History of Thame Historical Society

The Thame Historical Society was in existence during the latter part of the 1970s and early 1980s. However, for a variety of reasons the meetings came to an end. The present Thame Historical Society was the re-commencement of this forerunner of which the late Gerry Southern was Chairman. The Society had run down largely due to Gerry’s illness and finally his death in May 1984. At a meeting in November 1984 it was decided to hold a Cheese and Wine evening to launch the new Society. This was held at the Masonic Hall on December 11th 1984 and over 70 people attended. An enjoyable social evening was held with a short talk by Mr David Miles of the Oxford Archaeological Unit.

It was felt that there was sufficient interest to re-form the Society and on January 29th 1985 a special meeting was held to elect officers and draw up a constitution. In the first year the new Society had a membership of 91. The subscription was set at £2.00 per year and for the first few years meetings were held every other month at the Masonic Hall. The Society held its first exhibition, entitled Thame at War, in conjunction with the British Legion in June 1985 at the Masonic Hall. This contained artefacts and items from the Second World War, with a few from the 1914-1918 war. This proved to be a great success and a number of other exhibitions were subsequently held, all with a Thame theme.

During 1985 the Society started to arrange visits to places of interest, as well as meetings. These were on a Saturday and the first one was on September 1st 1985 to Nuffield Place, near Huntercombe. Other visits in the early days included Kelmscott Manor, Claydon House, Mapledurham House, Greys Court and the Bodleian Library. Newsletters were sent out twice a year, which recalled memories of the meetings and outings.

In 1987 the Society moved to Lord Williams’s Lower School and began to meet on a monthly basis. Some new members were gained due to the move, but equally some were lost as the site was further from the town centre. Bishop Watson was elected as Chairman at the AGM in December 1987. At the meeting held in April 1989 it was decided to move back to the Masonic Hall and that year membership increased by 20 as a result. Bishop Watson remained as Chairman until December 1991 when he stepped down due to his wife’s ill health. During this time the Society had become stronger. It was at this meeting in December 1991 that the committee requested that Bishop Watson should be made President in recognition for all that he had done for the Society.

At this stage Maurice Kirtland was made Chairman and held this position until 2015. The Society continued to go from strength to strength and outgrew the Masonic Hall. It was agreed that the Thame Barns Centre, which had a larger hall, would be a more suitable meeting place and the move was made on 13th July 1999 and has proved to be a wise decision. A Research Group was formed at which any member of the Society was entitled to go to meetings held on the last Tuesday of each month at Lord Williams’s Lower School. This group of people achieved a great deal of valuable work, which is now carried on by Thame Museum.

In 2015 Chris Bowler was elected Chairman and at the AGM in 2016 Maurice Kirtland was made President of the Society in recognition of his long years of service as Chairman.

Over the years we have made connections with other local history societies and village groups. The Society has given support and assistance to the John Hampden Society and has played an active part in the setting up of Thame Museum since its inception in 2004. Two nominated Trustees are elected at the annual AGM to represent the Society.

The Society has some 150 members, holds monthly meetings at the Barns Centre, and organises occasional trips to places of historical interest. The membership has been very loyal over the last 30 years but it is clear that younger members are now needed to take this success forward. Without new members our numbers will inevitably gradually dwindle. Hopefully, this website and other initiatives will encourage local residents to come to our meetings and support the Society for the future.