East Devon Branch report: Sep 2015 to Jan 2016

In late September 2015, branch members visited the Britannia Royal Naval College at Dartmouth, which was designed by Sir Aston Webb and built between 1899 and 1905. First stop was on the Quarter Deck, overlooking the Parade Ground and the river Dart. This was followed by the Chapel where amongst other interesting features there were three stained glass windows, one of which was to Admiral Sir Dudley Pound, the great uncle of one of the party. In the Chapel Lobby members were introduced to Captain Duffy, the Commanding Officer of the College, who assured the group that the future of the college is secure. After viewing a scale model of a nuclear submarine, a fascinating afternoon was concluded with tea in the Wardroom.

Also in September, and as a prelude to our winter series of talks, a number of branch members enjoyed our annual ‘Meet the President’ evening with a buffet supper at the Sidmouth Rugby Club. Dr. Tom Greeves delighted his audience with his reminiscences and recollections which he entitled ‘Reflections on my first 48 years with the Devonshire Association’. He also spoke passionately and enthusiastically about his hopes and ambitions for the future of the Devonshire Association and shared some of his innovative ideas. Once again this event proved to be an ideal opportunity to become better acquainted with the current President in an informal and convivial setting.

‘The fascinating story of the organs and organists of Exeter Cathedral’ was the subject of our October talk given by David Davies then Acting Director of Music at Exeter Cathedral. Our speaker based his illustrated talk on the book, of which he is a co-author, entitled Heavenly Harmony, published in 2014 to coincide with the complete restoration and rebuild of the wonderful Exeter Cathedral organ. Members were fascinated to learn about the history of organs and music making at the cathedral from the 13th century to the present day. We learned something too about the construction of organs and tales of those who blew the bellows before the advent of mechanical blowers. A very lively talk was followed by some interesting questions about problems for musicians in the Civil War, damage to the Cathedral organ in the Second World War and the superb standard of music making which we are now privileged to hear on a daily basis.

The ever popular lecturer Derek Gore attracted an audience of a record 110 members and visitors for his November talk on ‘The Romans in the South West’. Our speaker began with the invasion of Britain by the Romans in AD 43 and in particular their advance into Devon and Cornwall, reminding the audience of the many roads they built and improved. Of particular local interest, he spoke of Roman villas in East Devon and the discovery of the so called ‘Seaton hoard’. The significant Roman presence in Exeter was, of course, discussed and the plan, presently shelved, to re-excavate the bathhouse under the present Cathedral Green. The ongoing excavations at Ipplepen were also a topic of much interest to our members with a particular interest in archaeology.

At the end of the year of celebrations of the Magna Carta’s 800th anniversary, the branch was privileged to be addressed by Professor Anthony Musson on the topic ‘Magna Carta – the Foundation of Freedom’. As recently as January 2015, our speaker told us in opening his talk, Magna Carta had been prayed in aid by a Plymouth pensioner threatened with a notice from the local authority to de-clutter his home. Professor Musson treated us to a scholarly account of the circumstances leading to the sealing of this historic document at Runnymede in June 1215, its subsequent annulment a mere ten weeks later by the Pope and its reissue in 1216 and 1225. He then considered the present day relevance and significance of Magna Carta, concluding that the pledges made largely remain the principles of the constitution and that we must be alert to maintaining them in very changed circumstances.

To beat the January blues Felicity Harper, the Archivist from Powderham Castle, treated us to her well-polished and entertaining presentation on ‘The Courtenay Family of Powderham Castle’ with a rapid account of almost 700 years of family history from 1325 to the present day. We learned of the lives, loves and vicissitudes of the Courtenay family and the changes in the family financial circumstances over the centuries as well as something about Powderham Castle, a building well known to many members.

Our lecture programme continues until March and the usual summer visits have been organised.

Philip Wilby

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