2015 Meeeting Reviews-ABBPAST




January: "The Real Cosa Nostra"
Speaker: Richard Haigh - Studier of Italian Life

Subject Summary: A History of the infamous Italian Mafia, the Cosa Nostra.
For our first talk of 2019, we were very fortunate in welcoming Richard Haigh. Richard, who is well known as an expert on matters Italian, gave us a fascinating and informative talk on the Cosa Nostra, its origins and its continuing impact on Italian society. He also took the time to debunk many of the Hollywood images of glamour and honour.

The Cosa Nostra began in Sicily, in the 19th century, and coincided with the unification of Italy and the transition from a feudal to a capitalist society. Originally the managers and overseers for the estate owning aristocracy, in the absence of effective state apparatus, they became the “protectors” and enforcers, getting wealthy in the process. This continued until Mussolini came to power. As Richard put it, “There was only room for one bully in the playground”. Draconian measures were introduced by the Fascist state and the society lost much of it’s power. This continued until the Allied invasion of Sicily in 1943. The American OSS, the forerunners of the CIA enlisted their help for this and the subsequent invasion of the mainland.

The effect of the Cosa Nostra and similar family based criminal organisations continues to have a far-reaching effect on Italy to this day. Though Richard ended his talk on a hopeful note. Richard has promised to come back to us next year to give us his talk on the Unification of Italy, illustrated by six different biscuits, which we get to eat; we are very much looking forward to that.

February: "The Clifford Family & Ugbrooke House"

Speaker: Helen Turnbull – former Archivist at Ugbrooke House.
Subject Summary: The story of the 14 Lord Clifford of Chudleigh at Ugbrooke House.
The Cliffords derive from a Norman Conquest family, when Guillaume de Normandie, a cousin of The Conqueror gave him land at Hay-on-Wye as his reward, this is where Clifford Castle was built and where the family name would come from. By Tudors times the family had many estates, including at Kingsteignton and Chudleigh. The first Baron Clifford was created in 1672 and made a great fortunate as the King’s Treasurer, but his Catholic inclination meant he eventually lost his position.
It was the 4th Lord who rebuilt Ugbrooke, which had formerly been owned by the Bishop of Plymouth, with the main house being re-modelled by Robert Adam and with gardens by Capability Brown, who damned the Ug Brook to create lakes. The 6th Lord was created Chairman of Devon Defence Committee to create the plans to thwart any French attacks during their Revolution. The 7th Lord won a VC at the Battle of Inkerman in 1854. After a number of Lord’s who had no children the title passed to less well connected members of the family and by the time the 13th Lord arrived the house was in a poor state of repair, but he and the 14th Lord have returned it, and its splendid Chapel, to much of its former glory.

March: "Abbotsleigh Priory 1861-2018"
Speaker: Peter Wade – AbbPast member and author of The Abbotskerswell Village History Series.
Subject Summary: The launch of the sixth booklet in the series

Abbotsleigh Priory was built in the years after 1860 in the ornate Catholic Gothic Revival style, with architect being Joseph Hanson. The publication tells the remarkable story of how the move from Spetisbury and a teaching order to Abbotsleigh and Perpetual Adoration came about, and an amazing story it is, as well the work of the Sisters and its transformation into a retirement village. Peter did not want to spoil the reading of the story, therefore focused on how the story of the Priory came about, particularly the finding of 140 glass negatives taken by one of the Sisters in the early 20th century which Abbpast have had cleaned and digitised; many of these were shown, giving a remarkable insight into life in an enclosed order. He also related the uncovering of material at the Catholic Archive in Exeter and Abbotsleigh's archive which is now at Douai Abbey. None of this material had been looked at for decades and it was this material that provided the story that unfolds in the booklet.
As with all of
Abbotskerswell Village History Series that booklet was funded by The Heritage Lottery Fund and is available free of charge and is also on this website as a pdf.

April: “Devonshire Festivals, Customs and Traditions"

Speaker: Angie Wetherhead, Historian and Librarian.

Subject Summary: The strange customs and traditions of the people and communities of Devon.

The strange customs and traditions that Angie described for us were found at work when she was a librarian; she was drawn to the old books that were no longer loaned out that contained these stories. For instance the first three days of May were May Doll Day, then Kissing day and on the third Sting Nettle Day, when children ran around with clumps of nettles whacking people with them – but they also carried dock leaves!

Of course the origins of most are unknown, and many are no longer practiced, although some are being rekindled. Some are obviously Pagan in origin and many were born of ignorance and the need for hope, such as those associated with the harvest and spring. So wassailing of apple trees to encourage good growth for next year or taking corn from the last sheaf collected to may a corn doll which was kept and then burnt as a sacrifice the next year. There were practical customs too like the Giglet Fair which were attended spinsters and bachelors when they were allowed to talk to each other and find a partner and the Goosey Fair when geese were sold to raise the money to pay rents. Others were of their time, like Lent Crocking when children went round begging for pancakes and if the householder refused crockery was thrown at their house.

May: "Hairy Hands, Devils and Black Dogs"
Speaker: Paul Rendell – author, guide and all round Dartmoor expert.
Subject Summary: the stories and legends of life on Dartmoor.
Paul, sometimes known as ‘Dartmoor Paul’ is a renowned expert on the stories and legends of Dartmoor, and has spelt a life time gathering in these stories. He treated the audience to a rapid fire description of places and their stories, with his opinion on their credibility thrown in. Here are some examples.
Conan Doyle’s ‘Hound of the Baskerville’; written whilst staying in Princetown it is possibly based on the local story of Richard Carvill who frequently set his pack of hounds on people and was universally hated by the locals. Did Bishop Branscombe meet the Devil on a misty day and he accepted bread and cheese from him; just in time he threw both away and they turned into tors. At Dartmoor Prison at Princetown is the mystery of flowers that appear at the memorial to dead American prisoners of war in the prison; many people claim to have seen a lady with flowers in the graveyard. Of course Hound Tor is really where hounds were turned to stone by a witch who was pursued by them when she was being a hare. The stories went on with Pixies, the Devil drinking in the Tavistock Inn, a dog dying from drinking the beer thrown away at Postbridge, Lovers Leap and the crying Nanny of Brent Moor House

June: "Recent Discoveries in Roman Exeter"
Speaker: Derek Gore – author, guide and Exeter Vinversity Lecturer.
Subject Summary: Roman Exeter.
In AD 43 the Emperor Claudius sends troops to invade the British Isles under one of his youngest generals, Vespasian. He sends two powerful legions made up of equal numbers of Legionaries (Roman Citizens) and Auxiliaries. Auxiliaries were able to gain citizenship after serving 25 years, the normal term of enlistment for the Roman Army.
It was their policy not to campaign between October and March, restricting themselves to a barrack life of training and local defence. Conditions of pay and standards of living in the army were high and there was no problem with recruitment.
The Romans set up their barracks in Isca, what is now known as Exeter. Evidence of a substantial military complex have been found in the South Eastern area of the city and Topsham Road shows every indication of having been a Roman Road. It is estimated that much of it was built between AD 50 and 55 with a population of around five and a half thousand Roman citizens. Military, Administrative (tax collectors, Governors staff etc), Tradesmen and some families. Slaves were usually freed on the death of their master.
Under Cathedral Green a brick built bath house has been found, bath houses were akin to social centres. It is estimated that over two thirds of the original Roman city wall still exist. It was forbidden to bury anyone within the city walls. Exeter became an important trading centre with ocean going ships unloading at Topsham when the river at Exeter became unnavigable.
Derek brought his usual level of enthusiasm and deep knowledge of his subject to the talk and those attending were enthralled. A very interesting and enjoyable evening

July: "John Smeaton, Civil Engineer"
Speaker: Felicity House – AbbPast committee member and regular speaker for us.
Subject Summary: John Smeaton – Civil Engineer.
Felicity is from Smeaton’s home town of Leeds and remembers visiting the memorial to him in Whitkirk Church as a girl, hence her interest in a man who had a major impact on the south west. Although initially following his father into his law firm it was soon clear that his main interest was in engineering and was allowed to set up as an instrument maker in London. He was soon making waterwheels, pumps, windmills and even invented a way to measure the speed of ships. He was made a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1753 and took to calling himself a ‘civil engineer’ to distinguish himself from army engineers.
He is perhaps best known for building the Eddystone Lighthouse in 1759, using a remarkable dovetailing system to bind the tower to the rock on which it stood. In 1882 the upper part of the lighthouse was dismantled and rebuilt as a memorial to Smeaton on Plymouth Hoe. He was involved in hundreds of other projects but Felicity described four of these which are in the south west: the Pier at St Ives, the Stonehouse Bridge in Plymouth, Chacewater Mine (Wheal Busy) and Charlestown Harbour in Cornwall.


For the Meeting Reviews earlier in 2018 go to Meetings Archive Page


September: "Campaigns You've Never Heard of"

It was the turn of AbbPast member Nick Nicholson to entertain the group once again this month, using his own experiences in the Devonshire & Dorset Regiment to tell the story of two of the lesser known campaigns of the British Army since WW2.

Text Box:  Peacetime military history is really about the effect that the army has on people was how Nick began his account of the British Guiana in 1964 and Libya in 1967 campaigns. Until recently there have been few years when the British army has not been active somewhere in the world, and as a signaler in the D & D’s Nick witnessed a some of these.

He related the political situation that saw an 18 year old arrive in the tropical heat of British Giana, when the army had been called to the South American colony to restore order following race riots in the country’s second city Mackenzie. The country is a mix of peoples, with immigrant Asian Indians and ex-slave Afro-Caribbeans being the largest groups in a country known as ‘The Land of Five Peoples’. Following an ‘unsatisfactory’ election that gave power to a group considered too left wing, by the USA, the British Governor had taken control, but politically motivated race riots saw the Indian population targeted with beatings, rapes and destruction of property. Nick’s ‘C’ Company where sent to help restore order, which they did. Nick’s description of this and the life of a soldier at the time provided an evocative story. His description of entering a bar just after an explosion and being a lone 18 year trying to restrain the locals was fascinating.

Having returned to their base in Northern Ireland and then Germany his next story was of the Devons involvement in Libya during the 1967 ‘Six Day War’ between Israel and Egypt. The D & D’s were in Libya on desert training and, when Israel launched its attack, the other Arab nations joined Egypt’s cause. The European and American oil workers and their families, the teachers and security forces were in danger. Nick described the 230-mile cross country journey his Company made to reach Benghazi and secure the safety of the ex-patriot people there, following anti-Jewish and Western rioting. They brought them all into the army base for security before things settled down and a few weeks later and Nick’s unit was relieved.

Nick’s personal accounts of involvement in history, that many members will remember, were really interesting, with photographs and stories of the everyday events of campaigns that have quietly slipped away as the British Empire has disappeared from memory.

October: "The Bovey Tracey Heritage Centre"

AbbPast welcomed Viv Styles from the Bovey Tracey Heritage Trust for this month’s meeting. When Viv moved to Bovey in 2002 she thought it would be good to become involved with the Heritage Trust, and as is often the way, it has taken over her life.

Text Box:  The Bovey Tracey Heritage Trust was formed in 1995 and set itself two tasks; to collect and preserve evidence of Bovey’s past, and to display it in their own building. Now this is quite an undertaking, AbbPast just opted for the first, but with a population of 8000 Bovey Tracey believed it could do both. At first they obtained a building up some stairs behind a bakery, which, unsurprisingly, did not really work very well. However, they were then offered the old railway station by the Town Council, for the princely sum of £1 a year. But of course the bills add up and the initial renovation cost £100 000; a Heritage Lottery Grant was awarded to cover this problem and a great deal of effort has gone into creating the excellent Heritage Centre. It is always a huge undertaking to maintain an old building, and certainly a worthwhile while one, as the costs have to be raised every year.

The Trust has gathered a huge amount of pictures, documents, and reminiscences which they have displayed and are working hard at collating and digitizing. The railway and pottery works have been great sources of material, and have both been feature displays in their Centre. Since 2014 they have had an ongoing WW1 display and each 100th anniversary of a Bovey man’s death is marked by sticking a poppy to their wall display, trying to find a family member or person whose work was the same to add the poppy. They have meetings, talks, organise walks, as well as opening the Centre daily from Easter to the end of October.

Viv was wonderfully enthusiastic, showing us a number of the Trust’s books, that they have produced and describing their vision of their local history. It is great that each community comes up with what suits them and is therefore different, and hearing about it is something our members enjoy.

NOVEMBER: “Rembering World War 1 Through its War Memorials”

Speaker: Peter Wade - local historian and AbbPast Member

Subject Summary: with the 100th anniversary of the end of The Great War having been the day before Peter choose to end AbbPast’s ‘Role of Honour Project 2014-2018’ with a talk that explained how war memorials came about and used photographs of local examples, such as The City of Exeter Memorial shown below, to describe some of the styles that were created.

Text Box:  War memorials have existed since before WW1 with examples from the colonial wars such as the Boer War and Indian Wars being commemorated. Peter explained how the earliest post 1918 memorials were individual ones or ones created by companies such as the GWR. Next came the creation of Rolls of Honour/Duty often placed in churches such as at Luton and East Ogwell. Perhaps the most important name in war memorial design was Sir Edward Lutjens, and his Cenotaph and the Thiepval Memorial on The Somme were hugely significant in creating the climate for the war memorial movement to grow.

The styles of memorial that we see locally are crosses, Latin and Celtic, ornamental styles such as at Denbury and Shaldon, or the obelisks at Teignmouth and Paignton. Peter also told the stories of our own memorial in the church and the one in Newton Abbot; these were examples of the upset that could be caused by the creation of the memorials.

DECEMBER: "Elizabethan Name Calling"

Speaker: Todd Gray – well-known local historian and author

Subject Summary: whilst researching the Church Papers of Exeter Todd discovered perhaps the best example of Devonshire conversation that exists, the slanderous remarks that were reported to the Church Courts in the 16th and 17th sentences. This is his study of language.

Text Box:  Todd was at great pains to point out that this talk would contain some serious bad language, because to prove a person had been slandered the Church Court needed the exact words. As an academic exercise Todd had been warned may years ago that this was difficult territory for the Historian; in fact his doctoral supervisor warned him off saying “it will kill your reputation before you have one!” But eventually Todd produced two books, the serious study, shown here, and the light hearted “How to Swear Like an Elizabethan in Devon”.

The talk focused on the nature of bad language and the range of words that often seemed to be unique to a Devon and even a particular village. One example, which is printable was a woman complaining that it had been said that she had been “occupied under a furze bush in the snow”; meaning she had had sex. He found this expression nowhere else in Devon, and particularly liked the precise detail of furze, not a more general gorse bush. There were lots of examples like that and as he explained it is a real insight into language at that time. So in one village alone a “mooncalf” meant an illegitimate child, and so it went on with words for men and women of low morals, intellect, credibility and honesty.                         

2017 Meeting Reviews

the 2017 Reviews go to Meetings Archive**