Annual General Meeting, 13 April, 2010

Chairman’s Report

The Annual General Meeting of the Group was held on 19 May 2009, and in addition the Committee met on two occasions during the year.

The year was marked by some memorable events and lectures.  The first of these took place following the AGM, and was an opportunity to hear Peter Speke tell the story of his remarkable ancestor, John Hanning Speke, discoverer of Lake Victoria and of the principal source of the River Nile.  The talk was made vivid not only by objects which had belonged the Victorian explorer, but by the knowledge that Peter Speke was the present head of the family.  Members may be interested to know that Peter Speke has since proposed offering objects on loan, for display in the new Museum of Somerset.  At the AGM we were also fortunate to be able to see an evocative television film about the Blackdowns made many years ago by Rebecca Clark.

On 14 July Stoke Church was filled to capacity for the best-attended event yet hosted by the History Group.  Steve Membery from the County Council’s Heritage Service was there to tell us about the remarkable finds made a Cambria Farm, Ruishton, site of Taunton’s new Park and Ride.  The most spectacular discoveries were the traces of three Iron Age roundhouses marked by circular ditches and postholes.  One of the roundhouses, dating from about 700 BC, was 17 metres (56 ft) in diameter, and is among the largest such structures ever found in Britain.  The history of the site did not end with the Iron Age.  It is clear that the Romans were also in occupation and buried their dead in a Roman cemetery on the site.  A concentration of Roman material, including roof tile, in one corner of the site suggests that Cambria Farm has not yet yielded all its secrets.

On 8 September a joint event with the Neroche Project brought a large attendance to St Michael’s Church, Orchard Portman, to hear something of the history of a remarkable Somerset parish.  A walk round the site preceded the talk and gave everyone an opportunity to visualise where the great house of the Portman family had once stood.  On 27 October the Research Group met to further plans for undertaking oral history recordings, and on 8 December a select group heard a talk in Stoke Church entitled ‘Coleridge and Wordsworth in the West Country’.  The final event of the year under review took place on 27 March.  Bob Croft, the County Archaeologist, led us on a walk over Stoke Hill and brought all his skill and insight to the interpretation of a landscape which in many ways is very familiar but which, it became clear, still contains many mysteries.  We hope Bob’s walk will be the first of several which will help us to examine aspects of landscape history and perhaps lead to some real archaeology.

The research and recording activities of the Group have been less prominent this year than we had hoped and intended.  But enthusiasm is still strong, and the opening of the new Somerset Heritage Centre in September will provide a renewed opportunity for progress.

We owe thanks to all the members of the committee for their continued support of the Group in many ways, especially to our Secretary Stephanie Crockett, Treasurer John Pugh and Newsletter editor Meriel Thurstan.  Both Stoke Chapel and Stoke Church have continued to be very helpful in providing venues.

Finally we note the sad loss during of the year of Dennis Parsons, someone to whom the history of his community meant a great deal and who was one of the Group’s strongest original supporters.

Tom Mayberry