Friday, 25 June 2021

Henley Archaeological and Historical Society

TWENTY-NINE members enjoyed a visit to Dorney Court on April 23.

TWENTY-NINE members enjoyed a visit to Dorney Court on April 23.

This is a beautiful medieval manor that has been occupied by the Palmer family for 470 years.

The first glimpse is of large, wrought iron gates in front of a gravel drive, green lawns and yew trees surrounding a timber-framed and red brick, many gabled, fairytale house with the Tudor tower of the 12th century church of St James the Less behind.

Looking at the outside of the house we could see how different generations had extended the building and the original front was actually on the side.

Inside, it was very cold, dark and mysterious.

The great Tudor hall, with portraits of generations of the Palmer family, was where the Manor Court was once held. The intricate linen panelling came from Faversham  Abbey at the time of the Reformation.

The parlour is in the oldest part of the house with Tudor panelling, stained glass and tapestry given to Thomas Palmer on his marriage in 1624.

The dining room has a colourful painted floor to show the present family‘s association with India.

We saw dark brown Tudor panelling, vaulted ceilings and roofs held up by sturdy oaks felled in medieval and Tudor times but, importantly, this is a home, not a museum and the present owners have commissioned furniture made from trees blown down on the estate.

Finally, we made our way to the church and were surprised at the sight of a magnificent Tudor mortuary tomb, box pews and a porch built in 1661 to celebrate the birth of Lady Anne Palmer.

There were many stories about needlework, pineapples, leopards, Crusades and Turks but we were finally ready for a cup of tea and rest in the delightful garden centre, formerly the walled kitchen garden of Dorney Court.

The house is open in August to members of the public and is well worth a visit.

On June 15, Pam Syrett and Ruth Gibson attended a celebration of Magna Carta at Caversham Court Gardens, a lovely, peaceful place with magnificent old trees, flower beds and green lawns sweeping down to the Thames.

We were there to join the Friends in their celebrations of the life of William Marshal, who lived and died in his Caversham manor and importantly was one of the knights who persuaded King John to put his seal on Magna Carta, which was to limit royal power.

Caversham Court itself was demolished in the Thirties but the plan of the mansion is marked out and further along the park is the restored 17th century gazebo, which had served as a summerhouse. Here was a display about the life of Marshal.

Children from two local schools who had been studying Magna Carta and the part played by Marshal came carrying colourful shields they had made. After a short talk, they had great fun tying the shields to the branches of a yew tree that is said to have been growing back in 1215.

We were told that these gardens are Reading‘s best kept secret and there are many historic features in them to discover before enjoying a cup of tea from the small cafeteria behind the entrance gate. We recommend a visit to this magical place and congratulate the Friends for taking care of the gardens.

On June 23, 14 members joined a Wallingford town walk.

We were led on a fascinating guided tour of the town by Judy Dewey, the curator of Wallingford Museum.

Starting in the market square, she told us how the town had evolved since Saxon times and had been recognised as a strategic crossing point of the Thames along with Windsor and London.

The town was extensively fortified in Norman times with an impressive castle. The square was the early market centre of the town, servicing the needs of the inhabitants.

The town hall was erected after the Civil War. It is timber-framed but with a grand stucco exterior and a colonnaded ground floor.

We were led on a fascinating tour of the ancient streets and eventually emerged on a large open area called the Kine Croft, bounded by Anglo-Saxon ramparts surrounded by a naturally fed moat.

After the Civil War the Parliamentarians razed the castle to the ground because of its strategic value at the river crossing and the town fell into a long period of stagnation.

Judy explained that as a consequence there had been very little by way of archaeological finds over a considerable period.

We proceeded partly on top of the tall ramparts, partly alongside them, still mostly in a good condition considering the passage of time since their construction around 900 AD. We ended our walk near the bridge from where it was only a few steps to the Boat House pub, where the party enjoyed drinks in the evening sun on the terraces adjoining the splendid stone bridge.

It was a lovely end to a very interesting and rewarding evening.

Behind the scenes, the group has recorded many achievements.

One of our members contacted Ruth Gibson when she saw 19A Hart Street being stripped out and its historic framing damaged and Ruth was able to intervene in our name.

Number 25 Market Place has now been given a new list description recognising fully its very special historical interest.

The cost of dendro-dating it to 1471 came out of members‘ subscriptions so they have all played a part in preserving the history of Henley.

In addition there have conferences attended, building reports written up, census documents transcribed, walks organised and pub lunches and dinners enjoyed.

On August 3 there is a visit to the House of Commons.

On October 6 we will have a lecture by Shaun Morley, a part-time history tutor at Oxford University, called “drunk and riotous — Oxford‘s friendly societies“.

On November 3 Gary Lock, emeritus professor of archaeology at Oxford University, will talk about “excavations at Marcham, a big Roman and Iron Age site“.

The annual meeting will take place at King‘s Arms Barn on December 1 at 7.45pm. All are welcome (members free, non-members £3).

We urgently need new committee members and in particular a new secretary and others with ideas and to help organise visits and lectures, produce the newsletters and journal and help with the website.

For more information, visit

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