Winchester Women Graduates

British Federation of Women Graduates


March 2019

Dr Alex Armstrong's  took members on a guided tour of Magna Carta and then a general tour of Salisbury Cathedral. 


 February 2019

Georgette Miller gave a presentation at the University on Bletchley Park during WW2,  particularly concentrating on the women who worked there: Enigmatic Women at Bletchley Park.


November 2018 

Dr Claire Tomas of RHCH spoke on Microbiology and Public Health.


October 2018 

Dr Alex Armstrong's talk on The Accidental  Archbishop and the Questionable King 

Dr Armstrong, a guide at Salisbury Cathedral, has made a special study of how Magna Carta emerged from a lawless and rebellious time.

His notes appear below.


Stephen Langton [1157-1228] had three careers: he was an academic, an Archbishop, and a statesman.

1170 - 1207: At the leading University of Paris, he organised the books of the bible into chapters: he was a stellar academic, a friend of the future Pope Innocent III.

1207- 1215: In 1207, Pope Innocent III pitchforked his friend Langton into the turmoil of King

John’s England: he appointed Langton as Archbishop of Canterbury, albeit in exile.

When Langton returned to England in 1213, many Barons were on the verge of rebellion, due to King John’s misrule and punitive taxation. John was desperate to regain his territories in France, but in 1214 he suffered a critical defeat at Bouvines.

By 1215, the Barons were in open revolt, but they lacked a clear leader. Stephen Langton

mediated between the disparate baronial factions, resulting in them uniting around a manifesto: The Articles of the Barons.

Facing defeat, John turned to Langton to negotiate terms and on June 15th 1215, Magna Carta was granted by the King. Peace reigned, but not for long…

In August 1215, the Pope changed sides, horrified at the undermining of royal and papal authority, He recalled Langton to Rome in disgrace, and King John revoked Magna Carta.

England descended into Civil War, but Magna Carta survived as part of the peace settlement of 1217. Langton returned to England as Archbishop and was crucial in embedding Magna Carta into English Law in 1225.

So what did Langton achieve? In Magna Carta, there are clauses underpinning justice, the rule of law and the independence of the church in England - and the bible is still divided into chapters.

Alex Armstrong


September 2018

Research into Inequalities in science, Technology, Engineering & Maths

Eleanor Scott-Allen (in her own words)

We've known for several decades now that there are not women enough in science but we've yet to fully comprehend the complex reasons why. Throughout my research, I was struck by one statistic in particular: Girls now outperform boys in STEM subjects at GSCE but boys enter higher STEM education at almost three times the rate. Only 24% of the UK's STEM workforce are women, leaving us unprepared for the future. I recently presented a talk on my undergraduate and postgraduate research focused on exploring one of the root causes, stereotypes, and how social psychology can be used to change those same stereotypes for the better. The first study looked at gender representation in BBC science documentaries, putting a microscope to the UK's unique media context and showing that a gender gap of 3 men to every 1 woman exists in their educational programming. Through my talk, I explained the psychological impacts of representation (or a lack thereof) on young girls as they choose their future careers.

But there are also barriers that continue into the workplace. Women leave STEM careers at a higher rate than men, leaving us to wonder how these structural issues can be addressed. I turned to social psychology and Social Identity Theory. Using the idea that scientists share a communal, social identity, I was able to explore what types of people could be influential in encouraging endorsement of new group norms. This has been shown to leave to long term belief change such as challenging stereotypes. I conducted an experiment which explored whether prototypical, the degree to which a person embodies the ideals of a social group, could play such a role in stereotype change by increasing endorsement of a new workplace equality policy. I found that prototypicality, regardless of gender, significantly increased agreement and endorsement of these policies. These findings are still in need of further study but prototypicality could offer new ways to create more inclusive work environments that increase retention of women in scientific fields.

June 2018

Talk by Freda Bates

Our very own member Freda Bates, who is a Blue Badge Guide, took us on a virtual walk from Waterloo to The Aldwych, pointing out along the way all sorts of things that one would not notice in the ordinary course of events, because most of us simply don’t look up. For instance, when entering or exiting Waterloo Station, who takes time to stop and stare up at the magnificent frontage, which is a war memorial to those railway workers who perished in the first world war? Who would know that Westminster Bridge is painted Green because that is the colour associated with the House of Commons whilst Lambeth Bridge is painted red, which is the colour of the House of Lords?

At the end of Westminster Bridge is a statue of Boudicca wielding her spear in her chariot with lethal blades projecting from the wheels (which Freda told us were not authentic at the time). The horses are rearing up on their hind legs, but notice that neither Boudicca nor her daughters are holding any reins! The statue was commissioned at the Great Exhibition, but was not erected until 1902. Looking back to the east side of the Thames, one sees the former County Hall, which was sold to the Japanese after Ken Livingstone’s time as Mayor of London and the London Eye, which differs from other such wheels, being cantilevered. Admire also the South Bank Lion, sculpted in white Coade stone, a ceramic form of terracotta invented by Mrs. Coade in the eighteenth century.

Outside Parliament is a statue of Oliver Cromwell by Hamo Thorneycroft, sculptor of King Alfred in Winchester. The recently unveiled statue of Millicent Fawcett, who was a prominent suffragist, is the only woman memorialised in Parliament Square. She is holding a banner with the legend Courage calls to courage everywhere. Proceeding up Whitehall there is, of course, the Cenotaph, and close to it a relatively new monument unveiled by the Queen two days after the 7/7 bombings. It is dedicated to the Women of WWII but bizarrely shows no women – only empty uniforms.

At the end of Whitehall stands Admiralty Arch. Only royalty is allowed to use the central arch. The Mall, which leads from it up to Buckingham Palace, is paved in red stone. The arch was erected by Edward VII in memory of his mother. A quirky sculpted life-sized nose has been placed on the wall of one of the arches. Admiralty Arch is now a luxury hotel. Next we come to Trafalgar Square with Landseer’s lions. These superceded an earlier commission for a group of four representing Courage, Determination, War and Peace, now to be found at Saltaire near Bradford. Oh and apparently Hitler planned to take Nelson’s column to Berlin after he’d won the Second World War!

Proceeding along the Strand we come across a statue of Charles I on horseback, sculpted by Le Sueur, which has been there since 1675. All measurements of distance from London are taken from this spot. On the Strand corner is a round police box in the form of a stone lantern which originally contained a telephone automatically connecting with Scotland Yard. According to Freda it is where the street cleaners now keep their brooms! Behind the church of Saint Martin in the Fields is a sculpture of Oscar Wilde by Maggie Hambling with the famous quotation we are all lying in the gutter but some of us are looking at the stars. Finally we come to the Savoy Hotel built by Richard D’Oyley Carte next to his theatre, of the same name, where the Gilbert & Sullivan operas were presented. It was the first hotel to be lit by electricity and to have en suite bathrooms and lifts. It is also unique in that it is the only place in the whole country where the taxis drive in and out on the right. This was so that the hotel guests could alight on the same side as the driver – presumably to arrive safely on the pavement and facilitate the giving of a tip. 

April 2018

Talk by Gloria Vessey: Advocates for children with disabilities and life-limiting conditions.

Gloria Vessey started out as an interpreter after graduating, then at the age of thirty changed track in order to study for the Bar, specialising in employment, company and competition law as well as human rights.  The latter led to her working almost exclusively for the rights of disabled children.  800,000 children under 16 in the UK are living with some kind of disability, which may be physical and/or mental, and which can severely affect their chances of having an adequate education – something that most of us take for granted.

Nearly one hundred percent of these children are living at home and putting a severe strain on family members and household budgets.  Gloria set up a charity whereby people like herself will advocate without charge on behalf of a child’s parents in the courts, in schools and with Local Education Authorities, all of which can be reluctant to spend money on improving the lives of these children.

The statistics are frightening: 40% of disabled children are living in poverty. 1,800 babies are born every year with cerebral palsy. The number of children born with Downs Syndrome has risen –as has the number of premature babies (who are more likely than full-term babies to have disabilities).  Ironically, the latter are surviving because of technological and medical advances.  School budgets are being squeezed and schools are becoming more results-driven, which in turn means that they are being more selective about their intake.  Mainstream schools have a budget for special educational needs, but sometimes they use that money for other purposes.  Many of the schools designated specifically for children with special needs are closing.

The Advocate has to take into account the views of parents, teachers, health professionals, and social workers.  He or she must be able to remain calm under pressure, not ask for the impossible, and be aware of what is going on behind the scenes.  He or she must be empathetic, calm under pressure, unemotional, flexible, polite - to name but a few of the qualities mentioned by Gloria.  Gloria’s motto is never give up!

March 2018

Talk by Chris Chandler: Green Motoring

The Committee on climate change has said that 60% of new cars and vans must be electric by 2030 to meet carbon targets cost-effectively.  A fascinating and optimistic talk by Chris Chandler gave us insights into progress towards this goal.  Chris is based in Portsmouth and is Principal Consultant at Lex Autolease; his specialist areas of knowledge include sustainability and vehicle technologies.  He currently oversees the largest plug-in vehicle fleet in the UK and has won awards for his work in the industry.

One of the biggest drivers for electric vehicles is the environmental cost of current fossil fuel energy.  We need to be producing energy from wind, solar hydro and geothermal sources.  The efficiencies of petrol and diesel engines are only 35% to 40% compared to electric engines and serious issues over air quality are a major health concern - in 2017 one street in London reached its annual pollution limit in just one month.   In the UK several cities (including Southampton) have clean air plans, whereby drivers whose vehicles don't have clean emissions can be charged.  Chris was proud to be able to say that 45% of BAE Systems' vehicles, one of Lex Autolease's major clients, are zero emission.

The Independent reported on a recent survey which found that London is the region where 56% of people are most likely to be happy to buy an electric car, compared with drivers in Scotland and the East Midlands, where the people are most reluctant to do so (just 28% were in favour).  A survey commissioned by the Institute of the Motor Industry found that nearly one third of those asked said they would never consider buying an electric vehicle.  Clearly there is a great deal of public mistrust and confusion which people like Chris  are helping to dispel by demonstrating the facts about EV's.   Last year just half of one percent of car purchases was an EV, and it seems that greater incentives are needed to persuade people to change to vehicles with lower carbon emissions, although the government has committed to keeping vehicle tax lower for ultra-low emission vehicles.  It has also said that all vehicles must be electric or hybrid by 2040, rather later than some other administrations around the world.

Until the roll-out of fast charging points throughout the country is achieved, hybrid vehicles which significantly extend the range of EV's are more popular.  However, charging technology is progressing fast, and there are now methods of different rates of charge, which may answer the issue of the amount of plug-in time needed.  Availability of secure charging points is another concern, especially for those without private off-street parking.  One idea is to have street lamps with charge points, which would avoid taking cables across pavements.  Clever technology would mean that the charge point would communicate with the vehicle, ensuring secure operation and payment.  In future you will be able to recharge some cars in 5-10 minutes.

The size, efficiency and lifespan of EV batteries was another critical issue.  Batteries charged by ice can extend driving range and have other significant environmental benefits (during  off-peak low-energy cost periods, ice battery storage systems use copper coils filled with refrigerant to create ice).  Vehicle batteries would last around 12 years and could then be recycled into battery packs.  Together with the future introduction of the smart grid, utility providers would benefit from reduced peak load demand, thus avoiding the cost of buying peak wholesale power or (eventually) having to build new power stations.

Chris touched briefly on the development of autonomous driving, with vehicles having five different levels of driver-assist, although as yet no completely autonomous vehicle has been produced.  There have been serious incidents during trials on public roads; the first pedestrian fatality involving autonomous driving occurred recently in the US, when a woman was wheeling her bike across a road in the dark and the car did not recognise it as a hazard.  Functions may include remote parking with no driver inside, assisted driving (when you are drifting off it wakes you up!), partial automation such as lane-assist, fully automated driving, which only works on motorways, right up to driver supervision, the most contentious and intractable issue of all. 

Reading Group January 2018

On 29th January a small group met to discuss a wide variety of topics and forms of writing.

We started with two poems by F A Fanthorpe: “Not my best side”, is humorous piece in which St George, the dragon and the fair maiden speak in turn. It challenges the traditional stereotypes: not all dragons are nasty, not all women are dependent on men to save them from whatever and not all men are brave and heroic. The second one was one of her Christmas poems, which was simple and moving.

Then we moved on to modern novels by interesting women writers, rising stars you might say.  Firstly we were told about Rachel Seiffert’s “ A Boy in Winter” set  in the Ukraine in 1941 a moving story about a woman who befriends two starving and lost boys and takes them along with her as she treks back to her village.  Secondly we heard about Sue Monk’s “The Invention of Wings”; some were familiar with her earlier novel “The Secret Life of Bees”.  Lastly we were interested to hear that the TV version of “The Miniaturist” very closely followed the original book by Jessie Burton set in Amsterdam in the seventeenth century, something that happens only rarely.

Lastly we had readings from Simon Armitage’s translation of Homer’s “Odyssey”.  This is notable for the use of language as Armitage, like Wordsworth uses the “common language of men”, very colloquial and often amusing, but with touches of pathos too.  The epic of the ten-years-long struggle for Odysseus to reach home is told in play format and often in flashbacks. It is a real page-turner.

Rory Haigh


November 2017

Bishop’s Waltham –  talk by Tony Kippenburger

The village was originally called simply Waldham from the Saxon words - wald meaning a wood and ham meaning a settlement. It only became known as Bishops’ Waldham in the 12th century when Winchester Bishop Henry of Blois, brother of King Stephen, built first a church, followed by a castle and finally a palace there. Before that there had been a Saxon Minster, but the site of that is unknown. Henry of Blois was also responsible for the building of Wolvesey Palace in Winchester and Merdon castle (which is near Hursley). He also developed the big fishpond north of the village, which has since been bisected by the road to Winchester. [Fishponds were a necessity in those days before refrigeration was invented and when the only religion was the Roman Catholic faith].

Bishops’ Waltham later became a thriving market town and an administrative centre. King Alfred had earlier built protected towns, called burghs, each with its own armed force and mint, all within twenty miles of each other. Waldham, as it was then known, enjoyed the status of a royal burgh. When the Vikings arrived in 1001, by sailing up the river Hamble, they attacked and burned the town. However, it rose from the ashes to become the tenth largest settlement in Hampshire, according to the Domesday Book (1086), which records that the town had a population of around 450, which in those days meant that it was a large settlement. It was recorded as having 115 households, 37 plough teams (eight oxen per team), a deer park, two churches and a priest. There were 483 settlements in Hampshire at that time. 

October 2017

Madame Vionnet  talk by Nicky Sowter

Nicky Sowter trained as pattern cutter at the London College of Fashion, where she learned to create clothes by draping fabric on a mannequin, just as Madame Vionnet (French couturier) had done in the early part of the twentieth century.  Nicky worked as a pattern cutter and toiliste for many years before becoming a lecturer in fashion.  Whilst working at the University of Bath, where one of the subjects studied is Fashion, she realised the importance of the study of clothing to inspire and teach future generations of designers.  She was able to handle the two Vionnet dresses which had belonged to Lady Foley and were on display in the Bath Museum of Fashion.   She researched the life of Lady Foley and her choice of Vionnet dresses, which led to her basing her Master’s degree on Vionnet’s concept of creating harmony between a woman’s clothes and her body.

Madame Vionnet, 1876-1975, came from a humble background and lost her mother early on.  At the age of eleven she became an apprentice seamstress and was working for eleven hours a day for a pittance.  She married young and had a child who died at the age of one.  She then left her husband and moved to England where she could make a new start.  After working as a laundress at the Royal Holloway hospital for the insane in Surrey, she moved to London where she found work in the couture industry.  She returned to Paris in 1900 to work for the Callot sisters.  She was finally able to open her own couture house in the Rue de Rivoli in 1912.

After the end of WW1 she opened her Grand Salon in the Avenue de Montaigne.  By 1936 she had 1,200 employees, whom she treated very well, by providing in-house child-care facilities and paid holidays, so she was way ahead of her time in that respect. Dresses were shown by mannequins every morning and clients could come back in the afternoon to order and be measured.  The difference between her dresses and those of other contemporary couturiers was that hers were cut on the bias, which gave them a degree of elasticity, which in turn meant that they enhanced the natural contours of her clients, whereas Chanel’s straight-cut clothes eliminated them.  She made clothes that emphasised her clients’ best features and disguised their faults.  She invented the half-scale wooden mannequin which was used for the toile (a test replica of a dress but made of a cheap fabric).

Her garments were later recognised as works of art and can be seen today at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the Bowes Museum in County Durham and in the Bath Museum of Fashion

 September 2017

Talk by David Nevile, former Queen’s Messenger

When David Neville left the army in 1985 after thirty years’ service, he wondered what he was going to do with the rest of his life, as he was still of working age. A friend told him about the Queen’s Messengers, who travelled the world carrying diplomatic bags. He decided to apply and was interviewed by a board of five people (including two from MI5 and MI6) in the cabinet office. The job took him all over the world, wherever there was a British Embassy, including Ulan Bator, to reach which he had to spend two days on a train and where the outside temperature was minus 52 degrees. He was in Peking at the time of the Tiananmen Square massacre, where he saw streets running with blood and bodies lying all over the square. He was caught up in hurricane Gilbert in Jamaica in 1988 and spent two days closeted in his hotel room on the seventeenth floor. It was pitch black outside and he was actually able to see the eye of the storm.

Apart from two trips, he never knew what was in the diplomatic bag. Once it was some bones that had been found in the USSR and were suspected of being those of Tsar Nicholas Romanov. They were to undergo a DNA test in the UK to see whether they matched the DNA of Prince Philip, who is descended from the Romanovs. The other time was on a trip to Mexico when he carried letters of sympathy from the Queen and Margaret Thatcher to the President after the 1985 earthquake. Every time he flew he had two seats on the plane – one for himself and one for his bag. He wore a tie that had on it a crown and a silver greyhound. In answer to a question from the floor he replied that he was never armed and never threatened. He made 78 journeys in total during his time as a Queen’s Messenger. He showed us a pile of about twenty or more special passports, which bore the words Queen’s Messenger on the front.

February 2017

Talk by Dr Brian Collins based on the Bishop of Winchester’s household account roll for half of one particular year, 1393, during the reign of Richard II.

The Bishop in question was William of Wykeham (present-day Wickham), famous for founding Winchester College and New College, Oxford. He lived until the age of eighty at a time when average life expectancy was thirty-five years. His home would have been Wolvesey Palace, now in ruins. The account roll, which is written in Latin, is made out of 21 separate parchment membranes sewn together with invisible seams. It measures 15 metres in length and 35 centimetres across. It mentions 103 different places and the names of 437 different people. The latter were people employed by the Bishop and the guests who ate at the Bishop’s table in the course of those six months from April to September and the former were places from which the food they ate came. The handwriting is the same throughout, and would have been that of the Bishop’s chief steward.

The food came from the Bishop’s many estates: there were eighty manors and each manor consisted of several bailiwicks. The Manors were not just in present-day Hampshire, e.g. Bishop’s Waltham, Highclere, Twyford, Bishop’s Sutton, and Bentley, but also in Witney, Farnham, Wargrave and Downton. The produce included meat from many sources: rabbits, duck, geese, swans, pheasant, sheep and deer; and fish, including herring and salmon. There were big fishponds at Farnham, which still exist today. They ate lunch and dinner every day, except on Friday, when there was no dinner, and of course, no meat. They would have brewed their own ale, but wine was bought from wine merchants who would have imported it from the continent. Everything that came into and went out of the kitchen was meticulously recorded on the account roll, as well as the names of those who came to eat at the Bishop’s table. During the six months covered by this particular roll the Bishop entertained 788 guests, some of them on more than one occasion. Guests included judges, fellows of New College, architects working on changes to the fabric of the cathedral, the richest merchant in Winchester, newly ordained clergy as well as King Richard II and his queen. The Bishop spent the modern equivalent of £28,000 on two banquets for the king.


Winchester Geese, a history of prostitution in London 1107 – 1546 - talk by Tony Kippenberger December 2016

Background It was the Greeks who first regulated prostitution in 60 BC. Solon, an Athenian statesman legislated against political, economic and moral decline. Victims of cuckoldry and rape were given the right to kill the perpetrator. Legalisation of brothels was the obvious way forward, and brothels became a source of tax revenue.
In Rome slaves from all over the empire were sold into brothels. Prostitution was rife in all areas: cookhouses, lodging houses, inns, bakeries. It was the Romans who brought prostitution into this country, where it took hold in towns and military camps. After their arrival in London it soon became a busy port and brothels sprang up everywhere. They left in around 400 AD and were replaced by an invasion of Saxons – “whore” is a saxon word. Saxons were followed by Danes and in 1016 Canute became the first king of a union of Denmark, east Norway and England.

Southwark In 1106 Bishop Gifford of Winchester was given land on the south bank of the Thames in Southwark where he started building a palace which he named Winchester House. Henry of Blois bought the land around it in the 1140’s and it was known as The Liberty of the Bishops of Winchester. The Winchester Geese was the name given to the prostitutes who began to proliferate in the area. The brothels were known as stewhouses and the owners of these house were known as stewholders. By the time Matilda, daughter of Henry of Blois. married the Holy Roman Emperor, Winchester had become the richest See north of Milan, partly because of the prevalence of brothels and taverns in the area from which the Bishop earned a sizeable income in tax.

In 1161, during the reign of Henry II, thirty-nine rules were introduced, called the Ordinances, to be observed by the stewholders and prostitutes of Southwark. Stewholders were not brothel-keepers as such - they derived no income from their tenant’s activities other than the rent of a room. In other words, they were landlords. There were hefty fines and the punishment of ducking for those prostitutes who disobeyed the rules. They were required to stay off the streets between eight am and 11 pm on Holy Days and on days when parliament was sitting. No whores were allowed to solicit if pregnant or afflicted by gonorrhoea (syphilis had not yet reached England’s shores). No food or drink was allowed to be served by a stewholder. There was to be no cursing or blasphemy, and perhaps, strangest of all, no whore was to wear an apron. (It is possible that the purpose of this was to distinguish them from other women). No stewholder was allowed to lend more than one shilling and sixpence to one of his tenants. Thus Southwark was established as an authorised district of prostitution.


October 2016 Talk by Christel Moor on The Hegg Hoffet Fund for Displaced Women Graduates

The Hegg Hoffet Fund for Displaced Women Graduates evolved in the aftermath of the first world war, albeit under a different name, led by a trio of women, one English, one American and one Canadian.  Its aim was to help women whose graduate or postgraduate studies had been disrupted by war and subsequent displacement. It later became the IFUW (International Federation of University Women, now known as Graduate Women International) Emergency Fund (later called the Relief Fund) to help graduate women who had been deprived of the right to work, and in many cases, the right to reside, in their native countries.  Finally in 1968 it took on the name of its long-term convener, Mme Blanche Hegg Hoffet of Switzerland, who was particularly responsible for raising money and distributing assistance during and after the Second World War to graduate women survivors of the prison camps.

In 1939 the Australian and New Zealand Federations offered a new life and, in the case of Australia, citizenship to women graduates who had been the victims of pogroms.  The French Federation helped graduate women refugees from the Spanish civil war, as did the Mexican Federation.  The Canadian and Swedish Federations sent clothing.  In the late fifties the German Federation helped women graduates from Hungary and other Eastern European countries.

 Nowadays many of those being helped are from African countries.  In order to qualify for financial aid the women graduates have to have accepted asylum status or have “the right to remain” in their host country, and have to be able to show evidence of having been awarded a degree.  Some of them have been victims of political or gender-based persecution.

 As Convener, it is Christel’s job to receive applications for financial help and to verify the applicant’s credentials.  Nowadays this is all done by email and can involve more than forty emails per applicant.  She also has to be conferring with the other members of the committee.  Very often the Fund is giving money to pay for language courses.   Christel gave examples of several women graduates - refugees from Ethiopia, Afghanistan, Russia, Sudan now living in Canada, Australia, Switzerland, Egypt and able to work in their chosen profession thanks to financial help from the Hegg Hoffett Fund.  Very often these professionals, especially the medics, have to re-sit their qualifying exams in their new country, which means having to learn a new language.


 June 2016 talk by John Bradfield - Aspects of Theatre Practice Through the Centuries

The proscenium arch started life in renaissance Italy and it was some time before it superseded the thrust stage that was the norm in Shakespeare’s time.  The advantage of the thrust stage was that the actors were able to interact with the audience.  Purpose-built theatres were only to be found in London in Shakespeare’s day – in the provinces travelling theatre groups would perform in any suitable space, such as the courtyard of a pub, the New Inn in Gloucester being one such site.  The first theatre to put on one of Shakespeare’s plays was the Rose in Southwark, built in 1587.  The Swan Theatre followed in 1598 and The Globe in 1599, all in the same vicinity.  The Theatre companies needed to obtain the patronage of an aristocrat in order to survive, but in the end it was only the Crown that could license theatres.  In Stratford the town council was dominated by Puritans, who paid the actors off to make them go away.

Theatre lighting was by candles and flaming torches.  Frequent breaks were necessary for the trimming of the candles.  Chandeliers could be raised and lowered to give different lighting effects.  Pyrotechnics such as squibs and bangers were used for dramatic effect and to simulate thunder and lightning.  The thunder run, where balls were rolled along a wooden trough to great effect, is still in existence at Bristol Old Vic.  They used a wind machine and a bird whistle.  Winches were used to move people and objects around the stage.  Calves’ blood from the abattoir was used in scenes where blood was spilt.  Some of the costumes were very expensive to make; one cloak made of cloth-of-gold cost more than £10, which was a great deal of money in those times.  Make-up was less important then than it is today.  They used foundation and a glaze made of egg white.  For colouring the face or body they used vermilion, cinnabar or burnt nuts.  In Shakespeare’s time women were not allowed to perform on stage. They used boys instead, or actresses from Spain or Italy.  After the Restoration English women began to appear on stage.

April 2016

Winchester Science Centre   Talk by its Director, Verena Cornwall

The Winchester Science Centre started life as INTECH back in 1985.  It was set up by people from the business sector, industry and Higher Education in response to a local shortage of scientists, engineers and technologists.  Its aim was to advance education, knowledge and understanding of scientific and technological processes, so as to inspire a new generation equipped with the necessary skills for modern enterprise.  Its original home was in a disused canteen on the site of what is now Kings’ School (formerly Montgomery of Alamein School).  The original site was donated by Hampshire County Council.  The move to Morn Hill took place in 2002, funded by the Millennium Commission, NTL (now Arqiva), DfES, DTI, SEEDA and Hampshire County Council.   The land belongs to Arqiva.  It was a multi-million pound project.  At that point it changed its name to something more meaningful to the general public.  It is a registered charity with 18 Trustees.

During weekdays in term-time it is used mainly for scheduled school visits, for which there is a nine-month waiting list, but in the school holidays and at weekends, it is a popular venue for families.  It is open seven days a week.  During the February half term alone there were two and a half thousand visitors.  It does not count as a museum, so there is no funding from the government and it has to pay its way.  They run live star-gazing events twice a year and special events for adults on Saturday evenings from time to time, which are very popular and almost always a sell-out.  The planetarium is the largest digital planetarium in the country and is a great draw – around 100,000 planetarium tickets are sold every year.  There are 100 hands-on exhibits made in the on-site workshop as well as by Southampton University.  It can cost £50,000 to make an exhibit and they quite often break and have to be repaired; new exhibits are being made all the time.

There is an outreach programme too, whereby they take an inflatable dome to schools and can deliver up to six different shows in a day.  

February 2016

Czechoslovak women refugees in early post-war Britain: struggles and achievements  Talk by Jana Buresova

Jana Buresova has been researching the lives of female Czechoslovak refugees in Britain both during and after the war. The talk she gave us in 2013 was concerned with wartime refugees and this latest talk was about the post-war years and more recent times.

The Czechoslovak refugees were by no means a homogeneous group – they consisted of Czechs, Slovaks, ethnic Germans, Jews, Christians and Communists. In the wake of the Munich Agreement in 1938, whereby the Sudetenland had been ceded to Germany, there had been an influx of refugees to Britain from that part of Czechoslovakia. Some of those refugees were repatriated after the war, but many of them stayed on in Britain. Some were professional women, some were still teenagers, whose education had been disrupted and others were housewives. Yet others had come in via the Kindertransport and had grown up in wartime Britain. On arrival they received aid from various groups, such as the Quakers and the Czech Refugee Trust Fund. The latter bought up large houses after the war and turned them into flats for Czechoslovak families. BFUW (former name of BFWG) played its part by helping women who had interrupted their degree studies or who had been teaching in universities. Education was very important for their self-esteem and further personal development.

One woman became a translator and also wrote cookery books. It was she who introduced the Remoska (a versatile, portable oven that resembles a large pan – actually the forerunner of the slow cooker) to this country. It can now be procured from Lakeland shops. She was awarded an MBE in January 2016.

Czechoslovak legal and medical qualifications were not recognised here, but arrangements were made for Czechoslovak Medical students to complete their studies at various teaching hospitals, thanks to lend-lease terms negotiated by the Czechoslovak Government in Exile in London. In 1943 the first batch of twenty-three Czechoslovak doctors graduated from Oxford, but only one of these was a woman, Josefina, (a ratio which would not have been unusual in those days) and she stayed on after the war. Charlotte arrived in 1939 on a Kindertransport. She was awarded a scholarship to study medicine and qualified in 1947. She became a Consultant in her thirties and ended up as a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons.

Refugee lawyers were less fortunate, since our English law is based on precedent, whereas Czechoslovak law is based on a codified system. One woman retrained as a teacher and eventually became a Head Teacher. Along the way she turned down a place for her daughter at a girl’s public day school, perceiving it to be élitist. Interestingly, her father had been of peasant stock, and her grandson was educated at Eton.

Some of the Czechoslovak refugees were repatriated in 1945, but many had lost their relatives and found their homes had been taken over by strangers and their belongings had disappeared; anti-Semitism was still rife. Others were disillusioned and could not settle back in their native land, so they returned to Britain to make a life for themselves. There was another influx of Czech refugees to Britain after the Communist coup in 1948.

Elizabeth was one such refugee. She had worked for the Czech Government in Exile in London during the war, but had returned to her country after the war and worked as a social worker. She was not comfortable with the Communist regime and returned to Britain in 1949. She did not return to her native land for over forty years!

After the Communist coup some 15,000 Czechs had been languishing in refugee camps. Various refugees including those who had served in the Allied Armed Services were allowed to stay and work in Britain. Olga was the daughter of a former parliamentary official, who died not long after the end of the war. She stayed on and was able to take a secretarial course, with help from the Czech Refugee Trust Fund. She worked at the War Office and later at the National Coal Board. She was quickly assimilated into British society and the British way of life.

Another woman came from a Slovak village in 1946 to seek a new way of life. She earned £3 a week working in a Yorkshire Mill on a special work programme for European refugees. Later she and her husband set up a grocery shop in London, whilst a compatriot set up a successful business selling luxury food imported from Europe.

Yet another wave of Czech refugees came over to Britain after the Soviet-instigated invasion in August 1968. Susanna was one such, except that she was already over here working at a Butlin’s Holiday camp during her summer vacation. She decided not to return home, but to finish her degree in this country. She was able to do this with financial help from Oxford University. After finishing her degree she found work at the BBC Czech Service. There was quite an influx of refugees at that time – many doctors, scientists and musicians left their country, causing a considerable brain (and talent) drain from Czechoslovakia.

Many of the Czech refugees seemed to favour the professions that dealt with people: medicine, teaching, social work etc. Jana herself had come over with her mother as a very young child after the Communist coup and has never lived in her mother country. She explained that the Czech Refugee Trust Fund had set up and run hostels –one of which was for unaccompanied Czech children –which had maintained the Czechoslovak way of life. Also during the war the Czech Government in Exile had set up and run boarding schools in order to keep the Czech language and culture alive. Tom Stoppard was a pupil at one such school. Jana attended English schools, but her mother insisted she attend the Saturday school for Czechoslovak children such as herself.

January 2016

Jane Austen: How she survived the long winter days  Talk by Geraldine Buchanan 

Jane Austen had six brothers and one sister, Cassandra, to whom she was very close.  In fact they were to live together throughout all of Jane’s life, since neither of them ever married.  She was born in 1775 in Steventon, Hampshire, where her father was rector of the Parish.  Four of her brothers served in the Navy or the Militia and the oldest, James, followed in his father’s footsteps and entered the clergy, later taking over the parish of Steventon after his father’s retirement.   On his retirement, Jane’s father moved the family to Bath.  He died in 1805, leaving his wife and daughters with very little money.  They had to move to Southampton to live with Jane’s brother Frank.  Eventually another brother, Edward, who had been adopted by a wealthy landowning family in Chawton as their heir, offered them Chawton Cottage, which is now the home of the Jane Austen Museum.  A friend called Martha Lloyd came to share their home and it was she who did the cooking.

So how did these four women spend their days during the winter?   Jane, of course, had her writing.  Her first book was published in 1811, although she had started writing in earnest in her late teens.  Her first three novels had been written whilst they were living in Steventon.  They read aloud to each other; they wrote long letters, some of which still exist; they went for walks when it was not too muddy; or drove out in the donkey cart; they mended clothes, bed linen and curtains; they were very accomplished needlewomen – in the museum there is a beautiful patchwork quilt, consisting of several hundred diamond-shaped pieces of material, a joint effort, which has survived the years intact; they played the piano.  Because of her writing, Jane was excused from domestic chores, except for making the tea, or when her sister Cassandra went to stay with Henry at his other house in Godmersham, Kent. 

 October 2015
Gender Differences in Undergraduates' Response to the Oxford Teaching Environment and the Prediction for a First Class Degree       Talk by Dr Jane Mellanby

Dr Mellanby is an Emerita Fellow of St Hilda’s College.  In 1970 she set up a neurochemistry unit in the new Experimental Physiology building at Oxford University.  Her own work involved the investigation of physiological and behavioural changes in an experimental model of temporal lobe epilepsy.

In the 1990’s her involvement as a governor of a local comprehensive school stimulated her interest in education and she moved her research to working on factors that affect academic achievement in school children and university students.

Another area of her work is investigating reasons for the academic underperformance of female undergraduates at Oxford University in comparison with their male counterparts, particularly with respect to obtaining first class degrees.  She has been investigating reasons for this discrepancy and she proposes that an important factor is that women’s academic self-concept is more adversely affected by the Oxford environment. Dr Mellanby presented her detailed statistical findings using two studies undertaken since 1996.  These suggest that males expect to do better and therefore usually do better.  However, female students revise more and with the addition of high anxiety traits this can predict a first-class degree. The measurement of IQ was found to be inadequate in predicting a first-class degree, but it seems that the emotional state of students shows differences in expectations and outcomes. 



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