We have talks in Autumn & Winter and trips in Spring & Summer each year. For further details see the current Contact magazine (via the Bookshop page).
2017 / 2018 Talks & Trips
TRIPS – We are trialling a plan to provide two Departure Points. The main Departure/Return point will be at the Cricket Club entrance, located on Rodden Road. The Cricket Club offers a large parking area formerly called the Old Showfield, which will accommodate all members who wish to park their cars there before boarding the coach, please avoid parking next to the Pavilion.
We also pick up members at the Memorial Theatre on Christchurch Street West, at the Bus Stop Opposite to the Memorial Theatre, which will also be the returning drop-off point. The advertised Coach Departure Time is for the Cricket Club, to which five minutes is added to determine the pick up time for the Memorial Theatre.
Guests pay £3 supplement. Please mention any dietary needs when you book and remember you are responsible for your own insurance.
2017/18 FSLS Lecture Programme
All lectures start at 2.30pm except on 24 March 2018, when the lecture will be preceded by the Society’s Annual General Meeting at 2.00pm.
Lectures are free for members, visitors pay £3.
16 December 2017 – Professor Tim Mowl – Pleasure and the Regency Garden
Timothy Mowl, Emeritus Professor of History of Architecture and Designed Landscapes at the University of Bristol, will talk about the period between 1790-1830, during which Humphry Repton developed a new aesthetic for gardens that he termed ‘Ornamental Gardening’. These were the decorative pleasure grounds, threaded with shrubbery walks, laid out for leisure and enjoyment in which Jane Austen’s heroines took the air. The gardens had exuberant formal parterres, jewelled island beds of graduated flowers, frothy basket-work borders, shrubberies laced with flowers and over-arching trellises covered with rambling roses, jasmine and clematis; while the lawns, enamelled with spring bulbs, were enlivened with elegant vases, strewn with Chinese barrels for casual alfresco seating, cut with reflecting oval pools backed by specimen shrubs and dramatized by deep-delved grottoes. Every pleasure ground had its meshed aviary and pheasantry, there were fountains with writhing dolphins, rustic garden seats, thatched and pebble-floored, Alpine-style bridges, greenhouses and conservatories overflowing with choice exotics. Garden buildings of every possible style enlivened the grounds, while in the Frome-Radstock area Regency industrialists, in intense architectural rivalry, created grottoes of extraordinary vitality and numinous atmosphere.
13 January 2018 – Dr Richard Brunning – The Beckery Excavations
Dr Richard Brunning has been the archaeologist for the Somerset Levels and Moors for the past 20 years, first with Somerset County Council and for the last two years for the South West Heritage Trust. As Site Director, Dr Brunning led a community excavation in 2016 at Beckery Island near Glastonbury. Carbon dating revealed that remains discovered at Beckery Chapel were from the 5th or early 6th Century AD.
Beckery Chapel was a holy shrine dating back over 1,500 years to late Roman or early Saxon times. It predates Iona Abbey in Scotland, founded in the late 6th Century, and nearby Glastonbury Abbey, which dates from the 7th.
King Arthur is said to have seen a vision of Mary Magdalene and the baby Jesus at the chapel. The Irish saint Bridget also reputedly visited it in AD 488 and left some possessions at the site, which later became a place of pilgrimage.
27 January 2018 – Chris Smaje – The Development of Vallis Veg and the future of sustainable horticulture/agriculture
Vallis Veg is a small farm on the outskirts of Frome, Somerset, producing vegetables, fruit and various other farm products for local customers. There is a small number of camping spots and other activities/events for visitors.
The enterprise was developed by Chris Smaje, a former sociologist. He started Vallis because he felt it was important that it should be possible to be a primary producer here in the UK, and wanted to find a way of making sustainable farming work. Being of an inquisitive disposition he set about studying the efficiency of different farm types, from small to large, industrial to organic, and compared different yields and found that for potatoes at least, small scale organic had an efficiency ratio 17x greater than industrial farming. That’s not bad at all, and he didn’t even include the beneficial effects of biodiversity or employment.
Over the years, Chris has developed a model of farming that achieves a workable balance between sustainability ideals and financial imperatives.
3 February 2018 – Adrian Webb – Somerset Mapped: cartography in the country through the centuries
(Ashworth Memorial Lecture)
Dr Adrian Webb, who manages the archive at the United Kingdom Hydrographic Office in Taunton, has recently co-authored with Emma Down, a book that illustrates with over one hundred maps, plans and charts, aspects of Somerset’s past from the Bronze Age to the present. Adrian will talk about his researches in compiling this record and will show us some of the amazing maps, charts, surveys and other cartographic treasures that feature in his book. He will also describe the work of obscure surveyors and map makers alongside examples of well-known publishers, such as the Ordnance Survey. Copies of Adrian’s book Somerset Mapped will be on sale. Adrian invites members to bring along their old maps and charts for discussion.
Dr Adrian Webb has edited two volumes in the Maritime History of Somerset series, a volume on Somerset’s ancient church fonts and the highly acclaimed maritime charts for the Somerset Record Society. He has written and lectured internationally on Great Britain’s hydrographic heritage. His publications include a book on the first detailed hydrographic survey of Bermuda, and the recently published Somerset Mapped, the subject of this talk, as well as contributions to international academic publications The Maritime History of Cornwall and The Mariners’ Mirror. He currently manages the Archive at the United Kingdom Hydrographic Office containing a worldwide collection of historic cartographic records.
24 February 2018 – Jerry Sampson – Wells Cathedral and Glastonbury Abbey: two rival building projects
The building archaeologist, Jerry Sampson, spoke to us last year about the restoration of the west front of Wells Cathedral. He will tell us how between 1175 and 1250, the building of two cathedral sized structures only six miles apart competed for materials and manpower resources. The control of Doulting quarry by Glastonbury caused Wells to have to find another source for its stone supply, while the demand for masons resulted in them moving from one building project to the other at various stages. The talk will show how understanding the phases of construction at Wells can illuminate the construction of Glastonbury Abbey, despite the loss of so much of its fabric. Using recent research on the Galilee at Glastonbury Abbey, Jerry will show how this relates to the work of the sculptors of the west front of Wells Cathedral.
10 March 2018 – Tom Mayberry – Somerset Rural Life Museum
Tom Mayberry is the chief executive of the South West Heritage Trust and has responsibility for heritage services previously managed by Somerset and Devon County Councils.
The service provided by the Trust includes the Museum of Somerset in Taunton, the newly-reopened Somerset Rural Life Museum in Glastonbury, and services relating to archives, local studies and the historic environment. Tom has over the last nine years almost single-handedly been responsible for the transformation of heritage services into a cutting-edge integrated service that is a major success story for the county.
Somerset Rural Life Museum reopened on 3 June 2017 following a major £2.4 million redevelopment. The museum, housed in buildings surrounding a magnificent 14th Century barn once belonging to Glastonbury Abbey, tells the story of Somerset’s rich rural and social life from the 1800s onwards and enables visitors to explore the county’s heritage including its landscape, food and farming, working life and rural crafts.
24 March 2018 Annual General Meeting at 2pm followed by:
Dr Adam Stout – A town in Need of a miracle (The Glastonbury Spa Story)
Dr Adam Stout is a well-respected author and historian who lives in Frome.
Spas sprang up everywhere in eighteenth century England, but there was never a spa quite like the one at Glastonbury. Tens of thousands of people flocked to drink its miraculous waters during the 1750s. Fraud, delusion, or something more? Religion, politics and a town in dire need all contributed to the heady cocktail. Dr Adam Stout presents a decade’s worth of new thinking and research on this topic, including a hitherto unknown account of the discovery of Chalice Well.
Dr Stout will describe the development of the holy well/spa cult in Glastonbury during the mid 18th century against the backcloth of the more esoteric and mystical beliefs that surround the towns.
TRIP DETAILS FOR 2018 to follow
Past 2017 talks;
7 October 2017 – Amy Frost – Designing an Icon: The Royal Crescent at 250
On 19 May 1767 the foundation stone was laid for the Royal Crescent in Bath. Dr Amy Frost, who is Curator at the Museum of Bath Architecture, will tell us the story of the creation of the Royal Crescent, how it was admired for its perfect blend of architecture and landscape and how it became the most desirable address in Georgian Bath. Home to Royalty, the elegant and eccentric, a setting for elopements, wild parties and controversy, mentioned by Jane Austen and featured in films, threatened by redevelopment and enemy bombs, the Royal Crescent has witnessed both crisis and celebration throughout history. Members may wish to visit the exhibition on the history of the Royal Crescent, which is on at No. 1 Royal Crescent until 19 November.
Dr Amy Frost is the Senior Curator of Bath Preservation Trust. She is an expert on the life and aesthetics of the British collector and writer William Beckford (1760-1844) and specialises in British architecture of the eighteenth and early nineteenth century. Amy is also a part-time Teaching Fellow at the University of Bath, School of Architecture.
21 October 2017 – Carole Boardman and Joy Roberts – Two Feisty Females of Bath
Carole Boardman and Joy Roberts will tell the stories of inspirational 18th or 19th century women, associated with Bath in some way but not necessarily born there, who ‘broke through’ the female stereotype and kept the door open for the rest of us to go through should we so wish.
Mary ‘Perdita’ Robinson, the daughter of a Bristol merchant, was educated at Bristol by Hannah More. She was a poet, novelist and actress best known for her role as Perdita in Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale. It was during this performance that she attracted the notice of the young Prince of Wales, later King George IV of Great Britain and Ireland. Her affair with him ended in 1781, and “Perdita” Robinson was left to support herself through an annuity granted by the Crown (in return for some letters written by the Prince) in 1783 and through her own writings. Today, she is remembered both as the first public mistress of George IV, and as the subject of a painting by Gainsborough.
Fanny Burney was an English satirical novelist, diarist and playwright. The third of six children, she was self-educated and began writing what she called her “scribblings” at the age of ten. In 1793, aged 41, she married a French exile, General Alexandre D’Arblay. Their only son, Alexander, was born in 1794. After a lengthy writing career, and travels during which she was stranded in France by warfare for more than ten years, she settled in Bath where she died in1840 aged 88.
4 November 2017 – Chris Lewis – The Campaign for the Protection of Rural England
There are many planning challenges currently facing Somerset including housing, wind turbines, solar parks, Hinkley C power station, quarrying, waste and transport infrastructure. CPRE Somerset consider each one on its merits and ask: it is appropriate? Is it needed? What impact will it have on our countryside and our communities? Good land-use planning is the unsung hero of environmental protection and has always been one of CPRE’s top campaigning priorities.
CPRE wants to see a protected countryside for people to enjoy, but within the context of a healthier economy and a happier community. CPRE believes these aren’t mutually exclusive aims.
After a career in the Home Office as Head of a Research Unit, Professor Chris Lewis CBE moved to Portsmouth University in 2003, where he taught, researched and wrote about Crime and Justice. Among many other continuing interests, Chris is the Chairman of Somerset CPRE.
18 November 2017 – Dennis Barnard – Crocodiles and Chicken Chasers
Dennis Barnard’s involvement in the writing of the book Crocodiles and Chicken Chasers, about the histories of Corsley and Chapmanslade, came about by accident. Victoria Hutchings, sister of Joanna Trollope, had agreed
to write about both villages, but when the Hoare family of Stourhead asked her to produce a book about them, she only had enough time to write about Corsley. So Dennis stepped in and wrote about Chapmanslade. Their book was published in 2000 to raise funds for local projects and to mark the Millennium.
In the book’s opening pages is written: ‘For a lifetime and more there has been a friendly rivalry between our two villages. “Corsley Crocodiles” would be the cry from the children on one side of Divers Bridge, and back would come the response “Chapmanslade Chicken Chasers”. Nobody quite knows why.’
2 December 2017 – Adrian Tinniswood OBE – The Long Weekend: life in the English country house between the wars
Historian Adrian Tinniswood will tell us about the tumultuous, scandalous and glamorous history of English country houses during the years between World Wars. As estate taxes and other challenges forced many of these venerable houses onto the market, new sectors of British and American society were seduced by the dream of owning a home in the English countryside. Drawing on memoirs, letters, and diaries, as well as the eye-witness testimonies of belted earls and bibulous butlers, Adrian will open the door to a world by turns opulent and ordinary, noble and vicious, and forever wrapped in myth and the intrigues of legendary families such as the Astors, the Churchills and the Devonshires as they attracted the likes of Charlie Chaplin, T.E. Lawrence, and royals such as Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson. The characters that populate the story of ‘The Long Weekend’ leave the cast of Downton Abbey looking tame. Copies of Adrian’s books will be on sale.
Adrian Tinniswood’s career has combined work with heritage institutions such as the National Trust and the Heritage Lottery Fund with lecturing for English and American universities, including Bristol, Oxford, Nebraska-Lincoln and UC Berkeley.