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.

Company and Business Records by Eric Probert


Reading branch talk 29th September 2016

Eric gave a very informative talk about company and business records. He started at the beginning with where you can find clues about a persons business involvement. These could be through birth, marriage and death records or trade directories. These could hint at that persons role within a company as owner, partner, director, shareholder or employee. There are various sources of information of the existence of a business which can accessed – some of which are trade directories; telephone books; local and national newspaper advertisements; insurance records; bankruptcy notices; trade cards; parish magazines; local, specialist and history societies; almanacs and yearbooks.

Records can be located online at TNA Discovery, Companies House, City of London Guildhall Library, The Archives Hub and Archives in Greater London. Historical records can be found in published company histories, Society of Genealogists Business Indexing Project (available on findmypast), Companies House, Current company archives, and in company magazines.  

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

Records for Non Conformity by Alec Tritton

Reading branch talk 27th October 2016

Alec opened his talk with the statement that our ancestors were gullible and taken in by new "religions". He expounded the Myth that Henry VIII had founded the Church of England, then merely used it for his own purposes. Alec explained that the development of the non Roman Catholic churches were not all down to Henry VIII and there were many breakaway sects and groups well before Henry wanted to divorce his first wife .

John Wycliffe of Balliol College Oxford had translated the first English version of the Bible in 1320 and was instrumental in the Lollard movement. John Oldcastle of St Giles was executed by burning in 1417 for Heresy. An Act of Supremacy was passed in 1554 by Henry VIII, repealed by his Catholic daughter, Mary, in 1559, and reinstated by Elizabeth I.

In 1600 it was reported that in East Anglia 36% of parishes had no Minister such was the upheaval in the reigning religion.

Alec then gave some key dates 1609 Baptists first meeting, 1662 Ejection of Nonconformists, 1672 Declaration of Indulgence, 1689 Act of Tolleration, which over the following 100 years saw over 1000 congregations grow. He explained that Nonconformists were Presbyterians, Baptists, Quakers, Salvation Army, Methodists. In 1753 there were Quaker, Jewish, and Roman Catholic marriages, by 1773 Methodist marriages. Paperwork for these was regularised by Act in 1837.

Quakers founded by George Fox (1624- 1691) kept meticulous documentation and all who attended marriage ceremonies signed the document.

Alec explained burials could take place in any location, but only one interment as two constituted a cemetery for which a licence was required. Most Quaker records were surrendered in 1837 and are now at the TNA under RG6.

Other useful places to look for records are Dr. Daniel Williams Library 1742 - 1837, 1772 Evans lists of Congregations,, Familysearch and BMD.

Caution was expressed re 1752 date reforms as prior years started on 1st March.

Other obscure Nonconformists were Sandermans, Campbellites, Inghams, Plymouth Brethren (who have not surrendered records), Moranians. Even more weird and wonderful groups were made up of Peculiar People, Mary Girling, Cokelers and Jezrielites.

He said that it is possible to find real  gems of information so it is always worth having a go to see what you can find . It was a very enlightening talk packed with information 

Lady Catherine and the real Downton Abbey

Newbury Branch meeting 9th November 2016

Speaker: the Rt Hon the Countess of Carnarvon


The global marketing phenomenon of Downton Abbey has made Highclere Castle one of the most famous houses in the world. Archaeology has found evidence of settlement on nearby Beacon Hill in 4000BC, and there is documentary evidence of Highclere from 749AD.

         The first Earl of Carnarvon died in the first battle of Newbury 1643. A generation later the title died out, but was re-created in 1709 for the builder of a Georgian residence in Highclere. Capability Brown designed the park. In 1856 this house was remodelled by Charles Barry, architect of the Houses of Parliament, into the present-day stately home of 200 to 300 rooms, surrounded by nearly 5,000 acres of park, farms and woodland. There are several follies, which are an important feature of the landscape.

Read more: Lady Catherine and the real Downton Abbey

Newbury and Thatcham: a historical comparison

Newbury Branch meeting 12th October 2016

Speaker: Dr Nick Young


Archaeological studies have shown that woolly mammoths roamed the area that we now call Colthrop, and that hippos wallowed in the nearby waterland. The river eventually attracted human beings, and flint tools from the Mesolithic era have been found in quantity around Lower Way. Bronze Age roundhouse remains have been found around Thatcham and Newtown. Iron Age hill forts topped Beacon Hill, Snelsmore and many more sites.

         The site of Newbury Town Hall has yielded evidence of continuous human occupation since prehistoric times.

Read more: Newbury and Thatcham: a historical comparison

Relatively speaking: tips and tricks for family history

Newbury Branch meeting Wed 13th September 2016

Speaker: Susan Ellis

Susan Ellis, who formerly worked at Newbury Library, began her research at an early age, prompted by her grandfather’s family history studies. She has rectified several errors during her own research.

         Her talk dealt with sources that are mainly free, and not online. Her advice was basic, so family historians at any level could make use of it.

Read more: Relatively speaking: tips and tricks for family history

The Mary Rose

Talk following the Annual General Meeting 8th June 2016

hosted by Newbury Branch at Shaw House

Speaker: Trevor Sapey, community engagement, outreach and access officer for the Mary Rose


The Mary Rose was the first warship (ie, with gunports) ever built, and was the flagship of the fleet which Henry VIII built up in 1509.

         Some statistics: the Mary Rose was the length of four buses, two-thirds the size of HMS Victory, and was intended to carry 415 crew. When she sank, between 600 and 700 men were aboard.

         She did not sink on her maiden voyage (a popular misconception) but after 34 years of service.

      In 1545 the French attempted an invasion with 30,000 men at Bembridge on the Isle of Wight. The battle of the Solent followed, and is depicted in a contemporary painting, in which Portsmouth is easily recognisable. The ambassador for the Holy Roman Empire gave an eye-witness account.

         Various theories for the sinking of the Mary Rose have been put forward: her gun ports were too low; enemy gunfire; bad design; excessive weightload; confusion both at command level with both captain and admiral aboard, and below deck with Spanish-speaking mercenaries. Whether due to one, some or all of these causes, the Mary Rose fired once, turned, and sank within 20 minutes. Only 30 to 35 men survived, many others having been trapped beneath the netting designed to repel boarders.

         After a few failed attempts to raise her, the sunken ship was left, and that portion which was below the Solent silt was preserved; the upper portions were eaten by worms.

         Nineteenth-century salvagers took some guns and artefacts, and damaged the wreck with explosives. Modern interest began in the 1960s by Alexander McKee, a diver and military historian, who found the ship in 1971, and in 1977 the project was boosted by Prince Charles taking an interest. Funding became available. The raising of the wreck was led by Margaret Rule, an archaeologist. In October 1982 the Mary Rose was lifted out of the water on a cradle, and positioned next to HMS Victory.

         Preservation continued with two years of spraying with water, followed by wax for another 13 years. 19,000 artefacts were retrieved; some, such as the doctor’s equipment, still bore fingerprints. There were musical instruments (from which musicologists learnt that the oboe was an older instrument than had been formerly believed), shoes, 170 long bows, navigational equipment, backgammon sets, 34 gold coins and 82 nit combs. Books, sadly, survived only as covers. Dog bones indicate that whippet-sized ratters had been kept aboard.

         10,000 human bones were found, 92 of which were fairly complete skeletons. The average height of crewmen was five-foot to five-foot-four. Their bones showed a variety of occupational injuries and diseases. Some facial reconstruction work has been done on human skulls. Names, alas, are not known, other than than of Admiral Carew.

          The new Mary Rose Museum is opening in Portsmouth in July, funded by donations from large corporations, educational trusts, private individuals and the lottery, but not from government funding. The whole business of disturbing what some consider to be a war grave has continued to be unacceptable in some quarters, and for this reason the new museum is designated a memorial.

Following the talk Trevor Sapey, who was dressed as a Tudor sailor and discussed his costume, circulated a vast range of actual and replica artefacts from the ship: a compass, a surgeon’s bleeding bowl, a device for measuring shot, a pomander, a shaving brush, a curved flesh-knife and bone-saw for amputations, a pewter tankard, a candle holder and much more.

Additional information