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Museum & History Society Combines AGM with Corfe Castle Talk

Wednesday 12 February 2014, 13:59
By John Baxter

Corfe Castle

Despite bad weather the Museum and History Society AGM and talk on Friday 31st January attracted fifty people to the Balsam Centre. Speaker Judith Teasdale titled her talk A Very Fair Castle. The Changing Face of Corfe Castle.

From Wincanton to Corfe by Judith Teasdale and Philip Hughes

The high point after our AGM was the lecture by Judith Teasdale on Corfe Castle. In her work as a landscape architect Judith has been employed by the National Trust to produce a Conservation Management Plan for Corfe Castle. She also worked with chartered building surveyor and consultant on historic buildings. Philip Hughes, who also lives in Wincanton, was there to hear Judith.

The Norman Castle Strategy

Illustrated with spectacular photographs and historic drawings, Judith explained how from the time of his invasion in 1066, William the Conqueror covered the country with a network of castles, starting with motte and bailey log clad palisades. These were then rebuilt as imposing fortifications with a towering keep and a wider perimeter wall. She explained that the aim of these castles was not primarily to repulse attacks, but to impose Norman and royal rule on every area and in particular monitor and tax trade, which was why most were situated by rivers. In the case of Corfe the castle was strategically placed in a gap between the Purbeck hills so all traders going to and from the coast had to go by it.

A Castle for an Empress – Matilda at Home

Established as early as 1080, the castle became one of the largest and most imposing in England, providing a set of rooms in the keep where the noble family were able to live in considerable splendour. Taken by supporters of the Empress Matilda in 1138, the castle was besieged twice by King Stephen over the next two years.

Corfe Castle from a local beer garden

From Castle to Royalist Ruin to NT Tourist Attraction

Being on the wrong side during the Civil War of 1642-1651 resulted in the castle being blown up by Cromwell and his men leaving the whole structure as a haunting and imposing ruin, part of the extensive estate of the Bankes family.

When the last remaining Bankes heir died it was bequeathed to the National Trust in 1981 and since then has been a much visited property, but one which has faced the NT with ongoing problems regarding its maintenance.

Basically the NT seeks to keep the ruins it acquires as ruins, but the problem is keeping these stable under the pressures of storm and sun. This means building work remains ongoing. To illustrate this Judith had some wonderful photos of workmen perched on the top of a narrow keep wall without any safety equipment in the early 1960s, quite a contrast with the most recent work being done using elaborate scaffolding and safety harnesses.

It added up to a fascinating talk which was very well received by the fifty plus audience who turned out on another dark and stormy night to hear her.


Terry Stanford, former Chairman of the Wincanton Museum & History SocietyOur Thanks to Terry Stanford

As most well-run associations do, we planned to get through our AGM as quickly as possible and the whole committee was re-elected. The great exception was that our chairman, Dr Terry Stanford, has chosen to stand down. For the past three years, as our president Frank Foster told us, Terry has carried out the work of chairman with admirable efficiency and care as well as having given us some very interesting lectures. Getting things going in the library, with all the negotiations that have gone with it, has taken up a lot of time and he has made sure everything has been done thoroughly and well.

Terry wished the committee every success in the future.

Nigel Fox elected Chairman

We have been very happy to elect Nigel Fox, who has been Secretary, to take over from Terry as our new chairman. Here is Terry's report on this year.

Chairman's Report January 2014

New Opening Hours for 2014

The past year has been a very busy one mainly concerned with the opening of the museum at Easter. Although small it has proved to be of great interest to a wide cross section of visitors and it is hoped to improve what is on offer in time for the reopening in April. Building on this experience and at the suggestion of many people it has been agreed to extend the opening period this year to include all of October and, with effect from April, to open on Saturday mornings all year. In addition, with the anniversary of the start of World War One, this year it has been decided to try and mount an exhibition with this as the theme, taking into use display areas in the library itself.

Our Stewards

The success of the museum this year has been due to a number of factors, not least of which has been the support and interest shown by stewards and the library staff. There is little doubt that the fact that we have taken occupation of part of the library premises has helped the library service as they face difficult decisions over funding etc.

A Computer Archive of Images, Old and Contemporary

The provision of a modern computer has enabled us to offer an extensive range of photographs, adding to the available pictorial history of Wincanton. This has proved to be very popular and it is intended to extend this provision in the coming year.

The Series of Winter Talks

These are now well established and the printing of the programme so as to be accessible to all has proved to be of value. We have covered a wide range of topics and are always interested in suggestions from members. This is especially the case if they are able to provide the presentation.

Room for New People to Join Our Committee

We have been fortunate this year in being able to welcome two new members to the committee and this has been very helpful. We are, however, still interested in extending the numbers and would very much like to hear from anyone interested in helping out. We do need new ideas and enthusiasm.


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