1987-Apr-pg122-124_Winter Meetings 86/87

1987-Apr-pg122-124_Winter Meetings 86/87

This article came from the Chronicle published April 1987. Pages: 122-124.


Winter Meetings Reviewed – 86/87


3rd October HERALDRY: The first meeting of the 1986-87 winter session was held at the Preston Centre, Monk’s Dale, because the disruption caused by the building of the new library meant that the usual venue was not available. ‘The speaker was Mr.Michael Messer, a member of the Bath Heraldry Society ably supported by Mrs.Constant and Mr.Slater. His talk was detailed, witty and very informative and was accompanied by many excellent slides and other illustrative material. He traced the origins of heraldry from the simple devices which were used for identification both on the battlefield and at other, prestigious, occasions through to the complex armorial bearings of the present day. The proliferation of coats of arms in medieval times led to a realisation that some form of control was essential. To this end the College of Arms was set up by Richard 111 in order to devise and grant arms and to maintain a Roll of existing arms. An achievement (the complete design) comprises a shield, helm, crest and motto with other adornments for those who were eligible such as supporters, mantling, coronet etc. The College is still active today granting arms to those who make application to it and pay the fee of £1,000. It was explained that this would be a protracted process.

Amongst the topics illustrated by Mr.Messer were the State Opening of Parliament and the Garter ceremony at Windsor with the heralds in their vivid tabards and other less spectacular examples such as book plates and kneeling stools decorated with arms. A number of photographs and documents were displayed to support the talk including examples of grants of arms beginning with the distinctive words “To all and singular…..”

The talk was well received by an appreciative audience on whose behalf he was cordially thanked by Paul Gardner.

7th November FARMING REMINISCENCES: Ann Heeley gave an entertaining talk on the subject, describing a project she is undertaking in conjunction with the Glastonbury Rural Life Museum. Her presentation was augmented both with slides and sound recordings of Somerset farmers describing their memories. Her object is to build up a library of such recordings which will then be available for future study. The great problem was in getting people to talk freely while the tape recorder was running and this often took a lot of patient work. However, the results were very rewarding, producing a wealth of social history and also some Agricultural Industrial Archaeology. An important part of the project was producing a transcript of the tapes and Mrs.Heeley was not making any recordings at present, in order to catch up on a backlog of transcripts. She built her talk around the reminiscences of four farmers from different parts of Somerset including one from Brympton near Yeovil. Activities described included milking, the making of clotted cream, haymaking from cutting to building the rick, the dressing of seed-wheat with “blue stone” to kill fungus, sheep breeding and “showing”, the breaking-in of colts and the problems of getting pigs to market. Examples of the hard life which people led were damage done to people’s hands whilst harvesting flax and the fact that children were set to work from the tender age of six. Mrs. Heeley stressed the urgency of her work because this century had seen a tremendous revolution in farming methods but the farmers who could remember the old methods were nearing the end of their lives.

An amusing side-light of the recordings was the sound of the rich dialects, down-to-earth views and humour of these worthy Somerset Yeomen. Mrs.Heeley answered questions and extended an invitation to members to visit the Rural Life Museum at Glastonbury. John Moon warmly thanked her on our behalf.

5th December ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING: The minutes of the previous A.G.M. were read and approved. The Chairman presented a brief but optimistic report and thanked the members of the Committee for their hard work and help during the year. The Secretary reported a successful year with good attendance at meetings but some of the summer excursions had been less well supported. Meetings had been transferred to the Preston Centre, for the duration of work on the Library. Membership is believed to be at its highest ever level, at between 100 and 110. During the year, the Society had become affiliated to the Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society. The Secretary indicated his intention to stand down at the next A.G.M. and hoped that a successor would be forthcoming. The Treasurer circulated copies of the prepared balance sheet which was discussed and approved. The Hon.Editor reported that Chronicle was now produced by offset litho printing which allowed illustrations to be inter-mingled with the text. There had been problems with its production, but on balance he felt that the arrangement should be continued. The Hon.Librarian spoke of the increasing donation of books but wished that the membership might make greater use of the collection now at its disposal. The existing Officers and Committee Members were re-elected en bloc, on a motion proposed by Leslie Brooke and seconded by Leonard Hayward. Changes to the Constitution, required by the Charity Commissioners, before granting Charitable Status, were discussed. Mrs.Eedle questioned inconsistencies in the majorities required for Alteration of the Rules and Dissolution of the Society. The Secretary agreed to raise the matter with the Charity Commissioners and it was resolved to pass the changes subject to clarification of the point. Mr.Brian Gittos announced that South Somerset District Council had donated to the Society their archive of Planning Applications up to those submitted in 1956. This constituted more than 6,000 applications. This very important collection of documents would need to be examined in detail and catalogued. Volunteers were sought to assist with this task.

A buffet supper, prepared by members, was followed by the Society’s annual treat – a duologue presented by Eric Dove and Pat Swetman. They had prepared a succession of humorous anecdotes garnered from the rich resources of the Reference Library and retold in their inimitable style. At the conclusion of the meeting the Chairman expressed thanks to all concerned for a very successful A.G.M.

Russ Clynick
9th January OF WELLS AND WALLS AND CHAMBER POTS: This was the intriguing title of the members’ evening talk given by Brian and Moira Gittos which described their investigation on the site of the new Public Library building. Moira Gittos began by describing the history of the site which had been difficult to piece together as the earliest useful map was one prepared in 1858 to accompany a report on the town’s drainage. At that time there had been a cheese market fronting on South Street together with the Hall Keeper’s House, Corn Exchange and markets. The cheese market became the town’s fire station in 1913 and was demolished in 1962. Brian Gittos explained that there had been no opportunity for a proper archaeological survey before the contractors started work and the investigation had to be carried out while work was proceeding and during the investigator’s lunch breaks. Four wells were found, stretches of wall, a rubbish pit – the “midden” – and part of a cobbled lane at first thought to be George Court but which proved to be the access through the markets parallel to George Court. The cobbles from this roadway were taken to help with the restoration of the Church Path at Queen Camel. Moira Gittos described the finds, a selection of which were set out on tables. These included the almost complete chamber pot found at the base of the midden pit and dating from about 1700; many clay pipes,some bearing maker’s marks; fragments of bone including the skull of a rabbit and part of a horn core. The oldest artefacts were some small pieces of pottery and a bronze buckle of medieval date. Brian Gittos concluded the presentation by explaining how the cobbled road was diverted when the cheese market was converted into ‘the fire station and showed the last three slides depicting a well, a wall and the chamber pot.
John Moon.
6th February 1987 SOMERSET AS WAS: Mr.Robin Bush, the County Archivist, was the speaker at the February meeting. His talk was drawn from his wide experience at the Somerset Records Office, highlighting some of the more humorous facets of its work and archive. Many enquirers at at Records Office are concerned with the pursuit of their ancestors. Mr.Bush recounted the example of a certain widespread and numerous family from across the Atlantic who were convinced, by their own oral traditions, that their ancestors had occupied a certain Manor House. They had even adopted and used armorial bearings found in the house and held regular reunions of the clan, each time visiting the house in question. On one occasion, as an invited speaker at their Dinner it fell to Mr.Bush to reveal to them that not only had their ancestors not occupied the house, springing instead from the adjoining village but that their treasured arms belonged to a completely unrelated family, their own use of them being illegal. However, other genealogical problems could be followed through to their complete solution. Mr.Bush had been able to take an enquirer of the name of Trowbridge and stand with him on a bridge over the Trow and say “This is the origin of your name”. Such moments were rare but could be paralleled in other areas of research as on the occasion when he had quite accidentally solved the long-standing mystery of the parentage of the politician Ernest Bevin.

Mr.Bush was able to explain the phenomenon of the large number of children baptised in Ilchester in 1818 who all bore the same two names. These were the names of the two victorious M.P.s whose election campaign had included the re-housing of the poor evicted by their landlord – one of the previous M.P.s. The Vicar had pursuaded the greatful constituents to include the M.P.s’ surnames amongst their children’s names in commemoration of this famous victory. The protracted history of the Wellington monument on the Blackdown Hills concluded the discourse. Mr.Bush’s presentation, without the aid of slides, was hilarious, with the audience literally rocking in-their seats. His fame as a speaker led to the remarkable size of the audience – estimated at over 80. Leslie Brooke expressed the appreciation of our members for what can be described as a thoroughly enjoyable evening.

Russ Clynick.


At the AGM report was made of. the donation to the Society of an archive of planning documents. This somewhat dry sounding announcement perhaps masked both the importance and excitement of the situation. There’is information relating to some 6,000 planning applications dating from 1876 to 1956 for buildings within the Borough. This includes, for example, detailed plans for the demolished Central Cinema, the old Yeovil Hospital, the Nautilus Works and even the cinema which was to be built on the site of the Castle Inn. There are ground plans, elevations and block plans which often show the surrounding area in great, and now vanished, detail. The earliest of the plans appears to be for a skating rink in Hendford and there are many designs for long forgotten shop fronts – what did Marks & Spencer look like before it moved to the new building? There is no index for the plans and a willing band of volunteers is already hard at work on the job of cataloguing them. The task is quite simple, requiring the listing of a few details from each plan on a record card, and can easily be done at home. Why not get involved this time?

It is an opportunity to make a real contribution to writing the history of Yeovil. For details contact Brian or Moira Gittos, Yeovil 20112.