Talk Reviews

"Members' Evening Talks"

23rd November 2020

The Marcham Society always holds a members evening series of talks in November of each year. This November, Simon Blackmore (our Membership Secretary) provided a talk over Zoom, which has become the normal practice in these times.

His talk was on the theme of Marcham in Domesday Book (please note: no definite article in line with recent scholarly tradition).

The talk was well structured, starting with the historical context and why William I commissioned the project as a way of taking stock of his conquests 20 years after the initial victory at the Battle of Hastings. Simon then moved on to look at the county of Berkshire, of which Marcham was a part, and then where Marcham was placed in the importance of villages within the county. There were examples of Old and Middle English in the manuscripts as well as Medieval Latin, which are indecipherable to the modern eye.

There was also an exposition of the feudal hierarchy as the Normans imposed it, similar to the Anglo-Saxon hierarchy that had gone before. Marcham was part of the holdings of Abingdon Abbey and the parish boundaries as described in 965AD remain virtually unchanged today so there is confidence that what was meant as Marcham in Domesday Book correlates well with current Marcham. Domesday Book language was written in a type of Latin, the administrative language of the day, but there was very considerable use of abbreviation, so the manuscript version is very difficult to read.

The last part of the talk concerned some of the people of Marcham using information gleaned from different contemporary sources close in time to the Domesday Book. The impression that was left was that for nearly 1,000 years Marcham had been a settled farming community, and only in the last 100 years or so has it changed and now grown from around 190 people in 1086 to the c. 2,000 inhabitants today.

Peter Steere

Once upon a time before Berkshire was turned into part of Oxfordshire, Marcham village took a deep breath and found a new postcode. Not much has changed. Thanks to the dedicated research done by Sheila Dunford, we found that the foundations of the settlement remain. Sheila also acknowledged the work previously done by Elizabeth Whitehouse and Claire Bolton.

Here are four of our most venerable buildings in the village that Sheila both illustrated and described in her interesting talk.

3 Church Street is made of limestone rubble with rough cast front, and all openings have decorative plaster surrounds.  It was thought to have been owned by a Mr Watts and was listed as the Manor House, Marcham. Various farm buildings were on either side. Mr Watts died in 1769. In 1818 George Elwes bought it and plastered the front to disguise changes to the windows. The house was let till 1901 when Charles Duffield moved in. Dr Duffield repaired the plasterwork and separated the place into two dwellings. In 1982 John Duffield has the plaster professionally redone and in 2000 it was returned to one dwelling.

Tithe House is by the church gate. This grade 2 L-shaped building dating to 1580 was extended in 1646. The actual tithe barn where tithes were stored was demolished in the early 20th century. Mr Duffield’s father and stepmother lived in the tithe house. John Duffield had work done on the Dovecote and after his father’s death the house was restored in its original appearance.

Hyde Farm, approached by a barn gateway and courtyard, dates to 1290 and was originally like a big barn with no ceiling. The original beams were black with wood smoke. The first ceilings were probably put in during the late Middle Ages. The chimney came in 1600. An extension was put on in 1625. Above the fireplace there are incised plaster signs, partly to ward off witches.

 The name “Hyde” it is said refers to a Mr Hyde who signed Charles death warrant but this is isn’t true, it’s most likely because it was a hide of land. The house was remodelled and extended in the 16th and 17th century. It is now a Grade 2* listed building. Mr Busby who farmed nearby in modern times said that their well had water with healing properties – patients came from the Oxford Eye hospital to benefit from its waters.

The Priory was originally a small rectangular building in the grounds of a farm. It was a retreat for the (Abingdon) Abbott and originally a source of the monks’ food supplies from the Dovecote’s for example.

We heard about these four big houses – the village has plenty of smaller dwellings too along the lanes. Just knock on the door or politely peep through the window and see the twisted stairs or the second glass or the latched door handles - Yeoman's Cottage, for example, has them all.

This was the first talk by Sheila on Notable Houses of Marcham and she promises others in the future. She has entered the details of these houses into the Marcham Society's Archives now held in the new Community Hall.

 Jean Creasy

"Salt Production, Distribution and Use in Prehistoric and Roman Britain" by Dr Janice Kinory, University of Oxford

26th October 2020

Reconstruction of Iron Age Salt Making

Today, the availability of salt is not usually something we think too much about as the supermarket (or preferably the village shop) will help us out if our stocks run low: in contrast, our Neolithic ancestors had to hunt and source meat for their health needs of 1 to 2 gm of salt per day. We learned this surprising fact during a most informative talk in October which was given to the Marcham Society by Dr Janice Kinory and to whom we are most grateful. Not all questions could be answered though due to the passage of time and a lack of evidence: e.g. was salt used for ritual purposes, dowries possibly?

We heard that salt was used in butter making during the Iron Age and milk production too. In Roman times it would have been used to cure meat (a great invention) and in animal farming practices.

Before the introduction of money, a Roman soldier would have been paid partly in salt, a very valuable commodity which was produced on an industrial scale with the use of slaves and prisoners. Interestingly, the word 'salary' is derived from the word salt.

In the British Isles salt production could not be carried out all year.  We heard that it tended to flourish along the shoreline and tidal creeks, e.g. in Teeside, Cheshire and Lincolnshire. Droitwich was an important area too. Tribal groups tended to cluster around areas of high salt production. Further afield, salt mining in Germany was even in existence as long ago as the Bronze Age.

With regard to the drying methods in salt production, one important way was through the use of clay pots, known as briquetage. These were produced in shades of grey or orange but few complete examples remain today. Interestingly, small finds of briquetage have been discovered in Abingdon. Drying ovens existed but, perhaps unsurprisingly, no complete ones have been found.

Was salt produced in Marcham? Its sea celery bed and salt spring lie not far from the site of the Roman temple (situated to the west of Marcham) which Janice Kinory helped to excavate. If so, perhaps the salt was given as a ritual offering at the temple? Geo-physical and further archaeological investigations might be able to shed further light on this theory.

Briquetage finds in Oxfordshire
Map of Oxfordshire Briquetage finds
Red diamonds from Droitwich in the North
Black stars from the South Coast

Finally, sea salt is 2.6% sodium chloride and contains five other types of salt which makes it taste bitter. By the way, an interesting thought for the shopping basket: pink salt is made up of tiny crustaceans that were caught in the drying process!

Rosemary Harwood

(Further information about the Marcham salt springs
can be found referenced under the 'Archaeology' tab)

"Balls, Bedrooms and Banquets" by John Vigar

28th September 2020

We are now all becoming used to using Zoom and on Monday 28th September, 43 Marcham Society members and guests logged in online to hear John Vigar's fascinating talk. He was speaking to us from Norfolk and while most were listening in the comfort of their homes in Marcham, others were further afield in Ely and even in Canada!

Burton Agnes Hall, East Yorkshire

Oxburgh Hall, King's Lynn (National Trust)

John talked about the development of the English Country House and he took us through from Medieval times to the mid twentieth century, following the evolution of furnishings and architectural fashions. He linked the changing styles to the social and political context of the historical periods, Elizabethan and Stuarts, Georgians and Victorians, Edwardians and ending with the Windsors. He took examples from houses that are well known to the audience and open to visitors, including Kingston Bagpuize House and Milton Manor, local to Marcham; others were further away - some still private homes and not open to the general public. His illustrations were well chosen and well explained; many were contemporary prints or pictures, drawn or painted at the time rather than modern photographs and they gave a personal insight into decoration and taste of the time. His theme throughout was the recurrent cycle of fashion and social behaviour through the ages showing how etiquette in the grand country houses swung from strict protocol to friendly informality and back again.

John's delivery was clear and careful with a subtle touch of humour, so that after an hour he left many of his audience captivated and curious, keen to know more.

 Simon Blackmore