About the Branch - It's History and Current Status
The Branch originated following a proposal in the MMOC magazine in early 1979 for a meeting of any MMOC Members living in the North Berks/South Oxon area. The first meeting was held at ‘The Pack Horse Inn’, on the main A4185 road, near Rowstock/ Harwell. This led to a series of regular meetings which continued to be held there on the third Tuesday of the month, from March 1979 thro’ to June 1982.
The style of meeting at that time was very much a ‘Noggin and Natter’ affair. Those attending were generally aged from mid-20’s to late-30’s, predominately male but some couples also. Due to a demand by other MMOC members the catchment area gradually increased and soon covered the Reading, Hungerford, Witney, Oxford and Thame locations, but we also had visitors from as far away as Windsor. One feature of the early meetings was the exchange of spares and ‘know how’.
Some of those original ‘Regulars’ are still current Branch members, five of whom still own their very same Minors from those early days.
Although the early MMOC events held each year were not as numerous as at present, many of our members always attended the MMOC National Rally as well as events organized by other Branches, plus a variety of more local events with an Historic Vehicle content.
From June 1982 the Branch held its monthly meetings at ‘The Fleur de Lys’ in the village of East Hagbourne, near Didcot. This location offered us the use of a separate, though not large, function room for the introduction of an Annual Film Show, as well as for formal meetings. There was also an outside seating area for use in better weather.
Our meetings retained the original date of the third Tuesday of the month but, for various reasons, this was changed to the third Wednesday of the month from Oct 1982, until a change to the first Wednesday of the month, commencing from October 1993.
It was not until May 1985 that a Signing-in Register was introduced. It had become known that other Car Clubs were using this as a feature of their meetings as it provided a record of who, and how many people, were attending meetings and offered an historical record of the Branch as a whole. It is quite amazing how many people and cars we have seen come and go. This record is now into its 3rd volume.
Commencing in 1988 the Branch began the tradition of an Annual Dinner, held in either December or January, open to all members and their partners. Several venues have been used including places at Abingdon, Didcot, Radley and Clifton Hampden. In 1998, we tried ‘The Coach and Horses’ at Chiselhampton and this has become a regularly used location for the Annual Dinner ever since.
When the MMOC began to organize the Branch network, we became officially recognized. This meant that we had to form a full Committee. Originally this had comprised only a Chairman and Secretary but now the position of Treasurer was introduced. Later still it was found useful to have another Committee Member - or two! - to take on other occasional duties. Formalities have always been kept to a minimum, as far as possible. An AGM was introduced, initially held each November, but for some years this has since been re-scheduled and is now held in October. Minutes are recorded, and retained, of each AGM.
Our Annual Film Show was first held in 1983. From its early beginnings, using just colour slides and, later, cine film, (each requiring a projector and screen and each with a risk of disaster!) it has developed into a DVD programme, usually of about two hours duration. This, now regular event, is usually held during the March evening meeting and always includes many items of interest from the previous year’s events and, on occasion, a few surprises.
Branch members have always attended the MMOC main events. The major Rallies, lasting over a full weekend, have always been popular but for many MMOC Members the introduction of events which would occupy a full week was a welcome step forward and universally supported. The most consistent of these has been the annual MoT – Minors on Tour - usually held in France in the early summer. In addition, since 2009, there is now the MoT–UK. Each of these has always been well supported by Branch members, several of whom have now become ‘regulars’ on these now popular events.
In addition there were regular attendances, from the mid-1990’s, to the ‘All Ireland International Morris Minor Rally’ held during mid-summer for one week in Southern Ireland, centred on the town of Bandon. This soon became known as ‘Bandon – the Experience’! During this event in 2000, one of our members won a competition and was awarded a locally-made cut-crystal bowl. Upon return home, this was presented to the Branch and adopted as a prize, to be awarded each year by the resident Chairman, to the Branch Member who has made the most significant contribution to the Branch or to the MMOC during the preceding year. The presentation of the Bandon Bowl has become a regular feature of our Branch Annual Dinner when the identity of the winner is only announced that evening.
Although ‘The Fleur de Lys’ provided us with an ideal and suitable location for our meetings, it became apparent to us in 2002 that a change of venue was required. After some enquiries we chose the same location as several other similar clubs in the Oxford area and in February 2003 the Foxcombe Lodge Hotel, Boars Hill, became our third regular meeting place. The advantage here was the free use of a large function room, next to a bar, and with adequate parking in the hotel grounds. And in better weather we could convene on the patio outside.
A popular, almost traditional, event was a summer BBQ. These commenced during the mid-1980’s and, at first, were held in the garden of the, then, Chairman, at his house on the outskirts of Didcot. As our membership increased, we needed more space and for several years we met in Didcot in the early afternoon, and travelled together to the Ridgeway Centre, just south of Wantage, then a part of the YHA network. Situated on high ground, this overlooks the Vale of the White Horse and provided an ideal location for several years. Later, this evolved into the Radley Picnic, hosted by two of our Branch members who lived at the side of the River Thames, and this became, from 1999, an open and very popular event, enjoyed by MMOC members from other Branches.
The Branch made its mark in assuming responsibility for an Activity Rally, an idea promoted by the MMOC in the early 2000’s. This took place in early 2004 and provided an opportunity for MMOC Members from other Branches to visit Oxfordshire and to discover something of our area.
Following this success the Branch later undertook to organize the MMOC Southern Region Rally in 2006. This was arranged to co-incide with, and also share, the same site as the annual White Horse Show at Uffington. This proved to be so popular that it was repeated in 2007.
Other events which have evolved in recent years include our participation in the Drive-It Day, held in April each year. This is promoted by the FBHVC and provides a welcome opportunity for a road run together to a place of interest and to mix with other Classic Cars on the road. The routine for this day is to meet for morning coffee then set off together at a relaxed pace and follow a pre-arranged route to finish for lunch at a venue with an ‘Interest’ factor. So far we have visited a Farm Museum (nr Witney), two Motor Museums (Calne, Wiltshire and Bourton-on-the-Water), a Rowing Museum (Henley) and a Railway Museum (Swindon). This provides some of our members, who do not use their Minors during the winter, with a reason to prepare them for summer use – which is the whole idea of the exercise!
It has always been a feature on at least one of our evening meetings during the summer to have a driving event of some sort. Originally this was a Treasure Hunt with a start, and sometimes, a finish at the same point. However, for the past few years this has now developed into the ‘June Jaunt’, our annual exercise in navigational skills and mental agility, as well as observation en-route, which provides much competition between all those taking part. Each year, so far, there have been opportunities to vary the method of route finding and, together with the clues/answers content, this frequently proves quite demanding.
We are regularly involved with several events in our area which are all in aid of good causes. These range from the Abingdon Air and Country Show, which contributes all profits to the local Air Ambulance Service, to the Harwell Feast and the Chearsley Village Day which each raise funds for village activities. Others include the Cowley Classic Car Show. Each of these occasions gives us an opportunity parade our cars together and to meet with other Classic Car owners. Towards the end of 2011 the Branch organized a ‘Minor’ gathering at Nuffield Place as a fund raising exercise for the National Trust who had just taken over the ownership of the property and were in desperate need of extra finance to ensure it’s preservation.
On a ‘Branch only’ basis our Radley Picnics have raised funds for donations to Cancer Charities and also to ‘Help for Heroes’. In 2012 we also donated to the ‘Beer for the Boys’ fund organized by RAF Brize Norton for the benefit of all Forces personnel returning home from Afghanistan.
Also, from time to time, we have welcomed the opportunity to present our cars for TV and radio broadcasts, for film productions and at other public occasions. Several of our cars have featured in various Motoring publications.
Since these early beginnings the Branch has had just 4 Chairmen, 2 Treasurers, and 5 Secretaries, to keep everything in order. Other positions have included that of a Branch Events Co-Ordinator, but this post was found to be unnecessary as we now prefer to have such duties shared amongst the membership in order to give everyone a chance to contribute something to the Branch for everyone’s benefit. To provide extra support we introduced the idea of having a Vice-Chairman and a Branch Member or two on the Committee.
With the introduction of the Internet for general use it was apparent that this could be of use to us. In 2009, one of our members set up a Website system on our behalf and which was, also, free of charge. This has proved ideal for informing anyone, anywhere, of our activities and has also resulted in some very welcome enquiries for Branch membership. More recently, we realized that the Website was in need of an update and, as this is a more specialized requirement, we now have 2 other Members currently involved with a revised Website set-up and operation.
Present day Branch Members are of all ages and backgrounds and our regular monthly meetings are usually quite informal and, generally, provide a focal point for MMOC Members with wives / husbands / partners / friends to gather together for a 'Social' evening, of the 'Noggin and Natter' type. We may sometimes have a brief, formal, 'round-the-table' discussion when occasions demand, but usually there is a good flow of conversation, either individually or in groups, between everyone. At various times we have held celebration parties for significant birthdays - of members or of their cars!
Another point of possible interest is that our current membership is spread out over quite a wide area viz: North and West Reading, Newbury, Didcot, Witney, Oxford, Banbury, Thame and High Wycombe.
Incidentally, we are one of the few local Branches whose members between them have representative examples of almost all types, and from most years, of the post-war Morris Minor.
The Branch has never been concerned about anyone having to come to any of our monthly meetings in a more 'modern' car, if necessary. In common with the usual practice of other Local Branches, some of our older Minors are not usually brought to meetings, except in the summer, and those members who travel a fair distance prefer to use their 'moderns' throughout the year.
At the time of writing (November 2013) the Oxon & Berks Branch is in the process of establishing a new meeting place.This has been made necessary due to the very recent and sudden closure of the Foxcombe Lodge Hotel at the end of October. New arrangements are now being finalized and the Branch now looks forward to another chapter in its story.
Researched and written by Graham Holt. November 2013.