Bideford Branch report: Oct 2015 to Jan 2016

The Bideford Branch Autumn-Winter season started at the Burton Gallery Bideford in October, with Nick Arnold, writer of science books for children and best known for the long series Horrible Science giving an interesting presentation entitled ‘1069 and all that’. He enlightened members about some local grisly events almost 1,000 years ago. Although King Harold was killed in the Battle of Hastings in 1066, resistance to the Norman Conquest carried on and in 1069 Harold’s sons landed their fleet and an army of Irish and Norse raiders at Appledore. They were quickly defeated. Nick Arnold has done extensive research on the invasion and pointed out the landmarks that are evident pointing to the likely battlefield from the limited documents.

In November, Phil Gannon, a retired Chartered Surveyor and now Chair of the West Somerset Mineral Line Association, gave the branch an insight into an interesting example of 19th century ‘venture capitalism’ that failed to be profitable. The Railway was constructed from 1857, reaching Raleigh’s Cross of the Ebbw Vale Company, as existing roads were not adequate. The line was built to transport ironstone from the Brendon Hills to the port of Watchet, where it was shipped for smelting at Ebbw Vale. He described the engineering problems and the viability of the line after the mines closed in the 1880s, with the track finally lifted during the First World War.

In December a talk, ‘What Magistrates do’, was given by Janie Lock and Michael Buckley who work in the courts at Barnstaple and Exeter. Magistrates, sometimes referred to as justices of the peace (JPs), are volunteers who hear prosecutions. They still retain their power confirmed to them by the Justices of the Peace Act 1361 to bind over unruly persons “to be of good behaviour”. This was a lively interactive presentation with lots of questions, answers and discussions with members. Some interesting facts emerged such as the fact that women in England and Wales were not allowed to become justices until 1919, the first woman being Ada Summers. Magistrates sit in “benches”. These comprise up to three members. Magistrates deal with over 95% of criminal cases in England and Wales.

Sadly, Jeannetta McIntosh one of the oldest and longest serving members of the Bideford Branch passed away that month. However, at the end of 2015, membership of the Bideford Branch had risen to 99 members.

An informative talk was given by Captain David Robertson RN at our meeting on 22nd January. The title ‘Military hydrography in the 21st century: Shouldn’t we know it all after 220 years?’ may have conjured up thoughts of sailing ships and soundings taken in treacherous seas using lead weights! However, a lot of progress has been made since the Admiralty appointed Alexander Dalrymple as founding hydrographer in 1795 to produce charts for the Royal Navy. Although the post was recently renamed as Captain (HM Ops), David continues the work as the 33rd Hydrographer of the Navy, now known as Captain (Hydrography and Meteorology) on the staff of Commodore Devonport Flotilla, based at the Hydrographic Office in Taunton. David was totally passionate about his career and whilst he covered a lot of areas of hydrography and the continuing need for more information, he did not submerge his audience in the process! Nowadays, hydrography is much more than ‘throwing leads into the sea to find fathoms’. A lot of highly sophisticated equipment is used. This is especially needed when it comes to defence issues and working in deep seas with submarines. Other aspects of hydrography include effects of tides, tidal flows, underwater currents and even underwater acoustics. There will always be lots to learn!

Michael Wright

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