A brief overview of the early years and
highlights of the following three decades
In the autumn of 1986 a group of near-neighbours on Brook Street, Wymeswold – Angela Thorpe, Isobel Foster, Barbara Skirow, Jessie Moretti, and Vic and Bea Collington – arranged a meeting to see if there was interest in a local history group for the area. Several dozen people turned up in one of the back rooms of the Windmill Inn. This was before the two back rooms were knocked through to make a skittle alley (later converted again to restaurant seating) so the room was full. Little surprise when all those present thought this was an excellent idea.
The Windmill Inn in April 1987.
I recall discussions instigated by Angela of how best to minimise the dominance of Wymeswold and encourage contributions from Burton and Hoton. Joan and Peter Shaw and Colin Lines all volunteered to 'represent' Burton on the committee; later Philip White was to write about Hoton for WHO publications. At this time both Willoughby and Walton had established local history groups, although they were to fold within a decade or so.
The first formal meeting of the Wolds Historical Organisation took place in January 1987 – which is why the WHO AGM always falls in January. Angela was appointed Chair and booked speakers for each month's talks, with guided walks in the summer.
Details of about 250 WHO talks (as documented by annual membership cards) can be found here: www.hoap.co.uk/who/who_talks.pdf
29th July 1987: the cheese factory at Scalford.
3rd October 1987: York, including the Jorvik centre.
15th May 1988: Mrs Ingle talking about past times in Wymeswold at the Old Chapel, Wysall Lane. She was too shy to talk at a meeting in the Windmill!
July 1988: WHO members were present for the Sealed Knot's
're-enactment' of a Civil War skirmish at Willoughby, fought on 5th July 1688.
Other early outings
Swithland pumping station, 25th August 1991. Photograph by Alec Moretti.
Fort Henry, Exton. Photograph by Alec Moretti.
The WHO also had guided walks around Hoton, Burton, Walton, Barrow on Soar (16th July 1991), Seagrave, Willoughby church and the sixteenth century remains at Cotes.
Once local villages had been explored the trips went further afield, including Ashby Folville, Ashby de la Zouch, Castle Donington, Queniborough (21st July 1998), Ulverscroft Priory (16th June 1993), Holwell nature reserve and Leicestershire Museum's store at Barrow on Soar. The WHO also booked a Blue Badge guide to Leicester for 18th June 1996 and subsequently another for Belgrave.
Our guide at Ashby Folville on 1st June 1991 was Wing Commander John Carington-Smith, whose family had owned most of the village until recent decades.
At Ashby de la Zouch our guide was especially knowledgeable about double-size Georgian bricks ('gobs') intended to 'evade' the Brick Tax.
WHO Christmas meals
Also at Angela's instigation the December meeting was a Christmas meal at a local venue – not always a pub, as I recall a rather cramped get-together at Stonepits Farm near Wartnaby in the 1980s when it was still tearooms and before David Musson's fencing and timber products business had got established.
The White Horse in April 1987, while still a pub.
One of the first Christmas meals was at the White Horse in Wymeswold – it would be about five years before it was converted to a house. Other venues around that time were the Pullman restaurant – a converted railway carriage at the former station near Upper Broughton (long-since only residential) and the Willoughby Motel next to the A46.
In the early 1990s the WHO meal was at Stanford Hall while it was still the Co-operative Society's training college – but I simply forgot about it on the night! I did make a subsequent Christmas meal at Beaumanor Hall at Old Woodhouse. Odd to think that all but the last of these venues is now part of the local history, at least for meals.
Photographs of the Stanford Hall Christmas meal by Isobel Foster.
Top: in foreground, left to right: Dave Marshall, Bea and Vic Collington.
Bottom: in foreground, left to right: Don Foster, Colin and Jean Lines, Alec Moretti.
To overcome several 'complications' the 2015 Christmas meal was moved to January 2016, followed by the AGM. This arrangement has proved to be successful, even if the event has been dubbed the 'WHO Do' as it is no longer strictly a Christmas meal. Thankfully there hasn't been a hoodoo on a WHO Do.
Down the decades over thirty catering teams have worked hard to – almost always – provide excellent food and a convivial atmosphere. Special mention for the 'captain and crew' at the Greyhound in Burton for doing the honours in recent years.
Predictably, the first WHO talk of each year's autumn season was in September. However the parish magazine, The Christian Link, has a month off in the summer. In the 1980s and 90s there was no Link between late July and the end of September (though now the gap is end July rather than late August).
Angela rightly recognised that members might need a reminder to come to the September meeting (bear in mind this was about fifteen years before emails started to be used to communicate) so put together an annual WHO Newsletter which was circulated early September.
This newsletter started out as a very modest A4 sheet but after a couple of years the Hon Secretary, Joan Shaw, took over production and added snippets of local history about the Wolds villages. The newsletter steadily expanded into something more substantial and eventually evolved into The Wolds Historian which was published annually for four out of five years (2004–8) – PDFs are online here: www.hoap.co.uk/who/twh.htm
Once emails had become the primary way to keep WHO members informed then The Wolds Historian in turn evolved into occasional books – Discovering the Wolds (2017) and People and Places of the Wolds (2020). The contents of both these books span a surprisingly wide-range of topics and centuries, thanks to the many different interests of the contributors. Here is a list of key names and selected topics.
These books were not the first WHO publications, but previous titles had all been prepared as stapled booklets:
- A Portrait of Wymeswold Past and Present (1991)
Articles from this publication have been incorporated into this web site – use the left hand column to navigate.
- A Walk Around Wymeswold (1994) PDF here: www.hoap.co.uk/who/awaw2020.pdf
- Wolds Reflections (1997)
Articles from this publication have been incorporated into this web site – use the left hand column to navigate.
- 2000 Years of the Wolds (2003) PDF here: www.hoap.co.uk/who/2000yotw.pdf
- The WHO's What, When and Where (2007)
Village appraisals and design statements
The first of these booklets, A Portrait of Wymeswold Past and Present, was part of a Leicestershire County Council project to encourage residents to prepare village appraisals. Angela arranged for the project leader, Penny Lustig, to address a meeting seeking support for such a project in Wymeswold. This took place in the original Methodist chapel – then still being used as a church room but quite soon afterwards sold and converted to a house. It was the only time I went inside that historic building, one of the oldest surviving Nonconformist chapels in the region.
Left: Penny Lustig addressing the inaugural meeting of the village appraisal project, Methodist school room, April 1989.
Right: The original Methodist chapel during conversion to a house circa 1990. Photograph by Isobel Foster.
Jessie Moretti took the lead on commissioning and editing the wide-ranging contributions to A Portrait of Wymeswold but sadly took ill and died before the publication went to print. I had been one of the members of the group assisting Jessie so took over leadership to get it ready for printing. (This was about the time I was starting to produce booklets under the imprint Heart of Albion – a 'little project' which I envisaged to last a few years but, in reality, became a full-time job about ten years later and is still a part-time activity.)
A similar project in 2002, also instigated by Leicestershire County Council, resulted in the Wymeswold Village Design Statement (online here: Wymeswold VDS). However the VDS was prepared by a separate group led by Ginny Westcott. Alec Moretti and myself assisted Ginny regarding the historical aspects but the WHO had no formal involvement with the Village Design Statement.
Between 1989 and 1992 I led a subgroup of the WHO doing archaeological fieldwalking. This too was part of a Leicestershire County Council project, established by Peter Liddle, the County Archaeologist. More details here: www.hoap.co.uk/who/wymeswold_fieldwalking_report.pdf
Roman pottery found by the WHO's fieldwalking team.
Nick Hando, a WHO member, is currently mapping the distribution of prehistoric flints in part of Wymeswold parish.
In 1990 Dave Marshall instigated a waymarking project to enable blocked footpaths and bridleways to be reopened. In the event Leicestershire County Council organised for these routes to be cleared and marked.
Dave Marshall tackling a very overgrown section of Crow Hill in August 1989; Sue Thorpe (Angela's daughter) in foreground. Another session of waymarking was held 20th May 1990.
Subsequently John Charley set up a Monday evening rambling group to check on paths and ensure stiles were not overgrown. Although a number of WHO members joined these walks, John's group had no formal connections to the WHO. This rambling group is currently led by Richard Belton.
A well-attended ramble to the south of Narrow Lane led by John Charley in 2008. The Roman pottery in a previous photograph was discovered by the WHO's fieldwalking team in the ploughed field in the middle distance.
Not long after the WHO was founded planning permission was sought to develop the airfield into a 'new town'. Angela led the campaign – 'Stop the Blot' – which successfully prevented this from going ahead. But the workload incurred meant she felt unable to continue as Chair of the WHO so, in 1990, handed over the role to Alec Moretti.
Alec proved to be an excellent Chair until ill-health led him to resign in 2002, when Patricia Baker (who had previously been Hon Secretary and then Vice Chair) took over. Patricia was succeeded by Ivor Perry in 2012. Subsequently I took on the role of Chair in 2017, with Phil Thorpe succeeding me in 2021 when I left the Wolds and moved just across the border into Lincolnshire.
There have been fewer Honorary Secretaries (three) and Honorary Treasurers (four, one of those very briefly). A special mention for David Marshall, who was the WHO's Treasurer for nearly thirty years. I can't recall all the Vice Chairs but I must be the longest-serving (for around ten years from about 1990). My main contribution as Vice Chair was to chair the AGMs each January as Alec Moretti was always in New Zealand visiting family.
Marking the anniversaries
Around the time the WHO was founded it was discovered (I suspect by Jessie Moretti, but can't be sure) than the 650th anniversary of a market charter for Wymeswold was imminent. A carnival was organised for June 1987. More details.
The WHO has also marked its own major anniversaries. Wolds Reflections was published in the WHO's tenth anniversary year (1997) and launched with an well-attended exhibition in St Mary's church that coincided with the annual garden walkabout at the end of June.
Although not part of the WHO's history, few people are now aware that both the duck race in May and the garden walkabout at the end of June were instigated by Angela Thorpe as fundraisers for 'Stop the Blot'. Their success ensured they continued past the need to fund Stop the Blot and subsequently profits have been donated to local churches and charities. The Wymeswold Waddle (a five-mile run along Narrow Lane) became an additional feature of the duck race in 2007.
Above and top: Probably the first Wymeswold Duck Race. Photographs by Ray Perry.
Left: Young Farmers assisting with the Windmill Inn BBQ pausing to pose during the 2006 Duck Race.
Right: 'Chillo' setting off for the Waddle in 2008.
The WHO's What, When and Where was published as part of the WHO's twentieth anniversary activities in 2007. This booklet comprised of a quiz open to all. The prize was won by Hellen Jarvis.
Details of the twentieth anniversary activities.
The three Nine Men's Morris boards commissioned from Ernie Miller as prizes for the winners of The WHO's What, When and Where competition.
There was also a talk about Pugin's radical restoration of St Mary's – delivered by me in the church itself. This talk, although not recorded in St Mary's, is now available via YouTube www.youtube.com/channel/UCipQW2cINdX1G7zsf_5IYPg
Other WHO publications
Discovering the Wolds was published to commemorate thirty years of the WHO in 2017.
Previously Ivor Perry had researched and arranged funding for his book Bringing Them Home: The story of the lost sons of Wymeswold. This was published in 2014 as part of nationwide commemorations for the First World War.
The Second World War saw the construction of the airfield. And in 2021 the WHO published Richard Knight's book RAF Wymeswold: Post-war flying 1948 to 1970. This is also available as a free PDF: www.hoap.co.uk/who/raf_wymeswold.pdf
The most recent publication about assorted aspects of the Wolds villages came out in 2020 with the title People and Places of the Wolds.
In addition to these print publications are numerous contributions to this web site. This website contains transcriptions and scans of a number of important historical sources; additional scanned documents – too big to form part of the website – can be supplied on a memory stick/card on request.
Members and friends
Membership of the WHO has remained steady in recent decades at around 25 to 30 people, even though only about half of the founder members are still alive. But we steadily attract new members, many of whom are younger than the existing committee. So, all being well, the WHO will continue into the indefinite future.
The fairly modest annual membership fees suffice to meet the costs of speakers and, since 2018 when the Windmill Inn could no longer make the back room available, the hire fee for Wymeswold Memorial Hall. Publications have, with two exceptions, been funded from the profits of the previous one.
Around 2017–18 emails became the main way to maintain contact with members. And we steadily acquired an additional email list of people who are interested in the WHO's activities but – usually for geographical reasons – are unlikely to attend meetings. There are now twice as many 'friends' as paid-up members. Several of these 'friends' have made substantial contributions to recent WHO publications and the WHO's web site.
The WHO's strengths
Looking back over thirty-four years there are two aspects which make the WHO stand out to me. The first is the quality – and indeed quantity too (over 250) – of the monthly speakers and their wide-ranging topics and approaches. Sadly these have had to be postponed recently because of Covid restrictions but the resumption of talks is eagerly awaited by members.
The second is the amount of original research by members and 'friends' which has been shared with others via books and web pages. Apart from long-established countywide organisations (such as the Leicestershire Archaeological and Historical Society) very few local history societies in the country can match us! Here's to both these aspects of the WHO continuing.
If anyone can add details – or correct me if they think my memory's let me down – then please email email@example.com
Thanks to Norman Bryan-Peach, Cath Perry and Joan Shaw for assistance.
Uncredited photographs by Bob Trubshaw.
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