October Newsletter Published

October Newsletter

Mick and Brian have compiled another excellent edition of the FOTMOS Newsletter and the October edition has just been published. Friends with email accounts should have already had their copy; those without will be receive theirs by post shortly. Please let us know if you find you have been inadvertently left off the distribution list.

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September 19

Janet Tall, Head of Archives and Local Studies for the South West Heritage Trust, spoke about the Hyltons of Ammerdown. The Somerset Heritage Centre holds sixty boxes of papers making up the Hylton archive and containing records stretching back to 1659. Ammerdown is near Radstock and the house has been handed down through the Jolliffe family to William Jolliffe, a politician, who was made Baron Hylton in the mid-19th century and on to the present owners, the son and daughter in law of the 5th Baron Hylton, the current Lord Hylton.

The archive contains the oldest surviving map of coal mines in England. They are in the manor of Kilmersdon, which was purchased in 1659 by an ancestor of the Joliffes’ and brought in an eight share in the profits of the mines. In 1679 the estate passed to two daughters who fought each other over their inheritance. This leaning towards litigation also occurred in the 19th century when the owner of the estate found his heir speculating on his inheritance, so promptly disinherited him resulting in legalities when one branch of the family bought out the other.

ammhr1Ammerdown House

Private Tour of the Somerset Rural Life Museum

Tuesday 22 August

Somerset Rural Life Museum reopened in June following completion of a £2.4 million redevelopment project led by the South West Heritage Trust. The Museum tells the rich story of Somerset’s rural and social history.

GRLM

Sam Astill talking to the group of Friends beside the remarkable scrap-iron sculpture of a horse in the Museum’s farmyard.

A large group of Friends met at the Museum to enjoy a highly informative tour led by Sam Astill, whose team led the SWHT’s redevelopment plans. During the tour, Sam described the concepts that shaped the new facilities and the difficulties and complexities of delivering the scheme. The goal was to preserve the essential qualities of the original and much-loved museum at the same time as finding new ways to tell the story of Somerset’s rural history.

It was clear to the friends that these objectives had been admirably achieved, with improved access to the Museum and greatly enhanced displays of the extensive collections.

SRLM

The Friends enjoy hearing Sam’s detailed knowledge of the Museum while patrons of the café relax outside the beautiful Abbey Barn.

 

Sam concluded the tour by describing ongoing developments and improvements which are being implemented before Chris Cooper, Chair of the Friends, proposed votes of thanks to Wendy Flint for organizing the visit and to Sam Astill for having given the Friends such an interesting and stimulating afternoon.

Before the tour several Friends had enjoyed a delicious lunch in the Museum’s excellent café.

August 15 – Lighthouses of the Bristol Channel

“When is a lighthouse not a lighthouse?” This question was put to a packed meeting of The Friends of The Museum of Somerset by their charismatic speaker, John Page. (The answer, of course, is when it’s a harbour light.) The Bristol Channel has a great variety of lighthouses, ranging from the traditional ones such as Watchet, to the far more modern such as the one at Hinkley Point.

BurnhamOnSeaWatchet Low Light

The light at Ilfracombe, situated on a chapel, was the earliest in the Bristol Channel, dating from the Middle Ages. There has been a lighthouse on Flat Holm since 1737 and John pointed out some of the difficulties in manning an offshore light. Coal had to be shipped from the mainland each month for the fire that provided the light, as were provisions for the keeper and his family. In the 1930s the weather became so bad that no supplies could be landed between mid-November and late-January and an SOS had to be sent as supplies of food had run out. Incidentally, the Flat Holm light is now solar powered, automated and unmanned as are the majority of lights around the coasts of Britain.

June 20 – Hoards and Haberdashery

Why does an archaeologist need to know about modern industrial and mechanical processes? Because often metal detectorists find modern valves or cogs and are convinced they are of historical importance. Part of a modern bone-shaped dog biscuit can even be mistaken for iron -age pottery! Amy Downes gave this fascinating insight into her job as a Finds Liaison Officer (FLO) for the Portable Antiquities Scheme when she detailed the types of archaeological finds members of the public bring in to her to identify during her talk to the Friends of The Museum of Somerset.

By recording the coins (there are over 100,000 Roman coins), pottery, brooches and buckles found by members of the public over the last twenty years the Portable Antiquities Scheme now has a huge online database that is available for all to use and much research is now taking place using the records from the database. To see the database go to https://finds.org.uk

Should you be lucky enough to uncover a hoard, or indeed anything of archaeological interest that is over 300 years old, the Somerset FLO works from the Heritage Centre and would be pleased to make your acquaintance!

May 16 – The Somerset Coal Canal

Patrick Moss, the chairman of the Somersetshire Coal Canal Society, gave a most informative talk to an appreciative audience of fifty at the recent meeting of The Friends of the Museum of Somerset. The Somersetshire Coal Canal was built to carry coal from the Paulton and Radstock coal fields to the Kennet and Avon Canal. Although the coal was relatively plentiful and there were markets for it across the South of England, sales had been small and prices high because the roads of the area were exceptionally poor. The Somersetshire Coal Canal was built to connect the mines with the major towns and was a very profitable venture.

The southern branch from Radstock was not successful as a canal, so a horse-drawn tramway was laid along the towpath instead. This was eventually sold to the Somerset & Dorset Joint Railway in 1871.

The canal closed shortly after 1900 and most of it was drained for reasons of safety. The Somersetshire Coal Canal Society aims to restore the Coal Canal to navigation as a 10-mile-long amenity corridor.

March 21 – The Queen’s Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard

Gentlemen! Which would you choose – red tights or red stockings and suspenders? This is just one of the decisions to be made by those who are entitled to stand nearest to the monarch on state occasions, the Queen’s Body Guard of the Yeomen of the Guard. Shaun McCormack gave The Friends of The Museum of Somerset most interesting insights into life behind the scenes as a Yeoman of the Guard as he explained the history of the Yeomen and their distinctive uniform which dates from Tudor times.

Apart from guarding the monarch, the Yeomen were responsible for making the king’s bed and even today there is one Yeoman Bed Goer and one Yeoman Bed Hanger in each of the three divisions. The Goer had to go and find fresh straw for the bedding whilst the Hanger was responsible for stuffing the mattress and hanging it up – to stop others using it and to encourage the wildlife to drop out of it!

The Yeomen’s most famous duty is to ceremonially search the cellars of the Palace of Westminster prior to the State Opening of Parliament, a tradition that dates back to the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, when Guy Fawkes attempted to blow up Parliament. In modern times officers from the Metropolitan Police carry out a more sophisticated additional search!

February 21

Following an efficient and brief AGM, The Friends of The Museum of Somerset were fascinated by hearing Susie Simmons, Visitor Services Manager at the Museum, talk about the First Five Years at The Museum of Somerset.susieLooking at pictures mainly taken by Susie herself, it was amazing to see the roles that Museum staff undertake as part of the day to day running of such an establishment. Buckets and leaking rainwater featured in early photos, but Susie was pleased to report that the use of these had reduced considerably! Amazingly, most of the visitors knew nothing of such problems.

Susie detailed the worry that goes with having nationally important artefacts on loan to the Museum. Shortly before the Alfred Jewel arrived, the Museum suffered some broken windows due to vandalism and she explained how the staff had to rally round to maintain the security of the site and to get the damage repaired.

Since the Museum has acquired Castle House, Susie has had to add holiday let management to her CV and has been surprised at the demands made by some visitors to this exclusive accommodation! For your chance to win a weekend stay in the seven bed Castle House, please purchase some raffle tickets from the Museum between April and August.

January 17

Rape, pillage and plunder! These are the three words that most people would use to describe the Vikings in Britain. However, Derek Gore, Honorary Fellow at the University of Exeter, held a large audience of Friends of The Museum of Somerset and their guests captivated as he described evidence for possible settlement by Vikings in the south-west of Britain.

vikings

By citing evidence from both the written and the archaeological record, Derek explained how seaborne warriors from Scandinavia penetrated this region and raided ports, monasteries and royal sites in search of portable treasure such as silver, gold and slaves. Ransoms and tribute were paid, but some of the leaders had political ambitions and wished to wield power in England; they did this by settling here and becoming the dominant landowners, eventually mingling with the local population. Lundy, the island of puffins, and Spaxton, Spakr’s settlement, are both examples of Viking place names. The ever-growing data-base of metal-detectorists finds catalogued by the Finds Liaison Officers of the British Museum’s Portable Antiquities Scheme continues to contribute exciting evidence for Viking activity in the south-west.

October 18

“The Nile is settled.” So read the telegram from John Hanning Speke to the Royal Geographical Society in 1863 when Speke claimed to have ‘settled’ the source of the Nile as being Lake Victoria. In 1858 Speke, whose home was at Jordans, near Ashill, and Richard Burton became the first Europeans to reach Lake Tanganyika. Burton claimed the discovery as his own as Speke, who suffered with eye problems, was almost blind at this time and could not see the lake! During the return trip, Speke left Burton, who was unwell, and struck out alone, which was when he found Lake Victoria. Speke’s theory that Lake Victoria was the source of Nile was rejected by Burton, thus beginning the bitter public dispute between the two men. After escaping death several times during his explorations, Speke was killed by his own gun whilst hunting in Wiltshire in 1864. He is buried in Dowlish Wake, near Ilminster, where his brother was the incumbent.

tom mayberry

In his fascinating talk to The Friends of the Museum of Somerset, Tom Mayberry not only related the history of the search for the source of the Nile, but vividly brought to life the feuding and ill-feeling between the two main Victorian protagonists seeking to claim the kudos of the discovery as their own.

Tuesday 20 September

In Mary Miles’ talk on Brewing in Somerset, members learned that Bog Myrtle, which is supposed to protect linen from fleas, was also said to promote rapid drunkenness and was once an ingredient used in brewing beer and that Coriander, Liquorice root and Nutmeg, which is toxic in large quantities, were also often used before hops became the flavouring of choice.

aletasterIn the seventeenth century in Somerset each person, including children, drank on average two pints of beer a day. This was often the weak “second brew” but it provided sustenance and the boiling undergone in the brewing process meant that the water was sterilised and so much safer than other sources of water. Workers at the time were often partly paid in beer.

Mary showed a picture of a bench end in Milverton Church which shows an Aletaster, an early Trading Standards Officer, checking on the quality of the beer and the accuracy of the measures in which it was sold. She also showed a picture of the Brewer’s House belonging to the West Somerset Brewery which still stands today as part of the Brewhouse Theatre.

bc-cert-75

The evening ended with Brian Hunter, the Deputy Chair of FOTMOS, presenting Betty Carter with Honorary Life Membership of the Friends.  Betty, who has given fascinating talks to the group and featured in the Museum’s War Stories production, has been a member of the group for twenty-five years but will shortly be leaving to be with her son and his family in Australia.

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The FOTMOS PRIZE RAFFLE DRAW

took place at the FOTMOS QUIZ NIGHT

held on Saturday 17th September

The winners are:

1st Prize (2 night stay in Castle House) – Debbie Bell
2nd Prize (£50) – Lorna Leyton
3rd Prize (£25) – Sarah Owen

Hearty congratulations to the winners and very many thanks to everyone who supported FOTMOS by purchasing tickets

All profits will go to the Museum of Somerset to further their work

 

Bondage – August 16

Bondage in Somerset? Yes – it was happening even during the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries. A curious group of members of The Friends of the Museum of Taunton listened as Sarah Villiers explained how whips, chains and handcuffs might have been employed by recruiting agents to spirit, abduct and collect people to become bonded servants working in America and Australia.

Some bonded servants emigrated willingly to gain a better life overseas but others were coerced into making the journey, lasting anything for four to seventeen, or in one case twenty-seven weeks in appalling conditions. Half of them died during the journey.

When their contracted period of bondage was over two-thirds settled on the land, became artisans or even risked the journey back to Britain, whilst the others became “poor whites” for whom the better life had not materialised. The government of the day encouraged this form of emigration as it reduced the numbers in the poor houses and thus reduced rates, and at certain times as after the 1861 census, it reduced the superfluity of women in Britain by encouraging them to go as bonded servants to America and Australia.

The Friends’ next speaker will be Mary Miles talking about Brewing in Somerset at 7.30 on Tuesday, September 20th at the Museum of Taunton. All are welcome to attend, the fee for guests being £3. For further details, please visit the Museum or see their website wwwfriendsofthemuseumofsomerset.com

Somerset and Slavery – June 21

A packed meeting of The Friends of the Museum of Taunton (FOTMOS) were captivated by South West Heritage Trust’s archivist, Esther Hoyle, as she talked about the emotive subject of slavery in Somerset during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Using documents held in the archives she showed how three local landed families had used money coming from the sales of sugar and rum. Much had been spent on house renovations, which gave employment to many local craftsmen, but in contrast, the alms-houses in East Coker were supported by money coming from this trade, which in turn was dependent on slave labour.

There is a fascinating document in the archives in which an agent in Jamaica, fearing that the economy of Britain would be ruined if the slave trade was abolished, refers to “that infernal miscreant Wilberforce”. Of course, William Wilberforce, Samuel Coleridge Taylor, Hannah More and others, including the inhabitants of Watchet who signed a petition against the slave trade, won their case and in 1807 the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act was passed in parliament. Sir Stephen Chapman of Tainfield House, Kingston St. Mary was Governor of Bermuda and it fell to him to oversee the emancipation of the slaves there.

The Friends’ next speaker will be Mary Siraut talking about Exmoor Forest at 7.30 on July 19th at the Museum of Taunton. All are welcome to attend, the fee for guests being £3. For further details, please visit the Museum or see their website wwwfriendsofthemuseumofsomerset.com

“Benefits, Brass & the Girtest Grandest Day” Philip Hoyland May 17th

Philip Hoyland –  May 17th

A wonderful talk by a natural communicator in a delightful Somerset accent. The title, ‘Benefits, Brass, and the ‘Girtest, Grandest Day’ related to the village Friendly Societies, which were much in evidence during the 19th and well into the 20th century. These were societies started by the poor for the poor. Members were required to give a regular monthly amount into their particular Society. This then enabled them to draw out money in times of need, a kind of local ‘Welfare State’ This could be to pay the doctor, pay for a funeral or sometimes, in especially hard times, to keep a member out of the poor house.

Societies were very strictly reregulated. Monthly meetings were held in the largest room in the village and this was often the pub. Stewards were in charge of the money, which was kept in a large box, with several locks, screwed to a table. Money held was sometimes also used as a bank. Each Society had its own symbol. Many of them were known by the name of the pub where meetings were held, such as The Swan, The Lion, The Lamb and Flag, The Bell and The Ship.

The ‘Girtest Grandest Day’ was the great feast day, which took place around the villages on the 29th May, or Oak Apple Day. On this day Friendly Society members would parade in their best clothes, wearing sashes and proudly bearing their tipstaffs. The staffs, a pole topped with a brass sign displaying the society’s symbol, were peculiar to the West Country. There would be a brass band, the children would have a school holiday and all would wear their Sunday best. This was, without doubt, the biggest day of the year for the villages.

This fascinating talk, much enjoyed by all who attended, fittingly ended with a warm and spontaneous round of appreciative applause. It was indeed a splendid evening.

Ann Pugh

Dodgems

dodgem“What did we have before dodgem cars?” That was the question posed by Kay Townsend in her talk to the Friends of the Museum of Somerset. As one of a family of showmen for the last hundred years Kay was well placed to give the answer – the Wave Ride where the car moved over a panelled floor lifted by underfloor levers. This mechanism caused at least one death and became unpopular, being followed by battery driven cars. The first “proper” dodgem cars date from 1920 and were exported worldwide from America. Billy Butlin realised their potential and in 1924 he borrowed £200 to enable him to buy some for his funfair in Skegness. He became a Dodgem Corporation agent, buying and then selling on dodgem cars and his empire of holiday camps was built on that. Nowadays dodgems have a motor incorporated into the front wheel, the cars are built of fibre glass rather than wood and the prospect of whiplash is lessened by the surrounding pneumatic rubber bumper. The joy of driving them remains the same as it was a hundred years ago.

All are welcome to the next talk which will be at the Museum in Taunton on May 17th at 7.30 and is entitled “Benefits, Brass and the Girtest Grandest Day”. The speaker is Philip Hoyland.

Barbara Cooper

COUNTERFEIT COINS IN SOMERSET AND BEYOND

A talk by Stephen Minitt

Have you ever been in possession of a counterfeit coin?

The answer is almost certainly “Yes”.

Ever since there have been coins there have been forgers, from the earliest days of coinage to the present. The risks were great but so were the rewards.

Romans striking coinsThere is much early evidence of counterfeit coins in Somerset during the Roman period. The Shapwick hoard, unearthed in 1998, contained 9,238 coins from the period 31BC – 224AD. Of these 25 were forgeries – 0.3%. Many were of excellent quality only recognizable by the peeling off of the silver plating .

Three miles west in the Chilton Polden area a great many moulds used by forgers have been unearthed indicating a thriving trade in counterfeiting.

In 274 came a reform of the coinage, in which the production of higher value coins left a shortage of smaller ones, the basic need for the average person. So the production of smaller coins for exchange became almost an essential for buying and selling, with probably as many copies as real.

With the advent of the Anglo-Saxons, coinage regained its importance and became very tightly controlled. The mint at Langport is thought to be the earliest in Somerset with the name of the moneyer appearing on the reverse of the coin. The coinage was replaced periodically, but forgers were always adapting. Mints appeared all over the UK during the 11th century many of these in Somerset.

Always the forger seemed able to adapt to the current need. As the coins became more sophisticated so did the counterfeiters. With the advent of the milled coins it became more difficult. Using gold, silver and copper, new coins were issued in the reign of George 3rd in an attempt to beat the forgers. Counterfeits actually appeared on the following day.

Distributing forged coins became risky. Forgers passed their coins on to distributers. Many cunning methods of distribution were used.

‘Ringing the changes’ was an 18th C phrase meaning changing bad money for good.

Penalties for convicted forgers were severe, as it was seen to be undermining the state. In Anglo-Saxon times it was a common punishment to have a hand chopped off and nailed above the mint.

Other punishments through the centuries included boiling in oil, and being burnt at the stake.

In 1786 a Phoebe Harris was condemned for counterfeiting shillings: she was condemned to death by hanging from a stake until she was hopefully dead, following which her body was burned. This attracted an estimated crowd of 20,000. Following this the Member of Parliament Sir Benjamin Hammett (after whom Hammett Street is named) fought successfully to change the law after which forgers were just hung!

So, back to the question of whether you have any counterfeit coins in your possession. It is estimated that 3% of all £1 coins in circulation are forgeries. Have you ever wondered why the car park machines like some coins and not others?

And it was with this question that Steve ended a truly fascinating talk.

Report by Ann Pugh

Goodbye to Leah Whiting

The Friends would like to say goodbye and thank you to Leah Whiting, who is leaving the Somerset Heritage Service.

Leah was responsible for setting up our current website, bringing the information technology side of the Friends into the 21st Century. We have been very grateful to her for all the assistance and expertise she brought to our operation.

We wish Leah every future success.

The Closure of Taunton & District Civic Society

We were sorry to learn of the closure on 1st April 2014 of Taunton & District Civic Society, founded in 1971. At its closure the Society held certain financial assets which required suitable disposal and a number of local organisations were therefore approached in this connection. These included the Friends of The Museum of Somerset.

Following discussions between the parties we were very pleased to be offered the sum of £500 “without condition but we hope the money can be put towards something tangible and permanent for the museum, and, if at all possible, of relevance to Taunton and district.”

While we wish the circumstances could have been somewhat different, this most generous offer has been gratefully accepted. Due consideration is now being given in cooperation with the Museum to an appropriate use for the money complying with the spirit in which it has been donated to the Friends.