Presenting our findings…

Last night, during the Abberley WI Open Meeting, the Abberley Lives team proudly presented the results of our first phase of research.  Any nerves we might have felt before we started were completely setlled by the warmth of our audience’s response to our discoveries.

The programme opened with Jo Roche’s snapshot of Abberley village at the time of the 1911 census, where our researches begin.  For Abberley this would have been a time of great change, even before the travails of the First World War – Frederick William Jones, of Abberley Hall, the village’s largest landowner, had died in 1910 and his brother, James Arthur refused to move from his home in Ombersley to assume the role of village squire. The vacuum that this left in the village hierarchy was one of th main themes of Jo’s talk.

Jo was followed by Lisa Canning who described very eloquently the learning journey that she has undergone during the course of the project so far.  From some one who had never carried out historical research, Lisa is now a true convert, staying up late at night to plunder historical research websites!

Next up, to describe the life cycle of the village’s Wesleyan Methodist Chapel was Jen Guest.  She had discovered how uneasy the relationship was in the late 19th centure between the Methodist congregation and the Big House, Abberley Hall.  She has already posted a timeline on the blog and promises more research to come.

Sheena followed with an introduction to the life of the Abberly WI based on her researches into the minute books between 1940 and 1969.  For a full account of her presentation, see her blog

The first half concluded with a bit of a mystery as Kate Andrew showed us maps of where the Council houses were, but weren’t! She and Jo have discovered reference to the building of several council houses in the parish council minutes, but are not at all convinced that so many were ever built! We threw that one out to the audience to see if they could come up with any help!

The second half opened with a very thorough presentation by Kate Andrew concerning the water supply and sewerage in the village.  Her researches show that, unlike some other villages in the county, Abberley was well served with a good natural water supply from the various hill springs on the ridge.  There is still more work to do, but the first stages of Kate’s researches can be read here and here.  Sheena has also looked into the WI’s contribution to national and county policy to address the issues of water shortage and poor supply.  You can read her findings here.

Whilst she had the maps out, and on her favourite subject (geology), Kate also showed us where the village coal mines were situated.  All had been abandoned by 1929, but not without causing several deaths amongst the village miners.

Cherry Isherwood followed with a presentation which demonstrates what you can find out when looking for something else.  In trying to find evidence for and information about the Abberley Isolation Hospital or Cottage, Cherry has found everything but in the records of the County Medical Officer and parish council.  She shared with us some fascinating information about the pre-NHS provision of maternity care in Abberley and the rest of the Martley Rural District area.  Apparently, until 1929, when the Boards of Guardians were abolished, Martley Workhouse Infirmary had only 2 maternity beds for the whole of the Martley Poor Law Union area, a population of over 1200.

Cherry still hasn’t found very much at all about the Isolation Hospital, apart from the fact that the building was condemned in 1923.  If you know anything at all that might help, do please get in touch!

And Finally… we saved Caroline Crompton for last.  She shared with us a few entertaining quotes from the Abberley WI minute books, my favourite being the acerbic comment from a meeting in 1971 that ‘Mrs ——— felt that committee members had so much to do at monthly meetings they had no time to be sociable’…

All of the presentations were accompanied by fantastic photographs and images, many of which had been scanned for us by Angela Thompson who was still revelling in the amazing turnout for her Digitisation Training the day before (20 people came.  TWENTY!).

We did over-run (inevitably) but everyone was having such a good time sharing their findings and responding to calls from the audience, that noone seemed to mind.  By the time the meeting broke up, it was hard to make some people leave, so keen were they to share more anecdotes and ideas.

Considering the vile weather, it was a wonderful turn-out: I counted 34 attendees altogether (including me) and of those,

  • 14 people indicated that they had had fun (nobody said they had not)
  • 13 people indicated that they had learned something new (nobody said they had not)

Comments left on the evaluation sheets read:

‘Really fascinating’
‘a wealth of information – How happy the researchers are in their discoveries!’
‘A fascinating evening – full of interest and very varied in its presentation and delivery.’
‘Looking forward to the next meeting’

Next week, the group will meet to plan the next phase of the project: the publication of our researches for the future.

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