A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE WESSEX WARGAMES SOCIETY
Wessex Wargame Society (“Wessex”) has probably the longest wargaming pedigree in the UK, and might probably be the oldest wargaming club in the UK. Wessex was formed out of the Wessex Military Society (“WMS”) in 1969 with Stephen Douglas as its first President. Prior to this, Stephen and his brother Bob (still our Treasurer and keeper of ‘the Ancient Artefacts’) had been members, together with Don Featherstone, Tony Bath, Peter Guilder and Neville Dickinson of the WMS. In about 1967 they had all started playing miniature figure wargames during WMS meetings. However, the WMS was principally a military history society and the wargamers eventually set up a separate organisation and, Wessex Wargame Society was born. The WMS still meets today and holds regular lectures.
Don Featherstone needs no introduction as the major author and the principal instigator of wargaming in the UK; and Tony Bath’s Hyborean Campaign is the stuff of legend itself. Neville Dickinson founded Miniature Figurines Limited (“Minifigs”). The rest as they say is history.
After initial meetings at Don’s house at 69 Hill Lane Southampton (sadly redeveloped – is nothing sacred!), the Society moved during the early 1970’s to hired rooms at the Southampton Temperance Institute (also demolished) in Commercial Road. During the 70’s, the Society organized the ‘Southern Militaire’ show at what is now the Holiday Inn, near Mayflower Park, Southampton and also provided demonstration games at London conventions. Indeed, the back of a former President’s head is pictured leaning over a table depicting the Battle of Waterloo (as can be seen in Don Featherstones “Complete Wargaming” page 9). We still have those terrain boards, which were repaired a few years ago.
Sometime in the late 1970’s Wessex moved again to the Youth Club at Millbrook Community School, Southampton. It was here that we organized the ‘Wessex Wapentake’ conventions between 1987 and 1990. Neville Dickinson came up with the name and Minifigs kindly sponsored competitions. I remember Neville coming up with the name gesticulating excitedly, “…it’s all about the shaking of weapons at gatherings of the people!”
In the late 1990’s Wessex had to find a new venue; the Youth Club was (you guessed it)due to be demolished. (There’s a pattern here!). We now meet at the ‘Colbury Memorial Hall’, Colbury, Ashurst, near Southampton. As a venue it’s probably the best yet, as it’s a large Victorian village hall with additional rooms and a kitchen. It has plenty of parking and being located next to the A35/A326 junction, easy access from major routes.
The move has in some ways brought us to a spiritual home, as Colbury Hall lies a couple of miles west of Ealing Creek at the top of Southampton Water, a strong candidate for Cerdics-ora. This according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle was the landing place of Cerdic, the first King of Wessex, in 495. It is also two miles south of Tatchbury hill fort in Netley Marsh Parish, a candidate for the site of Cerdic’s first battle and victory in 508 over the local Romano-British king Natanleod.
Well there you have it, Wessex are formally 47 (or maybe 49) years old, which means we are as old as The Society of Ancients. We’d be interested to hear from any other club that can top that. Fancy a game gentleman!