Annual General Meeting, 29 March 2016

Chairman’s Report

The Annual General Meeting of the History Group took place in the Village Hall on 14 April 2015, and in addition there were committee meetings on 8 June, 19 October, 14 December and 10 February.

The speaker at the AGM was Sam Astill, Project Officer for the ‘Somerset Remembers’ Project. Somerset Remembers was generously funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and sought to commemorate the centenary of the First World War in a Somerset context. Sam described the important volunteer and research aspects of the project, the richness of largely untapped sources such as contemporary newspapers and commemorative events hosted by the project. They included a rugby match held at Wiveliscombe on a memorial playing field, and an evening of words and music which took place in the war memorial chapel at Wellington School. At least 40,000 people saw the Somerset Remembers exhibition at the Museum of Somerset, and a touring exhibition reached many more.

On 11 July members of the group went on a very enjoyable visit to Cleeve Abbey and Dunster Castle. Though little more than an outline remains of the monastic church, Cleeve Abbey is remarkable for the extent to which its other buildings have survived. We were able to visit the dormitory and the wagon- roofed frater, as well as to catch a glimpse of Cleeve’s remarkable 13th- century encaustic tiles. After the Cistercian calm of Cleeve, we joined the crowds at Dunster Castle on a sunny afternoon and discovered anew one of the great buildings of the West Country.

On 29 September a talk entitled The Bishop and the Black Death’ was given in St Mary’s Church. It retold the story of the calamity that visited Somerset in 1348-9 and of the role played by Bishop Ralph of Shrewsbury in responding to an unprecedented crisis. The Black Death claimed at least a third of Somerset’s population and accelerated economic changes which led to the breakdown of manorial systems of land management.

We had an evening in two halves at a meeting held in the Village Hall on 24 November. Charles Clarke informed and greatly entertained us in his talk entitled ‘Memories of an Auctioneer’ and brought with him a wide variety of props. In the second half of the evening we heard excerpts from the growing collection of oral history recordings created by the History Group, several of which preserve the voices and memories of people who are now no longer living.

A highlight of the year was the Wassail Evening held at Fyrse Cottage on 16 January. Traditional ceremonies were carefully observed, and Ginnie Rhodes, who chose the piece of apple cake containing a bean, was duly crowned our Wassail Queen. Desmond Baker kindly provided the necessary shotgun volley, and a large and appreciative attendance sang the Somerset Wassail song. We are very grateful to Stephanie Crocket for hosting the event and to everyone who contributed to the success of the evening. It is not known that a wassail has been held in Stoke Mary since at least the 19th century, though the village was renowned for producing 'some of the best cider in the kingdom'.

Further oral history interviews were undertaken during the year, and we are grateful in particular for the transcriptions that have been made. Pauline Rook has begun the process of creating images for the photographic essay which will accompany the history of Stoke, on which further progress has been made. A publication date in 2016 is being aimed at and a designer has been found.

We express our thanks as always to Sarah Baddeley, and to Mike, for maintaining the excellent standard of the website.

 We are grateful also to everyone who contributes to the success of the History Group, including our Honorary Secretary, Stephanie Crockett, our Honorary Treasurer, John Pugh, and our President, Graham Salter.

Tom Mayberry Chairman

29 March, 2016