We had a very successful weekend of events with far more people attending than we expected. As a result it was considered too hazardous to have a walk around the narrow streets of Axbridge and therefore on Saturday morning John Page gave a talk in the Square and a brief walk to look at some of the houses there. The afternoon saw us in the Church where Dr Jerry Sampson entertained us with an excellent talk about the building and its history and revealed a few of the little things you had never noticed such as a mason’s mark and the remains of coloured plaster work.
On Sunday afternoon two groups led by Madeleine and David Roberts went to consider Madeleine’s evidence for the existence of a port, walking from Axbridge along Bailiff’s wall down to Cradle Bridge on the River Axe and back along Hook wall to Axbridge. Her theory that there was a port of Axbridge was both very interesting and intriguing.
The photo is of the two groups meeting on their way to and from the River Axe.
Following the AGM on April 16th the last talk of the season was delivered by Chris Webster, co-author of ‘Somerset and the Defence of the Bristol Channel in the Second World War’ by Dawson, Hunt and Webster (SANHS 2011).
He began by explaining the strategic importance of the West Country and the Bristol Channel in the defence of the nation. Maritime trade is of crucial importance to the maintenance of supplies and in 1940 a tenth of British imports were coming through the Bristol Channel ports. Somerset harbours, although relatively minor, take on a much greater significance if viewed from the perspective of forming the southern flank of an important waterway giving access to the ports of South Wales, the port of Bristol and a network of waterways leading to the heart of the Midlands. The early concerns were therefore to defend the sea ports and keep the seaways open.
In 1940 however, the Germans occupied northern France and suddenly the West Country, which, inland at least, had been seen as a safe haven away from London, became vulnerable to invasion. Efforts were made to second guess German intentions and attacks were feared from both sea and air. Somerset beaches were feared to be suitable landing strips for aircraft as well as being vulnerable to sea born invasion. The open spaces on the high ground of both Exmoor and the Brendon Hills could likewise be used for landing aircraft and for parachute drops.
Plans were hurriedly drawn up to thwart any possible German plans and the necessary defences were installed. These defences formed the basis of Chris’s talk.
The Bristol Channel was fortified by the construction of gun batteries at Lavernock in South Wales, Flat Holm, Steep Holm and Brean Down forming a chain across the Bristol Channel to protect the area upstream.
The beaches were all protected with anti-tank obstacles and barbed wire although little evidence of this exists today. Pillboxes were also built to prevent movement inland from the beaches and some of these still exist. For example one can be found on Dunster Beach.
Inland from beaches a series of ‘stop-lines’ was devised primarily as anti-tank devices to impede enemy movement. They connected a series of features such as waterways, escarpments and ditches that in themselves were an obstruction to movement and into them anti-tank obstacles were incorporated turning the stop line into a significant barrier. Many also included sufficient defences to prevent infantry activity. The two most important were the Taunton Stop Line and the GHQ Stop Line.
The Taunton Stop Line ran from Burnham-on-Sea south across Somerset and Devon to Seaton on the south coast and its aim was to prevent movement out of the West Country should the Germans have gained a stronghold in the west.
The GHQ Stop Line ran east from Burnham-on-Sea and was the more important of the two lines. It was intended as the final line of defence to keep the invader from reaching London and the industrial heartland in the Midlands.
The focus of significant road networks such as Bristol, Taunton and Exeter also had independent anti-tank defences and were referred to as anti-tank islands. All roads into these towns were heavily defended with roadblocks to prevent their use by the enemy.
Airfields such as Yeovilton and Culmhead (Churchstanton) were built from which the area could be defended and these airfields were in turn protected both from land attack and from enemy airborne landings. Guns on the perimeter pointed both ways, into the airfield in case of enemy landings and out from it to protect from enemy tanks should that be necessary.
On Axbridge Hill, a relatively small plateau, a series of ridges was constructed to prevent aircraft from landing.
Bombing decoys or fake cities were set up to confuse the enemy and divert bombing raids away from important sites. Three types of decoy were designed a Q5, QL and SF. A Q5 decoy was a simulated burning city, a QL a simulated badly blacked out city and starfish or SF was a special fire site, an enlarged version of a Q5. Locally a decoy site exists on Blackdown where the ground surface was altered and illuminated to mimic the layout of the British Railway Network in Bristol by night.
Finally, preparations were made for non-fighting roles. These included the building of the Royal Ordnance factory at Puriton where explosives were made, the Hydrographic Office in Taunton that produced essential maps and the Reserve Depot at Norton Fitzwarren where ration packs for the army were put together.
There were also preparations made for the returning wounded with hospitals being established at Hestercombe House in the Quantocks, Sandhill Park at Bishop’s Lydeard and Musgrove Park in Taunton. R.A.F. Merryfield became the receiving station for wounded Americans.
This account represents only a tiny amount of the information imparted by Chris Webster in his talk and available in the book. But, the research published in the book preserves for all time the story of how Somerset prepared for an invasion and how, should the preparations have proved necessary, it would have resisted the advance.
In the event, the Germans had no invasion plan for the south-west. Their only plan, Operation Sea Lion, focused on an invasion in the south-east of the country.
The talk was well attended and attracted a number of visitors.
Chris Stephens gave an excellent talk on his research into the life of the Rev. Dr Thomas Whalley (1746-1828), which he sub-titled A True Story of Georgian Life at the time of Jane Austen.
His interest in the subject was aroused when he was asked to re-build some walls that ran alongside Mendip Lodge, which was built by the Rev. Dr Whalley as a summer retreat.
Much of Whalley’s life is known from his letters edited and published by his great nephew in 1863, but recent research has revealed a far more interesting and complete account. His life was clearly one of extravagance, generosity and intellectual activity and he spent much of his time with many of the most influential people of the time.
He was the son of John Whalley, Master of Peterhouse College in Cambridge and his mother was the daughter of the Chancellor of Wells Cathedral. He married a widow, Elizabeth Sherwood, who was the heir to Langford Court and it was her money that enabled him to buy a house in the Royal Crescent in Bath, which he used during the “season.” Apparently he thought of himself as a poet and playwright and enjoyed living in Bath which was, at the time, a centre of social life and where there were many famous people such as Mrs Siddons, Hannah More, David Garrick and Mrs Thrale (Piozi). Chris used Whalley’s extensive correspondence with these people to inform his research.
Thomas and his wife went to France in 1783 and let their house, Langford Court. When they returned in 1787 he built Mendip Lodge since Langford Court had been let out during their absence from England. No expense was spared building the house and the cost of landscaping the gardens alone, according to De Quincy, was about £30,000 the equivalent today of about 30 million.
In 1801 Thomas’s wife died and in 1803 he married a Miss Heathcote who was also very rich but sadly she died in 1807. Although relatively wealthy, the upkeep of Mendip Lodge and his somewhat extravagant lifestyle meant that it made sense for Thomas to marry for a third time and in 1815 he married the widow of the wealthy General Horneck. Unfortunately, as Thomas found out, Mrs Horneck herself was not well off, having been left out of the will of her late husband. The marriage was not to last long and the couple separated in 1819. Quite what the reasons were for this are unclear but his wife’s accusation of cruelty led Thomas to seek a legal separation.
In 1819 he sold Mendip Lodge to Benjamin Somers, a relative by marriage of his first wife, but had to buy it back in 1822 when Somers failed to keep up the mortgage payments.
After his separation from his third wife, Thomas retired from public life in Bath and in 1820 was living in La Fleche, in France where his niece, Frances, and her husband lived. Until his death Thomas seems to have divided his time between various places in Britain and in France. He died in 1828 and was buried in La Fleche.
The Queen of Bath, Frances Sage
Thomas had a sister, Elizabeth, who he adored and who married an East India Company man called Isaac Sage. When she died in 1778, she left a daughter Frances who was then 7 years old and since her father was in India, Thomas and his wife took care of her. Frances grew up to be a very accomplished and popular young lady and it is her who was to become the Queen of Bath.
The well-known figure, Richard Beau Nash was the self-appointed “Monarch of Bath” and logically he needed a “Queen.” Various people held the post until, in 1788, aged 19 years, Frances was hailed as the next Queen and stayed as such until 1790. Why her tenure was so short is not known but Chris speculated that perhaps her behaviour had not been all that it should be! She was described as spirited, independent and worldly.
In 1790 she married William Mullins, an Irish widower with 2 small children. However, although from a rich family and due to inherit a title and fortune, it seems that William had very little money and the couple had no settled home. The marriage was clearly not a happy one and In 1795 Frances left William who divorced her on the grounds of infidelity. She had, in fact, gone away with Captain Abel Rous Dottin, the eldest son of wealthy parents, who were plantation owners in Barbados. It would appear that the two had known each other for many years and it is supposed that the whole “adultery” charge might have been staged. Whalley remained friends with William Mullins for many years and Dottin married 3 years after this event and became an MP with the help of Isaac Sage, France’s father. A divorce was granted in 1796 and Frances received a settlement of £1000 per annum for life.
A mere three weeks after the divorce Frances married Rev. Robert Boyle Sullivan. The suggestion is that France had fallen in love with him hence the staged adultery. Sullivan was a curate at Winscombe for a time but was removed for neglecting his duties. Influential friends meant that he was able to obtain a curacy at Bradford on Avon. In 1815 following the Battle of Waterloo, however, the Sullivans were in France. Although they appeared to live quite well it is unclear whether Robert had any employment or what exactly their financial situation was. Frances did, of course, have her annuity.
In 1818, when her father died he left her only £1000 in his will, thinking that she was well provided for. However in 1824 when her first husband died she lost her annuity and when Robert Sullivan died in 1826 Frances was in dire need of financial assistance. She appealed for help to her uncle Thomas and he bought her a house in in France and left her £1000 in his will.
Around 1830, with growing unrest in France, Frances sold the house and returned to England. In 1841 she is recorded as residing in a lodging house (possibly her own) and in the 1851 census she is described as a an annuitant.
She died in 1857 aged 86 and is buried in Bath Abbey.
Chris ended with a question, which was whether Frances Sage and Thomas Whalley were known to Jane Austen. He suggested that, as Austen knew Bath very well, that the families might have been known to each other and that Frances might well have been a source for some of her characters. Chris surmised that one of the characters in Lady Susan,Austen’s first book,written about 1794, was indeed modelled on Frances.
An intriguing thought to end with!
Chris has done an enormous amount of research in writing this book, which is available at a bargain price from the King John’s Hunting Lodge.
The February talk on The Severn Railway Disaster was given by Paul Barnett, a maritime historian and former Royal Marine. Paul became interested in the bridge disaster when he failed to find documentary evidence to support the stories about the event circulating in the area. The research that he undertook resulted in an exhibition in 2010 to mark the 50th anniversary of the disaster. It also led to the erection of two memorial stones on the banks of the Severn, one at Lydney Docks and one at Purton.
The bridge was constructed between 1875 and 1879 by the Severn Bridge Railway Company primarily to carry coal from the Forest of Dean to the docks at Sharpness, the Lydney docks being too small to cope with the growing volume of trade. It continued in use for freight and some passenger services until 1960, the time of the disaster. It was designed by George Baker Keeling and constructed by Hamilston’s Windsor Ironworks Company Ltd of Garston, Liverpool. The bridge carried a single track railway and trains had to complete the return crossing from Sharpness to Lydney in reverse. It had been hoped that the line would attract tourist traffic as well as local passengers but seven years later the Severn tunnel was opened and, from early on, this threatened the bridge’s financial viability.
The bridge had twenty-three spans and over the years a number of vessels had collided with the piers as a result of the difficult conditions in the estuary. However, Paul wondered wryly whether the fact that the bridge wa
s covered by insurance could have had something to do with the number of collisions. The bridge was, after all, on the route of vessels heading for the breakers yard.
On 25th October 1960, two tanker barges, the Arkendale H and the Wastdale H collided in heavy fog near Sharpness. Both vessels had missed the entrance to Sharpness harbour and found themselves further upstream than they should have been. The result was that they had to battle against an incoming tide to regain the harbour entrance. The estuary narrows to the north of the harbour entrance and consequently the tide runs much faster at that point and has a back eddy. The skippers of the vessels lost control, their barges collided and as a result crashed broadside into pier 17 of the bridge. Part of the bridge collapsed hitting the barges. The Arkendale was carrying 191 tons of black oil, the Wastdale 252 tons of petrol. The result was a serious conflagration with five of the eight men on board the two vessels losing their lives. It could however have been even worse for, three days earlier, work had commenced on strengthening the bridge and, prior to the commencement of the programmed welding, the gas main which ran across the bridge had been disconnected. It was also fortunate that the six British Rail men employed to strengthen the bridge were off duty and busy listening to a boxing match at the time or they too could have been caught up in the disaster.
The accident left a 168ft gap in the 4,162ft. bridge and it remained in this state for seven years while decisions were made about whether to repair or demolish it. The decision had finally been made to go ahead with repairs when a capsized tanker caused further damage to pier 20 and the extra cost that this would have incurred made repair uneconomic. The decision to demolish was taken and demolition was completed between 1967 and 1970. Today all that remains to be seen are several piers on the embankment and, at low water, the wreckage of the two barges which remain on the river bed.
The bridge had been of a box girder design with only one other, the Tay Bridge, being of a similar construction. This too had failed leading to the Tay Bridge disaster of 1879.
During the course of Paul’s investigations some fascinating memorabilia came to light. The first was a set of thirty-nine glass sepia photographic plates that had been taken by Keeling in the early days of the bridge’s construction and had been used by him to publicise the project and to raise sponsorship. They had been rescued from a skip by someone who was fortunate enough to be aware of their significance. Only one other set of plates is known to exist and this is in the possession of the Cardiff Institute of Engineering.
The second find was a painting of the bridge measuring 14ft. by 4ft. It was an artist’s impression of the project prior to construction and this too had been rescued from a skip! It is known that investors in the project were each to be given a painting of the bridge and seventy-two watercolours were commissioned. Could this painting have been one of them? It seems possible.
In spite of a having a long journey back to Gloucester, Paul stayed for refreshments and spent time enthusiastically talking to members and answering questions.
After a brief introduction from Elizabeth Friend on the reasons why Poolhayes was chosen as the site of the recent survey, Liz Caldwell and Nigel Harvey spoke about the techniques they used and the results of the full survey which was done in October 2018, Although nothing conclusive was found there were a few anomalies suggesting ditches and a number of curvilinear lines which were not consistent with the current field boundaries and which seemed to leading up to the field beyond Poolhayes. This is much higher than the village and the activity seen could, they suggested be evidence of an earlier settlement there.
Liz went on to outline the use of geophysics and illustrated this with examples of work that they have done.
The results of the survey will form part on an exhibition at the King John’s Hunting Lodge Museum in Axbridge which will open at Easter.The field is numbered 144 on the Dean and Chapter map 1786
A lively and informative talk about Friendly Societies was given at the November meeting by Philip Hoyland. Philip explained that Friendly Societies were established at the end of the eighteenth century to enable the working man to cover the costs of medical care, any periods of unemployment nd to pay for funeral costs. In 1793 the Friendly Society Act was passed requiring Friendly Societies to be licensed and John Tidd Pratt became the Registrar based in London. Records show that by 1801 five thousand societies had registered and that four years later in 1805 the number had increased to ten thousand. By the beginning of the twentieth century six million people were using the system and funds had increased to £14 million. The friendly societies were the precursor of the National Insurance System and, at a time of increasing unemployment, had become very important.
So, how did the system work? Working men were eligible to join a Friendly Society between the ages of 16 and 35 but they could then remain members for life. They had to pay a subscription to belong and this varied from 8d to 1/- a week paid monthly. Fines were imposed on anyone who got behind with these payments. Members also had to pay for their own rule book and brass pole head and provide 4 gallons of cider at the first meeting they attended. The money collected was kept in a strong box by the treasurer and disbursed at times of need. Medical expenses would be covered where necessary and if a man was too ill to work he would receive sufficient funds to survive. At a time when the average weekly wage was 11/-, the average pay out would have been of the order of 6/-. A steward was appointed from among the club members and was required to make a weekly visit to anyone claiming sickness benefit. This ensured that there were no malingers but it was not a popular task and many preferred to pay a fine rather than perform it. On a man’s death, his widow would receive £2 to £3 to cover the cost of his funeral and members would also have a whip round for her. If a wife died a man would receive £5! Clearly his loss was considered much greater than hers. Friendly Societies would also lend money at no or low rates of interest and if calls on the funds had not been great for a period of time and money had accumulated there might be a share out rather like a dividend. Societies therefore performed some of the functions of a bank.
Societies, or clubs as they were often called, would meet once a month in a club room. This was often in a pub and everyone there would be entitled to 2d worth of beer. This must have led to quite a convivial atmosphere and possibly accounts for the poor reputation that club nights developed among the upper echelons of society. In spite of this reputation, members had to adhere to the rule book and standards were high. Rules varied between societies but misdemeanours such wearing a hat, playing certain games such as marbles or quoits, bringing a dog into the room, rioting or wrestling and even adultery could all incur fines which were then added to society funds.
Once a year there was a very important Feast Day, Club Day or Walking Day as it was sometimes called, the costs of which were paid for out of funds. The men would gather in their club room dressed in their best clothes (no smocks were allowed) and wearing a sash and a flower or tutty in their button-hole. They would then march to church beneath their club banner each man holding his club brass aloft on a long pole and they would be accompanied by a brass band. The church service would be followed by a procession round the area visiting all the big houses where further donations would be made to club funds. Following that, the serious business of the day began with a massive feast and much drinking. There was also a variety of entertainments to follow the feast. These might include dancing, games or even a fair.
Philip had brought a wonderful collection of gleaming club brasses with him and the story of the brasses is an interesting one as the tradition of carrying brasses is not countrywide. They only seem to occur in Somerset and its surrounding counties and the origin of them is not clear unless they relate in some way to the ea
rlier guilds. Local brasses were made in the Bristol or Bridgwater foundries and the cost to each man would have been of the order of 1/6. This would have been quite a considerable sum of money atthattime. The design of the brasses was often related to the location of the club room. If the location was in a pub then the pub name would be depicted. In Combwich the club room was at the Anchor Pub so the brass was in the shape of an anchor; at Kilve they met at the Hood Arms so the brass was a chuff and anchor – the Hood family crest etc. etc. There were also female friendly societies, some of which in this area were established by Hannah More. How they were funded is not clear as subscriptions were only ½ d a week but Hannah More may well have contributed financially to them. On marriage a woman would receive 5/-, a pair of stockings and a bible. At the time of ‘lying in’ the benefit was 7/6.
The Friendly Societies continued in this form until 1948 when Aneurin Bevin who, for many years had been involved in his local variant of a Friendly Society the Tredegar ‘Sick Club’, introduced the National Health Service, or as he put it, “Tredegarised the nation”! Since then Friendly Societies have become less important but many still exist and still process to church once a year. Their function today is as fund raisers for charity.
Philip completed his talk by explaining how he kept his stunning collection of brasses in immaculate condition. It seems that a combination of Betterware paste and a product called Renaissance will preserve the surface without abrasion and the inevitable loss of surface decoration or the use of elbow grease.
Making a return visit to AALHS John, once again, gave a fascinating talk about what it was like to live in Britain under the Romans and, along with giving us a potted history of Roman occupation, brought along various artefacts to show us.
He started by explaining that Somerset was an important place to the Romans for lead mining, minerals, agriculture and a labour force. As the invading army moved around they made a record on wax tablets of all the crops, numbers of people and animals which was, in effect, a tax record.
John drew attention to the benefits of Roman occupation, which included the introduction of writing and a fixed coinage system. The Romans also changed the way that houses were designed, introducing the idea of separate rooms and a rectangular shape. The houses of the wealthy were built with piped water, windows and many of the features that we recognise in houses today. Mosaic floors were another introduction and were an indication of wealth and status. John explained that these were made in sections off site and then assembled in the house. Amusingly in St Albans there is a floor where one section was laid the wrong way round.
John showed us various examples of clothing. Simple tunics were usually made of wool and linen and examples found in Somerset were often of high quality. He also showed sandals with hobnails for outside use and shoes for indoors.
Cooking utensils were also on display: These included basic bowls of black burnished ware from Dorset and a bowl of Samian ware.
John also speculated whether coin hoards were hidden at times of political or economic upheaval or perhaps when it would have been difficult to exchange coins. Most were found in the 3rdcentury AD which was when Britain broke away from central Roman rule.
In conclusion John pointed out that when the Romans left, Britain reverted to a system of subsistence farming and it is of course likely that in country areas the Romans would have had little impact on the way of life anyway. He thought life had been better under the Romans.
An interesting insight into what life might have been like!
13 members of the Society and 2 visitors went to visit the Old Deanery Gardens on July 11
Frances Neale, one of our vice-Presidents gave an excellent talk about the history of the garden and Sylvia Hanks, one of the founders of the restoration project talked about how the project started. Having had no planting plan left by William Turner It was really interesting to see how they interpreted what it might have looked like. All the plants in the garden are ones that the Dean would have known and had described in his Herbal.
SANHS e-bulletin August 2018
Archaeology: Geophysical Surveying Training Day at Chapel AllertonOn Saturday 30th June SANHS held its first geophysical surveying training day with the help of members of the South Somerset Archaeological Research Group (SSARG) and GeoFlo Southwest Geophysical Services. The event took place at Chapel Allerton and participants included members of the Axbridge and Chapel Allerton Local History Societies. The field chosen for the survey is located opposite the church and has a lot of potential for interesting results. There are several linear earthworks which are clearly visible, including what appears to be a rectilinear enclosure. Historically the field used to be the site of the Village Fair, plus there was a trackway through it which led to the local mill.This Summer has been a scorcher and 30th June was no exception! Nine hardy volunteers braved the heat to try their hand at resistivity and gradiometry surveying. Unfortunately, despite the hot weather, the grass was too long in the part of the field that we really wanted to survey, plus there were cattle roaming around, so instead we chose a small 20 x 80m strip between the road and a small copse of trees in the middle of the field. The volunteers were instructed in how to set up the survey grid, and then had the opportunity to use the resistivity meter and gradiometer. We managed to survey the area completely with both machines and then retired to the relative coolness of the church to have a look at the results. Unfortunately the gradiometer results were severely affected by ferrous magnetic disturbance, but the resistivity results revealed some irregular linear anomalies of varying strength and alignment. It is possible that some of these could be associated with a former building, and if so it is also possible that some of the disturbance in the gradiometer results could be due to demolition rubble.
The rest of the field is due to be surveyed this Autumn after the grass has been cut and the cows are indoors, and volunteers from the training day have been invited to come along. I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who helped out on such a hot day, and especially for arranging access to the church and providing drinks and biscuits and cake!
Ed: AALHS and the Allerton History Society are grateful to SANHS and the grant from the Maltwood Fund for financing this project.
Another difficult talk to describe without the illustrations. Although all the maps had a function they were also very decorative and it is that which makes them very interesting to look at. I will put some example on the website.
Joe started by saying how intriguing it was that Somerset was so well mapped and explained that this was because in the Elizabethan era they were very fearful of Catholic opposition to Elizabeth 1 and it was felt that her position was insecure. Her Chancellor, Lord Burghley was very anxious about the security of the throne and saw the value of having maps for defence and administration purposes.
He asked Thomas Seckford to arrange for the mapping of the country and he, in turn, asked Christopher Saxton to do this. Saxton had been a servant of John Rudd, vicar of Dewsbury who had, himself, tried to map the kingdom but couldn’t complete the task because it needed the assistance of all the great landowners.
He had been helped by Saxton and it was Saxton who the Privy Council asked to undertake the mapping of the kingdom and all the great landowner were instructed to give him assistance. He used a crude form of triangulation using the beacons, which were on all the high places and in five years had mapped the whole country. Somerset was one of the first places to be mapped and Joe showed the first published map of Somerset produced by Saxton, which is a fairly good representation of the county.
There are lots of decorative details on it, fish, boats, the coat of arms of Elizabeth 1 and also of Seckford which states “Sloth is the country’s bane”. The scale was of the military mile ie 1000 paces. The mile that we recognise today was fixed in 1592 but, as Joe pointed out, for the next 180 years or so many maps had a short mile, a middle mile and a long mile on them. No-one knows why.
The people who made the maps were Flemish craftsmen who had come to England. The early maps were made on copper sheets, which were hammered flat and then the map was scribed on them. Names of course had to be done in mirror writing – very clever as Joe said. After about 300 copies of a map the sheet had to be scribed again.
The early maps showed various places such as Cheddar, Axbridge and Wookey Hole but it is the rivers that predominate. These and the bridges over them were, of course, the most important features to show given their significance for trade and travel. Roads were not shown until later and hills on the early maps looked like little mole hills. The depiction of hills was refined later.
Another main feature of these early maps was the inclusion of deer parks. Mappers had, of course, to be polite to important people but a deer park was also the site of an annual general muster for the villagers to prepare for war.
Given that Saxton had started with no idea of the shapes of counties, his maps were an extraordinary achievement. Editions of the maps, which were in black and white were produced for the next 100 years, although some were hand-coloured.
The next maps Joe showed were those of John Speed produced around 1610.
Speed was an historian who, when James 1st came to the throne was tasked with proving a direct lineage from James to the Greek heroes. No mean feat!
Joe showed Speed’s map of 1612. This shows, in one corner, a town plan of Bath complete with the heraldry of important people on it. It was the first map of the city and shows various details; baths, a horse bath, trees etc. It was very informative as a map and also shows the first reference to a tennis court. Perhaps the major change from previous maps was that it shows the Hundreds for the first time, which were, of course important administratively. One question Joe raised was whether old maps were always correct. There were, of course, errors, but for many years the early maps were replicated by others and so the errors remained. As an example he showed Speed’s Wiltshire map, which shows two villages, now known as North and South Burcombe. On the original drawing Speed had written Quare (meaning query) next to North Burcombe and this was then engraved. For the next 162 years or so the “village of Quare” remained on the maps until the mistake was spotted.
Joe then showed a strange and unusual 1612 map by Michael Drayton who was a contemporary of Shakespeare. This showed women with trees growing out of their hair, ladies with cities on their heads and all manner of weird images.
Must try and find it for the website!
The Saxton and Speed were large and bound as books. In 1626 a map was produced by John Bill, which was of a size that could be put in a saddle bag and reflects the fact that people were moving about more and maps were useful to have with you. Knowing distances was also useful and the next map Joe showed was from 1625 and produced by John Norden who invented a table, which showed the distances between various places.
From then on, there were various innovations which I will just outline briefly.
John Ogilvy produced strip maps which covered the routes that people would commonly travel and which showed various landmarks you might see on your journey.
In 1676 maps were produced by Robert Morden which, for the first time showed roads. The first maps he produced were actually on the back of playing cards and these are now very rare collectors items. In 1695 Morden produced larger maps but interestingly these had no roads marked on them but did have 3 different mile scales despite the fact that it was over 100 years since the government had set the statutory mile we know today. These continued to be published after his death and the smaller plates were also produced with the roads marked.
Further changes to maps reflected wider social changes for example the addition of things of interest, which gave people more information about the places they were visiting. One example shown was of a map by Herman Moll, a friend of Daniel Defoe which included depictions of various antiquities . Similarly John Gibson produced a small map with commodities such as corn, lead, woad, Bristol stone and lapis calaminaris (calamine) illustrated on it.
Strachey produced a vertical map of mining at Chew Magna showing what was going on underground. Although he was the first to do this he has received no credit for doing so and it was a William Smith who later produced similar maps and took the credit. Joe also showed a lovely county map done by Strachey with a plan of Wells on it complete with cathedral and houses.
New maps following the draining of the moors around 1769 showed that roads were then the dominant feature not rivers. Maps around this time were the last to be produced on copper and soon engravings on steel replaced them. These enabled the map-makers to have much finer lines and more detail.
In the 19th century maps began to have a wider use, often reflecting economic changes. George III commissioned maps, which showed the agricultural use of the land for example. By 1820 mail coach roads were shown on the maps and around 1840 there were maps showing canals and later, ones showing railway lines also appeared. Such was the proliferation of railway building that maps were sometimes produced by the railway companies to advertise new lines that were never actually built!
County maps were, of course, still being produced and from 1812 some were in colour and Joe showed several examples. Many of them showed a lot of detailed information reflecting the Victorian desire for self-improvement.
Not all maps were decorative, however. Joe showed an example of what he called a “very miserable map” which was produced by William Cobbett.
The last decorative map was produced by Thomas Maule in 1838.
In conclusion Joe showed some strip maps, and some maps of Somerset where the county looked nothing like Somerset. One produced in 1742 made Somerset look like Africa. Finally, Joe urged everyone to keep a look out for old maps which do turn up occasionally in unlikely places. Some playing card maps recently made £1500 at auction!
An interesting talk and there was plenty to look at. Joe and Christine had a fine display of their maps around the room.