The first meeting of the re-formed SULGRAVE VILLAGE HISTORICAL SOCIETY took place in the Great Hall of Sulgrave Manor on Thursday 21st July 1988 at 8.00 pm. Over sixty villagers braved the pouring rain and at the meeting expressed great enthusiasm for the idea of setting up a Local History Museum in the loft of the Manor’s Old Brew House. To be eligible for grant aid the Museum would have to be run by a properly constituted body, thus a second meeting was convened for Thursday 28th August for this purpose. A Committee of Officers was elected with Martin Sirot-Smith becoming Chairman, Maureen Jeffrey, Secretary and Austin Waterworth, Treasurer. On the Committee were Chris Beck, Shrimp Christy, Pauline Flynn and Jan Spencer-Ellis. They were charged with preparing a Constitution, looking at aims and objectives and a programme of events for the Society.

The meeting then went on to organise working parties to prepare the Brew House site then to the setting up of working groups to be concerned with the collecting, writing up and designing material for the Museum. It was decided to use the Northamptonshire ACRE Parish Appraisal structure as a basis. Ten subject groups, each with a co-ordinator were set up to delve into every aspect of village life.

It was then decided to hold bi-monthly meetings the first of which had Pam Diamond, Director of Stacey Mill Museum at Wolverton, speaking on “How to set up a new museum”. Regular open speaker evenings were then instigated as well as regular Village Appraisal meetings to monitor the progress of all the working groups. Early in 1989 the Constitution was accepted, creating the SULGRAVE HISTORY SOCIETY to which all Villagers were automatically members!

By April 30th when the then new American Ambassador Henry Catto came to the manor to celebrate the 200th anniversary of George Washington’s inauguration as the first President of the United States of America, the Society Members had not only completed the Brewhouse exhibitions, but had devised, written and produced an Historical Pageant telling the story of the Washington Family in words, music, dance and song. This was not only performed to a large audience on April 30th but again on June 4th, July 16th and August 6th and got a lot of publicity in the press, tv and radio.

To celebrate the achievements of the year the first of the Traditional Christmas Parties was held in the Great Hall of Sulgrave Manor inviting all those villagers who had made them possible. They in themselves were to become really special occasions.

1990 saw a special retrospective exhibition mounted in the Brewhouse based on Sulgrave 1890. A great deal of wonderful material was provided by everyone in the village and a series of top class displays produced which complemented the series of Oral History evenings we had when the older villagers told of life gone by. By the end of 1991 a great deal of material had been gathered by all the working groups and at the November AGM Ian Nelson, the Northamptonshire Parish Appraisal Officer, addressed us on the topic “Towards Publication”. Following this meeting an Editorial Committee was set up to plan the way forward.

The early 90s saw many meetings dealing with local life events and special happenings. One highlight being the first performance for many, many years of the Sulgrave Mummers play in the Great Hall at Sulgrave Manor. The local History Museum exhibitions were again changed this time creating the rooms and workplaces of the immediate post 1st World War period. The editorial and publishing committees worked tirelessly to get the Parish Appraisal, to be titled “The Chronicles of Sulgrave” up to print. Finally in early 1995 it was published. Over 60 members had been involved in one way or another and an incredible amount of “man” hours. However all can be proud of the very fine 200+ page well illustrated tome which covers every aspect of Sulgrave Village life in much detail.

The then Chairman, Councillor Rodney Henn,
receives the first copies of the Chronicles on behalf of the Parish Council
Photo: Peter Mackness

Bouyed up from the success of the Chronicles of Sulgrave, in 1998 it was decided to embark on a new project “The Characters of Sulgrave”. Basically this would be an Oral History of the village with particular emphasis on the people who lived in Sulgrave. It was realised that such a project needed much expertise, funding and long term planning. After a series of meetings with such experts, it was realised that a number of interesting history based projects could attract funding from the Local Heritage Initiative. So at an open meeting held on 29th September 2001 it was decided to go ahead to raise funding for a range of projects including:- The Oral History of Sulgrave residents; the publication of the Excavations of Sulgrave Castle; the restoration of the wall around the Castle Field; the production of interpretive panels and involvement with the National Local History Week May 4-12, 2002. On 11th April 2002 the LHI awarded us a grant of £10,514 to finance the first and last of the above projects. Our remit “to raise awareness of the heritage of Sulgrave, Northamptonshire, by training local people in oral history techniques and producing a detailed oral history of the village, to create a leaflet-guided heritage trail and arrange an exhibition, guide walks and historical re-enactments.” George Metcalfe took on the task of producing the History Walk, all were involved in setting up a fantastic local history exhibition, leading guided walks and Martin Sirot-Smith organised the historical performances during Local History Week.

Martin Sirot-Smith interviews Donald Taylor for the Oral History Project
(Photo: Peter Mackness)

During all this feverish activity news came that the Sulgrave Manor Board wished to sell the Manor Field (Castle Field). The History Society took on the responsibility of acting as an Agent for the Parish Council to negotiate the purchase of the Field for the village. An Action Group was set up and was very successful in raising grants to meet the purchase price of £25,000. During all this period the normal society meetings, lectures and visits continued. Extra events were organised by the Action Group to raise awareness of the importance of the Castle Field as being part of Sulgrave Castle, a registered National Monument. The Oral History Project progressed with special training for interviewers (9 in all) and the mammoth task of organising the interviews, (over 50 of the “older” locals were eventually put down on disc). The much more time consuming transcriptions, revising, re-typing and representing of manuscripts and discs followed and were to take up the next 3 years!

Julie Metcalfe interviews Donald Barrett for the Oral History Project
(Photo: Peter Mackness)

During this time the Sulgrave Castle Archaeology Group was set up to take on the projects specifically related to that aspect of the whole Castle Site. This was done as the History Society had already been allocated the maximum amount of Grant from the LHI. It was successful in applying for grants to finance its work in relation to the publication of the Excavations of Sulgrave Castle. A Management Committee was set up to run for the village the renamed Castle Green – now a formal public open space and it took on the responsibility of applying for grants to cover the restoration of the wall, the production of interpretive panels and accessibility for all.

With all these activities requiring a great deal of effort and energy from very much the same group of people, and with the gradual decline in the attendance of villagers to our regular speaker evenings it was agreed at the AGM held 16th November 2004 to end these latter and to concentrate on the project based activities. These would be reported to all the AGMs and at meetings called to report on the progress of all our other activities.

The activities of the History Society after 2004 are summarised in the Chairman's Reports to the Annual General Meetings in 2005 and 2006, which can be seen here:

Annual General Meeting 2005

Annual General Meeting 2006

Martin Sirot-Smith, Chairman