Autumn Course 2012: 1066 - More Than Just A Battle
Elaine was well prepared to handle
any unruly learners
In the WEA Spring 2013 course, entitled "1066 More Than Just A Battle" Elaine Rawlinson really brought to life the Britain of the Anglo-Saxons, before the Norman conquest, showing the extremely complicated family tree of Harold Godwinson and his relations, with reference to his claim to the throne, and, especially interesting, the Anglo-Saxons' daily lives, including language, food and clothing and how the country was run. She also detailed methods of warfare, bringing copies of coins, chain mail and weapons and slides of re-enactments. The Bayeux Tapestry is a valuable source, though it depicts only the victors' view of events.
The Normans were also covered, of course; especially William's history and his reasons for invading England and claiming the throne. The Battle of Hastings was explained in detail with relation to Elaine's choice of site, as there is now considerable discussion as to the actual location, and also William's methods of imposing Norman rule.
This was a very comprehensive and fascinating course as it covered not only the above but also, prior to the Normans' invasion, the Viking incursions and settlement and Danish occupation under King Cnut, with subsequent payment of the Danegeld.
Autumn Course 2012: A Introduction To Ancient Egypt
Course cancelled due to circumstances out of the branch's control.
Spring Course 2012: Famous Gardens & Gardeners
Our tutor, Andrew Mikolajski, is a noted personality within the gardens & plant fraternity and is a prolific author on these subjects, particularly for the RHS.
This very interactive course presented an overview of garden history and explored major trends such as English landscapes, Islamic design principles and Italian Renaissance. The roles of women as garden makers (e.g. Beth Chatto and Rosemary Verey) were also discussed.
The influence of landscape architects (e.g. Martha Schwartz) and plant collectors (e.g. John Tradescant) were considered, as were geographic clues to plant origins and descriptive plant names.
All in all, a very enjoyable course which was very well received by all participants.
Autumn 2011 - Houses In The Landscape
On this course we looked at nine ‘grand’ houses of Northamptonshire (the term ‘grand’ usually meaning that royalty had visited). In addition to looking at how the houses evolved, we considered their influence on the surrounding landscape.
Tutor William Walford and some of the class members.
Front row: Richard Foster and Judy Cairns.
Photo: Richard Farquharson.
We looked at: Apethorpe Hall which, despite its highest architectural importance, was allowed to deteriorate in the late 20c. Now owned by English Heritage and undergoing extensive renovation; Boughton House near Kettering and the influence of the Montagu family; Deene Park which is still lived in by the same family after nearly 500 years; Rushton Hall and the buildings associated with its 16c owner; Kirby Hall, now in ruins, built in part by a favourite of Queen Elizabeth I; Lamport Hall estate and the associated deserted and depopulated settlements; Canons Ashby House, which evolved from an ordinary farmhouse, and the former Augustinian Priory now an Anglican church; Kelmarsh Hall which was constructed early 18c and dominates the local landscape; Southwick Hall, the smallest house examined but the oldest and one of the most interesting.
Many thanks to William Walford for providing such a detailed look at the development of these houses and the very significant influence their owners had on the landscape of our county.
Spring 2011 - Cultural Change Or Continuity
Phillip Hemming's new course looked at how the Great War influenced British culture and society by looking at topics such as art, literature, poetry, films& tv, myths & legends. He had a large array of dvds, cartoons, books and posters which he brought in to show us, perhaps only outdone by his vast collection of fascinating trench art, the large variety of objects made by soldiers of both sides in the trenches, and the commercial objects made for tourists after the war.
Peter Mackness(left) and tutor Philip Hemming.
Photo: Richard Farquharson.
We were given fresh insight into how people responded to the Great War at a personal level, and how this fed into the culture of the time. We also considered how, and why, many cultural aspects from the Great War are still evident to the present day. Battleground archaeology and a look at Great War memorials completed the strands of the course.
This was a thoroughly thought-provoking course which challenged us to reconsider so-called historical facts about this period of our history. We are grateful to Phil Hemming for sharing his knowledge and enthusiasm with us.
Autumn 2010 - Astronomy For Beginners
Frank Gear brought excitement, a large planetarium, and a wide selection of bow-ties to his Autumn 2010 course on Astronomy.
The large planetarium filled
the Reading Room
This course gave a large class of students the chance to get up to date on the planets and other aspects of our Solar System, to learn more about our galaxy the Milky Way, and to consider the timescale and enormity of the entire Universe. At each step along the way we were able to see how our understanding has evolved over the decades.
Despite some concepts, such as ‘are there multiple universes’, being well beyond easy comprehension, the course was a great success. Thank you Frank.
See http://planetariumman.wordpress.com/ for astronomy features, glossary and some amazing pictures.
Spring 2010 - Behind The News
In spring 2010 tutor Martin Bloxsom joined us again, but not for a railway course this time. Instead, Martin encouraged us to discuss the issues “Behind the News” of the day, and of days past. Students took up the challenge and joined in the wide ranging discussions.
Tutor Martin Bloxsom.
Photo: Richard Farquharson
Many topics were discussed at length such as: UK government and elections, war reporting, privacy issues and law and order. In addition to discussions about the stories in the news, we gained a much better understanding of the way news delivery has evolved over recent decades.
Autumn 2009 - The English Cathedrals
The English Cathedral autumn 2009 course was led by the very enthusiastic Keith Hasted. He focused particularly on the medieval period. We looked generally at the ground plan of a building; secondly at a vertical cross section; thirdly (and perhaps even more interestingly) at the “timeline” through which the development of architectural problem-solving (and the styles which went hand in hand with this development) can be followed. Then we related our new found knowledge more specifically to the enormous edifices that our forefathers built at York, Winchester, Ely, Lincoln and Peterborough.
More modern buildings were not forgotten, though, as in the last session we looked at St Paul’s (re-built after the Fire of London in the 1600s), at the twentieth century’s Liverpool cathedral (a re-creation of the Gothic age) and the new cathedral at Guildford. As a follow-up to the course, the group is joining members of the Fellowship in January, for a tour of Peterborough cathedral.
Spring 2009 - The Last Main Line (the Great Central Extension to London) 1894 - 1923
The Great Central was the last main line built from The North through Northamptonshire to London. Our tutor Martin Bloxsom brought the subject to life for a group of 19 students from Helmdon and beyond.
Martin Bloxsom & some of the items
brought in by participants.
We examined how the railway came to be built and how its engines, rolling stock and staffing evolved over time.
We studied the financial and other problems of running a railway in the face of strong competition, and during a period of war.
In addition to the railway itself, we also learnt about the significant impact that the Great Central Railway had on the social History of the Midlands.
Autumn 2008 - Olympics, Airports and Art Museums
The last thirty years have seen architects set free to use unprecedented resources to create new public buildings. China and the developing world are building at a stunning pace but London is the vital centre for new architecture, where architects such as Richard Rogers and Norman Foster have taken a leading role.
Tea break: Keith Hasted (left) and
course member David Brookhouse.
Keith Hasted took a fresh look at some of these new buildings, how they were designed and how they work, both in the UK and beyond, leading to an interesting and informative course.
Spring 2008 - Magic & Medicine: Domestic remedies
from pre-history to the present day
Tutor Patricia Taylor (third from left) in discussion
with Liz Woolley, Rosemary Verner
and Aileen Buzzoni.
Tutor Patricia Taylor challenged us to look at the origins of domestic remedies through folklore, herbals, journals and household books from pre-history to present day. It was surprising to learn just how wide-ranging the subject is.
To start with we looked at past ideas and beliefs about well-being, disease and healing. Then we examined teratments and remedies used to cure a wide range of ailments. We learnt who prepared the remedies, and who was able to provide a range of treatments.
We considered how people knew which plant or other materials to select and then prepare for medicinal purposes. Some of the ingredients were familiar to us and accepted in modern medicine. Others, such as metals and animal waste products, may or may not have been beneficial, but definitely wouldn’t appeal today.
It was quite striking how the remedy would vary depending on what you could afford to pay. In some cases the remedy seemed to be to eat a vast meal, an option not available to the less well-off. Maybe the remedy for those that could afford less was more effective!
Thanks to Patricia we are now better able to appreciate the influence that magic and medicine had on the population throughout recorded history.
Autumn 2007 - The Lost & Deserted Villages of Northamptonshire
Liz Woolley and tutor Ted Walmsley.
This was a very popular course that looked in detail at some of this county's 82 lost or deserted villages. Our tutor, Ted Walmsley, had completed new research on several such villages and was keen to share his knowledge with us.
Many of these lost or deserted villages were already known to us, so it was very interesting to learn more about their history. Through this course we were able to understand the circumstances that caused villages to be deserted throughout various periods in history.
We saw how evidence of village depopulation could be found by analysis of historical documents, examination of aerial photos, and by looking at results of previous archaeological surveys. Ted's own photos were used to very good effect to show how evidence left in the landscape often provides clues as to the previous location, size and occupation of villages.
Thanks to Ted we now have a much better understanding of our own local area. And, as many of the lost and deserted villages are very close to home, we now have ample opportunity to visit and investigate further.
Spring 2007 - Course on Comparative Religions
"Whatever our individual beliefs we can all benefit from an understanding
of other people's faiths".
WEA member Douglas Hadfield (left) in discussion
with course tutor Ted Bray.
Taking the above statement as the starting point, our tutor Ted Bray
enlightened us as to how the world's major religions and some of the
smaller religions developed over time.
It was fascinating to learn about the similarities and differences
between the beliefs and practices of followers of different faiths.
With many current news stories illustrating some aspect of religious
belief, it was very helpful to be able to discuss the problems
associated with the diverse cultural perceptions held throughout the
We are very grateful to Ted for sharing his wide knowledge of this
subject with us.
Autumn 2006 - Talking About Gardens
Andrew Mikolajski has written many books on gardening (as for the
New Plant Library and the R H.S), and so he came to lecture at the
WEA with the benefit of a very knowledgeable background.
WEA member Alan Watson (left) in
discussion with course tutor, Andrewe Mikolajski
Members particularly enjoyed his sessions on pruning ("when to
prune" will always bring up thoughts of his strictures), the
do's and don'ts of garden design (from now on who will ever put white
flowers or glazed pots in the garden without thinking of him?), and
some of us were fascinated to learn about botanical names.
We are grateful for the enthusiasm that Andrew brought to the course,
and his influence will, we are sure, be felt in our gardening from
Spring 2006 - Families, Fields & Farms: Sources for Village History
Course tutor Deborah Hayter.
Twenty three WEA members enthusiastically pursued this new WEA
course entitled Families, Fields and Farms: Sources for Village
The tutor, Deborah Haytor M.A, discussed historical sources in
tandem with a close look at the village communities of the past.
Because Deborah is a local historian who has lived in South Northamptonshire
and North Oxfordshire for most of her life, she was able to tailor
the course to relate to the history of Helmdon.
The course was extremely interesting and stimulating, and it is
to be hoped that as a result, more topics will get researched to
find their way into another "Aspects of Helmdon" publication.
Tutor Denise Cowley (right) with WEA
course member Joan Hadfield.
Our autumn 2005 course "Anglo-Saxon and Viking England"
was given by Dr Denise Cowley and looked at the archaeology of England
during the Anglo-Saxon and Viking era (c. AD 400 - 1066). Topics
included the archaeological evidence for British resistance under
the legendary King Arthur, the famous Sutton Hoo Ship Burial, and
Viking York (Jorvik).
Denise brought the latest information on this fascinating subject
to Helmdon. It was very surprising to learn how recent evidence
has changed our understanding of Anglo-Saxon and Viking people and
their way of life.
Joanna Rogers with course member Julian
Partis discussing a decorative
item from the 1920s.
Tutor Joanna Rogers was welcomed back to Helmdon to give the spring
2005 course "The Suburbans". This course looked at styles
of suburban housing, furniture and decorative items from the 1920s
to the 1950s.
Many contrasting views have been made about the delights (or otherwise)
of suburbia. However, as it offered desirable housing to a workforce
from a diversity of professions, the spending power of those that
lived there was soon appreciated by product designers and manufacturers.
Many of these products are now keenly collected.
Some smaller items were brought to the classroom each week to complement
those displayed on slides. Joanna made this a very interesting and
thoroughly enjoyable course.
This autumn saw a welcome return of tutor Judith Hodgkinson. The course
"Looking at Pictures" exceeded expectations, with
Judith showing a wide range of landscapes, portraits and abstract
paintings from major artists, beginning at the Italian Renaissance
and going up to the Twentieth Century.
Judith used all the latest technology
Using digital images we looked at the pictures, rather than just seeing
them, learning to appreciate the elements within painting, i.e. composition
structure, perspective device, and technique, from fresco and oil
painting to watercolour and etching. With a visit to the Ashmolean
Museum along the way, we feel that we have had an excellent introduction
to Art History. Judith is an excellent tutor, using up-to-date technology,
and at the end of the class, all we could say was
enjoyed the course, come back soon.
Owen Bryce explains the workings of a
trumpet to WEA members Margaret
Reardon and Jane Harris
"The Story of Jazz" went, quite literally, with
Twenty six members gathered to glean from Owen Bryce, the well-known
jazz trumpeter, more about this kind of music, and were thrilled
to listen to excerpts of early jazz and to have him illustrate his
talk with the aid of his instrument. Owen has been involved in the
jazz scene in Britain and elsewhere for many years, both as a musician
and teacher, and counts among his many pupils, Humphrey Lyttleton
(albeit for three hours on a train) and Chris Barber, to name but
This has been an excellent course, and Owen is to be congratulated
on his enthusiasm and the knowledge he has of his subject. He has
given an interest in jazz to some of us who were unaware of its
appeal, and there are plans, afoot, no doubt, to visit the Stables
and other jazz venues in the area.
"Architecture from 1500
-2000", local Buildings large and small, their function
and how they relate to major architectural movements, was the subject
of our Autumn course with tutor Judith Hodgkinson. With nearly thirty
participants the course has been very successful.
Judith has been brilliant. Her warmth and enthusiasm,
combined with her detailed research and her presentation using the
most up-to-the-technology, has expertly shepherded us through the
different styles of buildings, making us aware of the smallest details.
Even those of us who had some knowledge of her subject have had
their eyes opened, and she has interested us in relatively unknown
Northamptonshire buildings that are well worth a visit.
We look forward to the Spring, when we plan to have
a Saturday walk round Warwick, taking in architectural styles on
Our course for the Spring term was "The
Wide World of an 18th Century Parson" with tutor Barbara
Well respected in local history circles, Barbara is the reviews
editor of Local History magazine.
Starting from a book of memoirs written by an 18th century country
parson, the course looked at life in the village and beyond, using
clues in the memoirs which lead to documents in record offices and
The course focused particularly on the life and work of Parson Maynard
of Boddington, who was contemporary with Samuel Johnson, the Great
The classes were followed up with a visit to Farnborough
Hall near Banbury, an example
of a fine 18th century house.
The main course for the Autumn
term was "Wildlife Around Helmdon" with tutor Brian
Webster. Up to thirty people attended the classes, demonstrating
just how popular the subject of natural science is in a rural area.
Brian has an extraordinary knowledge of flora and fauna and spoke
eloquently about the various species found in and around Northamptonshire.
He complemented his talks with wonderful slides, most of which he
Brian's speciality is birds, and the class were saddened to learn
of the demise of some of our most loved species such as sparrows,
warblers and thrushes. Larger birds, such as collared doves, magpies
and seagulls seem to be on the increase as they have been better
able to adapt to man's environment.
The class hope to have a follow up to this course with a visit to
the National Wildflower
Centre in Liverpool in the summer.
Running concurrently with the wildlife course was Danny Moody's "Next Steps In Computing", which was a follow up
to the beginner's courses run in Autumn 2001 and Spring 2002. The
fully subscribed class was held in the ICT suite at Helmdon School
and focused on subjects like advanced file management, e-mail formatting
and attachments and producing Word documents and simple Excel
Everyone on the course made excellent progress and, above all, grew
in confidence to enable them to practice on their home computers
without fear of breaking something!
Members enjoyed the 10-session spring course "Local History from
Literature", with Andrew Rayment. Indeed it produced much discussion.
He introduced us to some of the early Northamptonshire poets, including
Mary Leapor, of Brackley, who wrote evocatively about Edgecote House.
We learnt about John Dryden, John Clare and H.E. Bates, among many
others, whose work helps us to understand how people lived in Northamptonshire
down the ages.
Tutor Andrew Rayment at the "History from Local Literature"
Much of history that matters is less about great events than it is
about people's lives. It is from these that words and meanings grow.
We read (and listened to) words and voices from our rural and urban
past in Northamptonshire over the last 300 years and although there
were some famous names and voices, we mostly cherished and learnt
from the distinction of ordinariness and found this fresh and (sometimes)
strange and inspiring!
Running at the same time as the Andrew Rayment course was Danny
Moody's "Basic Computing" course.
The 2002 computer course members in the ICT suite at the
school with guest Dr. Bob Chapman (seated left), the WEA Eastern
The course, which was fully subscribed once again,
began its second run on Monday 7th January 2002 in the ICT suite
at the school. The course helps beginners get to grips with the
terminology used in home computing and provides a flavour of how
owning a PC at home can be fun and enjoyable. The course teaches
the basics of Microsoft® Word, Internet and e-mail
as well as covering such issues as on-line safety and the threat
"Discovering Antiques" began with a swing on 11 September
2001. 32 members were at the school to hear tutor Joanne Rogers give
a general introductory look at collecting and the different approaches
to it. We so casually use the terms antiques, collectibles, bygones.
Yet these things were once just articles of everyday use for people
not so very different from ourselves, and shaped the pattern of their
lives just as the television and the microwave have shaped the pattern
of ours. The course showed how objects can bring us closer to the
ordinary people who once used them in their homes. It also looked
at the materials, techniques and fashions, and showed how these in
turn can tell us of the wider world in which these people lived. The
class had an interesting ten weeks followed by an outing to two
museums in London.
Members look at antiques with Joanne
Rogers (middle) in the school hall.
The computer course took place in the ICT suite at the
Danny Moody, a WEA tutor and Helmdon branch member,
gave a course on "Basic Computing" to ten willing
students who were eager to get to grips with modern technology.
The ten week course started on 17th September and the aim was to
provide an introduction to computing starting at the very basics.
The emphasis was on learning about the overall function of a computer;
not "how does it do that" but simply "what does it do". In addition,
a basic grounding was given in the most commonly used applications
of word processing and the Internet. The class was held in the ICT
suite at Helmdon Primary School so that computers were available
during class for the practical aspects of the course. Due to the
success of the course, and the fact that it was heavily oversubscribed,
the intention is to hold another class early in 2002.
Spring Course, "The Weather and Climate of the British Isles" began on Tuesday 9th January in Helmdon School. The tutor, Greg
Spellman, aims to explore the weather's fundamental characteristics,
and to examine the main mechanisms that explain its day to day changes.
Further topics include the meteorology of extreme events (with case
studies), a discussion of regional climates of the British Isles,
and the application of climatic knowledge.
The interest in weather in Britain is always immense, with talk
about it often a prelude to a conversation whether with friends
or strangers, and there has also been increasing talk of global
warming recently, and concern about the disastrous floods just before
Christmas, so the course could not have been more timely. Thirty
seven people showed their interest on the first Tuesday, and they
were not disappointed. Greg Spellman's teaching style included the
use of satellite images and charts, and a copy of the day's weather
map, so the first evening of the course was very satisfying.
The fact that the moon was in eclipse added spice to the first evening
- we dutifully traipsed outside the school to inspect it!
The autumn term began on Tuesday, 19 September 2000 with 30 participants.
The lecturer was Geoffrey Starmer and his subject was "Northamptonshire
in the Railway Age"