Newbury Society Bulletin Jan 2022

Newbury Society Bulletin January 2022

Dates for Your Diary – 2022

(all subject to confirmation due to the Coronavirus pandemic)

Talks are held in the Parish Room, St John’s Church, St John’s Road, Newbury RG14 7PY.

Admission is free for members or £2.50 for non-members. Visitors are most welcome.

Thursday 10th February, 7:30pm – Willie Hartley-Russell: The roles and responsibilities of the High Sheriff 

Willie Hartley Russell was sworn in as the High Sheriff of Berkshire on Friday 26th March, 2021, for this year.  The Office of High Sheriff is an independent, non-political, Royal appointment for the period of one year. It is the oldest secular office in country apart from the monarchy. Today, the role is now largely ceremonial, but carries the status of being the Queen’s highest judicial officer in the county.  The role involves a mix of ceremonial, charitable and community functions.
Note the change from the details previously advertised – Dave Stubbs’ talk about the First Battle of Newbury will be given at a later date.

Thursday 10th March, 7:30pm – Anthony Beeson: Understanding Boxford’s Roman Mosaic

The late Roman figurative mosaic discovered at Mud Hole, Boxford in Berkshire between 2017 and 2019 has proved to be the most important found in Britain for over fifty years. Covered with scenes from classical mythology and with a unique design, it is indeed unlike anything previously found in Britain. This lecture offers the excavator’s interpretation into its design, the wealth of figurative work and the stories from Greco-Roman mythology that it depicts and how it reflects the art of its own and previous centuries and the culture of those who commissioned it.

Anthony is an expert on Roman and Greek art and architecture, a Classical iconographer.  He is the author of the books Roman Gardens and The Boxford Mosaic, as well as many articles on antiquities and art in academic journals. His latest volume, Mosaics in Roman Britain is due for publication in March 2022. He is the Hon. Archivist of the Association for Roman Archaeology, and a member and former Archivist of the Association for the Study and Preservation of Roman Mosaics, and has appeared on Time Team. In 2017-9 he interpreted, excavated and produced the official report on the internationally-famous mosaic of Pegasus and Bellerophon found at Boxford in Berkshire.

Thursday 14th April, 7:30pm – Jon Winstanley: Newbury Traffic and Transport

Jon is the Service Director for Environment at West Berkshire Council. He will be looking at a range of issues, including how the council assesses demand, recent and planned schemes for highways changes in and around Newbury (including the Robin Hood roundabout); work on alternative travel options; and demand management/ co-ordination.

Thursday 12th May, 7:30pm – Sue Ellis: Conservation Area Appraisals: Enhancing historic areas

Sue qualified at Reading University in the 1970’s with a degree in History and Archaeology, and although her career before retirement was mostly based in libraries and in local authority policy departments, she maintains her deep interest in local history with membership of several local societies. She took a post graduate certificate in the archaeology of standing buildings in 2002, and now provides training and support for local parishes and societies on local listing, and the conservation area appraisal process.

Saturday 25th June 5:30pm – Mid-summer Evening cruise on the narrowboat Jubilee

Join your Committee for this summer’s social event.  The Kennet & Avon Canal Trust’s narrowboat Jubilee will be cruising west from Newbury to just beyond Benham Lock before returning.  Full details and booking forms will be circulated nearer the time.

Thursday 8th September, 7:30pm details to be advised  

Thursday 13th October, 7:30pm – AGM + David Peacock: Newbury in 2022 

Thursday 10th November, 7:30pm – Phil Wood: Newbury Breweries

President: Lord Benyon      Vice President: Garry Poulson
Chairman, Planning Spokesman and Local History Advisor: David Peacock 01635 524017 chairman@grahamvsmith

Treasurer and Membership Administrator:
Mike Hood 07775 800183 & membership@grahamvsmith

Secretary, Bulletin Editor and Waterways Representative:
Graham Smith 01635 580356
Dr Paul Bryant
Yolande Fothergill
John Handy (Trees & Landscaping Advisor)
Chris Marriage
Garry Poulson

Telegraphing above the Clouds

Fred Davison

Not many people know that in 1899 Newbury played host to an important experiment which forecast the possibilities of using radio telegraphy to communicate with an air traveller. Wireless transmission of radio signals, Radiotelegraphy, had been invented by Guglielmo Marconi in 1894-95 and its potential for communication over great distances was soon realised. Marconi and others carried out various experiments using kites attached to vertical wires to demonstrate communication to a high-flying object; however, no one had demonstrated that communication was possible between an earth station and airborne vehicle flying freely above the clouds and over the horizon without any earth contact.  

Enter John N. Maskelyne, who lived on Bucklebury Common, and his son Nevil who were both famed magicians but also talented inventors. Father and son quickly grasped the immense potential of radiotelegraphy and set about exploiting the new technology. Naturally, they involved their good friend, the ever-inquisitive Rev. John M. Bacon, the Scientific Balloonist from Cold Ash. In late July1899 they explored the possibility that a balloon travelling above the clouds, could maintain contact with an earth station. This, of course, had immense importance for the military and the proposed experiment excited much interest in government circles and the armed forces, as well as being widely commented on in the press. Transmission of radio signals to a free-flying balloon filled with over 50,000 cubic feet of highly explosive gas had never been attempted, so a number of problems had to be overcome, with safety being the main concern. A balloon filled with coal gas could not provide sufficient lift to carry the extra weight of heavy batteries and a bulky transmitter, so the balloon had to be a receiver station only.

Maskelyne inspecting the receiver

Water dropper

The transmitter aerial

At that time, the standard radio receiver required a good earth contact, which was impossible with a free-flying balloon. With some ingenuity the problem was resolved by using as the earth connection a water dropper device slung below the balloon basket, so allowing a safe contact with the moisture and static electricity in the clouds. Prevention of a build-up of static was of paramount importance to prevent a spark igniting the thousands of cubic feet of coal gas in the open-necked balloon. A wire was run up the rigging to the top of the silk balloon and connected to a small receiver in the basket below. An ascent was planned from the Newbury area with the transmitter carrying vertical wires for transmission of the radio signals needing to be as tall as was possible.

Bacon often made balloon ascents from Newbury Gasworks in Kings Road, which provided a ready supply of coal gas with a good hydrogen content necessary to provide lift. Gertrude Bacon (1907†) described how in 1898 Bacon made his first scientific balloon ascent from the corner of a field adjacent to the elm avenue that led to Shaw House. There must have been a gas main nearby for filling the balloon. This location would appear to be Horsepool Field, Speenhamland Farm where the Newbury Guildhall Club held a gymkhana on 27th July 1898. One year later, on 29th July Bacon made his radiotelegraph ascent from the same location and took two aerial photographs of the launch site at an interval of two minutes. In the first image, the spacing of the crowd indicates that lift-off was from the empty circular area to the left of the marquee, with people crowded to one side. It is possible there was a large gas pipe crossing the field on this photograph. The image taken from a greater height gives a better view of the area with, what is now, London Road on the left side of the photograph. The distinctive roofline and spire of St Mary’s Church, Speenhamland (demolished in 1973 and pictured inset) can be seen to the left of the roadway and at the top left the large white building could be 37 London Road, which today stands at the junction with Parkway. I am most grateful to the Chairman of the Newbury Society for recognising significant buildings in London Road, especially St Mary’s Church, and so identifying the launch location.

Bacon (1899‡) described the day as perfect with a sky flecked with summer clouds. At take-off the balloon rose swiftly and was soon hidden from view by clouds. At one mile high the aeronautical party was completely severed from earth yet continued to receive Morse code messages across empty space. The balloon floated eastwards to Bradfield where it encountered cold air currents which drove it south-eastwards to Swallowfield; it passed over Wellington College and Sandhurst then Ascot, travelling eastwards to Crystal Palace where it descended after two hours, some 46 miles away. The balloon party consisted of Bacon, his daughter Gertrude, a fellow scientist Thomas Simpson, and the balloon captain Percival Spencer. The party engaged themselves in making various scientific observations, taking photographs and decoding the Morse code messages. Radio signals were received clearly, and their instructions obeyed promptly: firstly, by unfurling a flag; at a greater distance by letting off fog signals and further still by firing explosives. In Bacon’s own words: “The idea [was] that we were supposed to be dispatched as a reconnoitring party over enemy’s territory, and … being dismissed from a beleaguered city with which I could maintain communication …” This, no doubt, satisfied the War Office which had engaged with Bacon in various military exercises and balloon races, indulging Bacon’s passion for war gaming and aerial pyrotechnics. 

Whilst the experiment had serious intent, it was not lacking in humour. Rev. John Bacon was President of the Newbury Guildhall Club, a social club for local young men with ambitions, mainly tradesmen’s sons, shop assistants and mechanics. These enterprising young men enthusiastically staffed the Newbury signal station under the management of Nevil Maskelyne. Bacon recalled that many of the actual transmitted Morse code messages were nonsense: “Come back, you have my stopwatch!” followed by “Don’t tumble out” and “Mind the Moon”. Messages commenced about two minutes after take-off and were received for a further twenty minutes, some 12 -13 miles distance travelled. Bacon estimated that contact would have been maintained for a further 10 to 15 miles if the Newbury transmitter mast had been twenty feet taller. Nevertheless, the experiment was a great success. One month later, Bacon repeated it for the British Association of Science, flying from Bradford to Sheffield, keeping in radio contact in an experiment witnessed by many scientists.  

These successful experiments enhanced Bacon’s standing in the scientific community and provided much material for his popular magazine articles and public lectures. Nevil Maskelyne went on to become manager of the Anglo-American Telegraph Company. 

† Gertrude Bacon (1907) The Record of an Aeronaut: Being the Life of John M. Bacon, publ. John Long, London.
‡ J. M. Bacon (1899) Telegraphing from the Clouds, Pearson Magazine, 480 – 484.

Blue Plaque for Education Pioneer

On January 20th a blue plaque was unveiled to Esther Jane Luker, the head teacher of the first state secondary school in Newbury for girls, which has since become part of St Bartholomew’s School.

Known as Jane or “Miss Luker,” she was educated at Dulwich High School and then at Girton College, Cambridge, where she gained the Mathematical Tripos with honours.  She was not awarded her B.A., because this was decades before Cambridge awarded degrees to women.  She was also a keen hockey player, and college games captain.   

After teaching at schools in Sheffield and Winchester, she arrived in Newbury in 1904, when Newbury Girls’ Grammar School was opened at the Technical Institute in Northbrook Street with less than 40 pupils. Her aim in Newbury was to create the kind of school which would encourage girls to go on to university.  

Purpose-built buildings were erected on the Andover Road, and the school transferred in 1910.  Miss Luker moved into the house next door, Tirhoger, with Maud Cobbe, the deputy headmistress, and boarders.  By 1914 the school had 250 pupils.  Miss Luker had her own style; believing that the best learning was that pursued for the love of it.  She retired in 1933, leaving for the Chichester area with Miss Cobbe, and she died in 1969 at the age of 97.

In September 1975 the Newbury Girls’ Grammar School merged with St. Bartholomew’s School, to become coeducational.  With the redevelopment of St Bart’s, there were plans to demolish the Luker building in 2008, but (partly as a result of a campaign from the Newbury Society), the building was saved and converted into flats.

This plaque is the 14th in the series organised by Newbury Town Council, and supported by the Newbury Society.  Details of all the plaques and a map of the locations can be found on the Newbury Society website.

Flats at the former Magistrates’ Court site

A four-storey block of flats has been proposed for the site of the former Magistrates’ Court, in Mill Lane next to Newbury Police Station.

The site is alongside the Canal, prominent from the towpath, and is for 28 one- and two-bedroom flats in one block, with the top floor set slightly back.  We have raised objections because of the prominent and sensitive position of the site.  We feel that, in terms of design, developers should look to the nearby Greenham Mill development to show what can be done using local design themes, including pitched roofs and gables.

We also feel that, as proposed, the landscaping next to the Canal is too restricted.  The Canal is a wildlife corridor through Newbury, and this needs to be preserved and encouraged, rather than restricted.  The creation of a Conservation Area along the canal here in 1983 was intended to offer some protection.

For anyone who wishes to comment on the plans, the application number is 21/03024/FULEXT.  We would welcome your views on this or any other local applications.

Left: the proposed design viewed from the Canal

Bottom left: the Canal frontage of the court building (now demolished)

Bottom right: the Mill Lane frontage of the court building

Newbury Society Bulletin October 2021

THE NEWBURY SOCIETY – NOTICE OF ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING to be held on Thursday 14th October 2021 at 7.30 p.m. in the Parish Room, St. John’s Church, St. John’s Road, Newbury RG14 7PY


  1. Apologies for Absence
  2. Chairman’s Report on behalf of the Executive Committee and approval thereof
  3. Treasurer’s Report and presentation and approval of Independently Examined Accounts to 30th June 2021 4. Election of
    (a) Officers
    Chairman Dr David Peacock Secretary Graham Smith Vice Chairman Vacancy Treasurer Mike Hood (b) Committee Members
    The following existing committee members are standing for re-election:
    Dr. Paul Bryant Garry Poulson John Handy
    Yolande Fothergill Chris Marriage
  4. Appointment of Independent Examiner
  5. Any Other Business
  6. Presentation and Discussion led by David Peacock – Newbury in 2020 and 2021. This will include a review of the proposal to redevelop the Kennet Centre.

Graham V Smith 



The Committee may appoint a Patron, a President and one or more Vice Presidents and details of these are advised  to members at the AGM. Currently Lord Benyon is President and Garry Poulson is a Vice President. All Officers and Members of the Committee retire annually but are eligible for re-election.

Details are as at 6th October 2021. Nominations are invited for additional committee members – they should be  made in writing to the Secretary and have the consent of the person nominated. In the absence of sufficient  nominations proposals may be accepted from the floor at the meeting.  

Copies of the Annual Report and the Accounts will be available for viewing at the meeting or may be obtained in  advance by contacting the Secretary


President: Lord Benyon       Vice President: Garry Poulson
Chairman, Planning Spokesman and Local History Advisor: David Peacock 01635 524017

Treasurer and Membership Administrator: Mike Hood 07775 800183 &

Secretary, Bulletin Editor and Waterways Representative: Graham Smith 01635 580356
Dr Paul Bryant
Yolande Fothergill
John Handy (Trees & Landscaping Advisor)
Chris Marriage
Garry Poulson

Kennet Centre revised plans 

New Street Block A 

Block A – West Elevation original proposal, above: This is the highest part of the proposed development. Its mass
is a little reduced by presenting it as three linked buildings, 11 storeys high and 8 storeys high, seen here from the
Revised proposal, below: Maximum height reduced to 9 storeys

Well, the revised versions of the plans for the Kennet Centre have been submitted (under the same numbers, 21/00379/FULMAJ and 21/00380/FULMAJ), and there is another opportunity to write to West Berkshire Council with your views, making it clear that your comments are on the amended plans, rather than the originals.

The biggest change is that the two highest blocks of flats have been reduced slightly in height. The original 10- storey and 11-storey blocks (Blocks A and B) have both been reduced to 9 storeys. A wing of Block A has also come down by one storey, from 8 to 7.

Apart from this, the most obvious change is that Block C (facing Cheap Street between “Save the Children” and the cinema) has changed colour. It is now much lighter than it was, an attempt to “reduce its impact within the existing streetscape.” As now proposed, it will be faced with beige bricks instead of red bricks, but it remains five storeys high. The bay closest to “Save the Children” (i.e. nearest to the listed building) has been reduced a storey in height, from four storeys to three.

Block C – Cheap Street, East Elevation original proposal, above: A five-storey block facing Cheap Street next to the “Save the Children” shop (no. 33), a 17th-century listed building. This Block would replace a poor building, but is significantly higher.

Revised proposal, below: The facing of Block C has been changed and the heights of the bay adjacent to ‘Save the Children’ and of some of the buildings behind have been reduced.

Block G – Market Place & Cheap Street, East Elevation original proposal, above: A view of part of the Market Place and Cheap Street, with Block G facing Bear Lane Revised proposal, below: The heights of some of the buildings behind have been reduced.

Looking at the Catherine Wheel (another listed building) from across Cheap Street, if these plans go head, you will now see a 7-storey block behind it (rather than 8), with a 9-storey block behind that.

We have included elevations which most clearly explain the changes. As now proposed, the plans are for 381 flats in buildings rising up to nine storeys, for 1,160 residents. More details are on the WBC public access planning website, with the “amended plans” grouped together, and the elevations the easiest to digest. We can find nothing included to address the lack of parking or affordable housing.

We did not like the original Kennet Centre proposals, which we felt were bad for Newbury. The revised plans show that some tinkering has been done, some minor improvement. But minor improvements to bad plans are not enough to make them positive proposals. However, you should judge for yourselves. If you can attend the AGM, we will be interested to hear your views. Otherwise, please send us a copy of anything you send to WBC #

P.S. The amended Kennet Centre plans are due to be considered by Newbury Town Council at its Planning and Highways committee meeting on October 25. If you would like the town council (in addition to West Berkshire) to take your views into account, you may wish to write to them separately.

Horse Chestnuts – vulnerable giants

The Society resumed its in-person meetings in September with a talk on horse-chestnut trees which identified some of the current threats, and highlighted some locally prominent trees and the contribution they make to the character of Newbury.

Before the talk, members’ views were sounded on the current plans for the Kennet Centre redevelopment.  They were united in opposing the proposed blocks of nine storeys and above, which they felt would damage the character of the town.  Instead they felt that development should be limited to six storeys inside the centre, and three to four storeys on the exterior, on Newbury’s traditional streets.

The talk on horse chestnut trees followed, by John Handy, one of the Newbury Society’s committee, who has a long professional expertise dealing with trees in the Newbury area.  He had chosen his subject long before he heard that horse chestnuts were one of about 400 trees and shrubs which have been placed on the endangered list by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

The horse chestnut – Aesculus hippocastanum – can live to be 300 years old, but trees of that age are fairly rare and generally in a decrepit state.  It was introduced into this county in the late 16th century.  It is not a woodland tree and the timber has little commercial use; instead, it is generally an amenity tree – planted for its appearance.

He explained two main threats specific to the horse chestnut at the moment: one is the horse chestnut leaf miner – Cameraria ohridella – the pupae of moths, which creates brown patches on leaves in the summer, usually extensive enough to kill the whole leaf.  Although this can weaken horse chestnuts and slow their growth, this does not generally kill the trees.

The other, more serious threat, is bacterial canker.  This arrived in the UK about 20 years ago, and can be identified from black crusty deposits on the bark and areas of dead bark.  It is this pathogen which is more likely to lead to structural weakness and possible death, and is spreading.  As examples of trees affected by the disease he showed pictures of local horse chestnuts, one on the corner of Andover Road and Buckingham Road, and a row of three on Enborne Road, on the edge of Newbury, where there were once five.

The Horse Chestnut on Kennet Road (outside ‘The Maltings’), viewed from the west end of Gloucester Road in 2014

Among the prominent horse chestnut trees John highlighted were a large tree in Kennet Road, Newbury, about 250 years old and visible from a distance; and the tree next to the A339 where it crosses the Kennet and Avon Canal, in a corner of Victoria Park.  This latter tree is immensely important in acting as a screen, blotting out lorries and other heavy traffic from those in the park, and crucial in maintaining the park’s character.

John talked about some of the work undertaken over the years, which had included bracing and strengthening trees with steel cables and more modern materials, and questions from the audience followed.

A call for volunteers

The plans for the Kennet Centre highlight the role of the Newbury Society, and the need for the Society to thrive if the character of Newbury is to be protected from unsuitable development.  To continue to do this, we need more members, and more people to volunteer to take on a range of roles.

To highlight the town’s heritage, it would be good to have a co-ordinator for the heritage open days, so that Newbury could become a destination again each September.  We want someone who is prepared to liaise between different owners, and help publicise the openings as a joint event.  Support can be offered; the main skill needed will be that of organisation, along with an interest in making this happen.

We are also still looking for a transport advisor: someone who is very familiar with roads and/or rail transport around Newbury, wants to see it improve, and is articulate.  This could involve all aspects of transport, or split into several positions, with someone specialising in railways, another in issues affecting cars, and so on. 

We need people with an interest in Conservation Areas, or in local sports facilities; and it would be helpful to have some who can take charge of publicity.  There are many different roles which could help to make the Newbury Society a continuing success.  Do you know someone who could help?

Mrs Jacqueline Webb

Mrs Jacqueline Webb, who was one of the last of the original committee set up when the Newbury Society was founded in 1973, died on July 7th.

Mrs Webb lived in Streatley, Goring and Pangbourne before moving to Newbury with her husband Donald in 1963. She was very community-minded and was a parent governor of John Rankin School while her daughters went there, as well as a founder member of Newbury Yacht Club.

The Newbury Society was formed following controversy about plans for a large hotel in West Mills and its early aims included improvements to Victoria Park, and better design for the Kennet Centre. Fellow founding committee members included John Gould and Hilary Hinchliffe.

Mrs Webb and her husband were also members of the Kennet & Avon Canal Trust, and supported the work to restore the canal.

As a recognition for her work over many years, she was appointed a Life Member of the Newbury Society, continuing until her death, although she became less active following her husband’s illness and death.

If anyone would like to get in touch with the family, daughter Fiona Webb can be reached on 07783 421181, or email

Mrs Jacqueline Webb
Mrs Jacqueline Webb

Dates for Your Diary – 2021/22

Talks are held in the Parish Room, St John’s Church, St John’s Road, Newbury RG14 7PY.

Admission is free for members or £2.50 for non-members. Visitors are most welcome.

Thursday 14th October, 7:30pm – AGM + Newbury in 2020 and 2021

Newbury Society chairman David Peacock will be reviewing the past two years; talking about Newbury today, some of its attractions, and the range of challenges it faces.

 Please contact the Secretary if you would like to receive copies of the annual reports and the accounts in advance of the meeting

Thursday 11th November, 7:30pm – Mike Robinson: Changes in Agriculture since the Great WarThis talk will cover agriculture over the period from after the end of World War 1 up to the present day, with some references to local agriculture; and will therefore cover the period that most people are able to relate to.  It will include references to the foundation of the industry, and a review of the future of the industry, with challenges from global warming and changing dietary preferences.

Dates for talks in the first half of 2022 (all 2nd Thursdays) are 10th February, 10th March, 14th April and 12th May. Details will be in the next Bulletin or Newsletter.