Annual General Meeting, 26 April 2011

Chairman’s Report

The Annual General Meeting of the History Group took place on 13 April 2010, and in addition to programmed events there were committee meetings on 30 November and 18 April.

Our speaker at the AGM was Mary Miles, the Somerset expert on the county’s connection with the brewing industry.  Originally brewing was a chiefly domestic occupation.  But by the 18th century many pub owners brewed beer on site, and others, such as the Bruford family of Cheddon Fitzpaine, entered the trade because they were farmers who malted barley.   Pubs were everywhere, and by 1900 even Stoke St Mary had three pubs for villagers to choose from.  

Another expert who brought a wealth of knowledge with him was Peter Daniel, Field Officer for the Somerset Industrial Archaeology Society.  On 26 June he talked to us about the lime-burning industry in Somerset, which flourished locally from the Middle Ages until the 20th century.  

After a short illustrated lecture in Stoke Chapel he took us on a guided walk through Thurlbear Woods to see the remaining evidence of lime burning.  The kiln that survives at the heart of the wood is well known, but Peter was able to explain the detail of how it operated and how it fitted into a landscape still filled with the signs of limestone quarrying.  A very happy occasion ended outside Lime Kiln Cottage on Stoke Hill.  Next to the cottage stand the fine double kilns built by George Small in 1906 and operated by Tom Burt until 1939.

On 27 March Bob Croft, the County Archaeologist, ably demonstrated that we know much less about the landscape of Stoke St Mary than we thought we did.  He had kindly agreed to guide a large group of us on a walking tour of key elements of the parish.  

We started in the churchyard, remarking on the simplicity of the 13th century church, one sign that Stoke has never been one of the richer communities in Taunton Deane.  Then we headed off up the Monmouth Path and were immediately faced with the familiar hollow way which may have been there since the Bronze Age.  Bob introduced us all to techniques for hedge dating and gave us a strong sense of how a landscape archaeologist works.  But as he told us when we started, this was more an occasion for questions than for answers.  We hope he will return.

Our last event of 2010 took us to Nether Stowey on 2 October.  The little town in the shadow of the Quantocks has been there at least since Domesday Book and has a complex history.  We stood by the earthworks where Stowey’s Norman castle once presided and walked through the town remembering, not least, its famous associations with Coleridge and Wordsworth.  At Coleridge Cottage we discovered in detail what made this tiny and uncomfortable building so important in European literary history.

The day ended in a building of a quite different kind – the great Norman priory church at Stogursey.  Thurlbear Church may be the oldest Norman church in Somerset, but Stogursey is the grandest.  It was a memorable setting in which to conclude a very successful and enjoyable day.

Finally, on 3 March we toured the new Somerset Heritage Centre at Norton Fitzwarren and were able to see not only the public areas but the archive and museum strongrooms.

We are now finalising the programme for 2011, which will include a visit to the great Portman mansion at Bryanston in Dorset, a tour of the battlefield at Sedgemoor and a look at the new Museum of Somerset, due to open to the public in late August.  Our work on a book to commemorate the history of Stoke will also make progress, with an intended completion date in 2012, and more oral history recordings are now being planned.

Once again we owe grateful thanks to all the members of the committee for their continued support of the Group, especially to our Secretary Stephanie Crockett, our Treasurer John Pugh and our Newsletter editor Meriel Thurstan.  

Tom Mayberry


26 April, 2011