Meeting Summaries

Summaries of many past meetings are available on this website. A handful of examples appear below.

Many more summaries can be read in the Members' Area.

Every current member of Berkshire Family History Society can access the Members' Area. Note that before you can do so, you need first to register on this website — it is very quick and easy to do this.

Jack of Newbury

Newbury Branch meeting 9th January 2019

Speaker: Dr David Peacock

Jack of Newbury is a legendary figure of early Tudor England. However, you have to get the right one, out of several, including four generations of the same family where the heir was named John.

The first two of these, John Winchcombe I (d. 1520) and John Winchcombe II (d.1557) were both clothiers, and in early Tudor England to be a clothier meant that you were responsible for organising the production of woollen cloth at a time when 90 per cent of England’s exports consisted of woollen cloth.

John Winchcombe II had at least 250 sheep of his own at Greenham, but he also acquired wool from thousands of sheep across a wide area. Locally this included Kingsclere, Enborne, and the Berkshire Downs. He ran his own dye house in Newbury, using woad as his major dye and purchasing it by the ton. He employed his own carders to card the wool and there is documentary evidence that suggests that there may have been 70 or more of them. He used fulling mills at West Mills in Newbury, and produced thousands of cloths called Kerseys each year.

Was your ancestor a criminal?

Newbury Branch meeting 13th November 2018

Speaker: Dr Colin Chapman

Law in the eighteenth century drew a distinction between public and private offences, the former being criminal and the latter being subject to civil suit. Private offences included assault and battery, slander, libel, malicious prosecution, false imprisonment and abduction. Adultery too was a private offence, except when prosecuted in the ecclesiastical court, where it was considered criminal.

Read more: Was your ancestor a criminal?

Royal shenanigans and courtesans

Newbury Branch meeting 12th September 2018

Speaker: Mike Rendell

Courtesans serving the aristocracy and royalty were the celebrities of the Georgian era, rather as the Kardashians are today. They set fashions, took the best opera boxes, were painted by the likes of Joshua Reynolds, and courted publicity as they moved from patron to patron.

         Hanoverian monarchs were serial adulterers, with the sole exception of George III. The tone had been set by the Stuart monarchy in Charles II’s court, and was maintained by the tendency for high-society marriages to be power and property alliances rather than love matches.

         George I brought two mistresses to London in 1714, one dubbed the Elephant, but he took exception to his wife Sophia taking a lover. The man was murdered, and Sophia was sent back to Hanover for lifelong incarceration.

Read more: Royal shenanigans and courtesans

The British Overseas, an introduction into finding Ancestors who travelled abroad by Guy Grannum


Guy who works at The National Archives gave us some little known sources that are in the collections at TNA, particularly relating to Britain’s overseas and defined the definition of such people. Starting from 1735 when the first ladings were made he explained who might be located in the indexes. Military men of the Navy, Mercenaries, Refugees both Political and Religious, those who were deported e.g. Criminals, Merchants, Artisans and labourers, members of companies such as the East India Company and British African Company as well as those that were  Kidnapped.

Passenger list records range from 1890 to 1960 but arrivals records are regarded as the better ones to seek. Pass Ports i.e. documents which allowed you to pass in and out of ports range from 1795 to 1948 in FO610 at the TNA

Records are also available of duties paid on goods and Guy recommended P W Coldham indexes for information of what is available. Finally he made us aware of reciprocal arrangements made between the Russian Imperial government and Britain.

Thinking Outside the Box by Lesley Coleman

This was a very entreating talk and it is difficult to summarise such was the range of ideas propounded.

Firstly she encourages us all to think of diverse ways of breaking down brick walls. As an example she cited her husband who was an adoptee and the search for his birth mother who she described as a bit of a slapper and her husband who was in the audience agreed with her assessment. They had managed to find an address where the husband was born at in Kent. Despite living in Bristol they jumped into the car and sought out the property. They knocked on the door explained who they were and the man of the house asked them to wait with his wife whilst he popped out. Shorty afterwards the man re appeared with a photograph of a wedding in which the speaker’s husband mother was a matron of honour. Apparently the man knew of the speaker’s husband’s adoption and he also knew relatives who lived nearby. From this they have found siblings. One does not think further out of the box than this.

Lesley also gave us ideas of many other ways of looking for relatives before she went on to conclude with methods and ways of self publishing ones family trees and photographs, many free on line software and you only pay for publishing. Lesley only does this when they have a special offer which saves her money.

One other random fact she told us about involved 4G telephone /  broadband filters this proved very useful to one member of our audience as the spent less than £10 bought one of the devices and promptly restored several of his TV channels which had not been received for months!

A truly random and entertaining evening.

1752 And all That by Mark Bowman

I was unsure before Mark started his talk as to how he could speak for an hour on a subject of 1752 and keep us entertained. This fear was dispelled very quickly as Mark spoke confidently and in a very easy on the ear way, keeping the audience attentive for well over an hour and a quarter assuring us all he had edited it down but could probably extend it to three hours, many of us would willingly have sat in our seats for this length of time to continue, but sadly we had to be satisfied with what we had heard. This fascinating subject of time and its recording proved a worthy subject for Mark and one that I, like many of the audience, had no idea how complicated we humans had made it.

Man from early times had attempted to find a way of keeping time, but with differences in lunar cycles, seasons and Earth’s rotation around the Sun there were great differences in records. Julius Caesar the first dictator of the Roman Empire tried in 46 BC to set a calendar but was three months out with the seasons; it was based upon Sosigenes calculations and contained 365.25 days, with 12 months of 30 or 31 days except February which had 28days and 29 days every fourth year. In those years they had two 23rds but no 29th!. In 46BC Julius Caesar adjusted his “Julian” calendar with the seasons and had a year of 445 days.

Mark clearly explained that this calendar laid out dates for re occurring event i.e. solstices and equinoxes but also set a mechanism of calculating Easter. This has to be the first Sunday after the full moon on or after the vernal equinox (usually 20th March)

So Easter can be as early as 22nd March as in 1818 or as late as 25th April as in 1943.The formula was agreed at the council of Nicea in 325AD. At that conference the error of 11 minutes and 15 seconds in the Julian Calendars calculation of each year’s length had built up to 10 days by the time Pope Gregory decreed that the date should be advanced by 10 days in what became known as the Gregorian calendar. Many countries did not adopt this system immediately, Britain waited until 1752 and others of Orthodox religions did not change until the final one Greece moved to the Julian calendar in 1923.

Further complications to the calendar were introduced by Henry the second in 1154 when he moved New Years Day to March 25th in line with Quarter days, Scotland reverted back to January 1st in 1600 but the English waited to 1752. During this period one encountered March 24th 1700 followed the next day by March 25th 1701.

Mark urged caution when dealing with dates in this period with England and Scotland having Old and New style dates.

I along with our entire audience found this and absolutely fascinating talk, delivered in a very easy listening style and format.

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