Saturday, 16 December 2017

Caversham Heights Society

SINCE the end of September members have had the opportunity to go on one visit and to listen to three very different talks.

On September 29 a coachload visited Canons Ashby, an Elizabethan manor house with various additions and modifications, that has been the home of the Dryden family for the past 500 years but is now cared for by the National Trust.

Set in rolling Northamptonshire countryside, midway between Banbury and Daventry, it is a delightful gem which gives an atmosphere of timelessness.

Until 1948 there was no electricity and even now the only water tap is to be found in the kitchen. The result is a dark, unostentatious and intimate family home that has hardly changed over the centuries.

The house is surrounded by magnificent gardens and across the road is the priory church, which is the remains of a large priory and at the time of our visit was full of harvest fare.

On October 4 three gentlemen from the Trooper Potts Memorial Trust, Brig Tony Verey, Capt Andrew French and Richard Bennett, enthralled us by telling the story of the disastrous Dardanelles campaign and especially the battle of Gallipoli (1915).

They recounted how the Berkshire Yeomanry [then Troop] came about and how Trooper Potts came to win the Victoria Cross, the only Reading man to do so.

Members were given a glimpse of the horrors of life in that campaign through the letters written by Potts’s companions to their families describing conditions in battle.

These described how Trooper Potts, under constant fire for over 48 hours, rescued a fellow soldier by pulling him on an old spade as a substitute stretcher.

We were shown old photographs of the battle, where half the troops were injured or killed, and various visual aids, including a real Victoria Cross and a spade such as Potts would have used.

We heard about the educational role of the trust and how the Trooper Potts Memorial at The Forbury came about in 2015, the centenary of Gallipoli.

This proved to be a fascinating evening, even for those with little interest in military history, and the speakers were warmly thanked for their efforts.

The next meeting, on October 18, was a very different experience since it was largely visual.

Nigel Glover White, a member of the Royal Photographic Society, delighted us with some of his superb pictures of the 5,000 square miles of the Serengeti national park in Tanzania.

He showed some superb images of a variety of birds and wild animals that can be found in the park, including zebra, elephants, cheetahs, leopards, lions, hippos, crocodiles, wildebeest, impalas, gazelles, jackals and hyenas.

There were also pictures of a variety of birds — different types of starling, eagles, egrets, herons and roller birds — as well as the dry and dusty landscape with acacia trees and amazing sunsets.

Nigel had also taken pictures of some Masai villages. Apparently, there are rites of passage for the Masai from boyhood to warrior to elder. Only the elders get a burial. Anyone else is left in the open to rot or be eaten by carrion.

This was an informative evening with beautiful photographs.

The third talk, on “The history of the shrievalty and the role of the modern day high sheriff”, was given on November 1 by Dr Christine Hill Williams, herself a former high sheriff of Berkshire.

In the hierarchy of constitutional figures after the Queen, the high sheriff is the deputy to the lord lieutenant of each county and acts as the Queen’s representative in every county plus London and Bristol.

The high sheriff is responsible for law and order and the Lord Lieutenant for everything else!

The position of high sheriff goes back to the dim and distant past but it seems that it can be dated to the 7th century, long before government as we know it was in place.

Then the role of the high sheriff was to defend the monarch, raise an army to fight for the monarch, collect taxes and escort judges.

Over time the role has become largely ceremonial, thus the high sheriff escorts royal visits to his/her county, supervises citizen ceremonies and acts as patron to the returning officer at elections.

A high sheriff is appointed for one year only but four years in advance of taking up the post.

A shrieval consultancy panel seeks nominations and selects four people for the following four years.

Nominees attend a special ceremony in the High Court in the Strand.

It is up to each sheriff to decide on his/her own particular interests to patronise.

We felt honoured to be able to share in the highs and lows of a year in the life of this particular high sheriff and left with minds buzzing.

The society meets on alternate Wednesdays at Caversham Heights Methodist Church in Highmoor Road. Meetings begin at 7.15pm with tea/coffee and the talk starts at 8pm.

New members are always welcome. For more information, email contact@cavershamheights.org or visit cavershamheights.org

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