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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Whatever happened to Lucy?

Newbury Branch meeting Wednesday 13 September 2017

Speaker: Ian Waller

Lucy represents all those luckless children who were in some way unwanted, because of being illegitimate or just being one more mouth to feed when there were already too many. Victorian values held that the disgrace of illegitimacy would force the girl to leave her family or position, and try to find a way of supporting herself and her child. She might resort to a “baby farmer”, who would look after her baby for a fee (often quite large) but of course many died, by fair means or foul. She might present herself at the door of one of the charities operating through the last two or three centuries, but there was no certainty of help there. She might even sell her baby; some were openly advertised, up to the 1920s.

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