Friends of The Museum of Somerset (FOTMOS) 

UPDATED 16 July, 2022

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All talks start at 19:30. Non-members are welcome to join us – please email for details, or write to: FOTMOS, Park Field Cottage, Chipley, Langford Budville, Wellington, Somerset TA21 0QU

July 19 – Melanie Devine – Richard Scrope; a model for Chaucer’s Knight
Aug 16 – John Smith – The Roman Soldier
Sept 20 – Andrew Powell-Thomas – The Taunton Stop Line
Oct 18 – Dr. Andy Moir – Dendrology
Nov 15 – James Bond – The Knights Templar


Jan 17 – Tom Mayberry – A Fair Domain: The Bishop of Winchester and Taunton
Feb 21 – Ken Parsons – Throwing light on the Dark Ages in Somerset
March 21 – Catherine Ross – From Sorcery to Supercomputers
April 18 – 
May 16 – 
June 20 – Colin Millett – The History of Royal Worcester
July 18 – Brian Wright – The Hare in Nature, History and Folklore

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The Friends of The Museum of Somerset

is a Charitable Incorporated Organisation (CIO) that brings together people who are passionate about Somerset’s past and future. If you love museums and care about Somerset’s rich heritage we want you to join us.

The Friends meet regularly throughout the year to enjoy illustrated talks, outings and social events as well as working on specific projects. Members receive a regular newsletter.

Our aims are to:

• further the education of the public by promotion, support, assistance and improvement of the Museum through the activities of a group of Friends
• encourage, promote and assist the formation and development of a group of Friends of the Museum
• further the charitable purposes of the Museum and encourage the development of the facilities which it affords
• engage in, support and co-ordinate research, publishing, education, advertising and other charitable work
• make the individual skills of its members available to the Museum and assist the staff with voluntary help

The Friends help the Museum in a number of ways, including helping with their collections, supporting and co-ordinating research, raising funds for special projects and improving access to the collections. 


March 16 – Janet Tall – ‘A Race Against Time: The Story of the Kenyon Photographic Archive’

Vinegar Syndrome, or to name it correctly, acetate film base degradation, is both fatal and contagious! Janet Tall, Head of Archives for the South West Heritage Trust explained this to the Friends of the Museum of Somerset in her recent talk, ‘A Race Against Time: The Story of the Kenyon Photographic Archive’.

S.W. Kenyon worked initially as a private photographer in Wellington, later moving on to take photographs of industrial installations for national companies, and NAAFI installations during the Second World War. He left a collection of approximately 5,000 glass negatives and 58,000 acetate negatives. The acetate negatives were suffering from vinegar syndrome which means they were degrading and could not be stored at the Heritage Centre for fear they spread the syndrome to other items. They have now been digitised in order to save the images but the originals have been destroyed as they had been so badly affected by the syndrome. The glass plates have been repackaged by a volunteer team and will also be digitised in due course. The collection is nationally important as it records both industrial and cultural change over a period of forty years.13282 West Somerset Cooperative Society mobile van, 1950

West Somerset Cooperative Society mobile van, 1950

The next on-line meeting of the Friends of the Museum of Somerset will be at 7.30 pm on April 20th when Philip Browne will be telling The Friends about ‘The Unfortunate Captain Pierce & the Wreck of the Halsewell, East Indiaman’. Guests will be welcome; for details, please email


February 16 – Janet Diamond – ‘Il Divino’ Michelangelo in Florence and Rome

Amazingly, almost 550 years ago in Italy, two geniuses were born within 100 miles of each other. Both would become world famous – Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci and Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni. Janet Diamond’s fascinating talk to the Friends of the Museum of Somerset put into context the tribulations of Michelangelo. After the fame brought by his sculpture the Pietà, the city states of Rome and Florence were vying for artworks from Michelangelo and he was summoned backwards and forwards between the Medici’s of Florence and the Popes in Rome.

In Florence, Michelangelo was commissioned to sculpt David, the seventeen-foot-high statue meant to adorn the top of the town hall. Considered far too good to be placed up so high, it was sited next to the entrance. He had completed this by the age of thirty but in the meantime had been summoned back to Rome by Pope Julius II who was seeking to commission a grandiose tomb for himself containing forty life size statues. Michelangelo journeyed on to the marble quarries at Carrara, choosing the appropriate stone and spending a small fortune to procure it. He returned to Rome to learn that the tomb project had been postponed and so left for Florence in high dudgeon. Michelangelo received three summonses to return to Rome, the last being accompanied with papal troops to escort him. Michelangelo had to travel on to Bologna to meet the Pope as was busy fighting there; all this at a time when travel was not easy.

Despite not enjoying painting, Michelangelo was instructed to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Just to be able to reach it he had first to design his own scaffolding! Painting the fresco meant working quickly and painting into wet plaster. Any mistake would mean replastering! With over three hundred figures it took four years to complete and earned him the title ‘Il Divino’.

With the death of the Pope a new contract was signed for a much-reduced tomb sculpture – in all there were four contracts of ever-diminishing value, and the tomb was to take forty years to complete. After his success with the Sistine Chapel ceiling Michelangelo was instructed to paint The Last Judgement on the altar wall. This massive fresco took another seven years. Back in Florence, Michelangelo designed the Laurentian Library, then in Rome he designed St. Paul’s Basilica and other public buildings. Michelangelo died at the age of 88, still working. His body laid in state in Rome, but a nephew stole it and spirited it back to Florence so that he could be buried there.

The next on-line meeting of the Friends of the Museum of Somerset will be at 7.30 pm on March 16th when Janet Tall will talk on ‘A Race Against Time: The Story of the Kenyon Photographic Archive’. Guests will be welcome; for details, please email


January 19Tess Machling and Roland WilliamsonThe Clevedon torc in the light of new research

The Clevedon Torc, at present on loan to Weston super Mare Museum from the British Museum, is at the forefront of cutting-edge discoveries as to how these magnificent gold ornaments were made. The Friends of the Museum of Somerset had a most interesting meeting, via Zoom, where Dr. Tess Machling and Roland Williamson explained their thinking on the production of torcs. These were all thought to have been cast in gold or a mixture of gold, silver and copper, but recent work by Tess and Roland has shown how they were probably made by hammering sheet metal, thus using less weight of gold but still having the appearance of a solid gold object. The terminal of the Clevedon torc is valuable as it shows two distinct styles of decoration, leading to the theory that the gold may have been reworked, thus making the torc two hundred years earlier than previously thought. It is amazing to think that people from such early times could make such delicate objects.


December 15 – Tony Davis – How did the Kings find Bethlehem? The History of Navigation

“How did the Kings find Bethlehem?” may sound like a simple question but Dr. Tony Davis’ fascinating talk, given to the Friends of the Museum of Somerset, raised all sorts of questions covering subjects such as geography, history, science, religion and mathematics.

For the three Magi and their retinue to make the journey of 1,900 miles, the distance from Istanbul to Taunton, would take about four months and involve possibly a thousand people.  It is almost incredible that they arrived only ten miles from their anticipated destination, and only two days late! With such a huge group arriving, searching for a baby destined to be a king, it is not surprising that Herod organised the slaughter of all the male children in the vicinity of Bethlehem.

For Mary and Joseph to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem, about 100 miles, the equivalent of Taunton to Portsmouth, would take 8 to 10 days for a fit walker – no wonder Mary needed a donkey!

Showing that long distance travel in history was not uncommon, the talk ranged from Polynesians who originated in South America, to sweet potatoes who were taken on the reciprocal journey!

There was mention of Sir Cloudesley Shovell’s fleet colliding with the Scilly Islands in 1707 and the invention of Harrison’s clocks to stop such a thing happening again. Tte talk was brought right up to date with the development of space travel and GPS. A fascinating venture through navigational history.


November 17Steve MilesUntold Riches; the West Somerset Oil Shale Affair

Untold riches from oil shale mining at Kilve? There has been recent interest in the shale rocks at Kilve but in 1924 such a scheme was given extensive press coverage in the hope that it would attract local investment. The Friends of The Museum of Somerset heard all about this incredible, fraudulent venture at their recent meeting when Stephen Miles introduced them to Dr William Forbes-Leslie, the chief protagonist, who was later described by an Old Bailey judge as “a dangerous and plausible criminal.”

Forbes Leslie trained in medicine. He changed his name several times, adopted the title of Count, and claimed to be “one of the greatest experts in the petroleum world”. During his extraordinary career he declared himself bankrupt several times and appeared in court on a number of occasions because of his debts and crooked financial ways. .He planned to build a crude oil works at Kilve, an 11 mile long light railway to connect Kilve with Bridgwater and an oil refinery and dock at Combwich. An experimental plant was built at Kilve Pill in 1923 with one oil retort and an adjacent shed, the remains of which can still be seen today. The light railway was never constructed.

Stephen Miles is soon to bring out a book telling the intricate and detailed story. Titled Untold Riches: The West Somerset Oil Shale Affair, it promises to be a fascinating volume.

The next on-line meeting of the Friends of the Museum of Somerset will be on December 15th when Tony Davis talk will be How did the Kings find Bethlehem – the History of Navigation. Guests will be welcome; for details please email


October 20 – Brian Freeland – Richelieu; the Cardinal and his City

Imagine building a palace, furnished fit for a King and Queen, and then never using it! This was the fate that befell Cardinal Richelieu’s palace at Richelieu in the Loire valley. The Friends of the Museum of Somerset learned this via a well-illustrated Zoom meeting given by Brian Freeland who lived and worked in Richelieu for four years. After the king, (Louis XIII) Cardinal Richelieu was the most powerful person in France and he decided his position demanded a great residence so, in 1625, he commissioned the famous architect Jacques Lemercier to design his palace, and then the town bearing his name. The town was a 17th-century model new town built to a grid pattern and, unlike the palace, it still thrives today.

The Cardinal became Chief Minister to Louis XIII of France in 1624 and he retained this office until his death in 1642. He transformed France into a strong, centralized nation state and was famous for his patronage of the arts. He founded the Académie Française, the learned society responsible for matters pertaining to the French language. His palace contained the largest collection of paintings in Europe and the largest collection of statues in France. He visited it once during its construction, but neither he nor the King or Queen ever visited again. During the French Revolution it was damaged and plundered and was later demolished. Fortunately, the art works were removed, and many can be seen today in the Louvre.


Jane de GruchySeptember 15 – Archives and the Weather

The Friends of the Museum of Somerset talks programme resumed with an extremely interesting presentation by archivist Jane de Gruchy presented through video conferencing. Fittingly for such an unusually warm September, her talk was on “Archives and the Weather” and drew on archival evidence of past weather events in Somerset. Sources ranged from individuals’ letters and diaries, through churchwardens’ registers, parish records and school logbooks to court records and coroners’ rolls.

John Locke, the philosopher, kept temperature records in Somerset in 1666, and mean monthly temperatures have been recorded continuously since 1659. The early records were not always reliable as people were reluctant to venture outside in the coldest or wettest weather to look at thermometers, and these were often brought inside for convenience!

The Great Storm of 1703 is well documented in Somerset sources. Hundreds of people drowned in flooding on the Levels, along with thousands of sheep and cattle. At Wells, Bishop Richard Kidder and his wife were killed when two chimneystacks in the palace fell on them while they lay asleep. A canon was killed by falling masonry at the cathedral and is remembered in the name ‘kill-canon corner’. The archives record how the price of reed rose after so many thatched roofs were destroyed. One eyewitness account of the strength of the storm came from a man in Mere who ventured outside and had to lie flat and hold onto the ground to stop himself being lifted into the air!

Other records tell of snow on Exmoor, flooding on the Levels, and the surprisingly high number of lightning strikes on church towers. In Chew Magna in 1891 the largest bell in the tower was flung to the ground by a lightning strike.

This first venture into online meetings augers well for the monthly talks programme which FOTMOS has already organized into 2021. The next is on Tuesday October 20th at 19:30 when Brian Freeland will be talking on ‘Richelieu; the Cardinal and his ‘City’.