Axe Valley Branch report: Oct 2016 to Jan 2017

The Axe Valley Branch has once again enjoyed variety in our monthly meeting in Colyton. Our speakers have enabled us to see how we in Devon have links that take us below the sea as well as around the world!

We welcomed Martin Horrell at our first meeting in October. In his illustrated talk on Medieval Rood Screens the use of the Rood Screens in Churches was explained as the way to protect the Host and clergy from the people. In Devon alone there are still 110 complete screens. Many had a small ‘loft’ above them and all have a central opening so that the priest and host can be viewed by the people in the body of the church. The screens vary greatly, some are of wood, some stone, and are usually carved or painted with representations of the saints – each identified by holding a symbol of their martyrdom or achievements.

We left the quiet of Medieval Churches in November to go diving off the South Devon Coast in search of, and finding, treasure! Ron Howell from the SW Maritime Archaeological Group not only showed us film of many of the dives on the South Devon site especially, but also brought some of his team’s finds to show. Many of the artefacts are in museums with much still to be researched. This has proved, without doubt, that the Devon Coast has been trading with mainland Europe and beyond for hundreds of years. Bronze Age jewellery, gold and silver and copper ingots from the 10th Century BC are all now in the British Museum Salvage. The sites round the Erme Estuary and Hope Cove are all registered and so protected by the Authorities, but have proved that the early Devonians were traders and adventurers.

In December Dr Sue Andrew delighted us once again, this time with a beautiful presentation of the history of the ‘Three Hares’, an enigmatic design that has links round the world and in Buddhist, Jewish and Islamic contexts. In Devon, a small group of 17 churches have carvings – nearly always in oak – of the three hares sharing three ears and always running round anti-clockwise. Dr Andrew showed how the design is found in not only carvings, but also paintings and fabric design in Eastern countries, suggesting that it may have ‘travelled’ with traders on routes like the Silk Road. A painting in China has been dated to 600 AD, while, much later and nearer to home, the Grandisson Psalter of 1270 has a Three Hares illustration, and there are carvings in Alsace, Poland and Italy. There are some photos of this event on the DA’s facebook page, here.

The East Devon Pebblebed Heathland in Devon, managed by the Clinton Estate, spreads over a large area of the county especially in the east and central areas. Dr Sam Bridgewater’s talk in January was beautifully illustrated. The conservation of these Triassic pebble based areas is a constant challenge, consisting of moorlands, heath and coast, each with its own particular requirement. The ‘Common land’, once owned by individual Lords of the Manor, was looked after by people with ‘Commoners rights’ who now rarely exist, so that the areas are now under one estate management. The huge diversity of use and habitat suggest that over 3000 species of wild life are supported over all in a mosaic of areas. Some are grazed, some cut back, and there are areas for walking and picnicking, as well as military use, educational visits and farming. There is also a weekly need for a ‘litter pick-up’! In this mosaic of habitats there are several archaeological sites and the pebbles, or ‘popples’ as they were locally known, are very obviously on the walls of houses in the locality. At the last estimate there are approximately 600 plant species, 50 types of butterfly and 200 insects; more recently bats have added to the mammal count.

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