East Devon Branch report: Feb to Sep 2016


Geoffrey Wrayford retired from his position as Branch Chairman at the Branch Annual General Meeting in February, after many years’ service as Secretary and Chairman. A former Chairman of the Branch, Marienne Carnochan, spoke eloquently in appreciation of Geoffrey’s immense contribution to the success of the Branch and, in particular, of the many innovations which he had introduced to our programme. She wished him well and expressed the hope that he would continue to support Branch events under the chairmanship of his successor, Hazel Harland.

After the AGM, a former secretary of the Branch, Dr. Roger Lendon, gave a fascinating presentation under the title ‘Some 19th century Budleigh Worthies’. Roger delighted his audience recollecting the lives and times of a number of former residents of Budleigh Salterton. We learned of the involvement of men from Budleigh in the Battles of Trafalgar and Waterloo, building the property that is now the Fairlynch Museum, founding the Sid Vale Association, and the connection between the town and the famous architect Sir Robert Smirke who designed the British Museum.

The last talk of the winter season took place in March when the archaeologist Cressida Whitton treated us to a very well illustrated talk which she entitled ‘Uncovering history in the hedgerows of Devon – an archaeologist reveals all’. She told us that are 33,000 miles of hedgerow in Devon, of which the major part is thought to be over 500 years old. She began her presentation with the remarkable Bronze Age stone and lichen reeves which she described as our first hedges. The high Devon hedges, with which we are perhaps more familiar, emerged probably in the Anglo-Saxon period. Moving on quickly through the medieval period, our speaker also dealt with the more regular shaped boundary hedges of the Victorian era. Finally, she spoke of the real threat posed to our ancient hedges by road widening, new buildings and modern agricultural methods.

In May, a group of members and friends gathered at Aeolian Court, Chudleigh, to see and hear the finest private mechanical music collection in the South West. Robert Hough took us into a specially built music room where we were introduced to his extensive collection which recreated the atmosphere of a bygone age. He started his collection when he was twelve years old and over the years he has added musical boxes, barrel organs, polyphons and pianolas. Robert explained how the sounds were reproduced and something of the known history of the instruments. These ranged from tiny snuff boxes which played delicate melodies and a Swiss music box with a singing bird, to a much louder Regency Gothic Barrel organ built in 1810, and an extraordinary performance by Paderewski playing in 1905 which was recorded on a paper roll. The highly enjoyable and unusual visit ended with a cream tea accompanied by more mechanical music.

The Royal Albert Memorial Museum is, of course, a well known and much loved institution but it was good to have a members’ visit there in July with a volunteer guide who gave an excellent overview of the museum and its collection. It was helpful to be reminded how the building acquired its present most attractive format and to see many of the original donations grouped together as the donors originally intended. Our enthusiastic guide encouraged our group to revisit the museum often and perhaps look at parts of the extensive collection which we sometimes overlook.

The Membership Secretary reports with sadness the death of Dr Robert Symes on May 23rd. A member of the East Devon Branch for almost twenty years, Bob shared his knowledge of all things geological with lectures and on social occasions. Bob rose from simple beginnings to be Keeper of the Mineralogy Department at the Natural History Museum in London. An English mineral, Symesite, was named after him and he received an OBE for services to geology. On retiring to Sidmouth, Bob was Curator of Sidmouth Museum for fourteen years and in 2015 a room was renamed after him in recognition of his hard work and dedication. Bob was also a keen philatelist and supporter of Exeter FC and he will be greatly missed by all those who knew him.

In September, as a prelude to our winter series of talks, we have our annual ‘Meet the President’ social evening and buffet.

Philip Wilby


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