Review: Cheltenham, 26-28 April 2013

Changing Communities

British Association for Local History regional conference co-hosted by Cheltenham Local History Society and Gloucestershire County History Trust

Copyright: Geoff North

Copyright: Geoff North

Against the stunning backdrop of Cheltenham Racecourse seen through the vast windows of the ‘Panoramic Suite’, BALH’s regional conference opened with short presentations from BALH Chair Tim Lomas, the Mayor of Cheltenham Councillor Colin Hay and Dame Janet Trotter, Lord-Lieutenant of Gloucestershire and patron of the Gloucestershire County History Trust.  

Copyright: Geoff North

Copyright: Geoff North

Professor John Beckett then gave the keynote address ‘The English Village’ which raised many issues relating to the nature of villages and their communities,  that set the stage most emphatically for the following day.

Tom Beaumont James  Copyright Geoff North

Copyright: Geoff North

Starting bright and early on Saturday morning the programme of six papers ranged far and wide over time, place, sources and methods. Professor Tom Beaumont James began with an image of the Daily Mail reporting on the Black Death, and went on to consider how historians have differed in their analysis of the visitation. Its impact went far beyond the ‘simple’ calculation of death rates.

Copyright: Geoff North

Copyright: Geoff North

Kate Tiller reminded us that there is so much more to local war memorials than lists of names. She discussed the importance of the way decisions on style, price, location, and wording were made in local communities, and argued that the investigation and understanding of them is a fitting tribute for local historians to undertake as the anniversaries of the Great War approach.

Copyright: Geoff North

Copyright: Geoff North

Yate has been described as ‘a town without a heart’, and ‘Gloucestershire’s enigma’, but Rose Wallis demonstrated how the community’s growth from an isolated settlement to a lively railway village and then to a rapidly growing area since the establishment of the ‘new town’ in the 1950s gives it a history that is well worth exploring.The results of her work on this area, with many active volunteers based at Yate Heritage Centre, for Glos VCH will be appearing online.

Copyright: Geoff North

Copyright: Geoff North

After lunch Anthea Jones revealed the ‘untold riches’ of the Lloyd George survey of land values 1909, which people in Gloucestershire are so fortunate to be able to access online as a result of the project she is leading. She provided examples of questioning this data that is so valuable but somewhat awkward to access, to understand how communities have changed.

Copyright: Geoff North

Copyright: Geoff North

Nick Herbert took us into the depths of the Crown demesne lands of Forest of Dean. He traced the development of new settlements against the background of the very complex history of that area, from assarting in early medieval times, through waves of further expansion into the nineteenth century associated with the exploitation of mineral and timber resources.

Copyright: Geoff North

Copyright: Geoff North

Diana Russell is researching businesswomen in the first half of the 19th century. Her comparison between retail trades in Cheltenham and in Bath introduced us to some very enterprising women who were exploiting commercial opportunities in these two growing spa towns.

On Sunday delegates assembled at the University of Gloucester campus, and after a fascinating talk by Steven Blake that examined Cheltenham as seen by topographical printmakers between 1786 and 1850, there were two guided walks in the town, led by Steven himself and Frances Wilson-Copp.

View more photos on Flickr

Copyright: Geoff North

Copyright: Geoff North

Copyright: Geoff North

Copyright: Geoff North

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Britain from Above

EPW024145

The Winter Garden & Town Hall, Cheltenham, 1928

In 2010 Britain from Above partners (English Heritage and the Royal Commissions on the Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland & Wales) received Heritage Lottery Funding to make 95,000 of the earliest images (1919 – 1953) from the Aerofilms Collection accessible. A project team then started the conservation of the fragile negatives, followed by scanning and cataloguing to make the images available to the widest possible audience through a project website.

The Aerofilms Collection of oblique aerial photography is of international importance and provides a unique photographic history of Britain from the air in the twentieth century. Purchased by the project partners in 2007, the collection in total consists of over 1.2 million negatives and over 2,000 albums.  Those being made accessible through the Britain from Above project illustrate the enormous changes that have taken place in housing, leisure, industry, transport and agriculture and the physical impact of two World Wars.  In June 2012 the project website (www.britainfromabove.org.uk) was launched with 16,000 images online.  Users can share and record their memories adding personal content which then brings the images to life for others.   Since the site went live over 27,000 users have registered and  made over 55,000 contributions.  There are now over 25,000 images uploaded with more being added every couple of months and registered users can sign up to receive a newsletter if they want to follow our progress.  The project’s Activity Team is busy working with new and diverse audiences who have their own stories to tell.  Educational resources for schools are under development and 2014 will see exhibitions in England, Scotland and Wales together with a publication telling the Aerofilms story.

Britain from Above will be at the conference on Friday and Saturday.

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An ancient deer park and the Racecourse

Cheltenham Racecourse occupies a substantial amount of an ancient deer park, and the Cotswold hills are a beautiful backdrop. If you look up at them, you can see woods still covering the scarp slopes above Prestbury. It is easy to imagine deer roaming in the woods and being driven into the park below. The Racecourse address, Prestbury Park, is also an ancient one. The deer park belonged to the Bishop of Hereford who was lord of the manor of Prestbury. The park existed from at least 1136. Whenever the bishop visited the manor, on his way to meetings of parliament, he lived in the moated manor house immediately to the east of the racecourse. On at least one occasion, in 1289, he held a gargantuan feast to celebrate Christmas.

Prestbury manor moat2

There are documents which provide pointers to the early history of the park. Interestingly there appears to have been a stud in medieval times, and special areas within the park were used to pasture horses. Was there also racing?

The first known map is dated 1768 and the park may then have been at its greatest extent, covering 291 acres. Forty years later, in 1810, the park was divided by the construction of the Cheltenham to Evesham turnpike road, and the area west of the road was separated and sold before 1897. The area east of the road was used occasionally as Cheltenham’s racecourse from 1823, but its continuous development dates from 1898 and a change of owner.

Details of Prestbury Park in 1909 will be the starting point for a talk by Anthea Jones on the Lloyd George survey of land values.

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Cheltenham Racecourse Car Park, 1920

We are excited that Cheltenham Racecourse is to be our main venue for the conference.

The Racecourse is now famous for its Jump racing. The course was established in 1831 at its current venue, Prestbury Park, when flat races featured in the early meetings. It was not until several decades later, in 1898, that Steeplechasing moved to the present course from nearby Andoversford.

Cheltenham, 1920

Cheltenham Racecourse Car Park, 1920

[click on the photo to view larger image]

Today the Racecourse welcomes over 700,000 visitors each year. Although attendance figures may be have been lower, this photograph of the racecourse car park suggests that race meetings at Cheltenham during the 1920s were undoubtedly popular.

The photograph is just one of several aerial views of Cheltenham available from Britain from Above, home to the Aerofilms Collection, 1919-1953, one of the earliest and most significant collections of aerial photography of the UK.

Britain from Above will exhibiting at the conference so look at for more stunning local images!

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