A Potpourri of Social History Talks Series

This all series ticket covers all five talks in the Winter “Potpourri of Social History” talks series, for the discounted price of four. You may also book each talk individually – see each separate event page. All talks begin at 2pm and last about an hour with time for questions and discussion afterwards.

Thursday 14 January 2021 – Healthcare in a Georgian Town with Penny Stokes

Join us for a fascinating insight into the lives of our ancestors as we consider healthcare in Georgian England. Historian Penny Stokes will look at medical practitioners, mortality and causes of death, and the remedies which the Georgians trusted for cures. Specific examples will be from Newbury.

The eighteenth century was a dicey time to become ill. The physicians and surgeons of Georgian times were technically regulated, however standards of training and practice were unenforceable. The majority of country practitioners were wholly uneducated and often plied surgery alongside other random trades such as ironmongery or shoemaking. Treatments varied enormously, quackery was common.  

Thursday 28 January 2021 – “King of All Balloons” – James Sadler with Mark Davies

Oxford pastry cook & England’s first aeronaut

There are several Berkshire associations within the story of James Sadler (1753–1828), the unlikely first Englishman ever to build and fly a hot-air balloon. His wife came from Abingdon, for instance. And the first English woman to fly, as a result of Sadler’s expertise, came plausibly from Bucklebury.

Subsequently an engineer, designer of armaments, and Chemist to the Navy, Sadler returned to ballooning after a gap of 24 years in 1810. He and his son Windham set numerous records while ascending from some 40 British towns and cities. Many being the first ever from those places. Yet despite a lifetime of achievement, which brought him into contact with some of the most significant names in Georgian Britain, Sadler ended his days in impoverished obscurity.

Thursday 11 February 2021 – The Upper Thames Patrol with Bill King

The Upper Thames Patrol were formed to defend the Thames when World War Two seemed inevitable. It became part of the Home Guard, when it was formed in 1940.

It was the Upper Thames Patrol’s responsibility  to destroy the Thames’ bridges and locks  if the enemy was seen approaching. They covered an area from Teddington Lock to Lechlade, which included 35 road bridges, 7 rail bridges and 42 locks. This often forgotten unit had their work cut out. This talk tells the story of the Upper Thames Patrol, their organisation, their experiences and the men who served in it.

Thursday 18 February 2021 – Reading c.1740 – c.1800: commerce, culture and chapel with Joan Dils

Discover mid-Georgian Reading in this fascinating talk by eminent local historian Joan Dils.

Reading’s age of cloth production was over and its reputation for flourishing industries was still to be made. In contrast, during these five decades Reading was intent on cementing its role as an inland port and distribution centre, a magnet for the aficionados of balls and race meetings and a welcome home for serious-minded Christian worshippers. Joan Dils’ talks are always very popular and offer new insights into the history of Reading. One not to be missed!

Saturday 6 March 2021 – The Arrival of the Railways in Reading with Richard Marks

Brunel’s Great Western Railway arrived in Reading on the 30th March 1840. The history of railway building states that railways destroyed property when the railways were built, and always resulted in huge economic growth for those towns it reached, but was this true in Reading? In this talk, historian Richard Marks, will look at the impact the railway had on the town when it arrived, and how this compared to other places. We will also look at how the first train service compared to the service Reading enjoys today.

Pre-booking is required because places are limited. Full joining instructions will be emailed to attendees in advance. Bookings close one day before the event.

To join these talks, you will need a computer device with speakers. Ideally, also a webcam and microphone. You also need to be able to access the internet from it. First-time users of Zoom, will be asked to download a small piece of software, which will be sent in advance. Technical help is available, please contact  

To book – scroll down.

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  • Bill King
    Bill King

    Bills’ main historical specialism is the Second World War, with particular reference to the role of Airborne and Special forces and in clandestine warfare. He has conducted extensive research on the role of the British Resistance Organisation (Auxiliary Units) and has contributed to the books ‘With Britain in Mortal Danger’ (2002) and ‘Churchill’s Underground Army’ (2008).

    Bills interests and research has led him to contributing articles to ‘After the Battle’ magazine and to elements of the books ‘D-Day – Then and Now’, ‘Operation Market – Garden – then and now’ and ‘Glenn Miller in Britain – Then and Now’. He is a former Chairman of the Ridgeway Military and Aviation Research Group (RMARG) and is a member of The Western Front Association and of the Military Vehicle Trust.

    Bill has appeared on radio and TV on many occasions, including Countryfile’ on BBC1, ‘History Mysteries’ on BBC2, the Channel 4 series ‘Dads Secret Army’, the Channel 5 Select series ‘Secrets of the National Trust’, and ‘The Thames, Britain’s Great River’ with Tony Robinson. In addition, Bill is a regular speaker throughout Wiltshire, Berkshire, Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire and Dorset.

  • Joan Dils
    Joan Dils

    Joan Dils is an experienced local historian and writer specialising in 16th and 17th century Berkshire. Her books include: the first and second editions of “An Historical Atlas of Berkshire”, the latter edited in conjunction with Margaret Yates, and Reading St Laurence Churchwardens’ Accounts, 1498-1570: Parts I and II, (Berkshire Record Series). Her latest, “History of Reading”, was published in October 2019.

    Joan is president of the Berkshire Local History Association and also the History of Reading Society, and an Honorary Visiting Fellow in History at the University of Reading. She taught history and local history for the former School of Continuing Education at Reading and Oxford Universities where she was a part-time lecturer.

  • Mark Davies
    Mark Davies

    Mark Davies is an Oxford local historian and guide, with a particular interest the history and literature of the non-University aspects of the city. He has lived on a narrowboat in Oxford since 1992, and is an authority on the social and cultural importance of the city’s waterways. The early history of ballooning marks a change of element from water to air but maintains his preferred theme of topics associated with Oxford ‘Town’ rather than ‘Gown’. Mark has written and published seven local interest books, including ‘King of all Balloons’, the biography of James Sadler and his balloonist son, Windham. He is currently advising the Museum of Oxford prior to its reopening in 2021.

  • Penny Stokes
    Penny Stokes

    Penny Stokes has been researching, writing and publishing the history of West Berkshire for 30 years. She was editor of the Berkshire Family Historian from 2006 to 2016. She has an MSc in English Local History from the University of Oxford.

  • Richard Marks
    Richard Marks

    Richard Marks is a published historian based in Berkshire who specialises in military, industrial and railway history. His current areas of research are the aircraft and systems of the RAF, industrial development in the Victorian period, and the development of the railway and canal systems in Britain in the mid to late 19th Century. Richard is also currently researching a PhD in industrial history.

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