This article came from the Chronicle published November 1986. Pages 98-101.


Summer Excursions Reviewed – 1986

Author: Russ Clynick also Brian Gittos


April 25th NATURE WALK AROUND MONTECUTE: This proved an excellent beginning to the summer programme. A good sized party of around 20 met in the centre of the village and then followed Chris Cornell past the parish church, noting plants on the churchyard wall such as the ivy-leaved toadflax. It was a fine evening but recent heavy rain meant that the route past the Priory fish ponds was soft and damp. Climbing the hill to the woods above the village brought a change of vegetation, with wild strawberries, sweet violet, dog’s mercury and hart’s tongue fern all in evidence. Beneath the tree cover, wood anemonies were in flower and members of the party were invited to taste the wild garlic. Jew’s ear fungi clung limply to an old tree stump and near the entrance to Ladies’ Walk there were policeman’s helmet, foxgloves and wood sorrell. In the woods themselves there was an absence of bird life but one of the more interesting shrubs was the spiky, butcher’s broom, which is strictly leafless. At the end of Ladies’ Walk, an interesting carved stone, presumably a survival from the Priory, was noted in a garden wall. This gave an archaeological finale to a very pleasant natural history ramble, ably led by Chris Cornell. He was appreciatively thanked by Mr.John Moon, before the party dispersed.

May 17th TAUNTON MUSEUM AND HESTERCOMBE HOUSE: Extremely inclement weather reduced the party to a small band but this was beneficial for at least part of the day. After being welcomed to the Museum by Stephen Minnitt, there followed two very interesting sessions with the Curator of the Somerset Military Museum, Lt.Col.R.Woodhouse and the Conservator, Mr.M.Davis. The Military Gallery of Taunton Museum traces the history of the Somerset Light Infantry, illustrated by items of memorabilia, some life-size reconstructed scenes and a valuable collection of over 500 medals. The enthusiasm with which the material has been brought together was very evident. The Conservation Laboratory had only limited space, in part accounted for by the large number of objects present. Pride of place undoubtedly went to the Saxon sword recovered from the River Brue at Bruton but one of the more unusual items was a large chopping block, of mediaeval date, from Stogursey Castle, which was being freeze-dried in the freezer. A prick spur from Glastonbury was being cleaned electrolytically and other items receiving treatment ranged from a 14th century dagger from Bristol to a 17th century slipper. The party could happily have spent the rest of the day studying the contents of that one small room. After a break for lunch, we re-convened at Hestercombe House, the home of the Somerset Fire Brigade. Heavy rain precluded any prospect of touring the important gardens but the loss was made up for by the insight which was given, into the running of the Fire Brigade. The highlight was the Control Room itself, where the operational systems were explained and the dependance of the Service upon volunteer firemen was made clear. A gothic archway from the demolished church of Hestercombe is incorporated into the structure of the House itself. Returning to Taunton Castle, the final part of the day was taken up by a visit to the Local History and SANHS Libraries. David Bromwich was our guide and he gave an invaluable account of the structure of both libraries. He singled out the Buckler drawings in the Braikenbridge Collection for special note and concluded by revealing the hiding place of Chronicle – alas not yet afforded one of the more prominent positions on the SANHS shelves. The problems of limited space were all too apparent. We were extremely grateful to our host for staying on after hours on our behalf. The whole programme was charged with interest and it was sad that the heavy rain had deterred so many members.
Brian Gittos

6th June CHURCH MONUMENTS TOUR: This event was attended by 35 – 40 members and led by Brian and Moira Gittos. It began with a tour of East Coker Churchyard, which had been surveyed by a party of children from East Coker School. The Burial Ground was closed in 1873 and had undergone some subsequent changes. Many of the stones were badly weathered and difficult to decipher, while those made of lias had disintegrated. The table tombs set up by the families of Cox and Barrett were identified, as was that of Joanna Helyer, 1767, which has lias stone sides and a Ham stone top and is surrounded by an iron railing. Near the church door was the incised slab of a lady, c.1300. Inside the church the Ham stone effigy of a civilian (mid 14th century) was noted. The final item discussed was the 13th century effigy of a lady, once in the chancel but now set upright against the west wall of the nave. It was by no means a morbid visit but one full of interest and speculation. The party then moved on to Limington to examine the mediaeval monuments in the north chapel. These consist of the effigy of a lady of c.1300; a large, boldly carved knight of c.1330 and a civilian and wife, probably carved in the 1340’s. The monuments were described and discussed in detail, with particular emphasis given to the dateable features of costume and armour and the remarkable collection of documents which provide the historical background for this group of monuments. Mr.and Mrs.Gittos were thanked by John Moon.

22nd June WEST SOMERSET RAILWAY AND MINEHEAD: 14 members went on this all day visit, undertaken in the interests of Industrial Archaeology and Local History. Members made their own way to Bishop’s Lydeard and embarked on a train for Minehead, stopping at five or six halts en route. The railway aims to collect, restore and return into service, for example, steam locomotives, rolling stock, track and other equipment. The work is undertaken by keen and enthusiastic volunteers and seems to be born of nostalgia or the sheer love of it. It is done mostly at weekends and at quite some cost to the volunteers themselves. At both Bishop’s Lydeard and Minehead Stations there is ample evidence of the considerable amount of recovery work under-taken by these enthusiasts. On arrival at Minehead, members were free to spend their time as they wished. Minehead, once a very busy port has a history of at least 600 years, with many ancient features. Chief of these is the hill-top church of St.Michael. There is much 16th and 17th century architecture along the harbour frontage and in streets leading up the steep sides of the hill. The two rail journeys and sojourn in Minehead were a gentle, soothing experience, for the motorists at least.

6th July WESTON ZOYLAND AND PUMPING STATION: A handful of enthusiasts ventured out to Weston Zoyland to visit its famous church and to see the recently restored Pumping Station. At the church we were met by the Vicar, the Rev.Roger Fry, who had been a curate’at St.Michael’s, Yeovil. He escorted us around this beautiful and historic church and with undisguised enthusiasm pointed out the many important features of the 15th century building. These included the magnificent perpendicular king-post roof, the 15th century octagonal font and carved bench ends. One of these bears the initials “R.B.” for Richard Bere, Abbot of Glastonbury (1493-1524). These initials are repeated on a buttress. The tower, visible for many miles, is one of the very best in Somerset. Leaving the church, we went on to the nearby Pumping Station. Built in the 19th century to assist the drainage of the Somerset Levels, it houses an 1861 Easton and Amos Drainage Machine. In 1977, at the invitation of the Wessex Water Authority, an enthusiastic group of local amateur engineers was formed to restore the steam-powered engine to working condition. The restored engine was first steamed in 1983 and is the only such machine in the country in working order. We were able to view the small museum of drainage items and see the engine in steam. Its operation was described to us by two of the volunteers. It was a very enjoyable and instructive afternoon.

26th July NEWTON SURMAVILLE: A party limited to 25 were given the opportunity and pleasure of visiting Newton Surmaville. It is the home of Mrs.S.Rawlins, who kindly gave permission for the tour and conducted us around the House. It was built in the early 17th century and although subsequently extended, retains very many original features. A full account of a tour on the occasion of the SANHS Affiliated Societies Meeting in 1985 may be found in Chronicle Vol-3 p.72.

16th August MUCHELNEY ABBEY AND PRIEST’S HOUSE: We were conducted around the Priest’s House by the tenant, Mr.Henderson. It was built in 1308 by Muchelney Abbey to house the parish priest and continued in use as a vicarage until the 18th century. In 1840 it was in use as a wine-cellar. In 1890 it was bought by a farmer and in the interval had served as a school. At one time it was described as “ruinous” and later as “much decayed in timber and thatching”. In 1911 it was acquired by the National Trust. It has recently been re-thatched. Normally only the hall and parlour are shown to visitors but being a small party, we had the pleasure and privilege of being shown the whole house, up to the very top rooms under the roof. This was accompanied by an enthusiastic explanation of the architectural features and structural changes to this “rare and delightful survival of mediaeval building”. We then moved on to the site of the Benedictine Abbey. As a result of a Visitation in 1335, “the Bretheren were charged with living too well; they had costly utensils and ornate beds, they dined in private, rode about the country, kept unfit company and left the church in disrepair”. A few years later, in 1349, the Black Death claimed two abbots in one month. What remains today is the Abbot’s House, in a fairly good state of preservation and the site of the church, of which only the ground-plan remains. No guide was available to conduct us around, but a well-prepared publication was on sale and this enabled us to make our own way through each room. These included the Abbot’s Parlour with its magnificent wooden settle and carved fireplace, and the South Cloister Walk, which houses a collection of carved stones from the Abbey. Lastly, a brief visit was made to the Parish Church. There are some mediaeval tiles around the base of the font. The church has a remarkable painted roof and a barrel organ. The afternoon’s excursion was altogether a very worthwhile visit.

13th September BRISTOL The last summer outing took the form of an excursion by coach to Bristol. The first call was at the Cathedral, founded in 1140 as St.Augustine’s Abbey. We were given a first class tour by the Senior Verger, who in 15 years service has gained an intimate knowledge of this magnificent church. He passed on much of his knowledge in his concise commentary on our tour. The Chapter House was the main feature that claimed our attention – a perfect example of Norman work with blind arcading and zig-zag mouldings. From the Cathedral to Temple Meads Railway Station, where the oldest part is undergoing restoration. It was built in 1839-40 by Isambard Kingdom Brunel as a terminus for the Great Western Railway. It was the first full station outside London and was designed to take ‘ broad gauge traffic. Our guide, Mr.Moxon, explained the work of restoration and conservation and led us into unexpected areas. Brunel’s Office, his Drawing Office and the G.W.R. Board Room are still intact. There also remains the remarkable system for disposing of the clinker from the engine fireboxes. The ashes were shovelled straight into holes in the ground and fell down a chute, where they filled carts, waiting to haul them away. From a building designed by Brunel we went straight to his famous ship “Great Britain”. The ship had been visited by the Society soon after recovery from the Falkland Islands in 1970. Since then a great deal has been accomplished. There are no lower decks but externally the ship looks complete, with masts and rigging in place. The first ship built of iron and the first to be driven by a screw, seen on the same day as the terminus for his great railway, emphasised the genius of Brunel. Mr.Chapman thanked the guides for their interesting and instructive tours and John Moon, for his careful planning.

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