Plymouth Branch Programme

By Alan H. Cousins

Plymouth Branch Programme 2023-24




Contact:  Alan H. Cousins, 3 Fore Street, St Germans, Cornwall PL12 5NR. Tel. 01503 230106 email


Meetings are open to all and are free for national or local members of the Historical Association, and for University of Plymouth students. Visitor tickets: £6.00, concessions £4.00.

Local membership rates: Individual membership: £8. Family membership: £12. Student membership: £4.

Membership secretary: John Stead, 2 Jessops, Plympton, Plymouth, PL7 4HW


Booking for lectures:

The easiest approach is to book tickets online: Otherwise phone the Arts Institute Plymouth University T: 01752 585050 or email -


All talks start at 7.00 p.m. They are held in Theatre 2, Roland Levinsky Building, University of Plymouth, Drake Circus, Plymouth PL4 8AA. Circumstances may mean that one or more of the talks in the series will need to be streamed online.

This is a joint programme in collaboration with the History Department at Plymouth University.


Lecture Programme 2023/24



Tuesday 3 October    

War and Russian imperial expansion, ca. 1830-1914: the case of Central Asia

Dr Alexander Morrison, New College, Oxford (online talk)


The Russian conquest of Central Asia was one of the 19th century's most dramatic and successful example of European imperial expansion, adding 1.5 million square miles of territory and at least 6 million people - most of them Muslims - to the Tsar's domains. This talk will explore the motivations for the Russian conquest, and the parallels which can be drawn with European colonialism elsewhere. It will cover a range of Russian military campaigns, from the earliest conflicts on the steppe frontier in the 1830s, to the annexation of the Pamirs in the early 1900s, the logistics and operational history of Russian wars against Khoqand, Bukhara and Khiva, the capture of Tashkent and Samarkand, the bloody subjection of the Turkmen, and the decision-making processes that launched these campaigns. It will also explore Russian diplomatic relations with Central Asian states and peoples, China, Persia and the British Empire.



Tuesday 17 October  

Unhappy finale to colonial rule in British Central Africa, 1938-1960s

Struggles overpower and colonial development

Alan Cousins, Independent Researcher, Historical Association


The talk looks at political power and economic development in Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland in the final years of colonial rule. Government structures will be examined, as will the position of mining companies, settlers, and white residents. There were conflicts between the various interests and players, and resistance or acquiescence by trade unions, peasants, and nationalists. The construction of the Kariba dam is a good example of a major economic project, and demonstrates colonial priorities. Political and economic change during the period will include an examination of who wanted the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, who objected to it and what resulted from its short life, from 1953 to 1963. The changing relations between black and white inhabitants during this period will be examined. The last part of the talk will look at what happened to patterns of power and development during the transition to independence of Zambia and Malawi in the mid-1960s.



Tuesday 14 November – 6pm for AGM and drinks reception, 7pm for talk

6pm The talk will be preceded by a drinks reception, and a short AGM where people will be able to give ideas about future programmes. Everyone welcome.


Plymouth’s Mill Prison: Captives and Captors

Barbie Thompson, History Researcher, Plymouth U3A


Mill Prison in Plymouth, purpose built in 1695, originally held 300 prisoners overflowing from hulks moored on the Hamoaze. During The American War of Independence, Napoleonic Wars, and War of 1812 some 10,000 prisoners passed through Plymouth. A comparatively small number died, indicating that hygiene and food must have been a reasonable standard in an era not known for its care of prisoners. The French, unlike American prisoners, were treated as PoWs. ‘Colonists’ were regarded as rebels against the Crown and traitors, which bode ill for U.S. mariners captured on board an American privateer who would be treated as pirates.



Tuesday, 6 February - 7:30 - 8:30pm Online

The Lynton & Barnstaple Railway

A talk on Exmoor's world-famous narrow-gauge railway

(Arranged by Devon History Society)

Eventbrite link:


Find out more about an exciting project to rebuild one of the world’s most famous and picturesque narrow-gauge railways. The legendary Lynton & Barnstaple Railway closed in 1935 and a one mile section has currently been restored. Discover the history of this fascinating railway and plans going on to restore it in this online talk by one of the team leading on the project.



Tuesday 13 February 2024

I geve and bequeth to thee my third best petycote, English Wills and Attitudes to Possessions c1540-1790

Dr Laura Sangha, University of Exeter


In the pre-modern period, most will-makers took the trouble to describe in detail some of the items they bequeathed to particular relatives and friends. For instance Elizabeth Brickenell, a widow of Exeter, left a friend her third best petticoat in 1569, while in 1603 William Radcliffe of London left his sister ‘a gold ring with a picture of death’s head, for all her unkindness’. Bequests in wills thus provide evidence not only of what people owned, but also, by choosing objects to bequeath and describing them in particular ways, of people’s attitudes towards those possessions.

In this talk Laura will introduce ‘The Material Culture of Wills’ – a project that is using cutting edge digital technology to transcribe 25,000 manuscript wills to examine these changing attitudes to material culture in England in the 250 years before the Industrial Revolution. The key research question is: how did people’s relationship with their possessions change in an era of rapidly increasing trade and commercialisation?



Tuesday 12 March

Why Gettysburg Matters

Professor Adam Smith, University College, Oxford; Director of the Rothermere American Institute.


Why is the battle of Gettysburg (1863) the American Civil War battle the best known battle of the American Civil War? And how has it shaped American memory ever since? Adam Smith argues that the memory of Gettysburg is also the story of American national identity.



Tuesday 19 March

Christopher Durston Memorial Lecture

Remembering the Reformation: Religion and Memory in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries

Professor Alex Walsham, Emmanuel College, Cambridge; President Historical Association


This richly illustrated lecture has a double objective: it explores how the Reformation transformed medieval memorial culture and perceptions of the Christian past, alongside the manner in which the Reformation itself was remembered, forgotten, contested and reinvented by later generations and in subsequent centuries. Drawing on extensive research in many libraries, archives and museums, it offers new insight into the enduring impact that the profound rupture wrought by this religious revolution had upon English society and into the manner in which its memory shifted over time.



Tuesday 23 April

False Shipwrecked Sailors:

Shipwreck Imposters and Maritime Charity in the 19th Century

Dr Cathryn Pearce, Portsmouth University


Whether inhabiting the coastal regions and port cities, or even further inland, a certain class of beggars self-fashioned themselves as shipwreck victims to exploit the sympathy of the compassionate. It was a ‘dodge’ with a long history, reaching its height in the nineteenth century. Maritime philanthropic societies such as the Shipwrecked Fishermen and Mariners’ Royal Benevolent Society were concerned about shipwreck impostors, whom they saw as dangerous to benevolence and charity. Who were these individuals, how did they operate, and how did shipwreck societies seek to solve what was actually a wider societal problem?

Cathryn Pearce is senior lecturer in naval, maritime and coastal history at the University of Portsmouth. This paper is being developed from a larger project on shipwreck, lifesaving and coastal communities in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

This talk examines how beggars fashioned themselves as shipwreck victims to exploit the sympathy of the compassionate.



Tuesday 14 May

“D-Day 6 June 1944” 80 Years on: Twisting the History of the Longest Day

Dr Harry Bennett, Plymouth University


"D-Day 6 June 1944" 80 Years On : Twisting the History of the Longest Day"
To what extent have popular representations of D-Day from historians, film makers and others distorted public understandings of that day? More than 80 years on from 6 June 1944 how can we cut through popular history accounts of the "day of days" to see what more there is to know about the greatest amphibious landing in history? How have some of the stories within D-Day shifted over time, and what are the areas that continue to be neglected? What are the newer forms of evidence, and freshly available older sources, that allow us to re-read the events of that day?



Saturday 22 June 10 a.m. - 12.30 / 1 p.m. (provisional date) 

Crownhill Fort guided tour (Booking through Alan Cousins (contact details above) Cost: £5)


For those interested, this will be followed by a talk by Stephen Luscombe,

12.30-1.00   The Jewish Legion and Plymouth