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Oct 2011 Meeting Report

The Common Stream, a History of Foxton: Jane Hampshire talks about her adopted father, Rowland Parker and his best selling book

We were delighted to welcome Jane Hampshire who is the adopted daughter of the late Rowland Parker, author of the critically acclaimed book "The Common Stream" in 1975. This is a beautifully written and superbly well researched history of Foxton over 2000 years and was considered to be one of the finest books of local history.

Jane initially gave a brief account of how she came to be adopted by the Parkers after they moved to Foxton after WW2. Rowland was born in 1912, the son of a Lincolnshire farmer near Louth. He went to Louth Grammar school, from which he won a scholarship to Nottingham University, studying French. After this he completed a teacher training course, starting his career as a French teacher at the Cambridge Central School. In 1940 he enlisted in the Royal Artillery which took him to North Africa, Egypt, Palestine and Italy. During this time he developed a strong interest in archaeology and history. After resuming his teaching career, still in Cambridge, he bought an old thatched cottage "on the green" in Foxton where he lived with his wife and Jane. The deeds stimulated an interest in finding out the history of the cottage and as a result of researching its history he also unearthed the history of Foxton. After 13 years of research this led to the publication of his famous book.

Apart from this historical research he also became involved in the excavation of a Roman villa in nearby Shepreth, and Jane recalled the times she went with him to help with the excavations. During this time he uncovered a number of Roman pitchers and bowls which he managed to reconstruct. Some of these were on show during Jane’s fascinating account. A unique and rare find was a cornelian gemstone, an intaglio of Eros, which had been prised out of its setting. The Emperor Tiberius was believed to have worn something very similar. We were shown a resin copy, kindly made by Ciba-Geigy (as was). The original is now in the Arch and Ant Museum in Cambridge.

Rowland also carried out historical research in one of his favourite places, Dunwich, culminating "Men of Dunwich - story of a vanished town", and "Town and Gown – 700 years war in Cambridge" although these did not prove quite so popular. During the course of his excavations locally Rowland found many artefacts leading to a severe storage problem so some of these were loaned to a museum in a small town not too far from Foxton. Sadly their record keeping was not brilliant in the 70s/80s and many of the items have subsequently vanished.

After Rowland’s death in 1989, Jane continues to live at The Cottage. A reprint of "The Common Stream" with a foreword by an eminent TV historian and archaeologist is due next Autumn. The website project www.commonstream.co.uk has had a number of setbacks but is being rebuilt slowly. Jane also set up and runs the Foxton History Society, and although she hasn’t been able to form a committee to help run the Society, the meetings are well attended.

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