Chairman's Report, 2006

So another year has passed and what has changed? Moreton continues in much the same vein as it has done for the last eight hundred years or so. Sparrowhawks still fly over the town, Thompsons lorries still pass through it, and your chairman is still manfully resisting the Boots Special Offer on their homebrand 'make a break with the past' hair restorer.

But things DO change. And things have changed. As someone said to me at a training session last week, if Dartmoor National Park Authority has been founded three thousand years ago, we'd all still be living in hut circles.

Just how different life would have been in the Stone Age was revealed to us by our November speaker, Mike Miller, who summoned up vivid images of nomadic settlers knapping their flints by a fire, after a hunt, perhaps, in the valleys just beyond the fringe of the town. He showed us the flints they left there, and he drew the pictures of the lie of the land. It was a memorable talk and though you could say it was prehistory rather than history, I would say it was the very essence of what we are trying to achieve. We are trying to see what it was like to live in other ages, and what it would have been like to live other lives, without our modern paraphernalia, gadgets and electronically hooked-up society: what we are if you take away our creature comforts

Then came Christmas - okay, some things don't change - and the Cleave in Lustleigh was our venue. I can remember regaling members with a few local tales from Baring-Gould's Devonshire Characters and Strange Events. A month later, in January, I was still talking - on the theme of 'Medieval Moretonhampstead'. Do you remember being one of the ninety-one people crowded into this room? If you do, I bet you can remember precious little else than how difficult it was to breathe. I had more space than anyone else, and I was struggling. Nevertheless, I am quite proud of the research which went into the talk. Through mapping the manor in 1790 onto the ground, and tracing the portions which had by then been partitioned off, we arrived at a birds-eye view of what the original manor looked like, and started to map which farms there were then present, and how the manor of Moreton related to the manors surrounding it. I was particularly pleased with being able to clarify for the first time the history of the manor of Wray, alias Hayne, which can be traced from its appearance in Domesday Book (as Wray) through the feudal honour of Gloucester to its administration by the Cary family from the late fourteenth century through to the mid-sixteenth, when it ceased to be administered as a manor. By using the directions of the roads, we even started to map where the entrance to the original enclosure or 'bury' of Moreton must have been. I will - I promise - write it all up for posterity. Soon.

In February we had a talk from Edward Pike about farming in the early twentieth century. Who would have thought Edward would admit to poaching rabbits at Wray Barton? It was a revelation to me to think that in wartime, no one in Moreton went without meat, for all those rabbits supplied many a Moreton table. If ever they do a 'What did the Normans ever do for us?' on television, you can bet they won't mention rabbits. But perhaps the Normans' greatest contribution to British rural culture, feeding people and poachers for hundreds of years, and keeping Moreton - including the Pike family - going through the war.

In March we were visited by Dr Simon Dixon of the Friends of Devon Archives. He told us about the oaths of allegiance of 1723, and how 150-odd Moretonians one day all trooped off to Chudleigh to swear their oaths. Things change: just imagine walking along Ford Street today and hearing someone shout, 'I'm just off to walk to Chudleigh, dear, to swear an oath of allegiance to the government. Back in eight or nine hours.' On a more serious note, the fruits of that research are now online, at http://www.foda.org.uk, and now you can access details of all the thirty thousand Devonians who swore their oath. If you have any Devon genealogical interests, it will become one of your favourite sites, I guarantee.

And then we come to April, and my talk on Edward III in the church. My lasting memory of that day will be coming to the end, and telling you about how this great warrior king died. Although he was then thought to be the greatest ruler in the history of the world, he spent his last months trussed up in swaddling and nailed upright into his throne to receive visitors. Only a single priest was with him when he uttered his last words, 'Jesu have pity on me'. And at that moment, in the church, you could have heard a pin drop.

In May we visited Bovey Tracey Heritage Centre, and heard an interesting presentation largely about the railway. I was unfortunately unable to attend that talk. I was also unable to attend the field trips which Wendy organised in the summer. But I was there to hear Helen Harris talk about a century of change in Devon. There we go again - change - and I would agree with her that transport is the key to understanding it all. Remember that photograph she showed of a boy in a cart, her great uncle (if I recall correctly) about 1905 on a little country lane? That country lane is now a dual carriageway, the A38. Everything we do has increased in speed. If we didn't have so much bureaucracy to contend with, things would change so fast they'd be a blur..

As usual we took a break for the summer, and resumed our talks in September with Mike Thompson of Castle Drogo on medieval Liveries and Badges. We can hardly imagine the priorities and concerns of that period, and the men about whom Mike was talking had nothing to do with Moretonhampstead, but his talk vividly brought the age of chivalry to life, with its pageantry, loyalty, pride and jousting. And I think it is instructive to recall that the chaps whom Mike was talking about were the upper echelons of society - these were the people who made the political decisions, and fought over those same decisions. I suspect that the world might be a safer place today if political decision makers had to don armour and fight for what they believed in the same way as their medieval forbears, with their standards, banners and livery fluttering above them.

That brings us up to date. But it does not complete the picture. This year the Society's committee has met several times and discussed weighty issues, such as our constitution and what to do with our archive. On the latter point, most of our paper collections are now awaiting a temporary relocation to Wendy's house, as they cannot forever stay on my landing - there are far too many curious small people in my house. We have managed roughly to list the collections: a copy of the list is available if anyone should like to see it this evening. We have also decided to auction some books and the camera as you know. On that front there has been progress.

There can be no doubt that we have suffered from the absence of a newsletter this year. As everyone is aware, Peter Collier - who has produced the newsletter for many years - has been hampered by ill-health, and was unable to continue. We thank Peter sincerely for all his hard work. And we can now - I am very pleased to say - thank a volunteer who has stepped into the breach to fill his place. From next month we should again have a newsletter courtesy of Chris Pilkington. I hope - as does he - that we will be able to distribute as many copies as possible electronically, so if you have an email address, please would you let Chris know? We realise now just how much we rely on this internal means of communication, so on that score, thank you once more to Peter for producing it for so long and to Chris for undertaking to produce it in future.

As a last word, I would like to thank the officers and committee of the society for so faithfully supporting me over the year and being so helpful in meetings and via email. I'd especially like to thank Wendy Coombes who has the hardest task of all, in putting together the programme. I'd like to thank our president for the odd timely word of advice, and my wife, Sophie - even though she's not here - for tolerating the committee taking over our front room for meetings. And last of all, I'd like to thank you, the members, for being supportive of this society and for electing me as chairman. I hope you'll agree it has been a worthwhile and rewarding year for us all.

Ian Mortimer,
18 October 2006

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