Annual General Meeting, 17 April 2014

Chairman’s Report

The Annual General Meeting of the History Group took place in Stoke Chapel on 16 April 2013, and in addition there were committee meetings on 7 June, 23 August, 3 December, 28 January and 1 April.

The speaker at the AGM was Steve Minnitt, the Head of the Museums Service, who gave an illustrated talk on ‘Roman Treasures in the Museum of Somerset’. He explained that Somerset is particularly fortunate in the quality of the Roman artefacts that have been discovered and preserved locally. The East Coker hunting mosaic was an early major find, but perhaps no discovery was more important than the Dido and Aeneas mosaic from Low Ham, excavated in 1946. It is the earliest large-scale example of narrative art in the history of the British Isles. Steve has been particularly associated with the preservation of major Roman coin hoards from Somerset, and arranged the purchase of the Shapwick hoard of Roman silver denarii, and the Frome hoard of over 52,000 coins. He concluded an engrossing evening by describing the recently-acquired cast bronze Roman figurine of Capricorn.

There was a busy programme of other events during the year. On 18 September we completed our series of visits to major Portman sites at Hestercombe House. Philip White very kindly gave us a tour of the empty mansion shortly before it passed to the care of the Hestercombe Gardens Trust. We saw the surviving evidence of its earlier building phases and memorably descended the staircase of the Italianate water tower just as the light was fading. On 10 October we became one of the first groups to see the almost-completed works at Castle House, Taunton, including the late medieval principal room on the first floor.

Perhaps no event during the year was more eagerly awaited than the occasion in the Village Hall on 29 November when Derek Parsons and Graham Salter shared their memories of life in Stoke St Mary. They took us on a journey of reminiscence which covered the eventful years since the Second World War and which introduced us to many village characters and stories. Finally, on 20 February, we heard about Stoke St Mary and the Civil War, and the remarkable recent discovery that the young Prince of Wales, son of Charles I, evidently made his headquarters at Stoke during the third siege of Taunton in 1645.

During the year much progress has been made with the History Group website, and thanks are due to Sarah and Mike Baddeley for all they have done to create and populate it. The proposed history of Stoke St Mary was the subject of a special meeting of the committee in January when the structure of the book was agreed together with a timetable towards publication. It was also proposed that its illustrations should include some specially-commissioned photography, particularly of people. Much further research has been undertaken, highlighting such subjects as Stoke St Mary’s lost canals. Oral history recording and transcription have also taken place, and a very significant oral history archive now exists. More recordings are planned. The long-delayed village dig is now arranged for 20 May.

As always, the History Group is very grateful to everyone who contributes so wholeheartedly to its success, including our Honorary Secretary, Stephanie Crockett, and our Honorary Treasurer, John Pugh. Thanks are also due to Graham Salter, our President, and to the congregation of the chapel, for allowing us to use Stoke Chapel as a venue.

Tom Mayberry


17 April, 2014