Event Reports for 2017
Life in Kentish Workhouses - 18th January
We had a full house for the popular and expertly engaging speaker, Helen Allinson, who revealed a fascinating picture of the nature of Kentish Workhouses in the fabric of our village and parish lives. For Lynsted Parish, the original workhouse was at Bumpit before the investment was made in a much larger workhouse in Faversham, which served the surrounding Parishes. The venue for the event was the Greenstreet Methodist Hall, Lynsted Lane.
Fun Charity Quiz Night - 18th February
This popular social event was well attended and, thanks to the generosity of Members and their guests, we have been able to make a donation to the Kent, Surrey and Sussex Air Ambulance Trust of £440! Well done and a very enjoyable evening was had by all. The evening's funds were subsequently added to by a gift in memory of a recent loss - we give thanks for that generosity.
The Extraordinary Life of John Oliver - 22nd March
An excellent turnout of members and non-members arrived at the Greenstreet Methodist chapel to hear the amazing story of this disabled tug boat captain, who lived and worked on the Medway and Swale, given by his great friend Frances Beaumont.
John was born in a little village near Peterborough, and to the great distress of his parents was born without hands, only shortened arms, and one club foot with a shortened weakened leg. His grandmother, however, fought for him and encouraged him to live normally, finding ways to cope with his problems. John was transferred from the local school, where he was making progress, to a "special" school in Manchester. This was a miserable time. He remembered always being hungry, and it was 10 years before he saw his family again! He was saved by the war when the school was evacuated to the countryside, which he loved. As a country boy, he was put in charge of feeding the pigs and was able to smuggle swill back for the children to eat. All this remember with no hands! It was during this period that, using his good foot, he became an accomplished artist, so much so that he was offered a place at the prestigious Slade Art School. He was unable to afford this sadly but did get a partial grant that enabled him to go to Northampton Art College. During his time here he made friends with a lad working on Thames Barges and went sailing with him. He quickly overcame his disabilities and loved boats. He and his friend bought a boat and so John came to the Medway. He gradually traded up to larger craft, becoming ferry man to Medway Bridge Yacht Club. Finally, he bought a tug boat and named her The Hobbit. Frances thought even then that he had much in common with Tolkien's creations! John became well known as he lived and worked on the rivers. Stories abound of what an extraordinary sight it was to see him throw a tow rope, or skilfully bring his tug alongside and tie up. Joan Smith, who lived on a barge in the '70s, shared some of her memories with us. John tended to work in the summer and then travel the country to paint. He had a tricycle with a small trailer, on which he built a tent and would cycle hundreds of miles, especially to Cornwall. To support himself on these travels he worked as a dogsbody in pubs, eventually teaching himself to cook. He was apparently a very good French chef, all remember despite his disabilities. He was a fiercely independent man, who could be spikey if he thought people were making allowances for him. He wanted to be treated like everyone else. One of his more common duties included recovering bodies from the river, though he also saved many lives. He was a great fan of steam power and involved with attempts to save The Medway Queen, and more successfully the tug Cervia, which is now moored in Ramsgate. Eventually, he bought a small houseboat and continued to live on the river at Rochester until ill health forced him to move to a home. His fierce independence never really took to that. He was well known in Chatham high street due to his high-speed manoeuvrings aboard his electric buggy. When Frances launched his ashes into the ebbing tide, from the pier where he had lived, onto the river, they floated upstream not down, and then circled for some time, reluctant to leave!
This strange local story was much enjoyed by all present. It is hard to imagine the struggle his life must have been, and even harder to imagine how he lived it so fully. As someone who knew him well said at the meeting when I have difficulties I just think of John and realise - problems, what problems!!
If any of you are interested in this Frances is currently writing a book which she hopes will be published in due course.
Bees and Beekeeping - 19th April
We had our very own Lynsted apiarist, Kay Wreyford, come to speak to 24 of us at Green Street Hall on Wednesday 19th April. Kay, who is not only a beekeeper but also a DEFRA Seasonal Bee inspector, gave an extremely interesting and enthusiastic presentation, taking us through the history of beekeeping, the annual cycle of a beekeepers' maintenance of hives, and some of the problems and pests that affect the colonies. Of particular note was the potential danger of the Asian Hornet, a predatory wasp (see picture), which has gradually migrated from the Far East as far as northern France and could undoubtedly decimate our hives if it reaches Kent; we were all urged to report any sightings. A clue is in another name for this hornet - the "yellow-legged" hornet that contrast with its broadly black thorax/body & single yellow stripe.
Afterwards we had an opportunity to taste (and buy) some of her local honey, the taste of which varies depending on where the bees forage; for example, honey from lavender nectar tasted completed different to that from rapeseed plants. Regardless of the source, they were all delicious. We also saw (and tasted) 'early season' honey that is distinct from 'summer' honey.
Sir Edwin Lutyens: "The Architect with a Twinkle in His Eye" - 10th May
Lt. Col. Dick Bolton gave an authoritative and entertaining talk on prolific architect Sir Edwin Lutyens (1869-1944), designer of English country houses but also war memorials and public buildings. "Ned" Lutyens was one of many children. Ill as a lad, he was a shy man but romantic and inquisitive with a quick eye. He was also hard-working.
Ned married Lady Emily Bulwer-Lytton, with whom he had five children, but the marriage was unsatisfactory and he preferred to spend time in the company of "Angelina".
Fascinated by Italian Renaissance gardens and an admirer of the work of Christopher Wren, William Morris and Philip Webb, his Arts and Crafts style was strongly influenced by Tudor architecture. He got his first big breaks through older women: it was through friends that he met garden designer Gertrude Jekyll, whom he affectionately called "Bumps". He began work on a house for her at Munstead Wood (1896) near Godalming – the start of an enduring professional partnership. Another major influence was Lady Sackville, mother of Vita. His early work included Great Dixter (1910-12). Lutyens also refurbished Lindisfarne Castle, and Jekyll designed the garden.
Lutyens played an instrumental role in designing and building New Delhi. As time progressed, he took a more conventional classical approach. Post-WWI, he worked on memorials and buildings with the War Graves Commission and was involved with monuments such as the Cenotaph and Somme Memorial at Thiepval.
Visit to the Salutation Gardens, Sandwich - 24 June
Set within the historic East Kent town of Sandwich, the Salutation is a "Wrenaissance"-style masterpiece built by Sir Edwin Lutyens as a country retreat for three wealthy brothers in 1912. Now a boutique hotel, its Gardens – also designed by Lutyens – are open to the public. This paradise for plantsmen and plantswomen is divided into a series of different rooms that nevertheless form a unified whole – all the while set against the singular backdrop of the house itself.
After a period of neglect, the Gardens were restored in recent years only to suffer catastrophic flooding due to a freak tidal surge in December 2013: five million litres of salt water poured in, leaving the garden six feet underwater. More than three years on and there is now scant sign of the flooding, thanks to the extraordinary recovery work put in by the gardening team.
Most impressive features? The Main Perennial Borders, which stretch away from the house, the White (and a little Black) Garden, and the structural simplicity of the Holm Oak Walk, underplanted with English lavender, were particular hits with the Lynsted and Kingsdown visitors.
Lynsted Traditional Village Fete - 28th August
With the Fete Theme this year of "1940s", the Society shared many images from archive materials that reflect our communities for this period. We were grateful to Park Farm Traditional Cherry Orchard Group for allowing us to share their marquee. This is a very popular annual event in a magnificent arena furnished by the backdrop of Lynsted Lodge Park.
A Schoolgirls War - 13th September
Those of us who gathered at Greenstreet on 13th September were treated to a superb presentation by Mary Smith, retired head teacher of Maidstone Grammar School for Girls. One of the best I can remember.
Mary became interested as a result of the rediscovery of a large wartime air raid shelter in the school grounds, and the finding of a diary from the war kept by the art teacher Miss Helen Keen. She carefully researched the wartime history of the school and tracked down 53 "old girls", interviewing all of them. These memories and drawings formed the basis of her talk and book.
The old air raid shelter has now been opened up and primary schools visit and take lessons underground, just as in the war, followed by a WW11 lunch! Old lessons can be clearly seen, chalked on the concrete walls. The shelter is really a long-buried trench with zig zags to disrupt blast. They were called the trenches by the girls. They were cold and wet, and initially only lit by paraffin lamps. Teaching must have been very hard. On the command "legs left" everyone swivelled, giving enough room to walk between the rows of girls. The teachers were all Misses, as until 1944 married women were not allowed to teach! The head was Miss Bartels. The girls recall an absolute harridan! She made few concessions to war. However, there was a softer side. After every raid, she drove in her car to the areas affected and checked if any pupils house was hit, as she did not want such girls to return home unaccompanied. The girls were quite unaware of this kindness.
In 1938 the school reopened in a brand new building to great celebration. However, the girls remember the fear already growing with the Munich Crisis. On the outbreak of war, the older girls were used to help greet evacuees handing out tins of corned beef, pilchards, evaporated milk and biscuits. The younger ones, who were guides, were used to greet young mothers and carried their babies. 240 girls arrived from the King Warren School in Plumstead and shared the new building until relocated later in the war. Whether they were much safer in Maidstone is debatable, as the air war was very active. Initially, the children had work set to do at home as they could not attend the school until the air raid shelters were built in January 1940. The girls had to get used to carrying and wearing their gas masks. As the war heated up the air raids became frequent and long periods were spent in the "trenches". Dogfights were seen over the school. A huge raid on 27th September killed many people in Maidstone. The girls recalled a day of explosions and gunfire. On the 2nd October, the raids were incessant. Many of the girls recalled being very scared, though some admitted it was also exhilarating.
The girls also helped in the war effort, stripping hop bines, digging allotments and collecting nettles for soup. They were also enlisted as fire wardens at weekends and evenings, being trained in fire fighting.
Later in the war, the V1's and V2's brought new terrors. One girl remembered taking her exams during many such raids. There was no time to get to the shelters so they hid under the desks. They were not allowed to write there but had extra time added.
Eventually, VE day arrived and Mary read a lovely account by one of the girls of the celebrations.
Mary's talk was illustrated throughout by the wonderful drawings and paintings from Miss Keen's diary. These were superb drawings and little cartoons, or full watercolours usually sketched at the time, and showing a very personal and intimate portrait of school life. This and her brilliant delivery really brought the story to life. The brisk trade in copies of her book at the end certainly showed how much the evening was appreciated and reminded us all that sometimes it is the meetings which maybe sound a little dull, which are the very best.
Archaeology of the V2 Rocket impact site in the Lyn Valley and A.G.M. - 13th November
On 13th October 2018, the Council of Kentish Archaeology recognised the importance of the contributions made by Sean and Colin Welch to the archaeological record of Kent. A report by Bob Baxter can be found at this link.
Following the Society's short A.G.M., an audience of 50 people were treated to an absorbing presentation and exhibition about the V2 and V1 rockets but focused in particular to the case of a V2 rocket that exploded in the Lyn Valley on 17th February 1945 (red dot, right). We were privileged to see and hear about the recent archaeological dig conducted by expert brothers Sean and Colin Welch in the area of the Lyn Valley just below today's Amethyst Horticulture site and St. Paul's Court.
Between them, our speakers revealed not just facts about 'our' V2 rocket and "the dig" but placed it in the wider context of emerging German rocket technology and the geographic spread of impacts in the south-east. We were reminded that other parts of England also received V1 and V2 attention.
The V2 assaults on London, the principal target, were launched from the Hook of Holland, which gives the direction of travel for our V2. The impact site was on the west 'bank' of the Lyn Valley and it is this topography that explains the shape of the crater and the pattern of jettisoned fragments backwards as far as Ten Acre Farm. Mr Mitchell, from Bumpit Farm, showed the archaeologists a chunk of debris found in their orchard at the time – a chunk that had served as a door-stop in their piggery for 70 years! The recovered fragments were identified on a cut-away diagram to show the origin of the recovered 153.5 kg. Bear in mind that most of the original mass of 12.98 tons was atomised. The fragments were mixed with miscellaneous detritus from dumping of bedsteads and baths into the crater, to name a few!
The dig went to the bottom of the hole at 5.7 metres. In order to bring the digger down to the bottom, a slope was cut that means not all of the hole was excavated. To achieve that, there would be significant additional costs and time. Without additional funding, that objective will not be achieved.
A very powerful tool, researched from official records by the presenters, was able to identify exactly the sites of V1 and V2 rockets across Kent and Essex. An animation revealed how variable the impact sites were, which reflected the inaccuracy of targeting. Of course, considering the V2 rockets were launched 60 miles into the stratosphere before free-falling at the speed of sound – perhaps the marvel is that they were quite accurate on that scale! The technical mastery of erecting the rockets, orienting them, priming and describing the parabola to London was remarkably innovative.
The 'down' side to this rocket, compared to the "Doodlebug" was that it was massively resource-intensive. It was explained to us that Hitler threw his weight behind the rockets as instruments of terror rather than destruction. His intervention saved Britain from a much-increased flow of V1's.
We are grateful to Sean and Colin for the presentation copy of their well-illustrated Report for the Society's records. A5 copies of this report were sold during the evening. These proved popular as a remarkable record of a thoroughly engaging evening and a piece of our local history. Mounted fragments of otherwise useless shrapnel were also sold as mementoes – their contortion spoke of the violence the fragments had met.
Several of the audience considered this to be one of the finest presentations we have been privileged to host. If you know of any avenues they might explore for funding a "Part 2" excavation to complete the picture, please let us know so we can pass on suggestions to Colin and Sean – the cost of hiring a large digger alone is quite a chunk to bear without help.
Members Only Christmas Party - 20th December
One of our best attended seasonal celebrations - there was some fine singing, much merriment, some prancing to "The Twelve Days of Christmas", many old friends joining again to share a comfortable and comforting event that has been a key feature of this Society's year. Members were served up the usual amazing range of sweet and savoury food together with Alistair's punch (alcoholic and non-alcoholic). Thanks to Bob Baxter for sharing his photographs (below) of our throng being accompanied by Norma Baxter on the keyboard (thanks also to Jo Sidney for letting us use her keyboard). Altogether a fine way to prepare for Christmas. Thank you, everyone, for your support, appetite and good voice.