Crewkerne & District



U3A looks East with new series of Culture lectures

Details have been announced of the full line-up of speakers for the new series of ‘Culture Bites’ lectures organised by Crewkerne & District U3A. The theme of the six talks will be the Eastern Bloc. The new lectures follow the success of the two series of ‘Culture Bites’ that took place last year, one on the Arts and one on Science, which represented a new venture for the U3A.

“We wanted to try something different and we were delighted how well they were received by our members and the general public,” says U3A Chairperson Sheila Seymour. “It promises to be another stimulating series. A couple of the speakers are back by popular demand.”

The programme begins on March 5 with the intriguingly titled ‘There’s a carp in my bath – life in Eastern Europe during the Communist Era’ by Dr Janek Gryta, a lecturer at Bristol University (pictured).
Dr Janek Gryta

Apparently carp is the traditional Polish Christmas dinner and so if you could get one in the Fifties and Sixties somewhere near the time, you grabbed it and kept it in the bath! The lectures continue with:

U3A’s Christmas recipe tree at St Bartholomew’s festival

Our U3A have again entered a tree in the annual Christmas Tree Festival at St Bartholomew’s Church, the theme of which for this year is ‘Around The World’. The picture shows the tree being dressed by Caroline Shipley and Joyce Richards, who were helped by Sheila Seymour, our chair, and Anne Bright.
Christmas tree entry
In keeping with the theme, we provided copies of about 10 Christmas recipes from around the world, including Creole Christmas cake (USA, lots of alcohol)), Reindeer hot dogs (Canada), a creamy porridge dessert (Denmark – “lovely, I tried it,” says Sheila. “It comes with lots of cream and sherry.”) and Dumpling mince pies (China).

Visitors were able to vote for their favourite tree during the festival which ran from December 18 to December 21, with all the trees staying in place during the Christmas services.

Geology Group says thank you and goodbye to their leader

Members of Crewkerne & District U3A’s Geology Group have said goodbye and a very big thank you to their organiser, Val Watson, who has led the group since it began 15 years ago. Sadly it also marks the end of the group which for many years has been the largest in the U3A. With no plans to continue in 2020, some of the residual funds were spent on a Christmas buffet lunch at St Bartholomew’s Church Hall, organised by the catering staff at the George Reynolds Centre (on December 10). Remaining funds will be held by the U3A to kick-start a new group when possible in the future.

Val said: “It is time to get on with other projects that have taken a back seat and I have promised myself that I will write a family history for my grandchildren and try to get back to doing some botanical painting.” She thanked and presented gifts to all those who had supported her over the years in making the Geology Group the success that it was – from putting out chairs and tables, checking attendances, doing the refreshments, reporting events for the newsletter and emailing arrangements to members, a task that was undertaken by Charlotte Rowntree, who had also announced that she was stepping down.

Liz Randall (pictured left with Val) presented both Charlotte and Val with bouquets, and gave Val gifts and a card on behalf of the members. “Val thought geology was a subject that she and others should know more about,” she said. “A lot of other people agreed and they rapidly outgrew the upstairs room at the old Grammar School where they used to meet.”
Val bids farewell

Val booked so many excellent speakers and trips to locations such as caves, museums, quarries and cruises – all of them accomplished without a hitch, commented Liz. She was also a superb networker, using the resources of the U3A’s national geology organiser as well as liaising with other Somerset and Devon U3As. Among the high spots were the geology study days organised with the Avalon network of U3As in South Somerset and at which Val was one of the speakers. It was supposed to be a one-off event but proved to be so popular that it had to be repeated.

“Over the years the Geology Group has given its 80 plus members a broader appreciation of the ground beneath their feet and the landscape around them, as well as some lovely friendships,” added Liz. “Thank you, Val, for facilitating all this.”

Special deal for U3A members at classical music concerts

Concerts in the West are offering a special ticket discount deal to U3A members who want to attend their 2020 programme of concerts in the town. £15 tickets can be bought for £10.

The programme for next year sees with the number of concerts in the town being increased to nine from seven in 2019. As well as more concerts, further improvements are being made at The Dance House where they are staged.

“We are delighted that the loyalty of our audience sees us rewarded with more concerts this year – a great compliment to the support we receive from the town and district,” says John Bartholomew, who helps organise them on behalf of Concerts in the West. “We continue to do everything we can to upgrade the experience, including improvements to the building. These should be apparent at the first concert in January. We hope to see more and more people coming along and taking advantage of the real quality on show at every concert.”

The programme begins on January 18 with a concert featuring Andrew Marriner (pictured), son of the famous conductor Sir Neville Marriner, (clarinet), Alasdair Beatson (piano) and Michael Petrov (cello). This is a fund-raising tour on behalf of Concerts in the West. All the concerts in Crewkerne take place on a Saturday at 7.30 pm, with tickets available at the Town Hall.

The programme for the rest of the year is:
February 22: Nicholas Mulroy (tenor), John Reid (piano) and William Lindley (artist)
March 7: Nicholas McCarthy (piano)
April 4: Stephen Upshaw (viola), Eloisa Fleur-Thom (violin) and Sam Armstrong (piano)
June 20: Ferio Saxophone Quartet, with Huw Wiggin, Ellie McMurray, Jose Banuls and Shevaughan Beere
July 18: Creating Carmen (concert/play) with Emily Andrews (flute and mezzo), David Massey and Francisco Correa (guitars)
September 12: Emma Halnan (flute) and Eblana String Trio, with Jonathan Martindale (violin), Lucy Nolan (viola) and Peggy Nolan (cello)
October 24: Savitri Grier (piano) and Richard Uttley (piano)
November 7: Linos Piano Trio, with Prach Boondiskulchok (piano), Konrad-Elias Trostmann (violin) and Vladimir Waltham (cello).

Science lectures come to successful Dead End

Dr Martin Smith’s lecture on The Science of the Dead attracted a bumper attendance for the last in the series of six science lectures organised by Crewkerne & District U3A. This was the one everyone was dying to go to, and extra chairs had to be brought in to accommodate all the U3A members and public who came along to hear the talk at the George Reynolds Centre. “I suppose you could say we were dead lucky to get him,” said Sheila Seymour, U3A chairperson. “He was a brilliant, charismatic speaker and it was a great way to finish the series of talks.”

Dr Smith, who is a biological anthropologist at Bournemouth University, works with the remains of people who lived thousands of years ago, as well as helping the police and coroners on modern forensic cases. He began with a warning that some of the images he would be showing were a bit gruesome – but nobody left. He also brought along a lot of skulls and bones to illustrate his talk, as seen in the picture of him with U3A committee member Sue Cannell, but explained they were copies of real ones.
The Science of the Dead
He went through some of the questions that are asked wihen a skeleton is found.
Is it human? Decomposing seal flippers can look very like a human hand.
Is it an Extra Terrestrial? He showed a photograph of a mummified human hand with two arm bones attached that was found in bushes on a golf course. It did look a lot like ET but was definitely human.
How can the body be identified? Whether it is male or female and the age can be determined by bone size and density, the structure of the skeleton and the teeth.
The final question is what was the cause of death – was it disease, wounds sustained in battle or murder. “Yes, there were murders in Neanderthal times,” he added.

He told the story of a mummified head he was asked to examine at the Museum of Witchcraft at Boscastle in Cornwall. It was thought to be the head of a criminal hanged in Medieval times. But with help from Poole Hospital, Bournemouth University and friends in Canada Dr Smith discovered that the head belonged to an Egyptian mummy, dating from between 695 to 234 BC – and about 2,000 older than the museum thought.

Tie-breaker win for Crewkerne in Inter U3A photo competition

A photograph of the Cannington Viaduct at Uplyme taken by Betty Spanswick helped Crewkerne & District U3A win an unbelievably close annual Inter U3A photographic competition that went to three tie-breakers. Another decisive contribution in Crewkerne’s success over Dorchester and Yeovil came from Dorothy Woods who scored top marks for both of her entries, one of Ham Hill and the other of Pilsdon Pen.

When judge Sid Jones from Dorchester came to tot up the points at the end there was a tie between Crewkerne and Dorchester with 96 points each, while Yeovil scored 88 points. It was decided to award the trophy to the team that scored the most top marks of 10 for their entries. But once again Crewkerne and Dorchester were level. So the next tie-breaker would be the team awarded the most 9s. But guess what? The scores were the same again for both teams!

To separate them and find a winner judge Sid looked at all the photographs from Crewkerne and Dorchester that were given a 9 in order to choose one that could be upgraded to a 10. And it was Betty’s photograph of the grade 2 listed viaduct taken from Woodhouse Hill that made Crewkerne the winners,

Betty with the trophy being presented to Mary Fowler, leader of the photography group, by the Sid Jones.

This was the ninth year of the competition, organised once again by Mary, and the theme for this year was ‘British Landscape’. Each team could enter 12 photographs, with no individual team member being able to submit more than two. The judge praised the high standard of the entries and awarded the prize for the best individual entry to Dorchester. “Many thanks for all who attended and helped in every way. It was a great team effort,” said Mary. “A very special thank-you to Betty and Dorothy whose photographs tipped the competition Crewkerne’s way.”

Astrology and the legend of King Arthur and the Round Table

Within the stories of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table there may be hidden messages with links to astrology, suggested Ana Stasia at the latest in a series of Science lectures organised by Crewkerne & District U3A. She explained that astrology fell into disfavour with the Christian Church in the 12th Century and had to go underground. However its practitioners did not abandon their studies. They found ways of preserving their beliefs by disguising them in myths and legends such as the ones about King Arthur and Avalon. “She presented a very convincing argument. It was a terrific talk and we came away with a lot to think about,” said Sheila Seymour, U3A chairperson.

The stars were aligned for what was a very different but very successful lecture at the George Reynolds Centre, attended by U3A members and the general public. Ana,
Ana Stasia
who is pictured on the left with U3A member Valerie Edmunds, dispensed with the usual PowerPoint or slides, opting instead for a large celestial map of the sky over the UK and a table on which there were books and a globe of the constellations worldwide. It made for an intimate setting, more like a chat than a lecture, with people sitting around the table as Ana, an astrologer for 35 years and founder of Crewkerne Awareness seven years ago, told how the effect of the planets on human beings was first noticed and then formalised in a scientific manner.

The 12 dominant star systems became the Signs of the Zodiac as we know them today, but there are others, and she explained how these augment their influence. As part of her presentation everyone was asked to take a card representing one of the extra systems and then discuss what it meant to them. “It was remarkably revealing and useful to our self-understanding,” added Sheila.

The funny side of seaweed

Seaweed was an unlikely but fascinating subject for the latest Science lecture organised by Crewkerne & District U3A, attracting an excellent attendance for the talk by Jenny Bryant. She had many funny anecdotes to tell from her 40 years as the Curator of Algae at the Natural History Museum in London. Although now retired, she continues as a Scientific Advisor.

“She was a joy and laughter rang throughout the building,” says U3A Chairperson Sheila Seymour. “Who would have thought the subject of seaweed could be so riveting. She spoke for nearly an hour and then answered questions for another 20 minutes and no one wanted her to stop!” Jenny (right) who is pictured with Angela Hunt-Cooke, a botanist and U3A member, spoke at the lecture at the George Reynolds Centre about the vital part that seaweed plays in our lives, from being an ingredient in toothpaste, cosmetics and paints, to food, beer and laboratory research.

It is well known for being used to wrap sushi and British phycologist Mary Drew-Baker is revered in Japan for her pioneering research on edible seaweed and the subsequent breakthrough in growing it commercially. She was named ‘Mother of the Sea’, and each year an annual ‘Drew Festival’ is celebrated in the city of Uto where a shrine was erected to her. When seen through a microscope, said Jenny, seaweed becomes a thing of beauty in colours of pink, red, brown and green, as well as being almost transparent like cellophane.

Folk Dancing group’s verdict is “super”

The new floor at The Speedwell was put to the test by the Folk Dancing group and passed with flying colours. Work on floor was completed recently and the verdict of Leslye Stansfield, who leads the group, was “super”. “It was an excellent afternoon and we all enjoyed ourselves. The new floor is super to dance on and the renovations make the hall seem far more spacious,” she added. The Folk Dancing group, which is part of Crewkerne & District U3A, usually meets on the second and fourth Monday of the month at The Speedwell from 2.10 to 4.00 pm.

The picture, taken by U3A Photography group member Jeff Hutson , shows them dancing ‘The Fair Quaker of Deal’,

Folk dancing group

while other dances included ‘The Lass of Richmond Hill’, ‘Jamaica’ and especially for a member who hails from Liverpool, ‘The Leaving of Liverpool’. Musician Chris Toyne, who plays the piano accordion, is well known on the folk circuit, and he came to make it a really special occasion. He said afterwards that it was a great advertisement for U3A dancing. “We were so lucky to have him play for us. He enjoyed himself too and will come and play again in the New Year,” said Leslye.

U3A Blackpool trip is Strictly fabulous

It was a Strictly fabulous trip to Blackpool for members of the U3As of Crewkerne, Yeovil and Martock. The four-day trip, organised by Jan Simpson under the auspices of the Crewkerne & District U3A Serendipity group, included afternoon tea and dancing at the world famous Tower Ballroom. A fixture of every Strictly Come Dancing TV series, It is known as the home of ballroom dancing with spectacular setting and unique sprung dance floor. In the background of the picture of those of the party who went to the tea dance is the equally well known mighty Wurlitzer organ.

Serendipity Visits Blackpool

Whilst in Blackpool the party also toured the Illuminations and visited Fleetwood market. On the way to Blackpool the coach called at the National Arboretum and at Trentham Gardens on the way back. They stayed at the Queen’s Hotel, which Jan said was excellent. “It was a holiday full of fun and laughter and I hope this has made the bonds between our three U3As even stronger than before,” she added. The next Serendipity group trip is to Sandown on the Isle of Wight next April, which looks like being very popular with only a few seats left.

Garden designer with the golden touch

Crewkerne & District U3A struck gold with a lecture from garden designer Marion Dale at the third in its series of Science lectures. Her design for the Curry Rivel Memorial Garden has been awarded a regional gold medal for the second year running. She took the meeting through the stages of garden design as she has refined them over the last 12 years, with the goal of having a happy customer, happy plants and a happy (ie, paid!) Marion.

Whether it is a professional job or a DIY one, each phase should be costed separately so that there are no nasty surprises in the final bill. Soil and sediment samples should be taken and then you should do a survey of the site and draw a scale picture, she told the meeting at the George Reynolds Centre attended by members of the U3A and the public. In deciding your colour scheme, remember that red draws the eye and can be useful in taking attention away from any unsightly things, while blues make a garden look wider and longer. One last tip: plants grow upwards and outwards and need room, so don’t over-plant.

Geology group’s field trip to World Heritage Site

Thirty-eight members of Crewkerne & District U3A’s Geology group went to Lulworth Cove for the last field trip of 2019. For some longer-standing members, it was a return visit to this World Heritage Site, having gone there on a similar study visit 14 years ago. They were met by two Jurassic Heritage Coast Rangers who gave them an informative talk in the education room of the Visitor Centre. They showed how the Jurassic rocks along this section of the coast were originally formed and then compressed, folded and eroded to produce the formation that is today regarded as one of the finest coves in the world, as seen in the picture taken by group member Liz Randall.

geology Group Visit Lulworth Cove

The cove has formed in the last few thousand years which, in geological terms, is almost like yesterday. While the Cretaceous chalk was perma-frosted, a river flowed over it and cut through the resistant bands of near-vertical Purbeck and Portland limestones on its way to the sea which at that time was far away and at a much lower level. Subsequently the sea, at today’s higher level, has exploited the narrow gap formed in the hard rocks and has eroded the softer Wealden clays and sandstones behind, hollowing out the almost circular cove that is seen today.

After the talk the Rangers split the party into two groups and led them to the Stair Hole and the beach where they could see the effects of the erosion that is still being made by the sea. Those who had been before saw that several features, including the cliff path behind the cove, have been lost to erosion in very recent years. “The weather was gloomy and chilly, but thankfully the torrential rain that was forecast held off until the coach door closed for our homeward journey,” adds Liz.

A spider in the bath – why you shouldn’t panic

If there’s a spider in your bath don’t panic! They are attracted to baths and sinks because, just like us, they get thirsty. “Remember , they are as scared of us as we are of them and that’s why they scuttle off,” says Simon Moore. As an extra safety measure he recommends hanging some loo paper over the side of the bath as an escape route for which they are very grateful.
Another reassurance is that almost none of the spiders to be found in the UK bite, he told the second in the series of ‘Culture Bites’ science lectures organised by Crewkerne & District U3A. Also bear in mind that although they have eight eyes, their eyesight is generally poor.

Simon Moore, who is pictured with U3A Chair Sheila Seymour, is a Conservator of Natural Sciences. He spoke about the diversity, behaviour and anatomy of spiders at the lecture at the George Reynolds Centre, attended by U3A members and the public. It is well known that tarantulas can live for many years, says Simon, who has kept several as pets. “They are very intelligent and learn fast what they can and can’t do,” he commented. “For instance, walking about the top of my desk is good, but adventuring down the side is bad and means being put back in the tank.” One old story says that the tarentella dance is supposed to invigorate the blood flow and dissipate the venom from a bite. On the other hand, if bitten and not danced away, the victim can go mad!

The largest spider in the UK is the Cardinal which can have a a leg span of seven inches. That’s big, but if you do come across one, those long legs mean it can run away very quickly. Some male spiders use claws on their legs to ‘handcuff’ the female during mating – otherwise she eats him! Spiders have been around for 300 million years, and some spiders up to 80 million years old have been found well preserved in amber. Romans used to spice up their wine by dropping in a spider which they thought would act as an aphrodisiac.

Ancient buildings talk launches new series of U3A lectures

A talk on the Science of Ancient Buildings by Peter Cooper launched a new series of ‘Culture Bites’ lectures organised by Crewkerne & District U3A. The series of six talks on the theme of Science will be built on very solid foundations. “This was a really great talk,” says Sheila Seymour, U3A Chair. “It was mesmerising and I learned so much.” Like the previous series earlier this year, the lecture at the George Reynolds Centre was open to members of the public as well as U3A members.

Peter (pictured with U3A Chair Sheila Seymour) Peter Cooper spoke about the qualities of the different types of stone that were used, such as Portland for St Paul’s, Caen for Tewkesbury Abbey and Freestone for St Bartholomew’s, Crewkerne which, he said, is very good for fine detailing but is not weather resilient. He went on: “Hamstone is considered to be the loveliest building material in England, as it is rich in colour, resilient and yet easy to carve.” He cited Sherborne Abbey as a good example of its use.

Peter also explained architectural features such as corbelling, flying buttresses and fan-vaulting, which he regards as the greatest feature of ancient English buildings. Fan-vaulting is seen at the top of columns, apparently to support the roof. But it doesn’t - it is just there as a wonderful form of decoration. Teams of master masons were brought over from France for the earliest cathedrals because the English were not considered good enough. But what good students they were! Fan-vaulting, at which the English excelled, was a skill the French could never master. He finished his talk with a ‘virtual’ tour of local churches to show what a wealth of glorious and clever architecture there is on the doorstep.

Film-makers appeal for information about Churchill’s Secret Army

Film-makers The Anoraks, who are part of Crewkerne & District U3A, are appealing for information about a secret army of Resistance fighters in South Somerset. They are researching a film on World War Two for their next project and want to include a segment on Churchill’s Secret Army.

This was a force of civilian volunteers, some of whom are believed to have been recruited in South Somerset, that was set up in the wake of the evacuation of the Army from Dunkirk in 1940. In the event of a German invasion their role would have involved sabotage, such as blowing up ammunition and fuel dumps, transport links – and even the assassination of high ranking German officers. But very few people knew of the existence of this secret army. Most of those who joined up signed the Official Secrets Act and did not tell their families and friends what they were doing and took their secrets with them to the grave.

“All this secrecy makes it hard to dig out the stories,” says Paul Ebdon, a member of The Anoraks. “But we have had one or two leads about people from South Somerset who were involved and which we are now following up. We would love to hear from anyone who can tell us more.”

The film-makers are planning to visit the remains of an old bunker at Castle Neroche that may have been a signals intelligence centre for Churchill’s Secret Army in this area. Another of the secret bunkers in the West Country was the mile-long Combe Down Tunnel on the Bath extension line of the Somerset and Dorset Railway. Although not part of the Secret Army project, there is also the key defensive line that ran through the county with its many pillboxes, such as the one that still stands alongside the A30 Yeovil road at Crewkerne. This may well feature in the film along with other artefacts of that era. Paul paid tribute to Chard Museum for their invaluable help through their advice and excellent collection of World War Two artefacts and uniforms. The film may also look at the evacuation of children to South Somerset, and in particular the areas of Chard and Donyatt.

Anyone who can help The Anoraks with information and memories of World War Two should contact Alan Keene of The Anoraks via his Anoraks page on this site.

Local History group visits Portland Museum

Portland Museum, which has links with the writer Thomas Hardy and Dr Marie Stopes, founder of the UK’s first birth control clinic, was visited by members of Crewkerne & District U3A’s Local History group. Dr Stopes bought two derelict 17th century thatched cottages and then donated them as a home for the museum which opened in 1930. She was the first honorary curator and maintained her association with the museum until her death in 1958. Hardy was a friend of Dr Stopes and one of the cottages features in his novel ‘The Well-Beloved’ as the home of his heroine Avice Caro.

“It was a very interesting visit,” says Jan Eagles, a member of the group. “We learned about the archaeology of Portland and its famous stone, shipwrecks and the Jurassic Coast and its fossils.” Afterwards the 19 members of the group were taken to the Portland Lighthouse for lunch and a walk before heading home. Jan Eagles was thanked for organising the visit and other trips made by the group during the summer.

Long-service awards to “inspirational” group leaders

Ten-year long service awards have been made to four members of Crewkerne & District U3A who have given outstanding service through their leadership of special interest groups. They are John and Gwen Bird, Mary Fowler and Mike Jones who were presented with a certificate and a gift voucher by chairperson Sheila Seymour at the monthly meeting at the George Reynolds Centre on August 5. John was not able to attend, so Gwen collected the award on his behalf. “Their enthusiasm and imagination to keep on coming up with new ideas to stimulate their groups is inspirational,” said Sheila. In our picture, from left to right, are Gwen, Mike and Mary.
10 Year Awards
John and Gwen joined soon after the U3A began more than 20 years ago and have led the skittles, lunch bunch and art groups. Over the years they have also been members of the history, geology, rambling and craft groups. Together with another couple John and Gwen provided the teas at the monthly meetings for three years.

Mary Fowler took over the running of the photography group in 2008 and in 2012 she introduced the very successful annual inter-U3A photography competition. She is a longstanding member of the geology, art and craft groups as well as taking part at other times in the opera, jazz, music appreciation and rambling groups. Mary has also served on the U3A committee as secretary and editor of the newsletter.

When Mike Jones retired his Mum’s next door neighbour recommended that he should join the U3A. He has led the rambling group for 10 years as well as being a member of the photography, geology and local history groups. In addition to his U3A commitments, Mike is a trustee of the The Speedwell and a volunteer at the town’s museum.

Photography group visits historic abbey

Fifteen members of our U3A photography group visited Shaftesbury Museum and Gardens, housed in the grounds of a former abbey founded by King Alfred more than 1100 years ago. The group saw the excavation work which is currently taking place, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, to reveal more about the history of the abbey, once the foremost Benedictine nunnery in England. They also visited the medieval herb garden where plants are still grown for cooking, medicines and dyeing.

Like so many other religious establishments the abbey became a victim of the dissolution of the monasteries by King Henry Vlll. The buildings were demolished and much of the stone used for other sites in the town. It has been looked after by the Abbey and Museum Preservation Trust since 1985. No visit to Shaftesbury, particularly one involving photographers, is complete without taking in the iconic Gold Hill, so memorably featured in Ridley Scott’s Hovis advert, accompanied by music from Dvorak’s New World Symphony. “It was well worth the effort, the views were beautiful,” says Yvonne Taylor, a member of the photography group.

Ancestor’s key role in Tolpuddle Martyrs story

Deidre Dowle stepped back into history with a reminder of the key role played by an ancestor of hers in the the story of the Tolpuddle Martyrs, six agricultural labourers who were sentenced to transportation to Australia in the 1830s. She went on a visit to the Martyrs Museum at Tolpuddle with other members of our U3A Local History group and there she saw a banner dedicated to her great great uncle Thomas Wakley.

A social reformer and radical MP, he was one of the group of parliamentarians who fought successfully for the return of the six men and their subsequent pardon. They had been convicted of swearing a secret oath as members of the Friendly Society of Agricultural Labourers and their story is often seen as the birth of the trade union movement. “He was an amazing man but his campaigns against social injustice did make him unpopular with his many of his peers,” says Deidre. However, his achievements are considerable.

A surgeon, he founded the famous medical magazine The Lancet in 1823. He was a medical coroner in London and a friend of Charles Dickens who served on the juries of some of his inquests. Dickens is said to have derived some of the material for his book ‘Oliver Twist’ from one of the inquests he attended. Born in Membury in Devon, Wakley attended the grammar schools at Chard and Taunton.

The timing of the visit by the 24 members of the Local History group, organised by Janice Eagles, was opportune because the village was gearing itself up for the annual Martyrs Festival that was taking place that coming weekend when it was to be attended by the Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn. “It was a very interesting visit, made more so by one of our group being a descendent of one of the people so closely involved in the story of the Tolpuddle Martyrs,” added Mike Jones.

U3A’s new-look team is now in place

A new-look team, double the size of the previous one, is now in place at Crewkerne & District U3A, with jobs allocated to the 11 people who were elected to the committee at a recent extraordinary general meeting. Sheila Seymour, who has welcomed the infusion of new blood and its promise of a bright future, continues as chairperson for a second year, with Maggie Hewson taking on the role as secretary and Stephen Shipley as treasurer, assisted by Jane Gifford.

Anne Bright continues as membership secretary as well as editing and running the U3A website. Mike and Viv Wiles become the joint editors of the monthly newsletter, while Caroline Mortimer will run a distribution network for those members who do not have email. In addition to her work with the newsletter Viv will now act as the co-ordinator of the 40 plus special interest groups in the U3A, helped by Sue Cannell. John Bartholomew remains in charge of events and outings, while Jonathan Robinson is a committee member without a portfolio.
Although not a member of the committee Chris Dubery has taken on the new role of welfare officer. Sheila says, “If anyone knows of any member who is poorly or who has passed away, please let Chris know and she will send a card or whatever is appropriate to let them know we care. She will try to follow up but unfortunately, she is not able to make visits.” Chris’s email is: Three other non-committee members continue in their current roles: Joyce Richards, minutes secretary; Rob Wells, press officer; and Teresa Bond, magazine editor.

Promise kept with second Jurassic Coast Study Day

The Avalon network of U3As in South Somerset has kept its promise and organised a second Jurassic Study Day in Crewkerne. The first one last year was such a sell-out success that it was agreed to repeat it, and 40 U3A members came for Study Day Mark 2 at the George Reynolds Centre on July 19. “It was a terrific day,” says Val Warren, who organised the event on behalf of the Avalon network. “People went home full of enthusiasm and with a greater knowledge of this wonderful coastline that continues to give up its treasure of marvellous fossils on an almost daily basis.”

“The rocks still have many more stories to reveal,” said local geologist Richard Edmonds, who was the principal speaker, and who is campaigning for a world class museum in West Dorset. “Fossils don’t fall from a cliff and arrive in a museum in showcase condition. Local collectors have built up a huge array of truly astounding fossils but these collections need a purpose-built place to display them.” He spoke about the plans to develop the site of an old quarry in Portland into a subterranean geological park and visitor attraction. “This is a golden opportunity that must not be missed,” he declared.

Richard, whose lifelong interest in fossils and the Jurassic Coast began at the age of 11 when he found a perfect pyrite ammonite, illustrated his talk with a presentation of fossils. When he worked as a Jurassic Coast project officer with Dorset County Council he helped to secure World Heritage Site status for the coastline. Norah Jaggers, who is a Jurassic Coast ambassador, spoke about her work as a volunteer to promote the World Heritage Site through such things as guided walks and public speaking. “We try to raise the profile of the age of giant reptiles and bring it to life for the general public,” she said.

As a leader of Crewkerne & District U3A’s geology group Val Watson has many years’ experience of organising boat trips, walks and fossil hunting expeditions from the red cliffs of East Devon all the way to the white cliffs of Hampshire. She gave tips on where to park, how to avoid problems of access to different places of interest, coping with the weather and where to picnic. “I didn’t know much about geology when I first started running the group,” she said. “But after 15 years I know a lot more now. And I am still enjoying it!”

The study day included tea, coffee and biscuits on arrival and lunch. In the picture, from left to right, on what was a windy day, are: Val Watson, Norah Jaggers, Val Warren and Richard Edmonds.


Tributes to “a legend” of U3A

Tributes have been paid to by members of Crewkerne & District U3A to Hazel Axe, a former chairperson, who has died, and who they describe as “a legend”. She was the chair from 2003 to 2004 but had to step down because of ill health. But she returned to take on the job again for another year from 2009 to 2010. She ran skittles, scrabble and bridge groups for many years (the latter up until a few weeks ago) and at one time was the welfare officer.
Val Warren, a former chairperson, remembers that Hazel was always helping in the background. If a group couldn’t find a leader she would run it temporarily until they could get someone to take over from her. She was a popular teacher at Maiden Beech School. “I remember being on Henhayes playing field with her,” says Val, “at an event where the U3A was exhibiting and lots of young people came up to her for a hug. She was well loved.” Val was taken to her first meeting of the Avalon network of U3As in South Somerset by Hazel – Val has since become Avalon’s network co-ordinator – and they went together to a U3A national conference. “She was a great supporter of U3A,” she added.

“She was a legend in the U3A,” says Anne Bright, a former chairperson. “Hazel was always encouraging and patient with beginners, and thanks to her skilful teaching, they soon became proficient. What people remember is that her groups were full on bonhomie and banter.” Current chairperson Sheila Seymour commented: "To have been a long term Group Leader, Committee member and Chair, and be so well thought of, she must have been quite a lady. My condolences to her family and friends."

Geology group tours old Dartmoor quarries

The Geology group, which is part of Crewkerne & District U3A, was taken on a guided tour of the old Meldon limestone quarries near Okehampton on the northern edge of Dartmoor. Quarrying began there about 1790 when the limestone was needed for both building and agricultural purposes. During their tour members of the group saw two of the old kilns where charcoal was burnt with limestone to form quicklime which farmers would load onto their wagons and take back to their farms. Quicklime, which is relatively cheap to produce, has many uses, including with mortar and plaster for building, and to improve the quality of soil.

The earliest limestone quarries were on the east side of the river and once the workings had reached a depth of 40 metres and were exhausted, they were flooded to form Meldon Pool. “Second World War US military vehicles were reputedly dumped in this pool,” says Liz Randall, a member of the U3A Geology group. The only structures surviving from the quarry on the other side of the river are a lime kiln, part of a winching system and a ruined weighhouse building. In the later 19th century the London and South Western Railway company constructed a track across Devon which spanned the West Okement river at Meldon. This involved making a cutting and building a viaduct which, as is shown in the picture taken by Liz, can still be seen today.

The stone in the cutting was found to be extremely hard and suitable for railway track ballast, so the railway company established a quarry to exploit it. During the following century this quarry grew to 80 hectares before closing in 1994. It is now privately owned and mothballed, and unfortunately, was not accessible to the Geology group.
Meldon Quarry
The geology of the area is of particular interest to the group, and not just the old industrial workings. Liz explains that Dartmoor has many granite domes formed 280 million years ago when molten magma intruded upwards into older rocks. Each granite intrusion created a metamorphic aureole as the heat and pressure caused the melting and re-combination of minerals into new metamorphic rocks with dykes and veins which contained lead, copper, arsenic and aplite (also known as granulite). The aplite at Meldon was thought to be suitable for making glass. A quarry was established, but the glass produced was of an inconsistent quality and so the project was abandoned.

Geology group’s visit to Chesil Beach

Members of our U3A Geology Group have made a study to Chesil Beach, which is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Jurassic Coast. Marine conservationist Marc Kativu-Smith of the Dorset Wildlife Trust gave a presentation to the group on how the giant shingle barrier was formed 10,000 years ago at the end of the last Ice Age.

It is 18 miles long, stretching from Portland to West Bay, and is 40 metres high at the eastern end, sloping down to sea level in the west. There is also a marked change in the size of the pebbles from east to west, from potato-sized pebbles at Portland to pea-sized gravel at West Bay. Trapped behind Chesil Beach is The Fleet, England’s largest saline lagoon. “We learned of the vast array of visiting wildlife attracted there by its unique habitat,” said group leader Val Watson. “We were lucky enough to see some bee orchids in flower, and TV cameras allowed us to watch the colony of Little Terns that nest there without disturbing them.”

After lunch the group drove west along the the coast road through Portesham, Abbotsbury and Burton Bradstock, catching glimpses of Chesil Beach on the way. At West Bay they saw how tons of the smallest pebbles are being moved while new sea defences are being installed.

Geology group visits Salisbury Cathedral

Architectural features both ancient and modern were encountered by members of our U3A geology group during a visit to Salisbury Cathedral on May 14. One of the most striking was the cruciform shaped font which is like an infinity pool that provides a mirror to view the splendid roof vaulting overhead. The font, which has a base clad in Purbeck stone, was consecrated by the Archibishop of Canterbury in 2008.

Members of the group were divided into three parties and taken on guided tours of the cathedral, the main body of which was finished in 1258. It was originally built in the Early English style on marshland and even today the water is not far below ground. “We were shown how close the floor is to groundwater by dipping a stick in a hole in the cathedral floor,” says Liz Randall, a member of the geology group, who took the picture of the font. “While the guides were not expert in geology, they supplied us with the basics and wove good stories around the cathedral’s main historical events,” she added.

Crewkerne film-makers latest movie is ready for showing

The latest film to be made by film-makers Anorak Communications about the Somerset Levels is now finished and ready for showing. For the first time the Anoraks, who are part of Crewkerne & District U3A, used a drone, the latest piece of equipment which they have bought, for some of the filming which shows Anoraks member Tom Jones as he follows the River Parrett from its source to where it flows into the Bristol Channel 37 miles later.

There are the occasional diversions en route and Director Colin Mayes says that they explore some interesting places and discover some fascinating stories. “Our camera crew spent many hours capturing the flavour of the Levels and patiently waiting for wildlife shots,” he says. Among the places featured in the film called ‘On The Levels’ are the Westonzoyland pumping station museum and the Willow and Wetlands Visitor Centre at Stoke St Gregory where the willow is woven into baskets. The sites of the battles of Sedgemoor and Langport are also visited, while the wildlife scenes include cranes and a stunning murmuration of starlings.

All eight members of Anorak Communications – the others are Brian Lawrence, Stuart Nuttall, Tom Downey, James McCosh, Paul Ebdon and Alan Keene – played a part in the making of the film. Any group or organisation wishing to make a booking to see the film should contact Alan via his email: Crewkerne & District U3A are already booked in for a showing on March 2 next year.

Other films made by the Anoraks include historic churches in Somerset and Dorset which told the story about the stained glass windows at East Chinnock Church donated by an ex-German prisoner of war; West Somerset Railway; and old cinemas in Somerset.

First visitors at historic site’s new centre

Members of our U3A Local History group ‘learned the ropes’ when they visited the historic Dawe’s Twineworks at West Coker, a working relic of a bygone industry that was once very important to this area. Thirty-seven members of the group are pictured when they stepped back in time and toured the site which is believed to be the last surviving rural twineworks that still has its original Victorian machinery. They were greeted by a guide in a tall Victorian top hat.

The party was split into three groups to be taken on guided tours of the site. “We were shown the engine working and how it has changed over the years from being hand-powered to steam and then to diesel,” says group leader Eileen Mills. “We also saw many old books and documents relating to the old twineworks.” The twineworks with its 100 metre long main walk closed in 1968. With the buildings close to collapse, South Somerset District Council came to the rescue with a compulsory purchase of the site in 2005. It is now run by the Coker Rope and Sail Trust which is continuing the restoration work, recently boosted by a £404,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The outing finished with tea and cakes at the new visitors centre for whom the group were their very first customers. “It was a fascinating visit,” says Eileen, “and we were all so impressed by the work that they are doing to preserve a unique piece of history. It was nice to be their first visitors and they made us very welcome.”

New members join Jazz Appreciation group

Two new members who joined our U3A Jazz Appreciation group ensured that April’s meeting at the George Reynolds Centre went with a swing. The meeting studied the Jazz Messengers, a combo led by the renowned drummer Art Blakey, who, said Roger Allen, was responsible for developing more jazz talent than any other band leader of his era. He said that the band was considered the quintessential forum for musicians who wished to leave their own mark on the jazz scene.

“Some of the members were not familiar with their music, but we were all very impressed,” commented Val Warren, leader of the group. “We were thrilled that Roger brought the Jazz Messengers to our attention, and it underlined the joy of being able to share music with other U3A members.”

After a break for refreshments members played tracks thst they had brought along and Val went through the diary for the rest of the year, which includes a garden party in June to be held at a thatched cottage in Cheddington, meetings that will look at traditional and modern jazz, and a Christmas lunch. The group meets on the third Wednesday of the month at the George Reynolds Centre from 2.15 to 4.15 pm. In the picture taken by Val are, left to right: Yvonne Taylor, Betty Spanswick, Ros Clampitt, Roger Allen (holding up the Art Blakey album), Beryl Hunt, Sue Cannell, Audrey McNeill, Anne Walpole and John West

Jazz Appreciation Group

How to be a Shakespeare detective

The final curtain has come down on the inaugural season of ‘Culture Bites’ presented by Crewkerne & District U3A with a talk on ‘The Art of Shakespeare’ by Ann Sutherland Cooke. It was a master class of Shakespearean detective work, explaining to the audience of U3A members and the public how to identify clues in the plots of two of his famous tragedies, ‘Macbeth’ and ‘Othello’.

Ann has spent a lifetime working in the theatre as an actor, casting manager and stage director, so the audience at the George Reynolds Centre on April 16 could not have been in better hands. She is also one of the leaders of the U3A’s All About Shakespeare group and has launched an Acting from Scratch group. She said that Macbeth reigned as a good and effective King of Scots for 17 years in the 11th century but Shakespeare’s version bore little resemblance to reality. The truth did not make a very good story.

What he needed was a money-spinning play that would please the new king James l and ‘Macbeth’ was tailor-made, with the character of Banquo from whom the king claimed to be descended, and famously the three witches. James I considered himself to be an expert on witches and some years earlier had published a book on witchcraft. Key words in the text, such as those that reassured theatre-goers not to be frightened of the witches and the assassins, were highlighted by Ann.

She illustrated the role of Iago in ‘Othello’ with an image of a puppeteer to make the point that he enjoyed manipulating people and using his power over them. He is the villain – who has far more lines that Othello – whose schemes result in Othello killing his newly-wed wife Desdemona, and then when he learns the truth that she has not been unfaithful, he kills himself.

Ann is seen, in a picture taken by U3A member Betty Spanswick, with Sheila Seymour, U3A chairperson, going through her complete works of Shakespeare book, a massive tome which comes with many personal annotations and colour-coded page flags. Sheila praised Ann’s lecture as “erudite and comprehensive”. “I’m delighted that our series of ‘Culture Bites’ ended on such a high note,” she added.

The man of many talents – and a big beard!

The talents of William Morris, the inspiration behind the Arts and Crafts Movement, are literally too numerous to mention. Matthew Denny, of Lawrences Auctioneers, asked the audience at the latest of the ‘Culture Bites’ lectures organised by Crewkerne & District U3A, on April 9 to name the topics they associated with William Morris.

He was impressed when they came up with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, wallpaper, upholstery, mugs, socialism and Iceland. But, he added, don’t forget: printing, tapestry, architecture, travel, languages, workers’ rights, woodwork, plasterwork, writing, poetry – and his beard! which was on a scale to match his artistic talents.

Morris was “the complete polymath,” commented Matthew. While an architect made the plans for his house, Morris designed every item in it, from the chairs and cupboards, to the rugs, tiles, wallpaper and fabrics. The audiences for the ‘Culture’ lectures at the George Reynolds Centre keep on getting bigger and bigger. This was the fourth in the series and extra chairs had to be put out to accommodate everyone who turned up.

Matthew explained that Morris’s privileged upbringing and a large legacy enabled him to follow his own path in life. “He believed in the value of craftmanship and hated the Industrial Revolution and what it did to people. He wanted to improve people’s lives by creating a better habitat.” His belief was: “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”

Morris is also well-known for his links with the influential art critic John Ruskin and Pre-Raphaelite painters such as Millais, Rossetti and Burne-Jones. “It was an excellent talk,” says our U3A chairperson Sheila Seymour. “Even if you thought you knew everything there is to know about William Morris, Matthew was able to surprise us with something new.”

Spider Man booked for new series of U3A lectures

The culture lectures organised by Crewkerne & District U3A have been so successful that another series is already being planned. And that’s before the first series of five has even finished. Already booked as one of the speakers at the new talks, which are due to take place in the autumn, is The Spider Man!

“The numbers of people attending have gone up week by week and the standard of speakers has been superb,” says our chairperson Sheila Seymour, the driving force behind the ‘Culture Bites’ talks which have been a double whammy success. The lectures represent a major breakthrough for the U3A because nothing like this has been attempted before, and they have justified the decision to open them up to the public as well as U3A members.

“Initially there was an element of risk because the concept was so new,” says Sheila. “It didn’t take long before I could uncross my fingers and I am thrilled how well the lectures have been supported. In fact, I have started planning to do it all again.” Topics covered by the current ‘Culture Bites’ talks are: Opera, Silversmiths, Portraiture, Arts & Crafts Movement and Shakespeare. In the autumn she hopes to arrange another series under the umbrella title of ‘The Science of…’

Sheila has lined up experts on botany, astrology, ocean-life, garden design – and spiders. Weaving his web as The Spider Man will be Simon Moore, who as well as being a Conservator of Natural Sciences, is also a cutlery historian who gave a talk on the Art of Silversmiths in March.

Simon, who is pictured with a friendly tarantula on his shoulder, first became interested in spiders when he started work at the Natural History Museum in London as assistant curator of non-acarine arachnids. He said: “I found them so interesting that I have made an in-depth study of their diversity, behaviour and anatomy. I have kept live tarantulas and they are actually intelligent creatures.” To complete the autumn programme of ‘The Science of…’ lectures Sheila is seeking to find speakers on subjects such as civil engineering and physics.

Art dealer who helped win Hollywood Oscars

Art dealer Miles Barton, whose expertise has assisted Hollywood Oscar-winning movies, gave a talk on the art of portraiture at the latest in the series of ‘Culture Bites’ lectures organised by Crewkerne & District U3A. His work as an historical researcher for period film and TV productions based at the Pinewood and Shepperton Studios has included ‘The Madness of King George’ and ‘Sense and Sensibility’ which both went on to collect an Academy Award.

His specialist field is old master pictures, particularly portraits, and his lecture spanned the Elizabethan Court to Queen Victoria. It attracted an audience of more than 40, including U3A and members of the public, to the George Reynolds Centre on March 26. “Everyone thoroughly enjoyed it,” said chairperson Sheila Seymour, who is seen in the picture with Miles. “It was relaxed, informative and witty.”

The change away from stylistic representations to a much more realistic approach in portraits came with the Reformation and Humanism in Europe. Although the first lifelike image of an English king was not, in fact, a painting at all - it was the head of King Henry Vll on a silver groat, said Miles. The new realism is best exemplified by Holbein’s painting of Eramus and his famously unforgiving portrait of Henry Vlll’s Chancellor Thomas Cromwell that captures his ruthlessness. The king commissioned huge, powerful images of himself to intimidate visitors to his palaces.

For most of the next 200 years the English became obsessed with fabric and decorative imagery. Think of the white, deadpan faces of Queen Elizabeth in contrast to her magnificently ornate clothes dripping with jewels. During his time as Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell wanted to differentiate himself from royalty and decreed that his portraits should be lifelike and include “warts and all”.

The return of the monarchy with Charles ll saw portraits that emphasized royalty with the use of thrones, orbs, sceptres and the Robes of State. William lll’s reintroduction of a more natural approach to portraits, as illustrated by the works of Rubens and Titian, continued throughout the Georgian period and onwards with kings and queens, now constitutional monarchs, increasingly wanting to show themselves as ‘ordinary’.