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.

Making sense of the census

Newbury Branch meeting 9th May 2018

Speaker: Tom Doig

Tom Doig is a social historian rather than a family historian, so his use of the census is a little different from ours. Generally, he is looking for much broader trends than individual families, or people.

          He introduced some of the censuses before the familiar 1841 – 1911 set, many of which were, initially at least, set up to for taxation or ecclesiastical purposes. Militia lists were annually updated, and covered males between 18 and 45 years of age. They were liable to be called up if they were needed to fight battles. The lists included each person’s age, occupation, relationships, and where they lived. These lists can be a useful census substitute.

Read more: Making sense of the census

For crying out loud

Newbury Branch meeting 11th April 2018

Speaker: Brian Sylvester, Newbury’s town crier since 1999

Town criers were introduced into this country by the Normans as part of the new civic hierarchy. Their role was to communicate with the illiterate masses, informing them of official announcements as the civic and national authorities required. Their function can be traced back to Classical times: Greek heralds had a similar task of communicating between opposing sides in games and in wartime. (In the latter role they enjoyed a special immunity.) Stentor, one such in the Trojan Wars whose voice was said to be 50 times more powerful than most, gave us the adjective stentorian.

Read more: For crying out loud

The House of Toomer

Newbury Branch meeting 14th March 2018

Speaker: Phil Wood

Toomer’s shop in Newbury always boasted that it was “est 1692” but confirmation of this has eluded Phil Wood’s research. He guesses that the claim relates to the Hawkins family, into which Samuel Toomer married in Newbury in 1759.

         Samuel (1736-1813) was the son of the twice-married Joseph Toomer, who came to Newbury having worked as an exciseman in Windsor and Wallingford, and as an innholder in East Ilsley. In Newbury he had taken over the White Hart by 1742. Samuel, his youngest son, was apprenticed in the ironmongery business, wherein he married the boss’ sister, Sarah, and eventually took over the business, in which he prospered. In due course he acquired property, became a burgess of the town, magistrate and served as mayor. In partnership with Brice Bunny, lawyer, and Samuel Slocock, brewer, he opened a Newbury bank.

Read more: The House of Toomer

The story of Greenham Common

Newbury Branch meeting Wednesday 14th February 2018

Speaker: Penny Stokes

Greenham Common conjures up memories of peace women and cruise missiles, but its history is much longer than the last half-century – and much livelier.

       Greenham and Crookham Commons are the last survivors of a belt of common land which once ran along Berkshire’s southern border. They escaped enclosure because the heath was exceptionally infertile.

       An uncultivated expanse of land inevitably has always attracted the military. From at least the seventeenth century soldiers have mustered and camped regularly on the common, incidentally providing free entertainment to the local people, amongst whom their “field days” were perennially popular.

Read more: The story of Greenham Common

Georgian cookery

Newbury Branch meeting Wed 8th November 2017

Speaker: Catherine Sampson

Enclosure (permitting the overwintering of livestock) changed the way our ancestors prepared and ate food, by making fresh meat and milk available all year round. Turnpikes also contributed; better communications spread ideas about food and new ingredients. The French Revolution in 1789 caused chefs (working primarily for the aristocrats) to flee to England, bringing new skills, methods and manners.

In early Georgian times a vast number of dishes would be set out on the table simultaneously, often in duplicate for ease of serving numerous diners. Long tablecloths allowed diners to use the edges as a napkin. (Napkins, introduced by the French, changed such habits.) After the main course the stained cloth would be removed before dessert was served, or diners might even leave the table to have their pudding in another setting. Dessert was minimal: a nibbling course of fruit and nuts, because cooked puddings would have already been served with the meat.

Read more: Georgian cookery

Things aren’t what they used to be

Newbury Branch meeting Wed 12th October 2017

Speaker: Tony King

Tony King’s reminiscences began with his wartime childhood, gas masks and powdered ink at school. At home, hot water was dispensed from a geyser into a Belfast sink. Shops stocked Pakamacs and corsets.

         The main burden of the talk was a catalogue of 1940s and 50s programmes and personalities from radio, film and early TV, accompanied by a quick-fire series of clips and images. Such a presentation defies précis, but the older members of the audience were audibly delighted.

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