barn@2 – Your Life’s Story; A Precious Legacy

Marilyn Freeman and her husband Barry run a company called Spellbrooktales and she came to talk to us on 8th January 2019 about how their company can create books from your pictures, memories, poems etc. to pass on to family members.

It all began with Marilyn editing and proof-reading the books which Barry wrote when he retired. I discovered this incredible service on finding a very mouse-munched photograph album in a box in our barn and, wondering what I could do to rescue it, found their advert in a local magazine.

Marilyn had been brought up in a shop in Hollinwood, on a busy Manchester main road. It was when her mother died in 2010 that she began setting down her childhood memories, partly in tribute to her parents and also as a way to help deal with her grief. She wanted her children and grandchildren to know something of her life growing up among the red-brick terraces and smoky cotton mills. She also described in wonderful detail the annual trip the family made, by coach or train, to the coast at Blackpool or resorts on the north coast of Wales. Her poems, included in her book, were so poignant and got us all thinking of our past lives and how different they were from the lives of children today.

A good place to start, perhaps, if you want to leave a written legacy for your own family? There are self-publishing sites online but they require a certain level of skill and an ability to proof-read, not to mention the time and effort it
might take to perfect those skills.

Marylin gave us many good suggestions for ideas of what to include and various themes to work towards, remembering to include thoughts, feelings and references to all five senses. She has produced a small booklet for anyone wishing to embark upon their own ‘book of memories’. Further information can be found at

This was our first meeting as barn@2, our all-inclusive group but……..where were you all? We did have a couple of newcomers but the audience remained gender specific!

Our new programmes are available with a membership fee of £5. Members fees for meetings are £3 and for non-members it’s £5 for which you get a talk, refreshments and a chance to win a prize in the raffle. Our talks are advertised so if you see something which appeals, do come along and join us. You will be most welcome and if you have a talk you can give, or know someone who could contribute to our programme for 2020, do get in touch.

Many thanks and a Happy Friendly New Year!

Val Fitzhugh

Biddenham Women’s Group – Dancing Bust to Bust

Our talk took place on 13th November 2018 at the barn and began with a 1951 copy of an Illustrated magazine, containing an article on Joyce Grenfell, a picture of her on screen and a rendition of her theme song, ‘I’m going to see you today’, which was written by her in 1942.

We learnt from our speaker, Kevin Varty, that Joyce’s mother was an American socialite, Nora Langhorne, and her father was Paul Phipps, an architect. Her aunt was Nancy Astor and she lived a very privileged life at Cliveden. She was one of the bridesmaids at the wedding of Lady Curzon and Oswald Moseley and, unfortunately, one of her stockings fell down. She turned to a gentleman standing by and asked if he could find her a safety pin. He duly did so and helped her to fix the problem. As they progressed one of the other bridesmaids asked her how she knew the king, to whom she had just waved acknowledgement. Just one example of how naïve Joyce could be. She met Reggie Grenfell in 1927, came out as a debutant in 1928 and married him in 1929. They went to many parties together and it was at one such party that she was introduced to an Observer rep who invited her to become a columnist with the newspaper.

By 1959 she had become well known as a singer, comic, writer of monologues and an actress with many celebrity friends of that time such as Noel Coward, Flanders and Swann and Norman Wisdom. She appeared in many London theatres but would only turn up just before she was due on. Joyce also entertained the troops on a couple of occasions, which she found rewarding but hard work. It was after this that she started working in cinema and appeared in 24 productions, three of them being the St. Trinians films.

Joyce Grenfell was a Christian Scientist who did not believe in medical intervention. She sadly died of a brain tumour in 1979.

Happily, we finished on a high note. The talk was interspersed with many of her songs, including the one about the dance class where there were too few gentlemen and some of the ladies had to dance together – hence the title, Dancing Bust to Bust, when a lady is not a gentleman but maybe a bosom friend!

This is but a brief synopsis of our entertaining afternoon. Do join us in the New Year when we welcome all-comers or if you wish to join us for our Christmas Countdown on 11th December at 2pm please contact me by phone 01234 210622 or by email

Biddenham Women’s Group – History of Hallmarkings

The talk took place  on 9 th October 2018 at the Barn. Andrew Waite, the proprietor of Festoon UK, spoke to our group about the properties of amber two or three years ago and returned in October to talk about hall marking.

Over 700 years ago, as an old form of consumer protection, jewellers and precious metal workers marked their work with personal stamps but in 1773 King Edward 1 st introduced the first essay office. There are now four in Britain but several others around the world.

Birmingham, has an assay office mark of an anchor, Sheffield uses a rose, London a lion or leopard’s head and Edinburgh a castle.

Along with the maker’s mark, the assay mark, date mark and sponsor’s mark may be a number signifying the parts per thousand of silver, gold or platinum.

Sterling silver has to contain 92.5% precious metal and includes a hard metal, such as nickel, to make it more durable. Britannic silver contains 958 parts to 1,000. Gold is measured in karats as follows;

375 = 9 karat
585 = 14
750 = 18
916 = 22
99 = 24

Platinum has to contain 850 – 999 (parts out of a thousand).

Testing is done in a variety of ways. It may be done simply by using nitric acid or by using an XRF machine, which can measure the percentage of precious metal. Plasma optical machines are used for testing platinum.

Gold and silver are not magnetic so you can always try a simple test yourselves! Beware though for ‘all that glisters is not gold’. (1596 edition of The Merchant of Venice). Jewellers can of course send your items of to an assay office for verification. Since the Hallmarking Act of 2007 it is illegal to sell items as gold, silver or platinum unless they bear a hallmark.

We also learned about plating and gilding and, to whet our appetites for the next talk in the series, something about gemstones, which Andrew sources from places such as Australia, Brazil and Mexico. His jewellery was on sale at the end of the talk. For more information go to and Andrew’s website

On 13th November, at 2 o’clock in the Church Barn, Kevin Varty will be telling stories about Joyce Grenfell in his talk entitled ‘Dancing Bust to Bust’. Our meetings are open to all. Come and join us!

Biddenham Woman’s Group – The History of Telephone Kiosks

The Group met on the 11th September 2018 to discuss the telephone Kiosk.  The most iconic  kiosk is the red K6, designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott to commemorate the Silver Jubilee of the coronation of King George V in 1935 and every village that had a post office had one. That amounted to 8,000.

Our speaker for the month of September, Helen Crabtree, taught in Walsall and when she and a fellow colleague were driving in the countryside and they passed an unusual post box her friend asked her to stop. They were doing a project and she had to have a photograph of the said post box. This made Helen look at all the post boxes she passed and it soon became a hobby and then an obsession. She was soon invited to speak to various groups and amassed a large collection of artefacts and among the red ‘boxes’ there was a different type of box – a red telephone kiosk – and
there began another tale.

We learned something about the history of telephone kiosks from K1 to K8, the invention of mobile phones and the possible demise of phone boxes. (K9 appears in DR Who!)

With Alexander Graham Bell’s invention of the telephone in 1876 came exchanges, ‘offices’, licences for companies and in 1884 the Telephone Service and a variety of telephone boxes. Helen showed us many examples of different structures, made of wood and metal, and the different colours they were painted. Some became quite elaborate and luxurious with electric light, chairs, clocks, note- pads, pencils etc and were too attractive to itinerants or vandals. One design was needed for the whole country. There was a delay, due to World War 1, but in 1921 Summerville and Co. produced K1, a red and white structure, some of which were thatched. Two of these still exist; one on the Isle
of Wight and one in Dorset.

In 1923 a competition was organised to do K2 and was won by Giles Gilbert Scott, who came from a family of designers. These phone boxes were made of cast iron with a teak door and concrete or wooden bases and cost £40. They had to be painted bright red. Scott much preferred silver! Any of these that remain are listed buildings. There are two outside Burlington House.

K3 appeared in 1929. There were 12,000 made at accost of £11 each. Four survive and you will find one near the Parrot House in London Zoo. ‘Hello, hello!’ can often be heard in the vicinity. K4, the Vermillion Giant, contained a post box and stamp machine on the side. Fifty of these were made and cost just over £50. K5, made of steel and plywood, could be purchased for special events. The voice of Ethel Cain became well known in 1936 as the Speaking Clock and could be obtained by ringing 846 TIM – precisely!

The GPO wanted a new design, which saw the prototype form of K7 only. The jump to modernisation came in 1959 when Neville Conder was commissioned to design a new box, K8, which was mostly glass and at £100 each cost a lot to replace if vandalised. British Telecom announced that they would begin scrapping the red phone boxes in 1985 and it was then that a conservation group was set up to record and rescue as many as they could.

Helen had many pictures of these different kiosks to show us and artefacts from ear-rings to money boxes, models, table cloths and bags and if you want to ‘bag a place’ at one of our meetings, you will be most welcome. If the subject interests you, do come along. For four pounds you can listen to our speakers, meet other people, have some refreshments and the chance to win a raffle.

The name of the group will change in the New Year and will become THE BARN GROUP, which we feel is more inclusive.

Biddenham’s Women Group – The History of Women’s Underwear

The Biddenham Women’s group had a presentation on the 12th June 2018 about “The History of Women’s Underwear”.

Ann Wise, a social dress historian of 30 years (though one would never have guessed it) had such a soporific voice that she might have lulled us off to sleep had it not been for the humorous pictures she showed us.

We started off with some ‘Medieval modesty’, depicted in a woodcut from 1474, showing women wearing a simple loin cloth but, for hundreds of years, the only undergarment worn was a simple chemise, made of coarse linen or cotton. Its sole purpose was to absorb perspiration and protect the expensive fabric of the beautiful dresses worn at that time. Natural fabrics had the advantage of being hard- wearing, could be cut down or passed on to siblings.

Everything was hand made. Sewing machines appeared in the 1850s and by 1870 patterns became available. A bride’s trousseau consisted of a chemise, silk stockings – held up with ribbons – and a corset with hooks at the front and laces at the back which, if you were lucky enough to have a maid, would be tied by her. Individual pockets, often elaborately embroidered and passed down as heirlooms, would be tied around the waist underneath the dress.

Corsets created a foundation for clothes, ensured a small waistline and upright posture making it very hard to bend. They were worn day in and day out and were wiped with a damp cloth.

A cotton-lined quilted petticoat was worn under an open robe in the 18th century. Many examples of women’s clothes are on display in museums, we were informed by Ann, who has worked in the heritage section of several museums. We can only assume the men wore theirs out!

The 1800s saw a change in fashion and a change in the shape of corsets. In the Regency period waists were out but after about 30 years waists were back in vogue again because they had become ‘a marriageable asset’. Young girls from the age of six had to wear a corset for the entire week!

Dry cleaning had become available if you were wealthy; failing that you could use gin and ammonia (and you can only guess where that came from).

Natural dyes were being substituted by artificial ones in the 1850s. Unfortunately, the chemicals reacted with the fabrics and few survived from that time. You could, however, knit your own corset! You would need to add a few extra rows of knitting though because by the 1890s corsets became longer and suspenders could be attached.

Open drawers, like Queen Victoria’s two-legged garments, developed from the 1930s and by the 60s and 70s elastic, rayon and nylon garments were being manufactured.

By the 1920s laced and boned corsets gave way to girdles and stockings were made of more natural colours and artificial fabrics. Ready-to-wear garments were now appearing and enabled women to have more freedom for their more active lifestyles.

This is just a brief summary (if you will pardon the pun) of the presentation we enjoyed in our group. If the subject matter of future talks appeals to you, do come along and join us. In the new year our group name will change and become more inclusive. Watch this space!

At our Summer Social, on 10th July, we shall ‘Party Like Royalty’ and raise funds for TIBBS Dementia Foundation, which is our chosen charity this year. If you wish to join us and are not a member the fee will be £5 for tea and entertainment – plus a quiz on royalty. Please remember to bring cash for a ‘Regal Raffle’. TIBBS, winners of the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service, needs your support.