Throughout the country there are today more places of worship than clergy to conduct weekly services in them. Church attendance and communicants has declined significantly and our churches are now in a position where the cost of upkeep and maintenance is being bourn by fewer folk. Sadly, a great number of our churches, a lot of them listed buildings, are beginning to fall into decay; not helped by the thoughtless actions of some thieves stealing the lead of the roof resulting in enormous cost of damage to the fabric of the buildings.
Many of the older churches are fine architectural edifices that should be preserved regardless of declining finances. We have seen charitable organisations such as The Churches Preservation Trust, The National Trust and Heritage England, formed to stem the tide of decay and dereliction of our architectural heritage, helping to restore and preserve these old estates and building for everyone to enjoy. So, what is to become of our churches and chapels? Will more be sold off to become desirable homes for the few?
Come along to hear Michael Dudley’s talk and get to know what can be done.
In the 19th Century opium was commonly used as a remedy for a large number of common ailments. It is hard to believe that it was possible to walk into a chemist shop and buy without a prescription cocaine and laudanum. Opium preparations, (‘little white powder’) were freely sold in towns and markets and in the countryside by travelling ‘hawksters’. Taking opium became as popular as alcohol. Surprisingly, opium was also used as a ‘quieten’ tincture for children.
Dr Eric Somerville is coming to speak to us about “Opium-eating in the Fens in the Nineteenth Century”. It’s interesting to learn that fenland folk didn’t smoke opium, they consumed it, and did so in quantities, to the extent that it has been calculated that half of imported opium went there. Dr Somerville has made an extensive study of the subject and since he’s a retired Wisbech G.P. expect some reflections on drug use today.
Admission free to Society Members, guests are welcome and we ask for a small £3 donation for the evening.
Parking: Building work has now started at the church and there is only Disabled Parking there, so please allow a few minutes more to park in Malthouse Close or Ingram Street car parks.
Christmas Social – A Georgian Christmas, with Bedford Gallery Quire, Tuesday 10th December
Its that time of year, the Christmas festive season is fast approaches again. Once more we have a super programme lined up for our Christmas social. The Christmas social is undoubtedly one of the sheer joys of this society, so do make an effort to come along. You will not be disappointed. And by all means bring friends with you.
This year The Bedford Gallery Quire, will be providing the musical entertainment. They are part of the movement to resurrect the folk tradition, coined ‘West Gallery Music’ by Thomas Hardy, The Quire was formed in 2003 and is a group of singers and instrumentalists performing musical pieces from the ‘West Gallery’ period, around 1700 to 1850. West Gallery music is often seen as an anarchic musical attribute of the parish church until reforming Victorian clergy suppressed them in favour of the more governable, surpliced, choirs singing in the chancel that we know today. Besides playing fiddles and flutes they will be performing traditional music on some less familiar instruments including flagelettes, an ophicleïde, and a serpent – a rare sight indeed.
We will again be providing sandwiches, etc., as well as drinks, but members are welcome to bring additional seasonal fare. It would be helpful if you haven’t already done so , it you would book as soon as possible. This enables us to tell how many spaces available for non-members. David Smith will be there on Tuesday to take bookings and your £5.00, or send him a cheque with form in the Almanack, or at very least email him at firstname.lastname@example.org to let him know you are coming and pay on the night.
Stuart Orme, the Curator of the Cromwell Museum will talk to us about Oliver Cromwell’s first campaigns in 1643 at Huntingdon, Peterborough, Crowland and the Battle of Gainsborough on 28th July. Cromwell went from a small landowner MP to a significant General and a force to be reckoned with in Parliament. Cromwell was first elected to Parliament in 1628 but by 1631 he was in financial difficulty and was forced to sell his land. He returned to Parliament in 1640 but by 1642 armed conflict had begun between Charles 1 and Parliament. It was in 1642 that Cromwell’s career as a military leader began. He distinguished himself in battle at Edgehill in 1642 and again in the East in 42 and 43. By 1644 he had risen to the rank of Lieutenant General.
Stuart Orme will look at the early career of Cromwell and his meteoric rise to the highest ranks of the New Model Army.
Visitors are welcome and are invited to donate £3 to defray costs.
Adrian Moss will talk about John Howland of Fenstanton. He was born in 1599, the son of Henry and Margaret Howland. In 1620 he sailed on the Mayflower as an indentured man servant of Governor John Carver to settle in Plymouth in the ‘New World’. John’s voyage was not without drama. During a storm he fell overboard and it was only through luck that he was able to grab hold of a trailing rope and was eventually rescued. In later years he became personal secretary to the Governor and was instrumental in the making of a treaty with the local native American tribe, Sachem Massasoit.
John married Elizabeth Tilley in about 1624 and they had 10 children. John died in 1672/3 at Rocky Nook, Plymouth USA. But, that’s not where the story of John Howland ends, for his many decedents, including Theodore Roosevelt, George Bush and George W. Bush held the highest office in the USA.
Today there is a thriving John Howland Society (https://pilgrimjohnhowlandsociety.org/Society) founded in 1897 that catalogues the story of this amazing man and his decedents.
SPALDING GENTLEMEN’S SOCIETY
Founded in 1710 The Spalding Gentlemen’s Society, is one of the oldest learned societies in the UK and is reputably the earliest provincial association for the encouragement of antiquarianism. Founded by Maurice Johnson (1688-1755), the Society began with a series of informal meetings of a few local gentlemen at a coffee house in the Abbey Yard, Spalding. Initially a ‘Society of Gentlemen, for the supporting of mutual benevolence and their improvement in the liberal sciences and in polite learning’, it was a male preserve for over 300 years. Although in 1971 five notable female local historians were created Fellows of the Society in acknowledgement of their work, they were still not conferred as members. It wasn’t until 2006 that a historic vote was taken to admit women as members of the Society. The first woman joined as a member in 2007. The Duke of Buccleuch have been the patrons of the Society since 1732 and the current 10th Duke of Buccleuch, Richard Montague Douglas Scott is the present Patron.
This prodigious Society is able to count as its members some notable figures; Sir Isaac Newon, Sir Hans Sloane, Alexander Pope, Dr William Stukeley, Sir Edward Bellamy, Sir G. Gilbert Scott, Lord Tennyson, Lord Curzon of Kedleston and Lord Peckover of Wisbech.
The Society’s home is a Grade II listed building on Broad Street in Spalding, purpose built to house the Society’s collections. The Society, has an extensive archive of manuscripts, drawings, maps and prints dating from the 13th century to the present day. Also amongst its most treasured possessions are the Society’s minutes of meetings, account books, lecture notes and collections of correspondence. Important manuscripts from Crowland Abbey and Spalding Priory are preserved in the collection.
The Society also has an extensive museum collection that, with the exception of the Ashmolean, is the oldest in the Kingdom. On display are a rare specimen of Jas Christopher le Bon’s tapestry ‘A head of Christ’, a fine astrolabe dated at 1565, a map of 1732 Spalding by John Grundy.
The Society has a large active membership today and holds regular public lectures from September to March on cultural, scientific and antiquarian subjects.
To find out more about this fascinating and ancient Society, come and listen to the talk by Tom Grimes, the current President of the Spalding Gentlemen’s Society, and join us later in the summer on our visit to the Society in Spalding.
You can access the Society’s webpage at https://www.sgsoc.org
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic the AGM has been cancelled and will be rescheduled for a date in the future. Details will be posted as soon as they are confirmed.
RETURN TO KENT – EXPLORING THE NORTHERN AND WESTERN PARTS OF THE COUNTY
This year we are pleased to announce that we will be returning to Kent to visit some of the historic houses and building in the northern part of the County. For those who were lucky enough to join us for our tour of the Castles of Kent in 2016 will remember the outstanding visits to Leeds Castle, Penshurst, Dover Castle, Walmer Castle, Lullingstone Roman Villa, Igntham Mote and Hever Castle. This year we are visiting our weekend is filled with visiting some of the other areas of this County. For a printable copy of the itinerary for this years vivist to Kent please click [here].
Day 1 (Friday 15th May)
DARWIN AND THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES
Our weekend starts with a visit to Darwins House in South London. This is a unique place where the renowned scientist lived and wrote the book ‘On the Origin of Species’. We will have a tour of the house, with narration by Sir David Attenborough, and the chance to walk around the gardens and greenhouses.
RIVERHILL HUMALAYAN GARDENS
In the afternoon, we venture on to Riverhill Himalayan Gardens, first established in 1840 by John Rogers. John was one of the founding members of the Royal Horticultural Society and a contemporary of Charles Darwin. The gardens are renowned for their fine collections of rhododendron, azaleas and specimen trees as well as the woodland bluebells. There is also an Edwardian Rock Garden, rediscovered having lain forgotten for nearly 70 years.
We are staying at The Danes Hotel, Hollingbourne, Near Maidstone.
Day 2 – Saturday 16th May
We start our day at Scotney Castle. This building has a long history dating from 1137. From 1778 the house was occupied by the Hussey family until it was left to the National Trust in 1970. The main part of the house was built in 1837 by Edward Hussey III from sandstone quarried from the grounds of the old castle. We will have a tour around the house and also the opportunity to visit the walled garden and the extensive grounds and gardens.
In the afternoon we visit Maidstone Museum, established in 1858. The museum is said to be one of the finest and largest, outside of London, with exhibits of fine art, human and natural history.
Day 3 – Sunday 17th May
We head south in the morning to Smallhythe. The village was a small thriving shipbuilding port. We visit Smallhythe Place. This early 16th Century timber framed house was bought by Ellen Terry, a renowned Victorian Actress, in 1899 and stayed in the family till it was transferred into a museum in 1928 by Ellen’s daughter. The barn has been converted into a small theatre where a diverse programme of productions are still performed throughout the year.
CHAPEL OF ST THOMAS A BECKET
In the afternoon we venture into Capel where we will visit the church of St Thomas a Becket. A small Norman church, rebuilt in 1639 after a fire. This is a Grade 1 listed building under the care of the Churches Conservation Trust. it has a striking post roof and extensive wall paintings that cover the walls of the nave.
Day 4 – Monday 18th May
SIR WINSTON CHURCHILL AND CHARTWELL
We are spending the day at CHARTWELL, the family home and garden of Sir Winston Churchill.
Chartwell was the much-loved Churchill family home from 1922 and the place from which Sir Winston drew inspiration until the end of his life. The rooms remain much as they were when he lived here, with pictures, books and personal mementoes evoking the career and wide-ranging interests of a great statesman, writer, painter and family man. We will explore the house with a guided tour giving us a unique insight into the life of Churchill, his family. We all know that Churchill was an avid painter who produced over 500 pieces of work and we will be able to see many of his paintings and artwork in his studio.
There is an excellent cafeteria where we can get lunch and afterwards wander around the hillside gardens that are said to reflect Sir Winston’s love of the landscape and nature. There are over 80 acres of woodland, walled kitchen garden, waterfalls and lakes and beautifully manicured terraced lawns. Lady Churchill loved roses and you can wander around her lovely rose garden. Winston even designed and built a playhouse, the ‘Marycot’ for his youngest daughter Mary, and this should be open for viewing.
We are ending our trip with a cream tea at Chartwell before boarding the coach and heading back to Huntingdon.
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the lecture and presentation of the Goodliff Awards for 2020 have been postponed and will be rescheduled for later in the year.
The Society’s President, Dr David Starkey will talk about ‘The Uses of History’ and present the Goodliff Awards for 2020.
More details to follow shortly