Monday, 21 June 2021

Caversham WI

TWO talks were given to the society during November. The first, entitled “The Old Bath Road”. was given by Tony King on November 2 and proved to be both informative and fascinating with some interesting anecdotes throughout.

The speaker said he became interested in the topic after reading The Road to Bath by a Cecil Roberts who was born in 1892 near the Golden Ball at Lower Assendon.

Roberts later became the British ambassador who negotiated the war agreement with America during the Second World War.

Apparently, more than 200 years ago, the landlord of the Golden Ball remarked that he serviced stage coaches to Birmingham, Oxford and Reading which had diverted from the London to Bath road (now the A4).

The 18th and early 19th centuries were the golden era for the stagecoach, which became the wonder, and the workhorse, of the Georgian age as people wanted to travel faster and the royal mail was expected to be delivered to all corners of the realm.

The first postal service used in this way began on September 16, 1784. The fastest stage coach was the “flying coach” which carried passengers from London to Bath in three days “if God permits”.

This was a big “if” because of the terrible roads, often horrendous weather conditions and the dangers of highwaymen.

Indeed in 1832 all the passengers and coachmen of one coach froze to death.

Even now there are famous public houses along the Old Bath Road, as well as in other parts of the country, that used to stable thousands of horses and provide hospitality to the travellers.

The highwaymen, of whom the most famous was Dick Turpin (1715-1739), whose real name was John Palmer, used to ascertain which coaches would stop at certain hostelries and what wealth was being conveyed so that they could plan where to attempt their ambushes.

Many of them acquired considerable wealth but their days became numbered, as did those of the stagecoaches, with the arrival of the first steam coach in 1829, followed by the coming of the railways in the 1830s.

Their impact on the development of transport and the postal system in this country cannot be overestimated.

A very different topic was dealt with on November 16 when Nicholas Brazil gave an illustrated talk about a trip that he made to Namibia in 2014.

He travelled around and across this sparsely populated and largely barren country, which used to be known as South West Africa.

Because of the domination of the Namib and Kalahari deserts on the country, it is often described as “The land that God made in anger”, which was the title of Nicholas’s talk.

Unlike neighbouring Botswana and South Africa, there are very few Tarmacadam roads in Namibia with the result that most roads are little more than gravel and desert tracks.

We were shown different wildlife, such as meerkats, mongeese, impala, wild horses left behind after the Germans departed and the remarkable weaver birds whose incredible nests contain hundreds of birds at any one time.

We also saw the flora and fauna of the country set against backdrops of incredibly dry and dusty views, including the remains of prehistoric forests.

Most settlements are relatively small and isolated and even the capital Windhoek (pop. 350,000) means “windy corner”.

Most of the rivers are dry for 11 months of the year, apart from tiny streams in the middle, and the images of the dried-up Fish River Canyon reinforced the impression that this is a country which time and progress have left behind.

Nevertheless, we had a most interesting and informative account of a little- known country in southern Africa.

The society’s meetings are generally held on alternate Wednesdays, beginning at 7.15pm with coffee followed by a talk in the hall at Caversham Heights Methodist Church.

New members are always welcome and enquiries should be made to Carol Cozens (treasurer) on 0118 946 1509 or at or to Jill Hodges (chairman) on 0118 959 5307 or at

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