This article came from the Chronicle published April 1979. Pages 3-4


Meetings Reviewed (1997Apr)

Author: Russ Clynick


On the evening of Friday 25 August members gathered at Halstock to view excavations being carried out at the site of the Roman villa there. Discovered as long ago as 1817, excavation since 1968 has revealed a large bath block, two fine though damaged mosaic pavements, a large swimming bath and elaborate hypocausts, while an adjacent barn measuring 66 x 33 feet contained two corn-drying ovens, a water tank, and a system of drains. The current season’s work had revealed the further extension of a very long paswageway – the length of four cricket pitches! – and several rooms with a cobbled courtyard. Following an explanatory talk given by Mr R.Lucas, in charge of the ‘dig’, a tour of the site was conducted by Mr E.Flatters who pointed out the various features and explained their significance. Thanks of the society for the able manner in which members had been entertained and of seeing the latest discoveries, was expressed by our chairman, Miss I.Rendell.

The last of the summer excursions on 2 September, was to Parnham House, Beaminster, when members were conducted over the 500-year-old building by Mr Brian James. Owned by the Strode family from 1350, the nucleus of the present house was built in 1585, and when the last of the Strodes died in 1764, it passed to the Oglanders. Sir John Oglander who inherited it in 1810 commissioned the renowned architect John Nash to restore it, much of his work being visible today. It was in the Oak Room that Generals Eisenhower and Patton planned the invasion of Europe when Parnham was the United States Army HQ in the South-West during the 1939-45 War. Today Parnham houses the world-famous furniture workrooms of John Makepeace and the School for Craftsmen in Wood, many examples being on view. Following a picnic tea in the grounds, members returned to Beaminster where, following an illustrated talk, Mrs J.A.Eedel conducted the party on a tour of the town, pointing out Beaminster’s many architectural features. The thanks of the society to Mr James at Parnham, and to Mrs. Eedel at Beaminster, were expressed by the Chairman.

The Annual General Meeting took place at Yeovil Reference Library on 6 October through the courtesy of the Library Committee and the co-operation of Mr Eric Dove. The Secretary, Mr W.T.J.Chapman, reported a very satisfactory year of outings and meetings, due largely to the work of his predecessor, Mr Edgar Silcox – now retired – and the committee. There was a healthy balance so far as finances were concerned. Both reports were approved and adopted, Officers elected were: Chairman, Miss I.Rendell; Secretary-Treasurer, W.T.J. Chapman; Committee, Mrs P.Knight, Messrs L.Brooke, R.J.Clynick, R.Gilson, J.W.Jeffery, and Rev.G.Robinson. The Chairman in making her report announced the inauguration of the Society’s own journal ‘Chronicle’ and asked members to see that it flourished by contributing as much suitable material at possible. Two recent publications, ‘The Book of Yeovil’ by Leslie Brooke, and ‘The Romans in Yeovil District’ by Leonard Hayward, both Society members, had greatly enhanced the society’s esteem in the county. Following the business Miss Rendell gave a talk entitled ‘Italian Interlude’ illustrated with slides including scenes of Florence, Rome, Pompeii, and Assisi.

Members were reminded of their excursion in May when, on 3 November, Mr M.H.Jones of Taunton, spoke on the West Somerset Mineral Railway. The concern of the once-prosperous iron-mining industry, this railway, said the speaker, ran from Gupworthy on the Brendon Hills to carry iron ore to Watchet for shipment to South Wales for smelting. Eventually a thriving community of about 500 people was established with all the amenities of a large village. It is estimated that 750,000 tons of ore was mined over the years, but decline set in with the availability of cheaper iron ore from abroad. All that now remains is an overgrown trackway and mostly derelict buildings to identify this example of industrial archaeology. Mr Jones illustrated his talk with remarkable photographs taken at the end of last century.

English Monastic Sites‘ was the title of the 1 December address given by Mr R.Machin, M.A., of the Extra-Mural Department of Bristol University, illustrated with excellent slides. He described the planned order of each. monastery building for various aspects of daily life, the positions of sites depending on local geography. The general plan of a monastery was shown on an aerial photograph of Tintern Abbey, with its layout clearly defined and featuring the main church building, cloisters, chapter house, dormitory, infirmary, abbot’s lodge, the monks’ and lay brothers’ quarters, etc. These, and their purpose, were fully described, as were the various orders of monasticism – Benedictine, Cluniac, Cistercian, and Franciscan. Most monasteries, he said, were built largely to serve and accommodate the local communities. The abbey church was designed to allow for impressive processions and the many orders of worship. Glastonbury and Cleeve Abbeys, although now ruins, are still impressive reminders of the extent and grandeur that an important monastic settlement once possessed.

Despite inclement weather many members turned out on 5 January for an illustrated talk on ‘Street Furniture‘ by Mr and Mrs Leslie Brooke. A selection of slides which had, in the main, been taken by Mrs Brooke, showed such diverse items as footscrapers and snuffers, lamps and litter-bins, bollards and postboxes, coal hole covers and clocks, signposts and stiles, drinking-fountains and horse-troughs, pumps and wells, as well as such oddities as the Bristol Nails, and a Porter’s Rest in Piccadilly, London. Local cast-iron work included Yeovil examples by Petter & Edgar, Bird & Pippard, and the Paragon Foundry, while many of the manhole covers and cellar grilles were of particularly pleasing designs. The presenters were thanked by the chairman.

Mr H.Gordon Slade, Architect to the Commission for Ancient Monuments in the South-West, addressed the 2 February meeting on ‘Castles and Houses of Aberdeenshire‘. His many excellent slides depicted the varied styles of architecture by different builders. After depicting the purposes of Scottish castles, such as Stirling and Edinburgh, as fortresses, parliaments or Acropolises, Mr Slade spoke of the hundreds of castles or fortified houses, many now in ruins, which were built in Aberdeenshire in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, when Scots were either fighting Scots or the English! The use of native granite and Baltic timber was discussed, as was the trend for austere exteriors and ornate interiors in many instances. Many of the houses and some ruins are now in the care of the National Trust for Scotland. In thanking the speaker Miss Rendell commented on the beauty of the slides which had given inducement to see for oneself the originals.

Dr W.J.Rodwell, Director of CRAAGS, addressed the meeting held on 2 March on ‘Recent Excavations and Research regarding Wells Cathedral‘. The excavation afforded by an extension of the masons’ yard revealed foundations of earlier buildings in an area bounded by the east cloister and the south side of the nave, which the speaker referred to as the ‘cameri’ (?). Apart from some piecemeal digging in the nineteenth century, little had been done to discover building which had taken place in this area. Earlier buildings housing the masons’ equipment and an extensive medieval conduit containing a domestic lead pipe were uncovered, the water being carried from St Andrew’s Well underneath the cloisters towards the market place of the city. But what war most interesting, perhaps, was the outline of part of a building which is almost certainly that of the eastern end of the Anglo-Saxon Minster, or ‘mini-cathedral’, the odd angle at which the foundations lie conforming with the axis of buildings forming the ancient city of Wells. Mr Chapman expressed the thanks and intense interest of the well-attended meeting.

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