This article came from the Chronicle published May 1983. Pages 47-8



Author: R.J.Clynick


The first of our winter evening talks, on 1st October, was given by Mr.Alan S. Clarke of Montacute – a racy, jocular account of the preparation of an exhibition in the village to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the acquisition of Montacute House by the National Trust. At the same time the four hundredth anniversary of the building of the house was also celebrated.

Mr Clarke was largely instrumental in staging the resulting exhibition in the church, drawing upon a wide variety of contacts, locally and nationally, which included research into village history, and the families connected with it. Some of this was on display for our interest in the form of pictures of past events, parish records, and other documents.

Mr Clark was heartily thanked for his illuminating exposition.

Members present at the meeting on 5 November will long remember the fascinating talk given by Mr A.J.Wallis of Weymouth. His subject was Bridges up the Valley of the River Stour.

Formerly Chief Civil Engineer under the Dorset. County Council, he was in charge of the care and maintenance of the many river bridges in the county. Ho gave a most lucid description, aided by excellent slides, of the problems encountered, including erosion, flooding, vandalism, and sinking foundations, to which was added the advent of increasingly heavy traffic which has necessitated widening and underpinning and even rebuilding.

We were shown a variety of bridges built. over the centuries, of different sizes, shapes, and materials, from the pack-horse to the most robust brick and stone, mostly intended for light traffic, but now adapted for modern requirements. He was warmly thanked for his instructive and enter airing talk by Mrs.Marie Eedle.

At the Annual General Meeting held on 3 December, Mr W.T.J.Chapman, our former secretary, was elected chairman in succession to Miss I.Rendell who, in her final report, traced the progress of the Society in its numerous activities during her seven years in office.

The principal officers had another year to serve, but the Hon.Treasurer, Hon.Librarian, and Hon.Editor, each gave notice that they would not seek re-election at the end of their respective terms. The committee elected comprised: Mrs.M.Eedle, Mr.R.J.Clynick, and Brian Gittos, while Miss, E.Pawley was co-opted, and Miss J.Gardner continues as assistant to the secretary.

Following coffee-break, Librarians Mr.E.Dove and Mrs.P.Swetman, entertained with an amusing account, in dialogue, of the erection of (a tower-clock in the 19c Town Hall, and the acrimonious squabble within the municipal hierarchy. One clock was destroyed in the Town Hall fire, but the earlier one is still ticking on over the school at the bottom of Eastland Road.

On 7 January Moira and Brian Gittos gave a well-illustrated talk on Church Monuments. As members of the International Society for the Study of Church Monuments they brought authority to their description of the many and varied monuments illustrated with slides. None of the monuments were of a later date than 1450, their location being mainly in the northern counties and in Ireland. The slides revealed a wealth of detail in craftsmanship and splendour, in the construction of elaborate effigies on monumental tombs, statues, ancient crosses of pre-Norman origin, grave-covers, and altars. The speakers’ clear and often humorous commentaries to the slides made this one of our best evenings.

Our new chairman, ‘Bill’ Chapman, warmly thanked Moira and Brian for a most enjoyable session.

The Dean of Wells, the Very Rev.Dr.Patrick Mitchell, made a very welcome return visit to the Society on 4 February, to give this year’s Edgar Silcox Memorial Lecture his subject being ‘Wells Cathedral – A Living Place of Worship‘.

He detailed the history of the founding and consecration of the Cathedral eight centuries ago and the different stages in its building. With the aid of excellent slides, we were given a pictorial tour of the internal and external features of the cathedral, concentrating on the magnificent West Front with its wealth of statuary. Much of this was seen in close-up, and was a realistic appraisal of the extent of conservation and restoration. An enormous amount has been done, but a great deal still remains, and here the Dean made a general plea for more financial help in order to accomplish this very expensive task.

His talk was warmly received, and our former chairman, Miss I.Rendall, voiced our sincere thanks. Among the audience were John Silcox and his wife who were present at the invitation of the Society.

On 4 March the meeting was addressed by Mr.David Gledhill, District Industrial Engineer of South West Gas, who spoke on The History of Gas Lighting. He introduced his well-illustrated talk with a brief summary of primitive forms of lighting before passing on to experiments in the late 18th and early 19th centuries by a Cornishman, William Murdock, finally leading to the use of gas from coal. Mr Gledhill spoke of the many problems which beset the early efforts – small-bore pipes, fluctuating pressures, etc., until at last some degree of efficiency was established.

It is recorded that in 1807 a Taunton theatre was using gas lighting, and the first gas company was set up there in 1817-18, by 1822 there was simple street lighting. With the help of some remarkable slides we were taken through stages of development from fish-tail and batswing burners to the refined Argon burner in 1830. The incandescent flame and well-known mantle were dealt with and there were many illustrations of equipment from early days right up to the modern appliances. Altogether this was a fascinating and comprehensive account of one facet of industrial archaeology we take so much for granted.

Mr Gledhill was warmly thanked by John Moon.

The speaker on 8 April was Mrs Madge Langdon of Bridgwater who gave an illustrated talk of The Archaeology of Bridgwater. Its history spanning many centuries was dealt with, from Roman times continuing to the present, as an important settlement and port.

Recent excavation and recording has resulted in a wealth of valuable information about its past being revealed. An important medieval trading town, it was conspicuously involved in the Civil War. Pottery of the second and third centuries has been found, and a Roman mosaic at nearby Spaxton. One important discovery was that of the remains of a 13c castle with an intact archway and secret underground passages.

An 18c glassworks and extensive brickworks, both now demolished to make way for modern redevelopment, brought considerable prosperity to the town. Mrs Langdon emphasized that there was much of the town’s story which could not be given in the span of one short talk.

The speaker was thanked by Mr L.C.Hayward, who pointed out that all the archaeological work had been undertaken by voluntary labour.

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