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The Queens Birthday Celebration on Rowley Fields – Sunday 12th June @ 1pm

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Did someone mention cake?  I’ll pretty much go anywhere for cake so I’m definitely in!

The folks over at Rowley Fields are throwing a little bash and everyone is invited – Looks like it’s going to be a fun afternoon.

 

Picnic Marquee

Opening of Children’s Grass Maze

Miniature Fairground Organ

Annie Antics Vintage Ice Cream Van

Wood carving demonstration

Family Treasure Hunt

Stratford Cancer and Eye Unit Hospital Fund Raising Merchandise

Shakespearean Strolling Players from Stratford Secondary Schools

Vintage Car Display hosted by Quentin Willson

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Royal Engineers Brass Band practising in the Welcombe Hills during WW1

 

 

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The Facebook group continues to throw up some great info on the hills. This was posted by Joy Arnold a few days ago.  I’m sure anyone who is familiar with the hills will recognise this spot on Rowley Fields, the lower part of the Welcombe Hills near the access point on Maidenhead Road.   You can see the FB post HERE 

 

 

 

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TripAdvisor lists The Welcombe Hills (as the #72 most interesting thing to do in Stratford)

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We noticed that Tripadvisor has a listing for TWH, which is great.  The bad news is that it’s ranked #72 out of 89 of interesting things to do in Stratford.  To give this some perspective the Jester at the top of Henley Street is ranked #48! How is that even a thing to do?

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If you get a minute, write a review and let’s see if we can get this increased – people should now about the glory of The Welcombe Hills !!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Mystery of “The Swimming Pool”

This topic comes up from time to time and is still a perplexing mystery as to what it actually is.  Part of the problem with getting to the bottom of what The Swimming Pool is, is that we aren’t necessarily talking about the same thing.  So some people reminisce about swimming in a pool on The Welcombe Hills as children but are we discussing this pool or other pools?  For example we know there was once an open air pool over at the Welcombe Hotel and also one that was in the grounds of Clopton House itself.

Mike Anderson (who runs the nature website http://whatisawupthehills.blogspot.co.uk/) has created this photo below with notes to outline exactly where it is so we’re all talking about the same thing:

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Below are some pictures of the site we took a few days ago :

 

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It’s deep enough to be of concern to the Health & Safety people

 

 

 

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Not something you would want to swim in particularly

 

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The shallow end with steps

 

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Is it a tank or a swimming pool?

 

The conversation has bubbled away on Facebook for some weeks.

General theories

A swimming pool

The main argument against it being a swimming pool is simply that it’s such an odd place to site a swimming pool! It also has a higher bank on one side. Although not an expert on installing pools, I would have thought that if you went to the trouble to dig out a big swimming pool the designers would have spent an equal amount of time landscaping the area around it.  It certainly isn’t conducive to lounging around.

The argument for it being a swimming pool are that it clearly has steps and it appears to have a shallow end.  Why would someone creating a water storage tank go to the trouble of putting in steps and constructing with an incline?

An ancient water storage tank

Some people have said that it could be ancient, of Roman origin. There were numerous settlements in this area over the past millennia (read this great post on the abandoned villages of Welcombe Hills).  We would love a historian to give a viewpoint on this.  Could a concrete pond survive for this long?

A feeder tank to supply Clopton House

My money is on this.  Mike’s photo seems to indicate an irrigation arrangement that feeds water from the hills into a series of storage tanks that would have fed the main house.  There has been a grand house on the site of Clopton House since 1450 (read the wikipedia here).  The house was rebuilt in the 1700’s and then had a substantial extension added in 1840 – large houses like this were big operations, like businesses rather than simply a place to live.  They required significant man power to keep then running and there would have been a need for a lot of water for cooking, cleaning and livestock.  Furthermore some cursory research has shown that swimming pools as a concept only really took off in the 1850’s when the masses moved to the cities. Even then, they were primarily used for hygiene rather than leisure.

 

Thoughts very much welcome on this topic – and to properly solve the mystery does anyone have any photographs of it being used as a swimming pool?

Visit the Facebook page to add your comments – or if you’re not into social media you can send in any info you have, thoughts or ideas via the contact page and we’ll post it underneath this article.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Town Trust AGM

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And so to the long awaited AGM held at the Arts House. Perhaps it was unfortunate that this was held on the hottest night for a decade but this was only ever going to be a feisty meeting.

The Chairman sadly didn’t have the local support nor the force of personality required to control this riled up crowd. One could have some sympathy for the man being newly appointed and then dropped into the middle of this row – although he might have questioned why his two predecessors (both well liked and very much respected in the town) had quit as it might have given him a idea of what he was taking on.

We sat politely as a lawyer spent 20 minutes telling us, at a soul crushing snail pace delivery, about the responsibilities of trustees – an item that could have taken 3 minutes and was really just thinly veiled justification of why the Trustees wanted to plonk a housing estate on our sacred fields – without ever mentioning Rowley Fields.  People all around me were sighing in an overt manner, clearly getting bored.

Next up was the Chief Exec who told us how the money was spent. The crowd fidgeted in their seats.  We know the Trust gives out money. We read the newsletters and we see it in the Herald.  The value of the Trust has never been in question. It’s a magnificent glorious organisation, a portfolio of assets built up over hundreds of years from the townsfolk of the past to help the townsfolk of the future. For those of us who couldn’t understand the fairly simple concept we were shown a kids picture pulled off the internet which explained it as an apple tree that if you looked after it then year after year it yields apples – ie. don’t sell your assets.  Really?

For the audience there was only really one topic on most of their minds and it was skirted around until it could be avoided no longer.  Eventually one of the Trustees who was in charge of the Rowley Fields project put on a presentation detailing the back story which was so devoid of passion and energy that it was a struggle to stay conscious. Like many this was the point at which it dawned on me that we were being filibustered. They were going to drone on for so long in the heat that by the time we got to questions at the end of the 2.5 hour session we would have lost the will to live.  The Rowley Fields presentation ended without applause or any sort of recognition and we waited in silence for the next segment, the accounts (to be presented by the third chartered accountant of the evening). Then someone snapped, an ex Trustee stood up and suggested that the presentation on Rowley Fields wasn’t entirely accurate – a slanging match ensued.  At that point the meeting fell apart.  The Chairman lost control and didn’t ever really regain it.  The company lawyer sitting next to him on the stage whispering in his ear only added to the sense that the whole group was under siege and that it was us versus them.  The Chief Exec adopted a rictus smile which, although an understandable defence mechanism in front of 200 hostile people, seemed to just infuriate things.  A lady in the audience asked for minutes of internal Trust meetings and was told this wasn’t possible.  Then the lawyer said it would be possible but much of the info would be redacted due to sensitive information (I still don’t know for sure if we can see minutes).  For the next hour the floor would lob up a question, the Trustees batting them away, much of it legal speak or fudged to get out of answering. The mantra that raising money for the town trumps everything was continually trotted out. Some of the trustees on the stage were looking awkward, others bored. The gulf between members and Trustees widened and I think relations are probably worse than when we started 3 hours before. Tim Bailey concluded with a brilliant erudite and concise presentation about what Rowley Fields meant to us.

The relationship between members and the trustees appear to be wholly broken.  A touch of humility might have started to heal the wounds but this was entirely absent.  Instead we had a stage run by lawyers and accountants who seemed to be humouring us like slightly errant children. To keep it a bit less ‘arrogant professional’ in tone and to prove all the Trustees were united occasionally one of the non accountant/lawyer  Trustees was allowed to read from a pre prepared document but you could see where the power resides within the organisation. It makes you wonder if behind closed doors if this dynamic is at play.

The trouble is that we are not small town hicks.  Stratford is packed to the gunnels with bright articulate educated passionate people who don’t like being patronised.  Parking the technical line about primary revenue raising objectives for one second, the simple fact is that The Trust tried to build on sacred land – land that just simply isn’t theirs to sell.  The Town told them where to get off.  They should apologise and take steps to protect it forever instead of trying to justify it and being slippery about their long term intentions. Everyone understands that the Trustees are decent people doing a job for free but amongst a certain group of them there is a palpable sense that we (townsfolk) are the enemy, that we thwarted them.  There is a sense (and I don’t know if this is true) that given half a chance they will have another go, not only because they want the money but because they want to win.  This is the nub of the problem. We don’t trust them.

This is a 800 year old charity that gives 1 million quid away per year to the town. How can you even begin to have this level of hostility from the town that you bestow so much upon? Something clearly isn’t right. As someone who hadn’t ever paid too much attention to the Trust until last year nor never been to an AGM my initial reaction is that the culture of the organisation seems to be secretive and without sounding dramatic, somewhat sinister.  There were at least 3 people in the room last night that were in High court proceedings with the Trust but who were forbidden to talk about it. This is a charity!

I came away from the meeting more troubled than when I went in. I thought that this could be an opportunity to fix things but the chaotic way it was run, the patronising tone and the feeling that we were an annoyance has only really inflamed the situation.  I wonder what will happen next?

The conversation continues over on Facebook >> click here 

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The Lost Village of Welcombe

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I was sent this today by Richard Morris:

About 40 years ago I joined a group of field archaeologists lead by a well known local archaeologist Della Hooke. I spent a long time walking over the Welcombe hills mapping the ridge and furrow, the medieval field system, in an effort to see if we could find the exact location of the long lost village of Welcombe. Sadly we couldn’t find it but think it was probably buried under what is now the Hotel.

Archaeologists usually refer to these lost medieval villages as DMV’s (deserted medieval villages). The normal cause of the loss was  plague and Stratford had some terrible plague years including 1564 the year of William Shakespeare’s birth, which was one of the worst.

But the demise of village of Welcombe (the name means Spring Valley) was different. One of the biggest land owners of the area were the notorious Combe family. In 1602 Shakespeare paid £320 for four yardlands (about 120 acres) of arable on Welcombe fields from William Combe who was a wealthy lawyer and Mayor of Warwick. However a later relative, another William Combe   was involved in the enclosure of the land around the village. This greatly concerned the town council and particularly the town clerk Mr. Greene,who in his memorandum went to find his “cousin” Shakespeare in London.

“at my cousin Shakespeare coming yesterday to town I went to see him how he did. He told me that they assured him they meant to enclose no further than to Gospel Bush,and so up straight (leaving out part of the Dingles to the field) to the gate in Clopton hedge, and take in Salisbury’s piece, and they mean in April to survey the land, and give satisfaction and not before.”  However by December Combes men had started digging the ditch and creating a hedge mound, but a few days later women and children from Stratford and Bishopton came and helped to fill it in again. On March 28th at Warwick assizes, issued a restraining order on Combe and any other from making an enclosure- which was against the laws of the realm. Combe however persisted, he threatened and beat the poor tenants, imprisoned them and impounded their pigs and sheep. By buying up the land and houses, he depopulated the entire village!

Later that year Greene noted in his diary that Shakespeare told him”he was not able to bear the enclosing of Welcombe”.

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More info on this at The Shakespeare Blog
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The Reservoir Near The Top Gate

the welcombe hills reservoir Like many people I access the Hills via the top corner of Rowley Fields up by the tower and I always walk past this. Curious, I popped a post on Facebook to try to find out what it was. For those with access to Facebook the full exchange can be found if you click here. Turns out that this relatively unobtrusive mound supplies the water to the town.  Up on Maidenhead Road the water pressure is awful.  I always thought that it was because of the water coming up from the town but it’s the opposite. From one of the replies “The reservoir is gravity fed. Water is pumped here from two sources. River Severn at Strensham and August Hill just outside of Stratford (local groundwater). Water from the two sources blends in the tank, this goes on to then feed through gravity ( no pump at the site! ) a fair part of Stratford town on both sides of the river, though not much more than that. If you’re walking up that way you can also spot the old abandoned reservoir just in front of that folly tower. I’m a water engineer at Severn Trent and know the site well.”

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ROWLEY FIELDS SAVED – for now …

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By now you’ve heard that the proposed development on Rowley Fields (the lower fields of what we in the town know as The Welcombe Hills) won’t be going ahead.

The full post is >here< on the Town Trust website.

Like many who have come up against the Trust I don’t believe it for a minute.  In a charitable trust it is the Trustees that are in charge and the Chief Exec carries out the orders on their behalf, as an employee. With The Stratford Town Trust this arrangement appears to have been turned on it’s head and the organisation is in need of a ‘clean sweep’ with a new roster of trustees with a more robust constitution and perhaps more of a connection to the sensitivities of the townsfolk.  This project should never have even got this far and the money that has been wasted should be accounted for.

 

Remember the Trustees voted to develop the land.  Have they woken up this morning and changed their mind?

The answer to this is NO.  They woke up this morning and realised that they were about to be humiliated in a landslide vote which would make them look ludicrous.  They backtracked to avoid embarrassment and in some cases to save their skins.

There remains many questions that need answering.  Not least the money that has been paid on propaganda (those full page adverts in the Herald week after week), the lawyers who have been dealing with my colleagues on the Rowley Fields Action committee, the PR Agents, The 3 bouncers at the engagement event (!) and let’s not forget the speculative punt of £620,000 on the Benson Road property.

Only this morning I (and 2000 other Trust members at what cost?) received a mail pack which declared Opposition has “mainly included people who live at adjoining properties” – essentially rubbishing the town wide objection and making out it’s only about a few NIMBYs objecting.

Let’s also not forget the dubious tactics that were in play when the membership was suspended and let’s also not forget the promises that they would never build on this land.  More importantly let’s not for a second forget that we are dealing with a sophisticated operator who is being courted by architects and property developers on a slice of land that is worth best part of £7m.  This land is never going to be safe until it is made *legally untouchable*, and only then should we consider this matter concluded.

For now though you can do one thing, >JOIN THE TRUST<. This whole sorry episode is partly down to our own negligence. I recently spoke to an ex Chairman of the Trust who told me that at a recent AGM only 50 people turned up – out of a total membership of 2000!  If we want to protect our town from developers and those in their thrall then we need to play our part in the community so that we can spot it happening.  We’ve been lucky this time, we won this battle, but the war will continue.

Special hat tip to Tim Bailey who lives up this way.  He won’t take any kind of credit but he’s approached this with diligence and a quiet dignity that I would say represents everything that is good about middle England.

Two positive things have come out of this painful episode. Firstly I have made many new friends in the town, friendships I am sure will blossom and grow and secondly I have got to use the word ‘townsfolk’ which I hope to be able to shoe horn back into common parlance after an absence of a few hundred years.

 

 

 

 

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EGM CALLED – What can you do

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These are the facts as of now

1. An Emergency General Meeting has been called on 2nd March at 7pm at The Stratford Art House

only members can attend

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Members will be asked to vote on an incredibly loaded question, namely :

Should the Trustees pursue opportunities to generate a large capital sum from part of Rowley Fields in order to enable them to permanently increase the income available for grants?.

There was a clause :  Those who submitted their applications before 30th Jan at this moment in time won’t be allowed to vote.

Some members are pursuing this clause with the Trust as it seems entirely unfair to disenfranchise a lot of people who want to vote to stop this development going ahead. There doesn’t seem to be any legal reason for this – other than The Trust want this to be the case.

 

2. What can you do

Join – if you’re  not a member you can’t do anything.  You need to be over 18 and live in Stratford – membership is free.

http://www.stratfordtowntrust.co.uk/about-us/become-a-member/

 

3. What I learned this week.

Interesting fact #1

Trustees are personally liable for the actions of the Trust.  Paid employees of the Trust can leave whenever they want – so despite dragging the reputation of the Town Trust through the mud, speculating £620,000 on a Benson Road property, spending thousands on advertising the development scheme, spending thousands on PR firms and spending thousands on law firms, the paid ‘Management’ could leave tomorrow and it’s the Trustees that are left holding the baby.

 

more to follow this afternoon – i have to go out !!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Town Trust Meeting Tues night

Like many I had mixed feelings about the meeting at The Art House last night.

I spoke to Helen Munro who in person was poised and warmer than I expected.  She’s a pro, empathetic elbow touching, making eye contact and keeping her cool in room full of people that were wholly opposed to everything she was proposing.   I’m not saying meeting Mrs Munro in person has had any effect on my view of the Trust and their wholly misguided actions, but at the same time I’m aware that when this is all over I hope that interactions between the Trust and the townfolk could be conducted on a more friendly level. Her assistant, solidly at her side, maintained icily that only 30 people had come out for the coffee morning at the weekend without flinching which made me laugh when I thought about it afterwards.  It made me realise what we’re up against here.  We are very much the enemy who need to be rubbished and ultimately crushed, there is no room for sentiment here.

For the record The Stratford Herald put the attendance figure at 100 when they visited at 10am – the event ran from 8 until 11, so estimates of 200 are not far off.  A lot more than 30.

The other Trustees seemed to hold the line on the face of it but clearly some were nervous to be facing such obvious hostility from their fellow Stratfordians.  Not all were there. I didn’t get to talk to the Chairman who I’m told is a London executive with a weekend place in Old Town, but feedback from those that did was that he didn’t understand what all the fuss was about.  Given that the last two Chairmen have resigned over this very matter it did occur to me that it’s a sorry state of affairs that the only Chairman they can find is one who lives in London who doesn’t really see why the people he represents are upset.  In a nutshell is everything that is wrong with this situation.

Towards the end of the evening there was a palpable sense of relief amongst the Trustee and hangers on as the pesky residents of Stratford filed out into the chilly night.  I didn’t meet a single person there apart from Trust personnel and developers & architects who stand to get rich from the scheme, who was pro the development.  Some people were visibly shocked as they looked at the plans and the reality of what was going to happen dawned on them.  The plans have all been drawn up.  I got the very real sense that as far as The Trust is concerned this is a done deal.

On the positive side opposition to the scheme seemed to solidify further last night.  Stratford has some very talented professional people who will be gathering in the next week or so to formulate a plan on how to deal with The Trust. I’ll post updates on this as I learn more.

Finally the big question of the evening is “What Can I do?”  Up and down the country middle England is getting crapped on by developers and land owners.  This is very much a story of our time.  The feeling of helplessness is one we all share and it leads to frustration and then anger, all of this was on display last night.

Right now there are 3 things you can do

1. Join the Town Trust (we’re raising questions on the validity of the membership issue at the moment but don’t let it stop you joining). Click here to get to the membership page – it’s free. Do it now.  Don’t wait until you’ve had lunch, or picked up the kids, or whatever other little job crops up, download the form, get a pen whilst it’s printing, fill it out and drop it off in the post box at the Civic Hall / Arts House reception.

2. Wed 2nd MARCH is the Emergency General Meeting – 8.00 PM. There will be a vote on whether to proceed with the development. We think this is going to be a straight YES/NO vote but will advise how this is going to work as we find out- More info here 

3. Write to Mrs Munro – details here .  Write to the Trustees.  Make them know how you feel.  It’s your town, it’s your land, its that simple.

 

That’s all for today – will post an update on this when things move forward later in the week.