Bideford Branch report: Feb to Jul 2016

Alan Lewis is a well known local jazz musician who regularly plays at ‘The Beaver’ in Appledore. In February, he presented ‘…and all that jazz’ with his band ‘Rarebits’ and gave a live performance of traditional jazz at the February Branch meeting. This was an afternoon of improvised music starting with an early number ‘Diplomat Blues’ demonstrated in 1920’s and modern styles. The session ended with a lovely rendition of ‘See See Rider’ first recorded by “Ma” Rainey in 1924.

The next month, Peter Christie, well known for his wonderful books on the history of North Devon, described the rather exotic history of the Rev Jerome Clapp, the Independent Minister of Appledore between 1840 and 1855. As the father of Jerome K Jerome, author of Three Men in a Boat, Clapp was an early pioneer in improving the rights of the poor and was a popular local figure. However, despite his good work, he became intimate with the organist, Miss Mary. On discovery, his ministry ended when he was removed by the Elders of the Chapel.

On Saturday 16th April, the Branch held its AGM at the Durrant House Hotel, Bideford. The committee was duly elected and a full programme of events is set for the next 12 months and beyond. Dr Tom Greeves described his memories of the Association from the time he first became involved up to the present. He outlined a few of the many aspects of the Association including its diverse role in the arts and science with a strong emphasis on Devon. Members needed no further convincing on his view that the Devonshire Association is ‘one of the County’s greatest assets’.

Friday 13th May was lucky for those who met up on a lovely warm day for the first summer visit at Mike Wye and Associates at Shebbear Sawmills. After an enjoyable lunch at the nearby Half Moon pub at Sheepwash, manager Mark Langley described the history and importance of the use of lime products and earth buildings. Lime mortar and plaster, lime wash and cob have been traditionally used in Devon for many centuries. He also showed a number of modern alternatives that can blend with tradition and improve insulation without damaging a historic structure. This included the use of traditional methods in contemporary buildings. He rounded off the presentation with a tour of the works and showed the group some stunning examples of modern use of traditional materials. He concluded with a demonstration in which members were invited to participate.

In June our members met up at Raleigh Cross for a tour of the West Somerset Mineral Line where there is a project in progress to repair and preserve some of the remaining industrial structures on the Brendon Hills. This was led by Phil Gannon and followed on from an interesting meeting back in the winter. The Brendon Hills contained extremely high quality but limited amounts of iron ore. The railway, built 1861 and closed 1898, took the ore to Watchet for transhipment to Newport (Gwent) for onward land transport to Ebbw Vale. The line re-opened 1907 and finally closed in 2010. The Project is run by a consortium of local and national partners under the leadership of the Exmoor National Park Authority.

In July, after lunch at the Seagate Hotel, author Nick Arnold (writer of science books for children and best known for the series ‘Horrible Science’) gave the members a tour of what seems likely to have been the Anglo-Saxons’ final attempt at Brexit (though via Ireland), and how the Battle of 1069 was won. After the Battle of Hastings (1066) things were far from stable away from the southeast, and the actual outcome was, arguably, what happened later. Would the Normans (a corruption of ‘Norsemen’) prevail? William the Conqueror is marketed as a Norman but his father was a Viking. Harold’s sons Edmund and Godwine raised an army in Ireland which included Vikings. And they arrived in Longships. Whoever won, it had to be a Viking! Were there spies lurking around? The Norman-English army lay in wait and prevailed on the day – result: 3000 dead. Members visited the site with Nick as a follow up to an interesting meeting during the previous winter.

Michael Wright

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