THE latest book from a long-established historical society is a great example of just how many stories there are yet to be told, writes Barry Shurlock…
Local history societies come and go. They generally depend on a few people, often outsiders. The county’s oldest society, the Milford-on-Sea Historical Record Society, lives up to the bill and continues to operate after more than a hundred years.
The issues of his magazine Occasional, edited by former naval officer and award-winning local historian Barry Jolly, are full of interesting stories that belie the opinion of his committee in 1959, which decided “that all possible research into Milford had been completed”.
A fascinating article by Lynton Robins recounts the time when, in 1648, “for 19 days the local history of Milford ran in tandem with the political history of England”. This was when Charles I was staying at Hurst Castle “on the royal road of death”.
This is serious research that stands in contrast to conventional accounts of the county during the Civil War. As battles unfolded in the north – at Cheriton, Alton, Andover, Basing and elsewhere – Milford remained out of the fray. It was an “island of peace” and “apart from its illustrious visitor” remained aloof from any conflict.
Until Milford was recognized in the 19th century as a pleasant place to spend time or retire by the sea, there wasn’t much of interest. Life was difficult for ordinary people like Charles and Mary Crowfoot, who in 1814 came from Norfolk to Milford to work in the service. Their lives were hardened by the fact that five of their children had hearing impairments (“deaf and dumb”).
Additionally, three of the disabled girls had illegitimate children. Only the enlightened attitudes of certain people in the village ensured that they were not thrown into homes for “fallen women”. Largely thanks to the Crowfoot’s employers, they were therefore able to “live a fairly normal existence for working-class people”.
Under the heading “a life of silence”, Anne and Bob Braid, along with Barry Jolly, have in this article opened up a subject that is difficult to study and often taboo, but which powerfully illustrates an important facet of life in the past.
Barry also managed to write a meticulously researched piece on a lamp post in Lymington! This, however, is no ordinary piece of street furniture, but commemorates the arrival of gas to the city in 1832 and the gift of street lamps by Admiral Sir Harry Neale and his nephew George Burrard, who was MP for ‘ pocket neighborhood” of the family. .
Anyone who wants to know more about getting gas to localities – and much more – will find a good deal.
Just published, the 2022 edition of Occasional Magazine demonstrates the importance of biography as a window to the past. The “roving eye” of Captain Thomas Symonds (1817-1887) provides one picture, while Samuel Manktelow’s “short but eventful sojourn at Milford” during the building boom of the 1890s provides another.
Anne and Bob Braid write: “In just over two and a half years, Samuel Manktelow came along, started a construction business and a steam sawmill, owned the Red Lion, tried his hand as a potato merchant, went bankrupt and left.”
In another article, Bob tells the story of another failed cause, a pop-up golf course in Milford that was lost to development (and that’s changing!), despite the support of a famous golfer from the time, James Braid (no known relatives).
Less dramatic, but probably more typical of the wealthy middle classes who came to settle in the village, Mrs. Catherina Chetham-Strode. Her father was a wealthy clergyman, her first husband an army officer “later revered as a national hero”, and her second a wealthy landowner.
She retired to Milford, initially to a substantial house with 22 acres of land, and a few years later enjoyed a share of £2,595 (about £260,000 in today’s money) of slaves detained in Jamaica as a result of the Abolition of Slavery Act of 1833.
These items, and many more like them, demonstrate a thoroughly researched and carefully written local history that goes beyond the immediate locality. Almost every article in MOSHRS Occasional magazine highlights issues outside of Milford. Digitization plans for the entire series – which currently amount to 39 editions – are eagerly awaited as part of a larger digitization project.
The MOSHRS story itself has become a classic example of local history in action. It all started on January 25, 1909, as recounted in the centennial issue of the current president’s magazine, Chris Hobby and Joanna Close-Brooks. That day, seven people got together and decided to start a company. Three months later, under the chairmanship of Dr. Vincent D. Harris, a retired pulmonologist, an eight-person committee was chosen and 13 members elected.
The idea came from Edward Agar, whose father WT Agar had made a fortune selling land for King’s Cross station and in 1867 bought Milford House and other properties in the village. When his father died in 1906, Edward, his wife and nine children took his inheritance and moved south.
`The committee included architect William Ravenscroft, who later became vice-president of the Hampshire Field Club and “had a profound effect on the architectural character of the village in the first four decades of the 20th century”. Members included a GP, a retired army officer, a former Eton teacher and a professional geologist.
Another member was the area’s largest landowner, Colonel William Cornwallis-West, who in the 1890s attempted to develop Milford as a seaside resort (he added the ‘On-Sea’). The MOSHRS celebrate its illustrious ancestor Admiral William Cornwallis, who had a lifelong reputation for ‘unseemly conduct’ and spent his retirement with Mrs Whitby, the widow of his Flag Captain.
Unlike today, joining the MOSHRS in 1909 was not automatic. “One was not a member lightly – the matter was carefully considered and one’s accomplishments and social position were weighed and being elected was a real distinction”, according to founding member Hylda Bruce, writing in 1960.
For nearly 50 years, the MOSHRS has held meetings and published five volumes of articles, each consisting of six parts. By 1934, increased membership meant that meetings were no longer held at members’ homes, but at a local hotel. There were tours of places of local interest and the growing archives were stored in a hotel cupboard.
In 1944, the number of members of the MOSHRS amounted to 73, although it was curiously decided to limit it to 70 (today it is 200). This was hardly necessary, because by the end of the 1950s it had taken the plunge and the committee decided to disband the Society and move the ‘archive closet’ to keep it at the church.
But there was obviously a lifelong appetite for local history and in 1972 the MOSHRS was revived, thanks in large part to local titular Reverend Marling Roberts and Ursula Danby and Jean Bower, granddaughters of the founding members. Edward Hagar and Arthur Woodd. He has since published eight volumes of Occasional magazine.
Over the years, local historians in Milford have demonstrated how much those interested can learn about a small place. Copies of Occasional magazine can be obtained from www.milfordhistory.org.uk.
To find out more about Hampshire, visit: www.hampshirearchivestrust.co.uk and www.hantsfieldclub.org.uk.