30 Years On by Connie Francis

How the last thirty years have flown! Probably because very quickly they became packed full.

It's said that you remember things that have an emotional attachment. I vividly remember George Francis (my husband) coming home from Chiltern Edge School and saying, "Hilton Nawell has found out about an organisation in France called "Université du Troisième Age" hence U3A. No fixed age limit, just not gainfully employed.

Purely from memory. I think the first branches in England were founded at Oxford, Cambridge, London and we were the sixth. We called ourselves ASTA - Association of Students of the Third Age as we thought that 'University' would put people off, thinking they would have to take exams etc. In hindsight, it proved to be a mistake as the name U3A became well known but Hilton managed to borrow a classroom from Henley College and approximately twelve people met to elect a Committee which included Hilton as Chairman, George as Secretary and Newsletter Editor, (half page of A4). John Mull as Treasurer. Othere members were Nora and Walter Dunn, Jack Heard, Ron Lockton, myself and some I can't remember.

The Newsletter and the National Magazine were delivered by hand and also from the boot of our car on the monthly Long Walks - (8 - 9 miles). How we loved those Walks - many lasting friendships were made whilst
we explored our beautiful Chilterns. No problem in finding welcoming pubs in those days
Our first A.G.M was memorable for the presence of Miss Sybella Bonham-Carter (who founded the Play Reading Group). She went through the Accounts with her eagle eye, especially the postage.

She also advised us to take up learning Classical Greek, which she was doing at the age of 90. She was officially acknowledged as England's oldest learner.

The Long Walks, led by George often amounted to 20 members. As time went on, Olga Durnell came up with the idea of starting a Short Walk group and then a Gentle Walk group to cater for those with Hip, Knees and Heart trouble. After 16 years of leading the group - missing only 3, because of the Hurricaine and flooded footpaths we passed the maps over to Jill Kendal.

Allowing for my memory. other groups were:-

ART, started by Alan Gunn and Olga Durnell, (who sadly became blind but produced lovely swirly paintings)

INDOOR GAMES still being led by Melba Pitt. GARDENING AND THEATRE GROUP led by Arlene Dace.

MUSIC STUDIES still being led by Elizabeth Tyler also LISTENING TO MUSIC in the beautiful Music room of Joy and Derek Bryce-Smith, their house also being the venue for our Garden Parties. TALKS were organised by Diane Gittings in the DaySpring Centre and later by Frank Wheeler in the Henley F.C. clubhouse. This was also the venue for the Christmas Party where members displayed their talents and played fun party games. Sadly Anno Domini took over, but now with new younger members, perhaps this could be resurrected (I wouldn't mind forming a Committee). FRENCH led by Dian Crawford, GERMAN led by Walter Dunn, later ITALIAN still being led by Margery Elleman.

COACH trips organised by George often had a waiting list and visits were made to Gilbert White's Selbourne combined with Jane Austen's Chawton, Chichester for Theatre and Bisham, Marble Hill House and Richmond - oh I am getting so nostalgic. After 16 years we handed over to Irene Sharman-Spiller who tried so hard but costs had gone up and interest fell off.


We have moved into the 21st Century with the advent of computers - taught to some of us by Brian Read and later Malcolm Crocker. Dian Crawford set up our very useful network.

None of the above would have happened without Group Leaders generously giving up their time; it is invidious to name people, but our thanks must go to Diana Hex who has kept us functioning in difficult times.

by Connie Francis.