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.

Unusual prisoners of the Tower

Newbury Branch meeting Wed 12th April 2017

Speaker: Tony Strafford

The Tower of London has held enemies and heroes as prisoners. Life inside could be quite comfortable for those in “open confine”: in return for payment prisoners could eat well, have servants and visitors. Sir Walter Raleigh lived here with his wife and children (his second son was born in the Tower), and he also worked there as tutor to Henry, Prince of Wales. Even open-confine prisoners, however, had to observe the curfew bell each evening.

Read more: Unusual prisoners of the Tower

A Peep into the Lives of Some Nineteenth-Century Berkshire Women

Newbury Branch meeting Wed 8th March 2017

Speaker: Lin Ricketts

The talk is based on the dissertation which Lin Ricketts produced for her masters’ degree at the University of Strathclyde, examining the role and status of the women of the period, as laid down by men, the law and general social expectation.

Read more: A Peep into the Lives of Some Nineteenth-Century Berkshire Women

Georgian Cookery by Catherine Sampson

Reading Branch meeting 26 January 2017

Catherine started by setting the scene for tonight’s talk, by briefly covering what was happening in England during the Georgian period. This period covers the reigns of Georges I (1714-1727), II (1727-1760), and III (1760-1820). During these reigns there was: increasing land enclosure which led to the need for people to earn a salary to buy food, as they had reduced means of growing their own food; new cattle breeds were introduced which were hardier and could ‘over winter’ which meant that fresh meat was available year round, instead of the previous need for salted meat in winter; there was improved communication and transport links thanks to the 1714 Turnpike Act, new bridges being built over rivers and an increase in lock building; spices and exotic foods were increasingly being brought into the country via ports like Bristol and Liverpool.

Cooking was done over open wood fires (coal tainted the food), enclosed fires (ranges) were not properly developed until the Victorian era. Ovens, when they were available, were only for the higher classes. For the lower classes, to cook bread they either took their own dough to the miller or baker to be baked, bought bread, or made their own on a skillet/griddle.

Over the period, the range of cooking pots available increased.

In the early Georgian period (c.1714), mealtimes for men were - 10am breakfast (midwork) and 3.30pm dinner. For women it was 10am breakfast, 12md luncheon, 3.30pm dinner, early evening tea, and 11.30pm-12mn supper. By the end of the Georgian period (c. 1820) there was breakfast before work commenced, lunch at 12md, tea mid-afternoon, dinner at 7om and supper at 11.30pm.

Dinner Parties

At dinner parties in the early Georgian period, guests brought their own cutlery with them. By mid-Georgian  

Times, the cost of cutlery had reduced due to increased production, so there was no more need for guests to bring their own. However, if people were staying in inns, they still needed to provide their own utensils. The design and usage of cutlery also changed at this time. At the start of the period, forks had 3 prongs and were used only to hold food whilst cutting it, and the knife was used to transfer food from plate to mouth. The 4 pronged fork was introduced which meant that that was then used for the transfer of food.

In the early 1700’s wine glasses were very expensive and were therefore, not kept on the table during dining due to the possibility of breakage. Instead, whilst dining, if guests needed a drink they asked the servants to pass them their glass which was kept on a table at the side of the room. By the middle of the century production costs had reduced which led to glasses being kept on the table whilst dining.

Early Georgian times saw long tablecloths being used, tucked into clothing if necessary. This cloth was used for wiping fingers and faces.

Tables were laid with a variety of savoury and sweet dishes which guests helped themselves to in whichever order they liked, often with sweet and savoury on the same plate. Guests only had one plates for all foods, so some judicious ordering was necessary so sweet sauces were not mixing with savoury ones too much. The guests seating place at the table indicated their place in the pecking order – the better the dish in front of them, the higher up the order they were.

Mulligatawny and turtle soups were favourites as was mock turtle soup (made of the head, tail and hooves of calves, although this had become a vegetable soup by Victorian times).

One chef reckoned that he prepared 1.5-2lb of meat per person per day     

After the main dishes had been finished with, fruit and ices were brought in, and then it was ‘drinking time’.

In comparison, at this time the working classes were eating pottage (made with milk in the North and water in the South) and water gruel.

During this period, Hannah Glass wrote and ‘understandable’ cookery book- The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy. This was the best selling cookery book every year for 100 years, only being usurped by Mrs Beeton, and most middle class households would have had a copy. This book is still available to buy as it is still in print.

Falkland Islands

Newbury Branch meeting Wed 8th February 2017

Speakers: Tony and Rosemary Hadland

Tony and Rosemary Hadland first visited the Falklands in 2008 because their son was finishing a tour of RAF duty there. An added incentive was that an old family friend lived there. They have now made the arduous trip south three times.

         The Falklands, which lie the same distance from the equator as does the UK, consist of a 750-island archipelago, although most of the inhabitants live on the two main islands, East and West, which are separated by a sound.

Read more: Falkland Islands

Members evening of short talks

Reading branch talk 8th December 2016

We had 4 short talks by branch members. Jackie Blow started us off with how upon moving to a new village, an interest in the local history of her village led to her joining the local history group (Spencers Wood Local History Group). This, in turn, led her to discover more links to the village than she had at first thought. SWLHG have produced yet another interesting book on the village which had been launched only the preceding day.

We then had a talk by Richard Brown, who told us of the (willow) rod industry in Woolhampton and Berkshire, and his family’s deep involvement in it. The uses for willow rods in Victorian times was many and varied, and the amount of land used for this industry in Berkshire.

Third came Richard Croker who told us about his great grandfather John Campbell Reid, who was a doctor and medical officer for a parish in Northumberland. Richard told us of the trials and tribulations of this doctors life.

Last came our Chair, Graham Vockins, who told about his wifes grandfather William Dore. How he hunted down records for him and the eventual, very convoluted, tree that resulted from only going back 2 generations.

The Future of The Internet for Family Historians by Peter Christian

Reading branch talk 24th November 2016

Peter gave a comprehensive talk about what is available now on the internet, and how this is likely to change in the future. Peter started by telling us about a new freely available online resource – A Dictionary of Occupational Terms. He then went on to remind us that there were genealogical advancements both off- and online, what with DNA testing, record preservation, increased availability of records online and pedigree sharing.

Peter went on to run through the main online resources currently available, and how, and sometimes, when, new records will, or should be coming available. The General Register Office have created searchable indexes to their registers, but these are currently only for births and deaths. For births, mothers maiden name is given for all births (not just post 1911 as was previously available). There is no target completion date, and it is not know if marriage indexes will be following suit.

Parish registers are still predominantly in the domain of pay per view/subscription sites, and are unlikely to come onto free sites very quickly, as the free sites are mainly run, and added to, by volunteers.

Peter looked at which main sources of records may be next to be put inline, and who is likely to be responsible for facilitating this.

Crowdsourcing was looked at as a method to enable the uploading of records to the internet.

Pedigree uploading was discussed, as to where they can be found, developments and limitations of online pedigrees.

Peter took us through the difficulties faced by new free information websites, issues surrounding privacy and how to ensure online information remains accessible in the future

A PDF of the slides used in this presentation can be found at

Additional information