Skip to content

Talks by Tony Hadland – updated January 2018


Born 1949 in Reading, Tony is a retired chartered building surveyor, information scientist and operational risk manager. Today he is a historian, writer and broadcaster specialising in bicycle history and various aspects of local and family history. Since retiring the first time, he has been administrator of the Vale & Downland Museum and editor of Oxfordshire Family Historian. He is currently chairman of the Oxfordshire Local History Association.

Tony offers nearly 40 different talks. His wife, photographer Rosemary Hadland, co-presents the travel talks and often accompanies him as a ‘roadie’.

Clients include the University of the Third Age, Women’s Institute, National Trust, Probus, Royal Geographical Society, British Legion, family history societies, local history groups, church groups and cycling organisations. Most talks are about an hour long.

A selection of talks

Foray to the Falklands
You don’t realise how little you know about the Falklands until you go there! Rosemary and Tony Hadland visited the islands in 2008 and 2011, where their son Jeremy was based with the RAF. Tony already knew something of the Falklands, as a friend of his mother was married to a Falkland islander – one of the councillors who negotiated unsuccessfully with the Argentines before the 1982 conflict. However, nothing prepares you for the rugged beauty of the place and the fascinating wildlife. On returning from their first trip, Rosemary produced an exhibition of photos and memorabilia for the Vale & Downland Museum, subsequently shown at the Oxfordshire County Museum. This popular talk was created to augment the exhibition and is available in four lengths, to suit different venues and audiences. Wildlife, landscape and lifestyle are the key features.
Presented with photographer Rosemary Hadland.

Falklands Wildlife – the Movies
Having seen and heard Foray to the Falklands, some people wanted more. So this talk was created, which incorporates lots of Tony’s video footage of Falklands wildlife, including elephant seals, many types of bird and, especially, penguins.
Presented with Rosemary Hadland.

Return to the Falklands
Three years after their first visit, Tony and Rosemary returned to the islands. This talk focuses on that visit, with coverage including lots more wildlife on Sea Lion Island and Volunteer Point, and also takes in Stanley, Wireless Ridge, Mount Pleasant, Port Howard and Darwin.
Presented with photographer Rosemary Hadland.

Islay – Queen of the Hebrides
Islay is the most cosmopolitan of the Hebridean islands and arguably the most varied geographically. Lying between Northern Ireland and the Scottish mainland, it was once the seat of the Lords of the Isles. A two-hour ferry ride from the mainland, Islay is famous for its wildlife and whisky. This talk introduces you to the place, its people and landscape, and includes video clips and a wide range of photographs, demonstrating the striking scenery of the island.
Presented with photographer Rosemary Hadland.

Introducing Cork and Kerry
Cork and Kerry in south-west Ireland are two of the most beautiful counties in the North Atlantic archipelago. Tony and Rosemary have been visiting the area for more than 35 years and have friends and family there. In this talk, Tony briefly gives you the historical and geographical background; then you sit back while Rosemary gives you a taste of the beautiful and amazingly varied scenery via her photographs.
Presented with photographer Rosemary Hadland.

William Gill – Victorian Explorer and Spy
William Gill was an officer in the Royal Engineers who unexpectedly inherited a huge fortune and became a self-financed explorer and intelligence officer. For his travels in China and Tibet he was awarded the gold medal of the Royal Geographical Society. After the Crimean War, he was involved in negotiating the border between Turkey and Russia, and worked undercover in North Africa. During the nationalist revolt in Egypt, William Gill went undercover again. He was sent, disguised as an Arab, to cut the telegraph lines from Constantinople to Alexandria. His cover was blown and he and his companions were murdered in the desert. They were buried in St Paul’s Cathedral, London. Tony Hadland is William Gill’s great-great-nephew and tells the fascinating story of this courageous and very Victorian character.

A Tiger in the Bathroom and Bullets up the Chimney
Tony is an award-winning former journal editor of the Oxfordshire Family History Society and has been tracing his family history for nearly 30 years. His father’s Hadland ancestors were in Oxfordshire for centuries but his mother’s ancestry was quite a different matter. This talk spotlights Tony’s ancestors in India and Ireland. They include an English painter and pioneering photographer, a mysterious Indian lady and a handsome Irish soldier with divided loyalties. In getting to the truth, family myths have been deconstructed to reveal a fascinating story that earlier generations would have found shocking.

What my DNA Test told me
After years of wondering whether it was worthwhile, Tony Hadland took a comprehensive DNA test. His aim was to prove (or disprove) a family tradition that his great-grandmother, Mildred Gill, was of Spanish descent. The test confirmed a cover-up going back several generations but also threw up fascinating information about his Oxfordshire agricultural labourer ancestors, possibly linking them to the spread of agriculture from the Fertile Crescent.

My last Ag-Lab
Most of us have agricultural labourers (‘ag-labs’) somewhere in our family tree. Tony’s Hadland ancestors were Oxfordshire ag-labs for centuries and, when Tony was a small boy, he met the last of them, who was born in 1865. This was George William Hadland, who left the land as a teenager and made the transition to urban living. In this talk, Tony (former editor of the journal Oxfordshire Family Historian) traces the history of his ag-lab ancestors and tells the story of his great-grandfather’s climb from penniless farmhand to self-employed property owner.

The Duke and the Miner’s Daughter
Family tradition said that Tony’s great-grandfather, Thomas Young, was the illegitimate son of a Duke. Thomas’s mother was the teenage daughter of a miner in the Forest of Dean. Using techniques anybody can employ, Tony discovered that the truth was even more interesting than the legend. (This talk is a little shorter than most, at about 45 minutes plus questions.)

Pilgrimage to Plug Street
Tony Hadland’s great-uncle Robert Fisher, born in Bristol, was the son of an Irish Catholic soldier. Robert grew up in Co. Donegal and on the British army camp at the Curragh of Kildare. He became a waiter in London, crossed the religious divide to marry in the Church of England and fathered two children. In WW1, he joined a local “pals’ regiment” and fought in Flanders, just a few miles from Armentieres, the town immortalised in the bawdy song about the eponymous Mademoiselle. Robert died at “Plug Street” (Ploegsteert), leading a charge and was awarded a posthumous Distinguished Conduct Medal. Robert’s body was never recovered but his brother-in-law, Tony’s grandfather, soon learned of the death, as he was an ambulance driver working nearby. Tony Hadland has visited many of the places Robert Fisher knew, including Plug Street and, in this illustrated talk, he traces the life of this brave young man, who died leaving a widow and two small sons.

From Trevithick to Barnes Wallis – engineering in the family
Tony Hadland’s father-in-law, Herbert Jeffree, was chief physicist at the British Aircraft Corporation and worked with Barnes Wallis. His family has had a continuous involvement with engineering for well over 200 years. This talk traces their achievements, from steam in Cornwall to aviation at Brooklands, via the waterworks of London and the admiralty.

From biplanes to BAC via bouncing bombs – the aeronautical career of Herbert ‘Jeff’ Jeffree, FRAS
This talk, illustrated with many rare photographs, traces the aeronautical career of Herbert ‘Jeff’ Jeffree, Tony’s father-in-law. Starting at Boulton & Paul in Norwich in the late 1920s, Jeff was involved in biplane design and also witnessed the company’s work on the doomed airship R101. Moving to Vickers at Brooklands in the mid 1930s, he joined Barnes Wallis, working on the Wellington bomber, bouncing bombs and much more. During WW2, Jeff went into France to retrieve secret work on aircraft pressurisation before the Germans could seize it. After the war, Jeff and Wallis worked on swing-wing technology and visited the newly formed NASA to try to persuade the Americans to support their designs. Jeff ended his long career in aeronautical engineering as Chief Physicist of the British Aircraft Corporation, having spanned the era from airships to supersonic airliners.

A Whistle-stop Tour
Tony has been filming railways for 15 years. In this talk, illustrated throughout with his colourful video-recordings, he takes you to 8 different heritage railways in 5 countries – the USA, Ireland, Wales, France and England – running classic steam and diesel locomotives. Whether or not you are a railway buff, you will find this an interesting whistle-stop tour, as we visit snowy mountains, marshy estuaries, forested hillsides and other picturesque places.

Steam and Steel in the Vale of White Horse
This illustrated talk traces the development of Wantage Engineering Ltd and Nalder & Nalder, both of which exported agricultural machinery worldwide. We also explore the history of the Wantage Tramway and look at what remains of these three manifestations of the industrial revolution in rural Berkshire. Available as a two-part talk (with interval for refreshments) or in a shorter one-part version.

The History of the Bicycle
The bicycle ranks as one of the most enduring and most widely used vehicles in the world. More than a billion bikes have been produced during the machine’s 200 year history. Tony is co-author (with Professor Hans-Erhard Lessing) of the highly acclaimed book Bicycle Design: an illustrated history, published in 2014 by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press. In this illustrated talk, he takes you from the earliest human-powered two-wheelers to the latest in hi-tech pedal power.

125 Years of Raleigh Bicycles
Founded in a Nottingham back-street, and turned into a huge enterprise by a ropemaker’s son who became a baronet, Raleigh was once the biggest bicycle company in the world. At various times, the firm also made motorcycles, cars, munitions and gears for bicycles and motorcycles. This talk introduces some of Raleigh’s key personalities and products and gives an insight into the massive industrial enterprise that meant so much to the city of Nottingham. We look at Raleigh’s triumphs and failures and get a glimpse of what the company is doing today.

The Ingenious Inventions of Alex Moulton
Alex Moulton (1920-2012) was an idiosyncratic and versatile engineering genius. Uniquely, he worked on steam engines, aero engines, automotive suspension systems and bicycles. Most famous for his bicycles, launched in 1962 and still in production, Alex also designed suspension systems used in 13 million British cars. He died on the 50th anniversary of John Woodburn breaking the Cardiff-London road racing record on a Moulton bicycle. Tony Hadland knew Alex well and in this talk, he tells the story of Alex and his inventions.

Gears without tears
Tony Hadland grew up on the top of a hill and every journey home involved a long, hard climb; so he soon learned the usefulness of bicycle gears! Later, he became a world-class authority on the subject. In this talk, he traces 150 years of bicycle gear development, including derailleurs, hub gears, bottom bracket gears, expanding chainwheels and hybrid gearing. He discusses the pros and cons of different systems and ends with a brief review of what’s on the market today.

Raleigh-ing to the Cause – the Bicycle in Wartime
This talk traces the use of the bicycle for military purposes, starting as early as 1817. The story takes us to many places, including the USA, Europe and Vietnam, and spans more than 140 years. Along the way, we see how Raleigh became a massive maker of munitions in both world wars, bringing huge financial rewards to captains of industry and revolutionising the lives of the many women who worked as machinists on the shop floor.

It’s in the bag! – an Introduction to Portable Cycles
Portable cycles is a term that includes folding and separable bicycles and compressible or folding tricycles. This talk traces the fascinating history of portable cycles, from the 1880s to the present day. It also provides guidance on the various categories of portable cycle that you might be interested in buying and suggests some of the “best in class” models.

From Thames to Rhine by Bike in 1966
The day after England beat West Germany in the football World Cup, Tony and two school friends set off by bike on their first continental cycle tour. In this illustrated talk, Tony relives the tour, providing the kind of insights only possible through travelling by pedal power in a time now long past.

Pop Pirates of the 1960s
In this talk, Tony traces the story of the offshore pirate radio stations of the 1960s, including ‘Big L’ and Radio Caroline. He explains how restrictions on broadcasting light entertainment existed in the UK from the earliest days of public broadcasting and shows how, between the two world wars, the first generation of offshore stations were land-based, in Normandy, Luxembourg and elsewhere. Offshore ship-based broadcasting developed first in Scandinavia in the 1950s, then in Belgium and the Netherlands, before the first British stations went live in the 1960s. The talk is brought to life with numerous audio clips.

How I became a broadcaster
Back in the early 1970s, Tony became a freelance broadcaster on national radio in Belgium and local radio in London and Oxford. He lived a double life, as he also had a day job in the architectural department of a major British bank. At various times, he compered The Who live on stage, co-presented a TV show in Belgium, made numerous jingles for BBC Radio London and recorded a voiceover in Flemish for Wrangler jeans. He was also the first DJ to be allowed to advertise in Country Life. This talk brings the story alive via numerous archive recordings and illustrations.

Famous Belgians
If you thought there weren’t many, you are in for a surprise! In this amusing yet informative illustrated talk, Tony introduces you to an amazing cast of fabulous Flemings and wonderful Walloons. He knows Belgium well, having visited the country often since 1966. He’s travelled in Flanders and Wallonia by bicycle, car, coach, tram and train. Back in the 1970s, he appeared on Belgian national radio every week, was a guest compere on the Flemish equivalent of Top of the Pops and even did a voiceover in Flemish for a Wranglers jeans advert!

The Turbulent Lifetime of Thomas Vachell
Thomas Vachell was the heir of an old Reading gentry family; his wife was a Reade from Abingdon. Thomas’s father suppressed the hugely wealthy Reading Abbey, yet Thomas doggedly stuck to ‘the old faith’. His story spans five monarchs and four changes of religion. He became the most fined man in Oxfordshire, his wealth was seized in a government raid and, as a result of ‘swimming against the tide’, he fell out with his wife. Thomas Vachell’s story illustrates some of the huge changes England went through in the Tudor and early Stuart era – and it has a fairly happy ending!

Who were the Hildesleys?
Anyone researching local history in southern Oxfordshire or west Berkshire is likely to come across occasional mentions of the Hildesley family. Intriguingly, their surname occurs in at least two dozen forms. (It derives from the Anglo-Saxon for “battlefield”.) Yet finding a cohesive account of who they were has proved almost impossible. In this talk, we remedy that by tracing their story from the time of Henry VIII until the main line died out in the 18th century.

Resisting the Virgin Queen
Sir Francis Englefield, Edmund Plowden and William Woollascott were all Thames Valley gentry who resisted Queen Elizabeth’s orders to conform to the Church of England. They adopted very different strategies, ranging from armed resistance to feigned conformity. But which worked best?

Edmund Campion’s last mission
One of the most famous casualties of the English Reformation, Edmund Campion was arrested at Lyford Grange in the Vale of White Horse. This illustrated talk tells how he was recalled from Prague and sent to England via Rome and Rheims. His mission in the Thames Valley is described, as is his capture, trial and execution. Finally we ask, was his mission a success or failure?

Papists at the Manor – the Yates and Throckmortons of Buckland and Lyford in the Vale of White Horse
In the 17th and 18th centuries, against the odds, Buckland in the Vale of White Horse became one of the most Catholic parishes in southern England. This was due to the lords of the manor, the Yate and Throckmorton families, harbouring Catholic chaplains at a time when this was strictly illegal. Another branch of the Yate family lived nearby at Lyford, where they sheltered clandestine nuns and the Jesuit Edmund Campion. By the time legal penalties were lifted, Buckland’s Catholic congregation numbered 200. The Throckmorton family, successors to the Yates, then erected the first Catholic Church in the Vale of White Horse since the Reformation. Much of this story has been airbrushed out of history but this talk puts that right.

Covert Catholics
After the Reformation, a minority of our ancestors – known as ‘popish recusants’ – resolutely refused to abandon Roman Catholicism, despite it being made illegal in England. Others who were Catholic at heart conformed outwardly to the Church of England and were known as ‘church papists’. These talks reveal how recusants and church papists ensured the secretive survival of Catholicism in Oxfordshire and Berkshire during the long period in which ‘the old faith’ was outlawed. Tony Hadland is author of the book Thames Valley Papists and these talks will appeal to anyone interested in local or family history.
The talks are available in various versions, tuned to the locality:
• Covert Catholics of Berkshire and Oxfordshire
• Covert Catholics of Oxfordshire
• Covert Catholics of Berkshire
• Covert Catholics of Vale and Downland
• Covert Catholics of Bampton and District
• Covert Catholics of the Lambourn Valley
• Covert Catholics of the Witney area
• Covert Catholics of North Oxfordshire and Aynho
• Covert Catholics of Hethe and District


The standard all-inclusive fee is £60 (including travel) for any talk in Oxfordshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, East Gloucestershire and North Wiltshire. We provide cables, projector and computer and can also provide a screen, if necessary.

How to book

Email Tony at
Telephone +44 (0)7776 211634
Write to 4 Barcote Cottages, Buckland, FARINGDON, Oxfordshire, SN7 8PP

Please note that we now accept bookings as follows:
November to March inclusive – mornings only.
April to August inclusive – mornings, afternoons and evenings.
September and October inclusive – not available.

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: