Programme 2020/2021

We’re back – still not yet in person, sadly, but we’ve been able to move our talks on line, like many other Societies and organisations. Not everyone has that privilege, of course – but if you can read this you can probably join in, and very welcome you’ll be.

Members will get the invitation automatically – well, from the Chairman, anyway – a few days beforehand. Non-members can ask to be invited as well – please use the ‘contact form‘ to ask – or, even better, to apply for membership!

Talks will be summarised in Rickmansworth Historical Review.

The planned talks (all on Thursdays, and all starting at 8pm):

10 June 2021  67th Annual General Meeting, then the last of this season:

The slave owners of West Hertfordshire        Brian Thomson

West Hertfordshire in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was home to a number of families who owned slave estates in the Caribbean. Brian’s talk explores these local links with Britain’s colonial past, explaining who these people were and the roles they played locally and overseas.

Brian Thomson is the Society’s Research Office, and has researched and written widely on local topics, including the First World War in Croxley Green and Rickmansworth. His editing of the book on the local people who died in that war, Rickmansworth Roll of Honour, has just been published.

Talks delivered this year:

10 September 2020 (on line)

The 5 Acre Chartists        Kate Harwood

Frustrated by the ‘Great’ Reform Act of 1832 failing to extend the vote to all working men, Feargus O’Connor decided instead to set up a scheme whereby the working man could achieve enough money to fulfil the criterion for being eligible to vote. This he did by setting up the Land Colonies, the first at Herringsgate Farm, renamed O’Connorville.

Kate’s talk looked at the rise and subsequent fall of O’Connor’s scheme, its forerunners and its legacy, and allowed us to see how local people were able (or not) to help the frequently ill-prepared incomers from the industrial midlands and north. It’s a period of our local history with resonance even now.

8 October 2020 (on line)

The parishioners of St Mary’s before the Reformation    Dr  Heather Falvey

Just over 200 wills of Rickmansworth parishioners survive dating from 1417 to 1539. When put together the details that they contain provide glimpses of the medieval parish, of its members and of St Mary’s church itself.

Our chairman presented an important analysis of what we learn about the late-medieval church building from the references to, and endowments of, it in these wills, for example about the way in which the various saints were honoured with side-altars. Rickmansworth is unusually well-served in the large number of extant wills of this period, and few other parishes will have such a strong picture of what was going on at this time.

12 November 2020 (on line)

Smoke, Steam and Soot        David Burnell

David followed his terrific talk last year on the Art of the Underground, after which a group of us were able to visit the LUL art collection at Acton, with a more historical view of the building of the first underground railway.

It involved less work ‘under the ground’ than might have been expected. The technique of ‘cut and cover’ allowed the railway to be laid under the streets of London with little tunnelling but (no doubt) major disruption. Not everyone was impressed: the experience of travelling on this steam powered underground was not without its hazards, and David drew on the writings of those who ventured through what The London Times described as ‘tunnels with sewer drippings in London’s foul subsoil’.

It sounds lovely – but it was a fine lecture.

10 December 2020 (on line)

Lord Ebury’s railway        Chris Hillier

This was the postponed Rickmansworth Week lecture from May 2020.

Chris Hillier told the story of the short-lived railway opened in the 1860s that ran from Rickmansworth to Watford. If all had gone to plan Rickmansworth might have had a broad gauge station as well as a standard gauge one.

14 January 2021 (on line)

The history of Hertfordshire’s Police        Andy Wiseman

Andy Wiseman is a serving Inspector with the Hertfordshire Constabulary and secretary of the Constabulary’s Historical Society – one of very few in the country. His talk explores the origins of the force which has policed Hertfordshire since 1841 and charts its key developments up to the present day.

Featuring photography from the Hertfordshire Constabulary Historical Society’s unique collection, Andy’s talk explored over 175 years of triumph, tragedy and intrigue within the county’s police force.

A lot of the history of policing in Hertfordshire is on the terrific website

11 February 2021 (on line)

Timber-framed buildings in Hertfordshire and Essex   Helen Gibson   

There being no building stone in Hertfordshire and Essex, the major material for building, at least in the medieval period, was timber. Barns, houses and farm buildings can be dated and we can now confidently identify buildings dating from the twelfth century to the present – and indeed, Helen took us to Cressing Temple, a site of the Knights Templar with a barley barn of about 1200 and a wheat barn about fifty years younger. Techniques of northern France had an influence here, and Helen introduced us to dating techniques based on the style of joints distinctive to the thirteenth, fifteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries – as she said, we might think all these buildings are similar, but they’re not! And she showed us examples from many parts, and towns, of both counties.

Perhaps our most famous building around Rickmansworth is the Croxley Great Barn, and Helen showed us that in depth. Among other things, she reminded us that it’s one of eight built in about 1400 under Abbot John de Moote, several probably using timber re-cycled from work on the roof of the Abbey. There are a number of these barns still extant around the two counties, but of course now something of a white elephant for the farmers who own (and use) them – and so often at some risk. Much to think about!

11 March 2021 (on line)

Beacons of the Past – investigating a prehistoric Chilterns landscape  – Dr Wendy Morrison

Beacons of the Past is a 3.5 year project (although Dr Morrison announced during her talk that it’s just been extended by a year) part funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, the Chiltern Society and the National Trust, amongst others. Its purpose is to engage and inspire communities to discover, conserve and enjoy the Chilterns’ Iron Age hillforts and their prehistoric chalk landscapes.

Project Manager Dr Wendy Morrison spoke with great clarity and enthusiasm about some of the results of the UK’s largest bespoke archaeological LiDAR survey, the project’s outreach programmes and the shape of the project’s future. She introduced the value of the thousands of ‘citizen scientists’ and other amateur contributors who have done a huge amount of work in support of the project, and told us about the education programmes she and her colleagues and collaborators have been able to run.

Visit to find out more!

8 April 2021 (on line)

Sights most strange’:  tourists in medieval and early modern London        John Clark

‘I pray you, let us satisfy your eyes | With the memorials and things of fame | That do renown this city.’ (Shakespeare, Twelfth Night).

But visitors to London were already being shown its ‘memorials and things of fame’ long before Shakespeare’s time. This talk considered some of the early ‘sights of London’ that they saw, from the Giants in the Guildhall to the Great Whalebone in Whitehall, the lions at the Tower and the baboons in Southwark. What were they? Why were they thought interesting? And what strange stories were visitors told about them? John Clark gave us a wonderful insight – and not at all what we might have expected.

13 May 2021 – the Rickmansworth Week Lecture

A tour of Croxley Green by picture postcard         David Loose

Like most towns and villages in the early twentieth century, Croxley Green in the first quarter of the last century was the subject of a great number of picture postcards. Many of these were made by photographers hoping to sell them to people whose area, perhaps even home, was captured in them. David took us on a guided tour of Croxley through some of his impressive collection of early postcards of the village, stopping on the way to look at some of the people in them and who sent them – and it was there that the value of his research really came through. Real local history, with the stories behind the pictures so well laid out.

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