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Local historians in the City

Newbury District Field Club gathered to talk about Newbury's social history

Jackie Markham


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More than 70 local history enthusiasts gathered on Saturday 2 September at St Nicolas Church Hall for a day of talks and discussions arranged by Newbury District Field Club.

The theme for this, the Club’s fifth annual history day, was the area of the town known colloquially as “The City”, including Argyle Road and the Andover road end of St John’s roundabout.

The Field Club’s President Phil Wood began proceedings with a look  at City  life in olden times, mock-mayors, “sooty-bobs”, rough music and at least seven pubs in a small but lively part of town, of which only the Red House pub remains. 

The old Methodist chapel next door has recently been reborn as City Arts, soon to be a community arts hub and café.

David Clow then gave a historical account of the bombing of Newbury in 1943, helped by the memories of some who were there as children, now in their 80s. 

Former curator of West Berkshire Museum, Jane Burrell, completed the morning session with a look at the Changing Face of the City showing how schools, places of worship and businesses have come and gone.

After lunch Dr Abi Tompkins, Assistant Archaeological Officer for West Berkshire Council, explained the findings of an archaeological investigation of a small section of the medieval cemetery at the Litten.

In an area of only 52 square metres, 59 bodies were exhumed, with the scattered remains of 20 more.

Some detective work and carbon dating led to the conclusion that the burials took place in around 1200 AD. 

A particularly interesting find was a child’s molar showing clear signs of congenital syphilis, some 300 years before the disease was reportedly brought back from the New World by Christopher Columbus’ expedition.

Dr David Peacock looked at the history of the St Bartholomew’s Hospital and the Church and Childs’ almshouses.

Phil Wood then closed the day with an account of the life and work of Dr Walter Essex Wynter, a leading London physician who retired to Newbury in 1926 and whose charitable works dramatically changed the appearance of Argyle Road.

The Newbury District Field club founded in 1870, is Newbury’s local history society and aims to promote interest in the past of Newbury and the surrounding area.

It has around 70 members and holds two meetings a month from Autumn to Spring on the second Friday afternoon of the month (in the Council Chamber at the Town Hall) and the fourth Tuesday evening (in the Parish Room as St John’s Church).

Forthcoming talks and details of how to join are listed on their website or you can contact the secretary Dick Godfrey on 01635 43605.

Visitors are welcome at any meeting, for a small charge.

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