Bideford Branch report: Jan to Aug 2017

January 2017 commenced when our Branch Chair, Margaret Young, gave an impromptu talk about her recollection of Exmoor’s special qualities and her experiences over the years where she lived and farmed. The Branch season of talks at the Burton Art Gallery, Bideford continued with a look at the unique wildlife of Lundy given by former police officer Simon Dell MBE, now Director and Coordinator of Moorland Guides. Being a SSSI and part of the North Devon Biosphere, Lundy, formed by a granite intrusion, has a remarkable diversity of wildlife. Simon described the exceptional range of birds, its Sika deer, goats and Soay sheep on land and of course the unique ‘Lundy Cabbage’! At the moment, Lundy is England’s only statutory Marine Conservation Zone and Simon gave a well illustrated insight into what lies under the water.

The March meeting looked across to the other side of the Atlantic and Sadie Green gave a very interesting illustrated talk on North Devon Pottery in North America. Sadie, an arts project manager, visited America in 2010 as part of celebrating the historic relationship between Bideford in North Devon, and its twin town, Manteo in North Carolina, through the arts. She researched North Devon’s pottery trade with the colonies of the Eastern Seaboard in the C17th and C18th. She showed pictures of Bideford pottery found in Manteo and passed around some pottery fragments for members to see.

As part of the Newfoundland celebrations, a lecture and recital ‘Shore To Shore Revisited’ (part of a tour) was given on 11th April by Newfoundland’s Jim Payne and Devon’s Marilyn Tucker and Paul Wilson of Wren Music. There was an open concert in Bideford later in the day.

The Branch held its AGM on Saturday 22nd April 2017 with the existing committee re-elected. This was followed by the Devonshire Association’s President’s illustrated talk on ‘The Renaissance and North Devon’, looking at the uniqueness of West Country Late Medieval Bench Ends focussing on those in North Devon. These date from C15th and C16th when people sat in designated seats to attend their local parish church. Dr Todd Gray, who was born in New England, has devoted his working career to the study of Devon’s history and this talk offered an insight into something that was not well known by those who attended.

A month later, Dr Gray walked from Lyme Regis to Hartland under variable weather conditions. He included stops at Shebbear and Bideford where he received warm welcomes and encouraging inquiries about the DA. Both of the meetings were very well attended. Despite his tired feet, he gave superb presentations and really entertained audiences with some historic nicknames given to people living in Devon’s towns and villages. In the process, he managed to pick up a few more ‘Devon gems’ from the local people attending.

In June, only a few members managed to make the visit to the old Sawmills at Simonsbath. Graham Wills, no stranger to the Branch, demonstrated the working of the historic sawmill.

After a pub lunch at the Coach and Horses, Buckland Brewer, there was a much better attendance for the July visit to Venton Farm, Monkleigh, a modern dairy farm owned by David and Tracey Grigg. Members saw a large milking herd being milked in a 21st-century robotic parlour. Whilst the farm is in the heart of a traditional mid-Devon farming area, the technology is state of the art and allows the cows to be milked when they want to be milked.

The final visit was at Shebbear College which was very well attended by members, some being former students. This followed a pub lunch at the Union Inn, Stibb Cross. The visit included talks by Mark Charman who gave an overview of the College’s recent history and current operation. Ted Lott, a former student from the 1950’s then described some fascinating aspects of the history of the College. A tour of the buildings followed with some further descriptions of the interesting history spanning the best part of 200 years.

Michael Wright

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