Annual General Meeting, 26 April 2017 Chairman’s Report

The Annual General Meeting of the History Group took place in the Village Hall on 29 March 2016, and in addition there were committee meetings on 21 April, 23 June, 18 August, 27 October, 12 January and 16 March.

The speaker at the AGM was Janet Tall, Head of Archives and Local Studies for the South West Heritage Trust. She gave an illustrated talk entitled ‘A Land of Sheep and Cattle: Rural Somerset 1865-1914’ in which she examined the great changes that overtook Somerset agriculture in the decades before the First World War. The depression that affected farming from the late 1870s and the consequent drift from the land inspired new approaches to agricultural education and the modernisation of farming methods. Cheese schools were created as well as an experimental farm at Bickenhall. But the First World War, though it witnessed a time of greatly increased agricultural production, marked a decisive watershed for rural communities. They were never the same again.

On 5 June the History Group was pleased to support Stoke St Mary’s Soap Box Derby by arranging an exhibition of historic village photographs in Stoke Chapel. On 11 June about 15 people visited the churches at Huish Episcopi and Langport in the morning and Muchelney Abbey in the afternoon. It was a very happy occasion, in fine weather, and made memorable not least by an excellent pub lunch at the Halfway House, Pitney.

On 11 July we were privileged to be given a tour of the Houses of Parliament by our MP Rebecca Pow. She showed us the Commons Chamber, the Lords Chamber and Westminster Hall, as well as giving us a privileged look at the undercroft chapel. We also saw the room where the Suffragette Emily Davidson hid in 1911 so she could appear as resident in the Houses of Parliament in the census. We found ourselves at the heart of history in the making because the sudden news that Teresa May was the only remaining candidate for Prime Minister emerged while we were in Westminster Hall. We are very grateful to Rebecca for being such a welcoming host.

On 14 September a talk was given, entitled ‘Who Shot the Vicar’, which retold the remarkable story of the ritualism riots at Northmoor Green, North Petherton, in 1866. The violence of the passions aroused by High Church practice in this very remote moorland parish was remarkable and shocking.As we heard in the talk, the riots were a reflection of wider changes in the church and society in Victorian England.

We were very grateful to Charles and Rebecca Clark for being our hosts on 14 January at our second wassail evening, held this year at Tucker’s Farmhouse, Stoke St Mary. We gathered in the darkness at the chosen apple tree, fired shotguns, sang the wassail song and made rough music, before retreating for refreshments including cider. The occasion was a memorable and happy one.

The annual programme of events ended with a visit to the Somerset Heritage Centre on 17 February where about 15 of us saw the archive and museum collections. They included some of the objects which will form part of the refurbished Somerset Rural Life Museum in Glastonbury, which is due to reopen in June.

We have continued to undertake oral history interviews, and are pleased to know that extracts from some of them are to be used in the new Remembering Gallery at the Rural Life Museum.

The Group could not achieve what it does without the very willing support of its members. We are particularly grateful to our Secretary Stephanie Crockett who takes on so many organisational responsibilities, to Sarah Baddeley, and to Mike, for maintaining the excellent standard of the website, to our Honorary Treasurer, John Pugh, to our President, Graham Salter and to all the other members of the committee. We are also very grateful to the congregation of Stoke Chapel for so readily allowing us to hold some of our meetings in the chapel.

Tom Mayberry Chairman

26 April, 2017