Annual General Meeting, 26 April 2022

Chairman’s Report

A great deal of water has flowed under history’s bridge since the Group’s last AGM in April 2019. The pandemic has given us other preoccupations. But it has also provided us with time to reflect on the complex loyalties to people and places that are so important to everyone and how for good and ill the past defines us. It seems unlikely that discovering and understanding the past will quickly cease to fascinate us.

At that AGM in 2019 Bob Croft, the County Archaeologist, talked to us about ‘Archaeology on Your Doorstep’. He gave us an overview of archaeological work being carried out around Somerset, including at Halswell House and Cannington near Bridgwater, at the former Bishop’s Palace in Wiveliscombe, and at Bath Abbey. He also reminded us of the dig carried out in Stoke St Mary in 2014 when test pits were dug at Fyrse Cottage, Tuckers, The Orchard and Higher Broughton Farm and how, in the course of a few hours, Stoke St Mary was put on the archaeological map.

Bob and his colleague Richard Brunning were back in the village on 9 May 2019 to supervise History Group volunteers in some more test pitting, this time at Tuckers and Brookside. Again the discoveries were remarkable and established beyond doubt that there was a human presence in the place we call Stoke from the Bronze Age, through the Roman period and to the Middle Ages and beyond. In June we went on a summer visit to Mells, Nunney and Farleigh Hungerford, and in October a talk called ‘Discovering Stoke St Mary’ told the story of this small community through many centuries.

2020 started well. On 18 January we gathered at Tuckers by kind invitation of Rebecca Pow and her family to perform once more the ancient wassail ceremony. Desmond Baker fired a shotgun through the branches of the apple tree, as tradition demands, and Philip Joslin was crowned wassail king. Fifty people attended. Then all our troubles began. A visit to the historic airfield at Dunkeswell on 21 March was cancelled as the pandemic closed in, and not until September did the History Group venture out again.

On 12 September, just before further Covid restrictions came into force, we went on an Alfred the Great tour. A happy day began on the historic site at Athelney where Alfred took refuge from the Danes in AD 878. Then we went to Aller church where the defeated Danish king came for baptism. Finally we travelled down remote lanes across the Somerset Levels to reach the remains of the ancient royal hunting park at North Petherton. It was there that the Alfred Jewel was found in 1693. Then we returned home to further lockdown.

On 17 February 2022, the committee was at last able to gather in the Half Moon for its first formal meeting in two years. There was much reflection on the remarkable times through which we’ve lived, and a determination to build a programme for the year ahead. As the History Group completes its fourteenth year of existence, there is still much to do and discover, and of course a book to complete!

As always the Group is very grateful to Stephanie Crockett, our Secretary, for the organisational responsibilities she so ably takes on, to Sarah Baddeley and Mike for continuing to make the website such an important destination for those interested in Stoke history, to John Pugh our long-serving Treasurer, and to Meriel Thurstan our newsletter editor. We’re also very grateful to Graham Salter, who first suggested a history group, for serving as our President and to all the other committee members for their help and support.

Tom Mayberry


26 April 2022