Sunday, 17 June 2012

BHRS's centenary

One hundred years ago in November 1912 BHRS was founded by Dr Fowler and others to research and publish Bedfordshire's rich history.  Except for the years of the two world wars, the society has published a volume every year covering all manner of subjects and periods from Domesday to WWII.

The first event to mark the Society's centenary took place last week with a garden party at the home of the Society's President, Sir Sam Whitbread.  In a period of unpredictable weather - storms, gales and unseasonably low temperatures - the sun shone on the afternoon.  About 100 Society members and their friends attended.  We renewed friendships, chatted, took tea on the lawn and listened to a jazz group which included our secretary, Richard Smart. 

The speeches - only two - emphasised the immense amount of research and publishing that the Society has undertaken and the prospects for future work.  They also highlighted the close relationship between the Society and the Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Records Service (BLARS).  In 1913, the year following the establishment of BHRS, Dr Fowler set up the county record office- the first in the country - and was its first archivist.  Succeeding county archivists and their staff have contributed to, and been general editors of, the Society's volumes.   Today the relationship is as strong as ever.

Other events to mark the centenary will include the display in venues around the county of joint posters with BLARS; the completion of cataloguing Dr Fowler's library in its new venue (the University of Northampton Library); and a stimulating lecture following the AGM at Stockwood Park in Luton in September.

Bedfordshire Local History Association Conference: 9 June 2012

The annual get-together of Bedfordshire local historians took place on Saturday 9 June under the auspices of the umbrella organisation for local history societies in the county, Bedfordshire Local History Association.  It was hosted this year by Ampthill &District Archaeological and Local History Society and held in the Learning Zone at Poplars Garden Centre, Toddington. Over 90 people attended, representing some 20 local history organisations, as well as individuals.
They were treated to a diverse range of talks on topics including the fire at Wrest Park in 1916, “The Lost Hamlet of Wadelow”, “Art Deco Buildings in Luton” and the medieval wall paintingsat Chalgrave Church.  Martin Deacon brought us up-to-date with what Bedfordshire Archives has to offer and on the Centenary celebrations planned for 2013 by what was the first County Record Office in the country, established in 1913 by Dr.George Herbert Fowler, its first archivist.
Ruins of Houghton House near Ampthill, built in 1621
For me, the highlight was the illustrated talk on “Lost Houses of Bedfordshire” by leading Bedfordshire historian, Simon Houfe.  Not only did he show us pictures of some of these houses and tell us about the families who built them but analysed the various reasons which led to their demise.  In 1765 there were 60 substantial country houses in Bedfordshire; by the 1960s there were only 6 which had been built in the 18th century.  Reasons why they failed to survive ranged from decline in the income from the land around them on which they mainly relied, the vagaries of inheritance whereby they sometimes ended up in the hands of someone who preferred living elsewhere in the country, to the tremendous impact of the Great War of 1914-18 which led to the death of sons and heirs.  It was usually a case of the survival of the fittest. Death duties were the final blow to many.
Eggington House photographed about 1900
BLHA President, Martin Lawrence, summed up the conference and reminded us of various significant anniversaries being celebrated this year, especially the centenary of the setting up of our own Bedfordshire Historical Record Society, in 1912, again by Dr Fowler and others.
The annual BHLA conferences are always worth attending for the opportunity to meet like-minded local historians from around the county, most of whom one only sees once a year at this event.  It also reminds us of the great interest there is in the county in its history and of the contribution which local history societies can make in researching, publishing and enthusing to others about their unique locality.
This year, in addition to the presentations, it was worth attending, if for nothing else – and the food was very good! – for the opportunity, as a group, to visit Chalgrave Church [Grade 1 listed building, built c1300] and view the outstanding medieval wall paintings it contains which make this a real gem in the county.

Stuart Antrobus
Bedford Architectural, Archaeological and Local History Society.