am for Geneva, the Hotel de la Couronne.  The following day they travelled to Chamonix, and then on the 1st July to Martigny and then to Sion. On 2nd July they arrived at Leukerbad where Miss Jeminia complained about the food. The Gemmi Pass was reached on 3rd July where her party had a snowball fight with members of the Junior Alpine Club.  And where Miss Jemina  admired the fields of alpine flowers – anemones, gentians and forget-me-nots.

On 4th July the party took a carriage to the Staulbleach Falls, on the way they encountered a violent thunderstorm so stopped for a seven course luncheon. They stayed at the Hotel  de la Lac at Interlaken where finally their trunks caught up with them.  Sunday, 5th July they attended a church service held in the Interlaken Reformed Church, a former monastery.  Afterwards they explored the town.

There was another early start, 4am on 6th July and after breakfast of bread, buns and honey they left at 5.30am for Lauterbrunnen Valley where they set off on foot armed with alpenstocks and satchels to cross the Wengernalp. On reaching the summit they admired the views of the Eiger, Silberhorn and the Schreckhorn.  And Jemina admired the grandeur of Grindelwald’s glaciers and mountains. On 7th July they took the steamer to Giessbach and stayed in a wooden chalet in the grounds of the fashionable Giessbach Hotel.  On 8th July they crossed the Brὒnig Pass, and from there they crossed Lake Lucerne.

On 10th July they took the train to Neuchἂtel  and spent the night at Hotel Belle Vue. Exploring the town they purchased postcards and watches. William wrote to his parents that he was pleased with the watch he had purchased for about seven pounds. The party caught the overnight rain to Paris, where the sight-seeing exhausted them. On the 16th they headed home via Dieppe and the Newhaven train to London.

Then it was back to normal Victorian life, both Jemina and William married and members of the Morrell family still live in Selby.

Valerie was a founder member of the History Society, and lives in Geneva, and it was a pleasure to have her back with us and to entertain us with such an excellent talk.