Exeter Branch report: Sep 2017 to Jan 2018
Our autumn programme began in September with an excellent annual lunch at the Exeter Golf & Country Club preceded by DA President David Fursdon talking about his duties as Lord Lieutenant of Devon, the history of his family estate, and his earlier career.
The Fursdon estate has been owned by the family since 1259 and its members have largely been engaged in farming and forestry. David’s ornithologist uncle left him the 750 acre estate in 1979, which now embraces modern farming practices. Many of the traditional features are retained, such as ancient trees and hedgerows, old lanes and agricultural buildings. The original orchards have also been replanted, using the apples for making Fursdon apple juice and cider. David is also working closely with the Devon Wildlife Trust to monitor and encourage greater bio-diversity to increase bird life and wild mammal populations. A supplementary income is provided now that the historic manor house, gardens and a tea room are open to the general public. The Fursdons have also developed a number of holiday lets, including two private apartments in the historic manor house and a cottage in the grounds. A specialty of theirs is the hosting of bespoke wedding receptions using the resplendent Devon countryside as a romantic backdrop.
During our AGM on 8th November at the Mint Methodist centre, Dr Bob Hodgson was voted in as Chairman of the Exeter Branch (replacing the late Geoffrey Harding) and Tony Buller as Vice Chairman. Tony then introduced an open debate by outlining two major challenges facing the Branch: committee succession and dwindling attendance. It was agreed that potential candidates could best be approached personally rather than relying on written appeals, and that we should consider focusing on more elaborate, imaginative and eye-catching events, sometimes as cooperative ventures. Dr Sue Andrew, DA Vice-Chairman, then dealt with Executive initiatives, including the launch of the new website, testing a system for on-line booking and the general need for increased digital communication, including Facebook, Twitter and email. She also touched on the Executive’s decision to further develop DA News, the purpose and location of the 2018 Forum meetings, and the possible location of the 2019 Conference in Launceston. Sue’s infectious enthusiasm for the Association and its future was very well received by all.
Reinstated at the Devon & Exeter Institution, our New Year Party on 10th January began with a wonderful talk by Sue Knox – a former doctor, Red Coat guide for 15 years, and now a trustee of the Stringer Lawrence Memorial Trust. Her subject was ‘General Lawrence and his tower: the story of Haldon Belvedere (or Lawrence Castle)’.
She initially focussed on the life and exploits of Stringer Lawrence (1697–1775), rather than on the better known Sir Robert Palk, 1st Baronet, who built the 26m high, triangular Haldon Belvedere as a memorial to Lawrence with whom he had been associated when serving in India with the British East India Company. Lawrence was the somewhat hot-headed ‘Father of the Indian Army’ who won the battles, while Palk, the charming former priest and sometime Governor of the Madras Presidency, won the peace. On retirement Lawrence was the honoured guest of Palk at his much extended Haldon House. Unfortunately, the subsequent Baronets, who had little business acumen, squandered vast sums of money, and Haldon House and its land were eventually sold. Haldon House was demolished in 1925 while Haldon Belvedere, which was also sold, remained in private hands until 1994 when it was handed over to the Stringer Lawrence Memorial Trust whose mission is to maintain and develop the tower and its grounds for the historical and aesthetic appreciation of the general public. The Grade II listed castle and contents were beautifully restored in 1994 by the Devon Historic Buildings Trust.
Proceedings were rounded off with a splendid buffet supper provided for the first time by Exeter caterers Tea on the Green.
Antony T Buller