Battle and District
                 Historical Society





Next BDHS talk

Professor Martin Conway talks to us on Thursday 15 July at 7.30 pm via Zoom. His talk is called “Back to the Origins: the making of Western Europe’s democracy after 1945”.

He is a Professor of Modern European History at Balliol College, Oxford. His research has been driven by a number of overlapping interests from roughly the 1930s to the end of the century. A specialist in Belgian history, his other interests are broader and more comparative and he has been an editor of a number of collaborative volumes, including ones on political exiles during WWII. In particular, he has explored what made and un-made political stability in Europe across the upheavals of the 1930s and 1940s. He has recently finished a book on how democracy was understood and practised in Western Europe from WWII to the end of the 1960s and that is the subject of our talk.

The Zoom link will issue the day before the talk as usual.

Battle Museum

The Museum’s opening hours are now 10-1 Monday to Thursday. The dedicated volunteers are bound to show you something you’ve not noticed before. “Books of Battle” is a new exhibition, shedding fresh light on the history of the town. Entry is free, donation welcomed.

Browsing in Battle

Another book of interest to emerge from Gilly Halcrow’s talk on the Shetland Bus is about Ernest Van Maurik: “Agent Paterson SOE” should be sufficient title for ordering from Rother Books.

In the summer of 1940, Van joined SOE. This led to him to Scotland where he became responsible for helping organise resistance to the Nazi regime in occupied countries. This involved the training of prospective agents in small arms, demolition and other special forces activities. At this time, he helped train a number of Czech soldiers who went on to participate in Operation Anthropoid, the assassination of SS-Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich in Prague.

Van was then transferred to the SOE’s headquarters in Baker Street, London where he worked with notable figures such as General Colin Gubbins. He also got to know a number of individuals who were to become famous agents, people such as Peter Churchill, Odette and Yeo-Thomas (‘The White Rabbit’). His main work was to get agents both in and out of Occupied France. He was then assigned responsibility for SOE work in Switzerland for the rest of the war.

Van was later involved in assisting the investigation into the fate of the many SOE agents who had been captured by the Germans and were still missing.

Available from Ian Cawley at Rother Books.

History in the News

If any member spots something of historical interest in the media, please let us know by sending a scan to the BDHS email account

Neanderthals and magnetic disaster : The Times reports a study suggesting that the disappearance of Neanderthals may be due to a temporary collapse in the Earth’s magnetic field leaving the planet vulnerable to cosmic radiation. Some 42,000 years ago the magnetic poles flipped (the Laschamp Event) and temporarily weakened in the process. Neanderthals were less able to adapt to the resulting wild climate changes than homo sapiens, who spent more time in caves sheltering from increased UV radiation and creating cave paintings. The report also notes that at about this time, coincidentally or not, all animals larger than a kangaroo disappeared from Australia.

Medieval winklepickers : Archaeologists analysing skeletons found in Cambridge from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries have discovered that 27% had bunions, up from 6% in previous centuries. The fashion at the time for long pointed shoes (poulaines) is thought to be the reason.

George III and King Lear : The Telegraph reports an investigation by Dr Sally Barnden into a mishap by George III’s doctors, accidentally allowing him to read King Lear which at the time was thought to worsen his madness. The whole thing is recorded in a Parliamentary inquiry into the debacle. George’s doctors did not know that a version of King Lear was in George’s library within the covers of The Dramatick Works of George Colman. Colman had rewritten the play to have a happy ending in which both Lear and Cordelia survive.

Two mosaic stories : The Telegraph reports that a small mosaic from one of Caligula’s barges has finally gone on display at a museum on the shores of Lake Nemi. The small mosaic happened to be in Rome when the former museum was burned by retreating Germans. It was then illegally exported to America and for some decades was used as a domestic coffee table until spotted by Italian detectives. A happy ending too for a different small mosaic, this time found in the grounds of Dewlish House, Dorset. The mosaic depicts a leopard attacking an antelope. Dorset County Museum led a successful fundraising campaign to keep the mosaic in this country.

Handel and the slave trade: Columnist and author Ben Macintyre reports that like many of his contemporaries Handel invested in slavery through the Royal African Company and the South Sea Company.


Adrian and Sarah Hall


Website news

The British Library is going to archive our website in the UK Web Archive and to make it publicly available via that route. The UK Web Archive was established in 2004 to capture and archive websites from the UK domain and across the web, responding to the challenge of a digital black hole in the nations memory. It contains specially selected websites that represent different aspects of UK heritage on the web, as well as important global events. We work closely with leading international institutions to collect and permanently preserve the web, and the open UK Web Archive can be seen at
Also an on-line version of the BDHS Journal for 2019 has been added – see Previous BDHS Journals

Meet our new President

Our new President, Professor David Bates, gave his inaugural lecture entitled ‘Writing a Biography of William the Conqueror’ at a very well attended meeting on 16 January. His presentation was well received and afterwards David had the opportunity to meet many members of the Society and be photographed with all members of the BDHS Committee. He also gave another lecture – by Zoom on 15th October. This was about ‘New thoughts on the Bayeux Tapestry’.

Meeting with the new Dean of Battle

The new Dean of Battle, the Very Reverend Lee Duckett, together with his wife Ange, has been presented with some books from BDHS members Keith Foord and Tina Greene, which are concerned with the Church and the Battle Tapestry, currently on display there. BDHS hopes to develop some mutually beneficial projects based on the church’s archives and the use of the church environmental space for exhibitions etc..

The Dark Ages’ greatest Christmas relics were at Battle Abbey

The Guardian and other media have reported that a medieval manuscript listing Battle Abbey’s relics has been analysed and transcribed for the first time by English Heritage historian Michael Carter. It reveals that the relics were the most prestigious given to any abbey, more significant even than those at Westminster Abbey.

A report on this can be found at Carter’s paper can also be found in full using this reference: Carter, M: The Relics of Battle Abbey: A Fifteenth-Century Inventory at The Huntington Library, San Marino The Journal of Medieval Monastic Studies 8 (2019)

Video: The Battle of Hastings. No – the Battle of Battle!!

BDHS Members Michael Hodge, Alan Judd and Peter Greene, working in close cooperation with Natasha Williams of English Heritage, have produced a video explaining where the Battle of Hastings actually took place and why we have a town called Battle. The video has been released by Mirador Television and can be found via Youtube link:

Amazing find by BDHS

In the process of changing over BDHS archivists Gina Doherty and David Sawyer unexpectedly turned up an old small parchment that appeared to originate from Abbot Richard Tovey of Battle Abbey in 1493. Christopher Whittick of ESRO confirmed its authenticity This is a ‘pass’ entitling the carrier to travel freely in England and quoting the old charter rights of the abbey. Gina has produced an excellent summary of this find which can be read in Section A3.4 of Collectanea.  BDHS has also given a facsimile copy to Battle Abbey for future display.

L-R: Neil Clephane-Cameron, Keith Foord, George Kiloh, Gina Doherty, Natasha Williams (English Heritage) handing the parchment to Christopher Whittick (Vide-President of BDHS). Picture Peter Greene

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