East Devon Branch report: Sep 2016 to Jan 2017

In September, and as a prelude to our winter series of talks, many branch members enjoyed our annual ‘Meet the President’ social evening with a buffet supper at the Sidmouth Rugby Club. Dr Todd Gray, whilst regretting the decline of local history as a subject for academic study, delighted his audience with his short presentation ‘Forgotten Elizabethans’. Members were much entertained by his research into court records revealing many insulting words and phrases upon which the courts were asked to adjudicate. Whilst some of these terms are still commonplace today, others were specifically Elizabethan and Devonian. He also spoke passionately and enthusiastically about his hopes and ambitions for the Devonshire Association as a welcoming and inclusive organisation. Once again this event proved to be an ideal opportunity, particularly for recently joined members, to become better acquainted with the current President in an informal and convivial setting.

The subject of our October talk, ‘3000 years from under the sea — the story of the Salcombe wrecks’ was given by Ron Howell, a founder member of the South West Maritime Archaeological Group. The group holds the license for five protected wreck sites and the speaker detailed the large number of significant finds it has made over the last 25 years or so. These include pure tin and copper ingots, axe heads, swords, rapiers and gold estimated to date back to the Bronze Age and, from a C17th vessel, a haul of Islamic coins and jewellery. The speaker concluded his well-received talk with the observation that these discoveries had in a very real way helped to re-write the history of this country and North West Europe.

The well known local author and lecturer Peter Nasmyth had a very appreciative audience for his talk ‘Literature and Landscape in East Devon’ based on his book of the same title. Members much enjoyed his beautifully photographed views of places connected or associated with many literary giants including Jane Austen, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Beatrix Potter and John Betjeman. However, in reminding us of the much loved East Devon landscape which inspired so many writers, the speaker concluded, on a note of caution, with his very real concerns that so many of these special places are under threat from the extensive development schemes now being implemented in our part of the county.

Our final lecture of 2106 was an ideal opportunity to refresh our memories about the origin of various place names. Robert Hesketh’s masterly comprehensive overview under the title ‘Devon Place Names’ proved to be extremely popular as he explained the meaning of various elements in place names such as ton, ford, leah and ham. His excellent accompanying pictorial presentation also showed how place names often relate to the landscape.

For our January meeting we had what is believed to be a record audience for one of our ordinary branch meetings of 122 members and guests to hear Jeremy Pearson, formerly Regional Director of the National Trust in the South West, speak on ‘Here‘s a Howdy Do, the D’Oyly Cartes and the building of Coleton Fishacre’. Our most eloquent speaker delivered a fascinating talk about the D’Oyly Carte family and its building of the Savoy Hotel and Theatre, including the family’s long connection with Sir W. S. Gilbert and Sir Arthur Sullivan. He then moved on to the discovery by Rupert D’Oyly Carte and his wife Lady Dorothy D’Oyly Carte of the near perfect site for their holiday home (Coleton Fishacre) and its subsequent building in the 1920s to the designs of the architect Sir Oswald Milne. The house was sold by their daughter Bridget in 1949 and acquired by the National Trust in 1982. Our speaker also illustrated the way in which the National Trust has so splendidly refurbished the house, either with original furnishings or copies of contemporary ones, so that today this splendid house and gorgeous garden are perhaps the best loved of all its Devon properties.

The Membership Secretary reports with regret the death of Margaret Parkinson at her retirement home near Goring-on-Thames on the 18th October 2016. Margaret was a member of the Devonshire Association for over 50 years and whilst living in Woodbury was very active in the community. She was a founder member of the Local History Society and her significant knowledge of ecology and all aspects of natural history were reflected in her contribution to the publication ‘Living a Century of Change, 1894-1994’ documenting the effects of change on wildlife in the Woodbury area. She was also very enthusiastic and energetic in her support for Bowhill House whilst it was in the custodianship of the Devonshire Association. Many older members of the branch remember her with affection and were saddened to learn of her death.

Our lecture programme continues until March and we look forward to welcoming the President on the 13th May when he will deliver his lecture ‘The Distinctiveness of Devon’ at Kennaway House, Sidmouth as part of his President’s Lecture Hiking Tour.

– Philip Wilby

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