OBHAG Chairman’s report for 2018
At a recent meeting of OBHAG one member was overheard to say that ours was the best local history society in the area, owing to the quality of our talks, and this has been borne out by increasing attendances, by both members and non-members alike, with the most popular talks attracting audiences of over eighty. The Group’s finances have also remained healthy, enabling us to respond positively to several funding requests.
The year began with a celebratory dinner at the Wynnstay Hotel to mark OBHAG’s fortieth anniversary. Our guest speaker was Chris Symons who regaled us with a most entertaining and informative address on the history of music in Oswestry from the medieval period through to the present day.
The regular programme of talks began with a fascinating and deeply moving account of ‘Llanwddyn before Lake Vyrnwy’ by Alwyn Hughes, and this was followed by a talk by John Swogger on the Oswestry Heritage Comics which he has been creating over a number of years now, and which, he argued, offered a new approach to public outreach for local archaeology, history and heritage. The AGM in March was followed by Andy Wigley’s latest update on ‘Recent Shropshire Archaeology’, which had had to be postponed from its original date in December 2017, owing to bad weather; alongside a detailed account of recently excavated sites, which included a previously unknown Roman road near Knockin, his talk provided much food for thought by focussing on the level of protection (or lack of) given to archaeological sites in this country. At the April meeting Roger Cooper provided the latest update on the excavations at Oswestry Castle, which had revealed both the structure and the basic plan of the medieval stone keep; a full account of the excavation, together with plans can be found on the Oswestry Castle Research Project’s website at https://oswestrycastleexcavations.org.uk/ .
As is customary OBHAG staged two evening visits in May and June, both of which proved to be extremely popular. The first, which took place during a deluge of almost Biblical proportions, was to the pilgrimage church of Pennant Melangell, where we were given a very informative talk on the history of the church by John Hainsworth, and this was followed by one to the Quinta Chapel and Sunday School at Weston Rhyn, where Dr. Digby James, the Minister of the church, talked to us on the life of Thomas Barnes (1812-1897), the Bolton cotton master, whose vision led to the founding of both the chapel and the school; the latter, in particular, is a hidden treasure of the Arts and Crafts Movement, designed by Thomas Raffles Davison, which deserves to be better known.
The full day excursion in July was to Herefordshire, with visits to the famous Norman church at Kilpeck, well-known for its remarkably well-preserved Romanesque carvings by the Herefordshire School of stonemasons, and to Hereford Cathedral, where we had the opportunity to view both the chained library and the cathedral’s greatest treasure, the Mappa Mundi of ca.1300. At Kilpeck we were given an outstanding and eloquent tour of the church, both inside and out, by Diana Thomas, who had helped to organise the visit, and some members also availed themselves of the opportunity to explore the adjacent motte and bailey castle, which has recently been tidied up and made more accessible to visitors.
In September and October there were talks by Bill Britnell of the Clwyd-Powys Archaeological Trust on ‘Neolithic, Bronze Age and Iron Age Sites in the Tanat Valley’, and by our Vice-Chairman Tom Lerwill on graveyard graffiti, many of them, for reasons as yet unknown, depicting shoes. In November we were pleased to welcome from Oxford the Bodleian Library’s map curator, Nick Millea, who gave a wide-ranging talk on the history of Shropshire in maps; these ranged from the medieval Gough Map via estate maps and early editions of the Ordnance Survey, to maps of the area produced by Soviet intelligence during the Cold War, before concluding with a look at current digital mapping. And the year ended with a presentation by Artie Edmonds on the history and work of the Wrexham Heritage Society Metal Detecting Club; Artie described how the club members performed their metal detecting hobby and reported finds to the authorities in accordance with the Treasure Act and with a major interest in the history and preservation of the objects found. These included the “Rossett Hoard” bronze age axe, knife and gold bracelet and the “Bronington Hoard” of 52 gold and silver coins and gold ring (now on display in Wrexham museum).
During the year the Group’s website – https://obhag.org.uk/ – has been revamped and we hope made more accessible and user-friendly, as well as more informative. We are grateful to Reliant Computer Solutions who have taken over the maintenance of the site for all their help in this regard.
The Group has continued to give financial support to the Oswestry Castle Research Project through our subsidy of one student placement at the 2018 dig.
Two very longstanding and distinguished members of the Committee, Margaret Hill and Terry White, are standing down at this year’s AGM. On behalf of all members of OBHAG, I should like to express our thanks to them for all they have done, not just for OBHAG itself, but for archaeological and historical studies in the area more generally. We wish them the very best for the future, and hope that we shall continue to see them at meetings.
I should also like to thank all other members of the Committee for their work during the year. Voluntary bodies such as ours depend on members being willing to give of their time and expertise to keep them going, and contributions of all kinds, whether it being producing the Newsletter, organising the programme, keeping the accounts in order, providing the refreshments after the talks, or a myriad of other tasks, are all much appreciated. As long as this situation continues, I see no reason why the Group should not continue to thrive.