Jo Roche - Abberley Hall

The Guest Speaker for the May meeting was Jo Roche, who talked about the history of Abberley Hall. Despite the PowerPoint presentation failing, Jo spoke with an enthusiasm and detail that kept the History Group enthralled.

She began with the very early history of the Hall, when it was a Royal Hunting Lodge and eventually a Manor. It became the property of Walter Walsh, as a thank-you gift from Henry VIII for political cooperation, and later passed into the ownership of the Bromley family of Holt Castle, Holt Heath. It remained in the possession of the Bromley family until the late 1830s, when due to financial embarrassment, a certain Colonel Bromley was forced to sell it.

The new owner was a John Lewis Moilliet of Geneva, who had been captivated by the views from Abberley. A new house was designed for him by Samuel Whitfield Daukes, an architect responsible for several buildings in Cheltenham, the remodelling of nearby Witley Court, and the Royal Agricultural College at Cirencester. 

He gave the Lodge an Italianate makeover, building a Belvedere tower to appreciate the views and changed the name to Abberley Hall. In 1845 the building work was completed, but then a great fire gutted the house. The interior was fully restored between 1846 and 1848. His son, however, who owned ‘The Elms’ nearby, had no need of this grand house and it was sold in 1867 to a Joseph Jones of Severn Stoke, Worcestershire, a rich entrepreneur whose fortune derived from coal, cotton and banking in Oldham, Lancashire..

Mr Jones embellished the Hall with a theatre, a conservatory and a fernery among other things. When his son died prematurely, Jones left the Hall to a cousin, John Joseph Jones of Cheshire. John Joseph Jones expected excellence at every level and added a billiard wing to the Hall. Abberley Hall is a fine example of high Victoriana of that time and is now a conserved building. Another three years of building work added a cascade and grottos. The grottos were made of Pulhamite by a Mr Pulham, a famous grotto builder of that time. On Abberley Hill two water tanks were installed, each holding 75,000 gallons and the estate houses were piped with running water, a radically generous gesture to the estate workers at that time.

The clock tower was built by John Joseph Jones to commemorate his cousin and is officially ‘The Joseph Jones Memorial’ on Merrets Hill. It is similar to the clock tower at Eaton Hall, Cheshire (owned by the Duke of Westminster). Six English counties can be seen from the top of the clock tower. The work started in June 1883 and was topped off on the first of October 1884 with no incidents. A falling weights system for the clock was installed and all the bells are named for the family. The carillon machine is similar to the carillon machine in Worcester Cathedral.

Generously, John Joseph Jones gave three parties to celebrate the completion of the clock tower – one for ‘the good and the great’; one for the estate workers and tenants and the third for friends and family. Fireworks were set off by a Mr Brock (Brock’s Fireworks) who also did the fireworks at the Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace.

In 1888 John Joseph Jones went on a European Tour, but died suddenly in Karlsbad, Germany, in the July. The house was left to his brother William, and passed through several generations of the family until 1916 when it was sold to a Blackheath, London, school, for £10,000 in September 1916. The school, vulnerable to enemy attack during the First World War, evacuated to the safety of the Worcestershire countryside and a school has been on the site ever since. The Centenary of the School will be celebrated in 2016. 

Jo was warmly thanked for a very interesting talk, given with humour and great detail and the audience were thoroughly engaged in the fascinating history of a local and prominent landmark.

More Information:

Heidy Hague 


A trip on the Severn Valley Railway and a tour of Bridgnorth.

Between two weeks of cold relentless rain on a warm sunny morning, Group A, U3A History, met on the Severn Valley Railway station platform in Kidderminster to board the train to Bridgnorth, where we were greeted and introduced to tables laden with homemade cream cakes and scones (SCONE  before it was eaten and after - SCON) Those of us in the observation carriage had an excellent all round view of where we'd been and we decided the royal WE was Nita, who duly played her part with royal waves to all. Some of our ORDINARY colleagues in the next carriage joined us having a laugh although Geoff had lowered the tone a little with historic ambiguities. We passed historic halts and stations with railroad snippets from our SVR man.

At Bridgnorth, we were joined by Derek, our very knowledgable guide. 

After crossing the bridge, he pointed out caves where civil war soldiers, storage, and contacts had been hidden and later on had accommodated local residents. Walking further on, we stopped by the river to hear the history of Bridgnorth as a busy port for barges, boats and Severn trows. We inspected the grooves made by ropes pulling or mooring craft, sometimes by horses.

Full of cream teas, we were quite relieved, that our talk about the dozen or so pubs that sat side by side up a VERY steep long hill, did not include visiting them, but merely described how they filled up, from the bottom up when boats were safely docked!

Next, we needed to go up to the higher town - thank goodness! - in the funicular (cable car). This was not only a relief, but, fun! 

When we got out, Derek told us more about how Royalist the town support was, and the importance of the Greek styled church. Inside the door an extremely large painting of Mr Telford presided over the vestibule to reinforce Derek's word's of his influence on the wealth of the town's industries. The Decca recording company site was nostalgically pointed out by him as his former place of employment (along with one of our members) from the Town Walls Walk. The view over Lower Town was STUNNING, the history of the large thick walled castle, very little of which remains in the beautiful park up there now was fascinating, and by the looks of the many cannonballs which hit and have left their marks, stands with pride to continue support for our royal sovereign. O could we have killed a cuppa?!.....

We said "Goodbye" to Derek as he sent us off to our own devices. 

Now.. Where do you think we all headed?

Of course, too risky to waste time looking for a teashop !

It was all downhill to the railway, and we all remembered the lovely mug of Rosie Lea the SVR do!

The sun was still out so we plonked ourselves at the rear of the pub with our selected beverages. Our train pulled in, and out of it poured group B, full of anticipation for their cream tea en route back. We smugly thought of all the walking they had to do yet with spritely Derek to earn it! 

What a lovely day it had been! Although we were now reduced to being 'ordinary' trippers, we noticed more of the wonderful views without the distraction of a cream tea, AND got to our vehicles just as the rain started!  

Another wonderful, entertaining and informative trip.

Carole Clements

Diana Clutterbuck:  Young Diarist of Hartlebury

85 members of the History Group attended Diana Clutterbuck’s talk on’ The Young Diarist of Hartlebury’.

The subject of the talk was Emily Pepys (pronounced Peppis) who came to Hartlebury in 1841 when her father was enthroned as the Bishop of Worcester. The diary covers the latter six months of 1844 and into the New Year of 1845 and was written when Emily was only ten years old. Her literary prowess may be attributed to Samuel Pepys (pronounced Peeps), the famous Diarist, who was an ancestor of her father’s.

Emily had three siblings – Henry, aged 19, an undergraduate at Cambridge, Louisa, aged 16, about to ‘come out’ in Society and Herbert, aged 13, at the time of writing the diary. Her diary contains amusing, detailed, engaging anecdotes and observations and is written with a child’s innocent comments, but is also interspersed with a mature and wry perspective on people and events. It gives a lively insider view on the activities of a well-brought up young girl of the mid-nineteenth Century and chronicles her social activities eg dances and visits to concerts; her tasks as befitted her station in life eg visits to poor parishioners; her leisure pastimes, for example: games of battledore and shuttlecock and games of chess and cricket and her lessons and education.

Emily records the first County cricket match played in Worcestershire, Worcester against Stourbridge (then in Worcestershire) on August 23rd 1844. There is also a detailed account of the big fire in the Schoolroom at Hartlebury on Christmas Day 1844.

Throughout the diary Emily’s personality shines through – teasing, full of fun, but ‘biddable’. This is a rare insight into an era usually portrayed as austere and formal and Emily’s diary breathes life and excitement into the age.

Diana Clutterbuck’s presentation conveyed all the humour and innocence of the diary and the talk was very well received.

The diary is published by Prospect Books with ISBN 907 325 24 6.  It can possibly be obtained from Kidderminster Library and may be purchased on Amazon.


Heidy Hague

Brian Jeffries – Richard Baxter

A full meeting room, including seven new visitors, welcomed Brian Jeffries, a member of the History Group, who spoke about Richard Baxter. Brian had written a pamphlet about Richard Baxter and used this as the basis of his presentation.

Richard Baxter (1615 – 1691) was a prominent preacher and evangelist during the time of the Civil War. He is particularly remembered locally for being a teacher and curate at St Mary’s Church, Kidderminster, and there is a statue to him on the St Mary’s Ringway in the town. We also discovered that there is an overgrown Baxter Monument in Kingsford Lane, Wolverley, which is managed by English Heritage and several members have decided that they would like to find it.

Baxter Monument off Kingsford Lane in Wolverley

Brian spoke a lot about Baxter’s wife, Margaret Charlton, who came from a wealthy family background in Shropshire. Theirs was a marriage of opposites: she was 21 years his junior, being only 26 when they married. Baxter, at 47, had struggled with his calling to be celibate, in a similar way to Martin Luther, when he met his wife. Richard Baxter had come from a poor background but had risen to become a bold proclaimer of the Gospel and a serious and sincere preacher, known to both King Charles II and to Oliver Cromwell, and his aim was to improve the moral, physical and spiritual welfare of his parishioners.

Baxter Memorial in Kidderminster Baxter Obelisk in Rowton

During his lifetime he was incredibly famous, as a scholar and the author of many books, as well as preaching to thousands of people at a time. This pattern of preaching to crowds was followed in later years by John and Charles Wesley and by the great Baptist preacher, Charles Spurgeon. However, with the 1662 Act of Uniformity, he became an outlaw, although he continued to take a stand against all forms of injustice.


Heidy Hague

Roy Peacock: 1914 – All Over By Christmas.

Roy Peacock was welcomed warmly for a return visit to the History Group, this time speaking on the topic of the source and start of the First World War: ‘1914 – All Over By Christmas’.

With his usual, and unusual ability, to deliver a detailed talk with hardly any reference to his notes, Roy explained the background situation in Europe at the time, with all the political intrigues, alliances, secret agreements, motives and interlocking relationships on both German and British sides. He highlighted the chief players on each side of the conflict, and their own political and geographical interests and then gave a comprehensive account of the incident that caused the ‘Great War’, the unexpected and ‘accidental’ assassination of the Archduke Rudolph, heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, at Sarajevo on June 28th 1914.

With the helpful addition of maps, provided by Roy for members of the Group, he then outlined the aftermath of this tragic event – the unfolding throughout Europe of hostilities which eventually involved the needless sacrifice of millions of lives. The maps and diagrams helped the History Group to visualise the plan of attack, advances, retreats and diversions during the early months of global conflict.

Roy emphasised the British commitment to Belgian neutrality, when invaded by Germany on their way to overrunning France. This aspect was the major issue that brought Great Britain into what was until then a continental issue.

Roy also brought in the local aspect, using contemporary sources of newspaper articles and interviews to enhance the regional impact of this War. One example of this was the death of two local soldiers from Kidderminster, both honoured on the War Memorial at St Mary’s Church. Lance Corporal J Thomason of the 9th Hussars was killed on August 21st 1914 and is commemorated on the Menin Gate Memorial at Ypres. Private T G Rutter, who died on 26th August 1914, within a week of Britain’s involvement in the conflict, was tragically killed by ‘friendly fire’ in the retreat from Mons.

Roy spoke with clarity and perception, as always, and began this year of Commemoration of the Commencement of the First World War in a fitting and well received manner.


Heidy Hague