Wednesday 19 June – Four Local Stories

Our June meeting saw something a bit different from our normal format. Four Group members each gave a short presentation on a local topic of interest to them – and hopefully to the audience too.

Frank and Ethel Colville (Mike Mills collection)

Roger Carnt started off with a story of two Chalford photographers, Charlotte Dover and Frank Colville who occupied the same photographic studio in Chalford in succession at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries. The studio (now Stephen’s Bridge Cottage) was variously known as Cadover (from Charlotte’s initials – C.A. Dover) or Spion Kop Studio (named after a Boer War defeat!).


Using census and Church Register entries and adverts from local papers and advertising publications of the time, Roger traced the personal and professional history of both photographers and their families. He than outlined the history of the studio building, with the changeover from Dover to Colville coming in 1906 when the business was sold for £70 and the studio was rented out along with it.  He also showed us a number of prints from scans that have been made from some of Colville’s glass negatives that survive (now in the possession of Martin Leech).

Bussage House of Mercy (Courtesy Museum in the Park)

Camilla Boon then continued the evening with the story of the Bussage House of Mercy. Founded in the 1850s by John Armstrong, Robert Suckling and Grace Poole, it was initially a penitentiary for “wayward women” to escape the life of poverty and (sometimes) prostitution into which they had sunk. By 1856, both the male founders had died, and Grace Poole was left to run the institution alone for many years. After her death aged 90, it was taken over by a Community of Sisters from Wantage, though the Vicars of Bussage – notably Herbert Barchard – were also involved.


Camilla traced the development of the institution from “penitentiary” to “Laundry” to “St Michael’s Home” using census entries, reports and old photos and plans. A large laundry facility was built at the rear of the building in the early twentieth century, to allow both for training of the girls in useful skills and the provision of a service locally that resulted in an income for the Home.  Camilla described her research in trying to trace the women in successive censuses after leaving the Home, which showed that some did indeed make it back into “normal” life.  Changing standards for residential homes in the middle of the twentieth century eventually resulted in the demise of the Home and its sale to a religious order. Today it is a Benedictine Cistercian Monastery.

Classroom in 1982 (Courtesy Bussage School)

Heather Collins then described her research into Bussage School for the Chapter in Hilltop and Valley, covering both the sources she used and some of the photos that others had shared with her. With photos of examples of school logbooks, admissions registers, Victorian age grant applications and HMI reports she described the types of documents she had found at Gloucestershire Archives and the National Archives, and the stories revealed by some of them. These included some interesting snippets on the relationship between the Vicar and the Headmaster and later between the Vicar and the Gloucestershire Education Committee!


Moving on to photos, Heather discussed the varied sources for these including past and present teachers at the school, scrapbooks kept by the school, photos shared on Facebook – and how a mystery photo was dated accurately thanks to a Facebook post – and the inevitable photo that would have gone in the book but turned up too late. No matter how much you think you have researched on a subject, there is always something more to find out.

Trains at Brimscombe Station (Mike Mills collection)

The evening was concluded by Peter Drover’s presentation “Disaster averted” the story of what almost became a terrible train disaster on the line between Sapperton and Chalford. Illustrated by pictures of the types of trains involved, the story of the excursion train to the Great Exhibition in London in 1851 gradually unfolded. Having left Chalford with 23 carriages, the train was accidentally split into two when a coupling failed, and the rearmost twelve carriages started rolling back down the incline from the Sapperton Tunnel towards the oncoming mail train which had left Brimscombe twenty minutes later.



The mail train was stopped by Thomas Gibbons, the railway policeman on duty, who felt that something was wrong though he could not say why.  He then heard a rumbling from the tunnel and realising what had happened, he ran back down the track to warn the mail train. The driver of the mail train, Henry Wilkinson managed to reverse away at sufficient speed that when the collision did come it was hardly noticeable and the train was in control all the way back to Brimscombe. Several people jumped from the moving carriages fearing the worst and were injured but everyone else was unharmed. In true Victorian fashion, the excursion train returned to Brimscombe, picked up its errant carriages and continued on to London! Gibbons and Wilkinson both received rewards, though with typical Victorian inequality, Wilkinson’s was substantially more than Gibbons.’

Wednesday 15 May – Katherine Parr: Gloucestershire’s Queen


A full house at the Church Rooms on the 15 May to hear Mike Bottomley talk about Katherine Parr, the sixth and surviving wife of Henry VIII.  Mike introduced his talk by reminding us what most of us had learned about Katherine at school – a middle-aged frumpy lady whose main role in life was as Henry’s nurse, bandaging his gammy leg. In the course of his research Mike has found her to be a very different person – younger, educated and altogether an amazing lady.  His aim over the course of his talk was to introduce us to this person.


Myles Coverdale from a 1533 portrait

Dressed in costume as Myles Coverdale, first translator of a Protestant Bible into English and Almoner to Katherine during her time at Sudeley Castle, Mike presented the story of her life in an engaging and entertaining style, accompanied by numerous video clips of “Katherine” (filmed in the gardens at Sudeley with actors in costume) reading her letters or narrating aspects of her story to the audience.


Mike (or Myles as we should probably call him!) started by recapping the well known story of Henry VIII and his first five wives, along with some comments on Tudor fashions in hoods, with both English and French hood designs passed around for us to try on. Katherine meanwhile was born into the Parr family of Kendal (but by then living in Blackfriars, London), wealthy but not noble, and was well educated along with her sister Anne and brother William, unusual for a woman in Tudor times. Her first marriage ended in widowhood when her husband Edward Burgh died only four years after the marriage. She was quickly married again to John Neville, Lord Latimer, a step up into the senior nobility for her family. Latimer was involved in putting down a northern uprising against Henry’s dissolution of the monasteries, during which Snape Castle, with Katherine inside was taken by the rebels and Katherine was held hostage. Shortly after this she was again widowed, but as Latimer left her all his money she now found herself as a wealthy independent lady at the age of 31.



Portrait of Queen Katherine

Her independence meant Katherine was able to please herself to an extent and she chose to come to Court and join her sister Anne, who had been a lady in waiting to all of Henry’s Queens, and her brother William, whose marriage had failed disastrously and was to end in divorce. On arrival at Court, Katherine met and fell in love with Thomas Seymour (brother of Queen Jane Seymour) and might have married him, except that she came to the attention of the King at about the same time. Henry VIII was not a man to say no to and eventually Katherine became wife number six.  She was still only 31 at this point and not at all the middle-aged lady we tend to have in mind.


On departing for his last military campaign in France, Henry made Katherine his regent to rule in his absence, a clear indication of how much he respected her intellect and judgement.  With the resources of the Court at her disposal Katherine became a scholar, leaning towards the “new” religious reform (as Protestantism was then known), employing a Latin teacher and other scholars who were considered to be at the “cutting edge” of the new thinking. She started to translate and then to write prayers and books on religious matters although these were published anonymously while Henry was still alive.


As he approached his own death, Henry began to turn back toward the Catholic faith that he had forsaken and he and Katherine started to disagree on religious matters. After an unfortunate disagreement in public, Henry was persuaded that the Queen was acting against him and signed a warrant for her arrest for heresy. This would most likely have resulted in her execution if it had been carried out, but Katherine was warned and managed to get to Henry first and persuade him that her only reason for debating with him was to divert him from the pain of his illness. They were reconciled and the guards trying to arrest Katherine were sent away by an angry Henry.


Cover page of Lamentation of a Sinner. Folger Shakespeare Library, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

On Henry’s death, Katherine was left as the wealthiest woman in the land and was also free to marry Thomas Seymour who now returned from where he had been living overseas. They married in secret only four months after the King’s death which caused a scandal at Court. Thomas was in a constant power struggle with his brother Edward over who controlled the young King Edward VI during his minority, and there were even rows over Katherine’s jewels.


Katherine’s third book and the first to be openly published under her own name – The Lamentation of a Sinner – was published in 1547, making her the first English female author to have a book published under her own name. After three childless marriages, Katherine unexpectedly became pregnant in 1547 and moved to Sudeley Castle near Winchcombe for the “confinement” and birth. Around this time there was a scandal around an alleged relationship between Thomas Seymour (aged 41) and his ward the Lady Elizabeth (the future Queen Elizabeth I) aged just 14, which resulted in Elizabeth’s banishment by Katherine.


Katherine’s only child Mary was born in 1548, but Katherine succumbed to what was known as “childbed fever” and died less than a week after the birth. Her funeral service, the first for an English King or Queen to be held in English was at Sudeley and her body was interred in St Mary’s Chapel there. Unfortunately, the tomb was disturbed when Sudeley was destroyed at the end of the Civil War and after its “rediscovery” in the late 18th century her lead coffin was several times moved, opened and desecrated. Finally in the 1860s after Sudeley had become a private residence, Katherine’s remains were collected and interred in the beautiful marble tomb which may still be seen today by visitors to St Mary’s Church, Sudeley.



Kaatherine’s Tomb at Sudeley Castle Nilfanion, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

As for the other protagonists of Katherine’s story, both Thomas and Edward Seymour were executed for treason, Katherine’s daughter Mary vanishes from the history books from the age of 18 months and probably died young.  Myles Coverdale, the narrator of our tale, went through several periods of exile due to his strong Protestant convictions and eventually died in his bed aged around 80.


In conclusion Mike and Myles succeeded admirably in their mission to convince us that Katherine was not at all the middle-aged nurse that we were taught about in school, but a fascinating and educated woman with her own place in English history by right.


For more information on visiting Sudeley Castle see here





Wednesday 17 April – Slides from the Michael Mills Collection and Beyond


Standing room only for our annual slide show, which this year also featured photos sent to us by others or from later collections as well as from the original Michael Mills collection. An eclectic selection presented by Camilla Boon, Roger Carnt and Heather Collins, ranging from general and aerial views of the villages, through schools, railways, snow and floods to village events from plays to the Ashmeads fair.  We hope there was something for everyone and that those who recognised themselves or their relatives in a picture enjoyed the experience!


Chalford Folk Dance team 1930s
View over Wiselands Mill pond Toadsmoor
Interior of France Congregational Church from the gallery








View over Chalford Station to Rack Hill





Wednesday 20 March – Gloucester Cathedral, a Royal Abbey

Picture of Gloucester Cathedral


John Dawson, who is an official Cathedral guide gave a fascinating and informative talk on “Gloucester Cathedral, a Royal Abbey” at our March meeting. John started by noting that you can see the Cathedral everywhere you go in Gloucester and its iconic tower is visible for miles on every approach to the city.


The first Abbey was built on a neighbouring site inside the Roman Walls in the seventh century by King Osric, whose statue is in the South porch. The first Abbess, Kyneburga is also commemorated in the south aisle with a modern statue, which is carrying a bronze crook manufactured by Pangolin Editions of Chalford.


It was William the Conqueror who built a new Abbey in the location of the present building. Following the traditions of his Saxon predecessors he held three Witans or Courts at London, Winchester and Gloucester and as only Gloucester lacked a grand Abbey, he decided to have one built. The Chapter House was built first and within its walls William gave the order for the Domesday Book to be prepared. The foundation stone of what became St Peter’s Abbey and is now Gloucester Cathedral was laid in 1089 and much of the original structure is still visible today, in particular the crypt, the east end and the great pillars of the nave which still show the traces of discolouration from a fire in the twelfth century.


The location of the new cathedral caused problems almost at once as it had been inadvertently built over the filled-in ditch from the Roman walls. The building was plagued with issues in its first hundred years, the wooden vault caught fire, the walls over the old ditch started to collapse, the south tower fell down and the main tower burned down, was rebuilt with a spire and then that fell down. Eventually, early rebuilding in stone, the addition of supporting buttresses and the remodelling of the west end resulted in largely the same floor plan that we still see today. The current tower was modelled on the one at Chipping Camden and contains the bell Great Peter which at just under three tonnes is the largest medieval bell in Britain.


Gloucester has a number of Royal connections. Robert, Duke of Normandy, eldest son of the Conqueror who was dispossessed and imprisoned by his brother Henry I is buried here. Henry III the son of King John was hurriedly crowned here as it was the nearest suitable building after the death of his father. Edward II, who was imprisoned and foully murdered in Berkeley Castle is buried here in an ornate tomb raised by his son Edward III who also had extensive rebuilding in the new Gothic Perpendicular style carried out in his father’s memory.


The magnificent Lady Chapel was added in 1450 and the cloisters – made famous worldwide as part of Hogwarts for the Harry Potter films – were also finished in the 1400s. Henry VIII came to Gloucester on a royal progress in 1535 and visited the Abbey, which was consequently spared from the worst excesses of Thomas Cromwell’s reformers a few years later.


Since the Reformation Gloucester Cathedral has continued to play a rich part in the history of the area and the country. During the Civil War, Parliamentarian troops used the tower as a lookout point during the siege of Gloucester. Edward Jenner who was born in Berkeley and is regarded as the inventor of modern vaccination is commemorated with a statue in the nave. The Victorians carried out extensive renovations, especially within the Quire. In WW2 the Coronation chair was brought here from London and safely stored in the crypt. In 2015 Gloucester became the first Church of England Diocese to have a female Bishop.


Space does not allow us to recount all the amazing detail that John presented on the evening, so we highly recommend that if you are in Gloucester, you visit for yourself and maybe take a guided tour.


Links for further information


More on the heritage and architecture of the Cathedral


Guided tours of the Cathderal



Wednesday 21 February – Industrial Heritage of the Forest of Dean

Cinderford Iron Works


Dr Ray Wilson, a retired nuclear physicist who was the Secretary of the Gloucestershire Society of Industrial Archaeology for over 40 years gave a fascinating and informative talk at our February meeting on the industrial heritage of the Forest of Dean.


Ray began by briefly introducing us to the geography, geology and history of the Forest of Dean, a Royal hunting forest since Saxon times, which is now partly in public ownership and partly owned by the Crown. He also discussed some of the ancient traditions and offices such as the Verderers’ Court at Speech House and the right of those born in the “Hundred of St Briavels” to act as Free Miners which still exist today.


Iron, coal and stone are thought to have been mined or quarried in the Forest since Roman times. In their heyday these industries employed thousands and some of the sites, such as Cinderford Ironworks (developed by the South Wales Crawshay iron masters) and Foxes Bridge Colliery just outside Cinderford were surprisingly extensive.

Foxes Bridge Colliery


Through a series of his photos, Ray showed us how glimpses of the Forest’s industrial heritage can be seen all around the area if you know what to look for. Examples include vertical mine shafts or horizonal adits dug by miners into the hillside, ventilation chimneys for underground mines, furnace buildings, former stone quarries, remains of tramway or railway lines used for transporting the heavy product, tunnels, bridges, and viaducts.


Signs are also visible in non-industrial buildings which have often survived the demolition of the Works they once supported, such as Managers’ houses or industrial housing for workers (unusual in Gloucestershire), and also in Newland Church, dubbed “The Cathedral of the Forest”, which houses the famous Freeminer brass.

Free Miner brass
By Dooshy68 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Creative Copyright Link


Among the more important sites mentioned by Ray during the talk and well worth a visit are the following:


Dark Hill Iron Works. Developed by the Mushet family, father and son David and Robert, where they carried out secret experiments to improve the steel-making process. Robert discovered the secret to improving the existing Bessemer steel process, which was subsequently exploited commercially by Henry Bessemer, who eventually agreed to pay him a pension of £300 per year rather than see him living in poverty. Today only low walls and the outlines of tramways and roadways from the works are left on this site and the neighbouring Titanic steelworks.


Bixhead stone quarry and Bickslade tramway. There is still one working quarry here, but there are also extensive abandoned quarry workings and some lovely walks up the old tramways. These were originally horse-drawn tramways, but most were eventually developed into narrow gauge railways. Ray also described how the railways developed across the Forest as a transport network to take the coal to the ironworks and further afield to the River Severn for onward transport by boat.


Lydney Harbour. Coal from the Forest was brought here by railway and loaded onto small boats. Although partly fenced off at the moment for safety reasons the harbour and walk along the adjacent foreshore still shows signs of the former activity, with some remains of old boats visible at low tide. The building of the Severn railway bridge allowing the coal to be taken in wagons direct to Sharpness effectively signalled the end of Lydney as a coal port. Ray also described the Severn Bridge disaster of 1960 when two barges collided with one another and then with the bridge, bringing down two full spans and killing some of the boats’ crews. Today little is left of the bridge, though the tower of the swing section over the canal still remains.


Whitecliff iron furnace. This relatively well-preserved building used for smelting iron using coke as a fuel was in fact not a very successful site, which is why it probably survives today instead of having been rebuilt successively as some of the other sites have been.

Whitecliff Ironworks
by Obscurasky – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Creative Copyright link


Gunn’s Mill Furnace. Originally a 17th century blast furnace powered by charcoal and then a paper mill it has fallen into a very poor condition. The Forest of Dean Buildings Preservation Trust have recently been granted money by Historic England to allow for restoration and preservation.


Ray also briefly mentioned other local industries such as brick making and printing, which had grown up to support the main Forest industries and concluded with a mention of the Dean Heritage Centre in a former mill which today is a museum with extensive displays.





Links for those interested in further reading on the Forest of Dean and on industrial archaeology in Gloucestershire.


Gloucestershire Society for Industrial Archaeology https://gsia.org.uk/


Dean Heritage Centre https://www.deanheritagecentre.com/


David and Robert Mushet https://www.visitdeanwye.co.uk/explore/famous-people/david-and-robert-mushet


The “Cathedral of the Forest” https://www.allsaintsnewland.com/


Gunns Mill preservation project https://www.fodbpt.org/gunns-mill


Whitecliff ironworks https://www.visitdeanwye.co.uk/things-to-do/whitecliff-ironworks-p1356061


Free miners in the Forest https://www.forestfreeminers.org/



Wednesday 17 January 2024

interior of building


John Peters gave a fascinating and varied talk describing his experiences as a volunteer photographer for English Heritage (now Historic England), helping to compile the photographs of buildings used on their Listed Building website. Having started the project in 1999, Historic England had to appeal to volunteers to help them complete it. John was provided with a list of “targets”, many of which were not whole buildings at all but included structures such as gate posts, bridges and churchyard monuments.


John described for us many of his favourite assignments including Daglingworth Church, which dates from Saxon times, and the “step pyramid graves” in St Laurence Churchyard Stroud and urged us to go and see both of these if we had not already done so.


He also entertained us with stories of some of his more difficult assignments including houses where the owners refused him access, the building that was almost imposisble to photograph as it was in such a narrow street and the various “technically illegal” photos he was asked to take of jails and schools.

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