Annual General Meeting, 16 April 2013

Chairman’s Report

The Annual General Meeting of the History Group took place on 26 April 2012, and in addition there were committee meetings on 29 May, 9 August, 11 October and 6 December, 2012, and on 21 February and 12 April 2013.

The speaker at our AGM was Mary Siraut who gave an illustrated lecture called ‘A Lonely Furrow – A History of Farming on Exmoor’.  Mary, who is editor of the Victoria History of Somerset, described the volunteer project which explored the distinctive history of some Exmoor parishes, and her own research for her book Exmoor: The Making of an English Upland (2009).  She described the particular ways in which the unforgiving Exmoor landscape had shaped its settlement pattern and farming practice over many centuries.  A lively question and answer session followed.

A memorable events programme began on 16 June with a visit to the site of the Battle of Sedgemoor.  After a convivial lunch in the King Alfred Inn at Boroughbridge, near to where a Royalist outpost was stationed in 1685, we made our way across the levels to Westonzoyland.  An introductory talk in the fine parish church evoked the battle and its terrible aftermath, including the imprisonment of 500 rebel soldiers in the church itself.  We then walked to the battlefield and imagined the opposing forces facing each other across the Bussex Rhine on that misty July night 327 years earlier.  

A talk on the history of the Portman mansion at Bryanston on 21 August was followed on 1 September by a visit to the house itself.  An enthusiastic coach party, including members of the Neroche History Group, stopped first at Sherborne to visit the remarkable abbey church.  Then, following the River Stour into the little Georgian town of Blandford, we began the mile-long drive through the wooded park to Bryanston House.  Built by Norman Shaw for the second Viscount Portman in 1893-4, it is one of the prodigy buildings of England and a vivid expression of the family’s enormous Victorian wealth.  We were very kindly welcomed by Bryanston School, which now occupies the building, and looked in awe at the mansion’s grand and wholly undomestic spaces.  We were very fortunate that Mrs Rosemary Pease, daughter of the fifth viscount, was able to be with us.

Floods which entirely isolated the village on 22 November prevented the planned talk on ‘The Fight of Charles II Through Somerset, 1651’.  The abandoned audience went down the pub instead and the talk was rescheduled to 7 February.  It told the dramatic story of Charles’s escape from England following his defeat at the Battle of Worcester, and of the 19 days that he hid at Trent, near Yeovil, in the manor house of Sir Francis Wyndham.

Weather also forced us to postpone the much-anticipated village dig intended to be led by Bob Croft, the County Archaeologist.   Another date is being arranged.  We were pleased to be able to contribute a small history display to the Christmas Bazaar on 1 December.

The year was very productive of research by Group members and included much work on census returns and electoral registers, the history of teasel growing, and, not least, on the wealth of vivid and important local information contained in local newspapers.  Four further oral history recordings were made to add to a growing collection, and a large number of photographs were copied for preservation.  Plans for the publication of a village history are being actively pursued and the kind work of Mike Baddeley means that the website is now also rapidly taking shape.  

The support and hard work of the committee has, once again, been essential to everything the Group has done, and we are most grateful as well for the enthusiastic support of Group members and others who attend events whatever the weather.  Special thanks are due to Stephanie Crockett, who is not only the Group’s very able Honorary Secretary but the host of many of its committee meetings, to our Treasurer John Pugh and to our President Graham Salter whose idea the History Group was and who so often welcomes us to the Stoke Chapel as a venue.

Tom Mayberry


16 April, 2013