the wessex chronicle
Being a fan of classic Hammer films, I meant to pledge some of my own money to support an excellent new Hammer podcast on Patreon. However, as the man who runs the Wessex Society Patreon page, I inadvertently end up pledging some of the Society's money instead. I now owe the Society $1.20 for the payment that already went out before I spotted the mistake. However, it does give me an excuse to remind people to support us on Patreon if you haven't done so already, as well as to reprint an updated version of this old article from the Autumn 2010 issue of the Chronicle:
The Bray Studios Story
Did you know that Wessex once had its very own film studio? Bray Studios in Berkshire have been home to various film and TV productions over the years, as well as music recordings by artists such as Led Zeppelin and Eric Clapton, but they are best known as the home of an iconic British production company, Hammer Films.
The studios started life in the mid-18th century as Down Place, a country estate on the banks of the Thames that once reputedly played host to the Kit-Cat Club, an aristocratic political society devoted to promoting Whig ideals. Two centuries later, its better days were behind it, and in 1951, it was purchased by Hammer Films as a combined studio and location, in order to save on the cost of building sets. At the time, Hammer had yet to become associated with the horror genre, and their output mainly consisted of crime dramas, ranging in tone from the wholesome PC 49 mysteries to noirish thrillers such as Cloudburst.
That changed over the next few years, as a trio of landmark films cemented Hammer's reputation for horror. The first was The Quatermass Xperiment, a film version of the popular BBC TV serial designed to exploit the extra latitude that the creation of the new X certificate allowed (the letter X in the film's title is prominently displayed on the poster, in order to ram home the point). The second was The Curse of Frankenstein, the first horror film ever to be shot in colour. And the third was Dracula (retitled Horror of Dracula in the US in order to avoid confusion with a simultaneous re-release of the 1931 Bela Lugosi film), which added an element of eroticism that was to become a staple part of the Hammer formula. All these films were shot in and around Bray Studios, which soon became recognisable as a location to Hammer aficionados. So much so that after Hammer sold the studios in 1970, they continued to be used almost as an in-joke in "old dark house" spoofs such as Murder by Death and The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
Bray was also in demand as a venue for model effects work in sci-fi TV shows including Doctor Who, Space: 1999 and Red Dwarf, and combined its heritage in both the sci-fi and horror genres when another landmark film, Alien, was shot there.
Having survived the horrors of Dracula, Frankenstein and creatures from space, Bray Studios finally succumbed to a new threat: property developers. In 2010, just at the time when Hammer was planning to relaunch itself, it was announced that the building was to be demolished and turned into a housing development. A campaign to save the studios was unsuccessful, but fortunately, nearby Oakley Court survives as a luxury hotel. If you have £200-odd to spare, you too can get to spend a night over at the Frankenstein place!
Just a quick note to say that the meetup that was planned for next Saturday, 20th January, has now been moved to the following Saturday, the 27th. The Wessex Regionalists are holding their AGA in Salisbury on that date, and given the overlap in members between the two organisations, it seemed sensible to combine the two meetings.
One thing I have been meaning to do for ages is upload back issues of the Chronicle to the website. Well, with the change in format, now seems the perfect opportunity. Each of the links below will allow you to download a PDF of all the Chronicles I still have available, starting in 2012, when the digital edition was first launched. The most recent issues are not included, in deference to those who had subscribed. Update 02/01/2018: All issues are now uploaded. An index will appear in volume 18 issue 4, being emailed to former members soon. All four issues of volume 18 will be uploaded to this site in January 2019.
Volume 13, Issue 1
Volume 13, Issue 2
Volume 13, Issue 3
Volume 13, Issue 4
Volume 14, Issue 1
Volume 14, Issue 2
Volume 14, Issue 3
Volume 14, Issue 4
Volume 15, Issue 1
Volume 15, Issue 2
Volume 15, Issue 3
Volume 15, Issue 4
Volume 16, Issue 1
Volume 16, Issue 2
Volume 16, Issue 3
Volume 16, Issue 4
Volume 17, Issue 1
Volume 17, Issue 2
Volume 17, Issue 3
Volume 17, Issue 4
Well, it's been a while since anything has been posted to this blog, but that's about to change. You see, at our meeting on the 7th of October, we decided to disband as an organisation with a formal membership structure. But that does not mean the end of Wessex Society by any means. The Wessex Chronicle will now turn from a hugely expensive print magazine with a tiny circulation to...well, this blog. Contact us if you have an idea for an article or interview that you would like to see published. Our quarterly meetings in Salisbury will change from business meetings, with agendas and minutes, to purely social gatherings. And instead of membership fees, we now have a Patreon page, where people can donate online. The average monthly donation for Patreon pages is $4.44 (£3.34). At the time of writing this, the Society has 244 likes on Facebook. If each of those people donated the average amount, we could have an annual income of nearly £10,000. With that sort of money, we could achieve all sorts of projects that we had to shelve for lack of funds, such as:
The Winchester community group Hyde 900 is holding its annual King Alfred's Weekend between Thursday 20th and Sunday 23rd October. See http://www.hyde900.org.uk/events/ for details. Thanks to Douglas Stuckey for alertingme to this.
The above images come from Dorset County Council, which was one of several councils to fly the Wessex flag outside its offices again this year. Somerset and Wiltshire councils also agreed to fly the flag, as did Portsmouth and Bristol City Councils, though a trip down to City Hall in Bristol failed to yield any evidence of them actually flying the flag we sent them. South Gloucestershire once again flatly refused, while Swindon asked for a flag, but not until the actual day, meaning that there was no way that we could get a flag to them on time.
Outside local government, Wiltshire Museum also flew the flag, pictured left. We had visited the museum as part of our annual St Ealdhelm's Day walk, which this year was held in Devizes. A full report of the walk will appear in the next issue of the Wessex Chronicle.
One of our members has forwarded a programme from the Wessex Academy for Field Archaeology, based in Blandford Forum. The following events each cost £30 per day for members and £35 for non-members.
Saturday 14th May: Practical Earthwork Survey with Mark Bowden of Historic England's survey team.
Saturday 11th June: Flint Knapping, Principles and Practice with Anthony Whitlock of the Ancient Technology Centre.
Saturday 16th - Friday 29th July : Summer Excavation of the "lost" chapel at Lazerton medieval village.
Saturday 24th September: An Introduction to Aerial Photography with Mark Corney (Time Team).
Saturday 12th November: Fieldwalking with WAFA lead archaeologist Julian Richards.
Saturday 17th December: Winter Solstice Open Day at Mick's Barn. This event is FREE!
Further details can be found at www.wafa.org.uk To book a place, contact firstname.lastname@example.org