31st July 2018
Scandal in High Society: Oxfordshire
Julie Ann Godson.
Julie took the theme of her talk from her latest book: Scandal in High Society: Oxfordshire (2017) which details in her words “Twenty tales of toffs in trouble” – but we were not to worry as her talk would just deal with 6 of the tales. Her first tale was that of the death of Amy Robsart at Cumnor Place in 1560. Amy had married Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester the favourite of Queen Elizabeth on 5th June 1550. Convention at the time meant that married wife’s of courtiers stayed at the country estates while the courtier lived at court. Found at the foot of the stairs with her neck broken by her servants as they returned from Abingdon Fair. It was no secret that the Queen and Dudley were very close and Dudley certainly wanted to marry Elizabeth but his wife Amy, then aged 28, stood in his way. Rumours soon spread that Dudley had murdered his wife She was buried at St Mary the Virgin and to this day there has been no answer to the question was it an accident, suicide or murder? At the time the Spanish Ambassador reported that Amy had “a malady of one of her breasts” which may have contributed to her death. Amy was said to have been unhappy on the day of her death. But it may be that she tripped on the hem of her long gown and fallen down the stairs hitting her head as she fell.
Julie then told us about John Croke of Studley Priory, witchfinder and eminent lawyer, who in 1602 examined Elizabeth Jackson, laundress, accused of bewitching a young woman Mary Glover. After being at Elizabeth’s home Mary began to exhibit from strange and unexplained symptoms among which was difficulty in swallowing. She was also stuck blind and dumb. Mary was the 14 year old daughter of a London shopkeeper who had spread gossip about Elizabeth. Elizabeth was accused and after a trial where both girls were examined to deliberately inflicted pain Elizabeth was sentenced to one year’s imprisonment. She having cried out in pain whereas Mary showed no emotion.
We were then told about Robert Vansittart, Fellow of All Souls College being elected in `1757; Regius Professor of Civil Law at Oxford. Vansittart was a friend of Francis Dashwood and a member of the Hellfire Club which met in a network of caves under West Wycombe Park. The Club was round up in 1774, and Vansittart died in January 1789.
A tale of Middleton Stoney followed, that of Frances Villiers the mistress of the Prince Regent. She was the wife of the Earl of Jersey, George Villiers. They had 10 children but it is doubtful whether George was father of all ten! Harriet, Lady Bessborough said of Frances that she was never happy unless she had “a rival to trouble and torment”.
This was followed by the tale of George Spencer-Churchill, fifth Duke of Marlborough living in an obscure corner of Blenheim Palace having fallen on hard times. He had used all his fortune on a fantasy party-palace called Whiteknights in 1798. But all for nothing has he fell into debt and all had to be repaid. Today nothing of the house remains.
Edward Loveden of Buscot Park married his third wife in 1794 – Anne Lintall was only 21 to Edward’s 38. Edward was away for most of the year as an MP and Fellow of the Royal Society. Anne began to have an affair with Thomas Barker of Fairford Park. Anne wrote letters to Thomas which at the divorce proceedings were made public. Edward refused to pay Anne £400 a year and only gave her £100 a year. But she settled down to a peaceful life with Thomas on his farm in Hambleden while Edward was forced to give up his public offices having been made a laughing stock by his young wife and her lover.
4th August 2018
Visit to the Black Country Museum
Forty-five members and friends had a very enjoyable trip to Dudley, the weather was not too hot and there was plenty of shade. Many enjoyed the fish n’chips. Fulsome thanks to Olive Williams who yet again organised a delightful trip for us.
28th August 2018
Percy Manning: the man who collected Oxfordshire
****Henry opened the evening by announcing the sad death of David Simmonds a regular member of the Society***.
Mike stepped in at the last moment as the advertised speaker was unable to attend and proceeded to give us a fascinating talk on Percy who until Mike began to explore his life and work was little known. Percy was born in Leeds on 24 January 1870, his father, who died when Percy was 4, was a partner in the Leeds engineering firm of Manning, Wardle & Co. Percy attended school at Hove, then in 1884 Clifton College and in 1888 entered New College. He was not a success gaining only a 3rd in Classical Moderations and in 1893 was removed from the college books. He did finally get his B.A. and M.A. in June 1896 but he was not academically distinquished. When he should have been studying for his exams he was more interested in excavating the Roman site of Alchester with J. L. Myres.
In 1888 on arrival in Oxford he was elected a member of the Oxford Architectural and Historical Society (OAHS), and between 1891 – 1898 was its honorary secretary, and then Vice-President but turned down the post of Chairman. In 1893 he founded the Oxford University Brass Rubbing Society, and the Footpaths and Open Spaces Society. By the 1890’s he had begun to collect artifacts extensively and in 1894 he provided 185 items to the OAHS exhibition of Oxford antiquities. When he found any items he marked the location precisely onto maps of Oxfordshire and locations continued to be added to until 1979. He was helped by Thomas James Carter, a retired bricklayer, who collected information on local folklore and custom for Manning.
In 1896 Manning joined the Society of Antiquaries. In 1898 Manning reassembled the Headington Quarry Morris dancers and this marked the beginning of English folk musical revival. In 1898 he lived in lodgings at 6 St. Aldate’s on the first floor. Indeed he lived in lodgings all his life. He also founded the Oxford Anthropological Society.
In 1912 Manning organized the Oxford Millenary Exhibition. He published little but one well known piece of 50 pages is on the St. Bernard dog. He collected anything relating to Oxford – there are 83 policemen’s truncheons in the collection many highly decorated. He collected manorial rolls and deeds saving many from being thrown away as houses changed hands. And there are 28 Kidlington deeds among this collection.
At the outbreak of World War 1 he founded the Yarnton Rifle Club, Manning being a close friend of the bookseller C. J. Parker who lived in the Manor House there. Later he joined the Oxford and Bucks national reserve and at first was posted on guard duty to Leafield wireless station and by November 1914 he was at Southampton docks. He was promoted to the rank of sergeant. He died at Southampton from pneumomia on 27 February 1917 and was buried at St. Peter’s, Wolvercote on 3 March.
He bequeathed his Oxford collection to the University and two lorries carrying half a ton of artifacts brought the material from his house at 300 Banbury Road to the Ashmolean. Now the collection is divided between the Ashmolean and the Bodleian.
Mike was instrumental in getting a Blue Plaque onto 300 Banbury Road celebrating that Percy Manning had lived there. There is also a website devoted to the Manning collections at the Ashmolean and the Bodleian:
Michael Heaney, Percy Manning: the man who collected Oxfordshire. 2017. ISBN 9781784915285
25th September 2018
The Black Death: its nature and effects on society
Professor Gregory Stores
The Plague arrived in England in the fourteenth century and the epidemic returned at intervals until the Great Plague of London which killed 20 – 30 per cent of Londoners. Why it declined in this country is unclear. It is known that it came to this country from China and the Orient having travelled across Europe via the trading routes. Two types are known “Bubonic” and “Pneumonic”. But it many cases it may have not been the plague at all – it could just as easy been anthrax or smallpox. The symptoms of both are familiar, blackened skin and running sores.
Medieval people had various reasons for its causes such as God’s Wrath; Vampires; bad air from earthquakes; pilgrims; foreigners. And they felt the main spreader of the disease was the rat who travelled to countries in ships. In medicine they thought our bodies were in balance via air, earth, fire and water and should one of those not be in line with the others then illness could occur. In the fourteenth century they looked to zodiac influences to run our lives and thus influence our health.
The Plague naturally caused panic and many with the illness were abandoned by their families. Carts collected daily the dead bodies and they were buried in mass graves. The recent discovery of the Smithfield plague pits showed that the bodies were laid out in regular lines. To help ward off the disease juniper wood was burnt; scents of flowers laid around the house. It was felt that the disease came via the southern winds so the south windows were blocked up.
To help prevent the disease quarantine was insisted upon, in many cases the deceased person locked and boarded into their home. Pest houses were built where people went to get away from the deceased area. All Souls College had a pest house in Stanton Harcourt and this was used by Fellows during the seventeenth century when plague was in Oxford. Blood letting was popular among the medical people of the time. This in the hope it would release the deadly humours from the body. We know that this did the opposite and weakened the people’s ability to fight the illness. St Roch was the patron Saint of those with the Black Death.
Plague doctors were well paid, in many cases volunteers, who wore special clothing and whose treatment helped to spread the decease. But it is true some did survive the plague but there is no evidence as to why this should be.
Some Oxford and Cambridge colleges such as New College in Oxford and Gonville and Caius in Cambridge were founded to replace the large number of priests that died from the Plague. During the questions John Amor said that fourteen Kidlington villagers had died of the plague. My own study of Begbroke has shown that in 1334, 1335 and 1336 new Rectors were appointed suggesting that possibly plague may have been the cause of the vacancies.