2019-20 programme

All talks, presentations and meetings are open to visitors and are held in the Cramphorn Theatre, Fairfield Road, starting at 7:45 pm. There is no need to book but there is a nominal charge of £3 for members and £5 for visitors, payable on the night.

All outings leave from outside the theatre. Group members will have received booking terms and instructions with their Newsletter.

Parking is via Coval Lane only. Charges apply.

Click any event for details.

Annual General Meeting

A dogThe agenda for our Annual General Meeting is as follows:

  1. Apologies for absence
  2. Minutes of the previous meeting
  3. Matters arising
  4. Chairman’s report
  5. Treasurer’s report
  6. Group’s funding of National Trust projects
  7. Election of President
  8. Election of Committee
  9. Election of Honorary Examiner of Accounts
  10. Any other business

After the AGM we hope to have a shepherd from Hatfield Forest explain his work. We also hope that he will be accompanied by a sheepdog!

“My journey as a designer”Report by Keith Otter

This evening Amanda Sutherland told us about her history as a designer and showed us some of her creations.

She said she had always been good at crafts as a child, her first sale being a pair of earrings made from insoles that she sold to one of her teachers. She reckoned that sale started her off on her career.

After leaving school she studied design for two years at a college in Ware. She always preferred designing and making 3-D objects. From there she joined a specialist design college in London for a further two-year course. While there she spent her holidays on placements with a variety of design houses and shops, which gained her valuable experience she was able to put on her CV.

A pair of scissorsShe then became involved in theatrical costumes, acting as an assistant wardrobe mistress for a theatre company and eventually joining the largest company of theatrical costumers. There she became an expert on the costumes of different periods and helped to dress some leading stars of the time.

She then moved on to an upmarket bridal wear company. She told us that sometimes a potential bride would come into the showroom with a picture of a svelte model in a tight-fitting gown and say “I want one like that.” Such brides-to-be were often somewhat on the large side and would have to be persuaded to try something more realistic for their particular figure.

From there she became freelance, making wedding hats and tiaras. During a chance visit to Cambridge she came across All Saints Garden Art & Craft Market in Cambridge. She decided to set up a weekly stall there but realised wedding hats and tiaras would not attract enough sales to make it worthwhile. She therefore established a hat stall with hats she had designed and made herself, based on hat shapes from the middle of the 20th century.

This proved successful. She then branched out into jewellery but did not want to compete with more established jewellery stalls in the market. One of her specialities is jewellery made from recycled drinks cans! She originally got her supply of used cans from another of the stall holders but now gets them given to her by a variety of people who know her.

As well as using recycled materials she also uses “repurposed” materials, ie items which have never been used but which she uses for an entirely different purpose from that for which they were intended. For example, she showed us some ladies’ cravats made from mens’ ties (and even socks!). Some of her hats are adorned by repurposed mens’ ties.

Outing to Stamford and Belvoir Castle


Stamford is a town on the River Welland in Lincolnshire which has 17th and 18th century stone buildings, as well as timber framed houses and five medieval churches. It is a picturesque and unspoilt little town, full of character. The facades of the houses in the town are favourites of film and TV producers, and were used as “Meryton” in Pride and Prejudice. Look out for The George, which is one of England’s greatest coaching Inns, as well as hidden courtyards that are home to speciality shops, cafés and pubs.

Belvoir Castle

A large Elizabethan buildingBelvoir Castle is the ancestral home of the Dukes of Rutland. The family have lived at Belvoir in an unbroken line for almost 1,000 years. Built on a hill, its turrets and towers rise over the Vale of Belvoir like an illustration in a romantic fairy-tale. It is the fourth castle to be built on the site, finished in 1832 closely resembling the original romantic Gothic style designed by James Wyatt, and is now designated as a Grade I building. There are lavish staterooms, the principle ones being the Elizabeth Saloon, the Regents Gallery and the State Dining Room. The Castle was recently the venue for Phil Spencer’s Stately Homes TV programme; it looked an amazing place.

The formal gardens include the Duchess Garden which contains a “root and moss’ house - restored in 2014 - and a Japanese Woodland Garden containing magnolias, rhododendrons and camellias. When plans for the grounds drawn up by Capability Brown were discovered in the recent past, they were brought to fruition by the Duchess of Rutland, with new areas now open to the public. The Castle Tea Room serves sandwiches, cakes and hot drinks.

Outing to Compton Verney and West WycombeReport by Keith Otter

The coach was due to leave our usual pick-up point at 8:30 this morning. It arrived early, so we were all aboard and seated by 8:30. This was just as well, as the journey to Compton Verney took just over 2½ hours.

Compton Verney Art Gallery and Park

The mansion house at Compton Verney has been turned into an art gallery. We were all shown into the Adam Hall by one of the volunteer guides and given tea and coffee. The guide then handed us all our tickets (paid for in advance) and talked about the house and its galleries.

A female sphinx in stoneThe house and its extensive grounds were owned by the Verney family from the late 15th century to the early 20th century. It then passed into other ownership and was requisitioned by the army during World War II. The soldiers billeted there used the sphinxes on the estate bridge for target practice! (Whatever damage they suffered seems to have been restored. You can see one in the photograph on the left.)

The house became derelict in the 1980s. Sir Peter Moores acquired it in 1993 through his Peter Moores Foundation and set about restoring the building and turning it into an art gallery for others to enjoy.

I started off in the Neapolitan Gallery on the ground floor. I was very impressed by many of the paintings, which are well worth a close-up look. Those that show larger scenes often have tiny figures pursuing various activities in the distant parts of the landscape.

A statue of a horseThen it was up to the Chinese gallery, where you are greeted by two half-size brass figures representing two of the “kings” believed to protect China from the four compass directions. This gallery has many fascinating artefacts in jade or bronze, a lot of them dating from eras well before China’s unification. I was struck by a statue of a horse (pictured on the right). Apparently horses were particularly valued.

After that I went into the current exhibition, on images of childhood. There were paintings by different artists, each in a different section. One had painted pictures of herself and her daughter, from the time the daughter was born until she was about fourteen. Another, who had been brought up in India, had painted various scenes involving his brother and himself as young boys. My favourite paintings were by another artist who displayed paintings of his two young sons; these were almost photographic in quality.

The next floor up housed British folk art, although the “art” included a number of everyday objects, such as a small tub and a ladle. It also included a number of traditional shop signs, such as a large pig that would have been outside a butcher’s and a large outline of a clog bearing the words “Clog Shop”. There were weather vanes on display as well. I asked the volunteer guide in that room about some of the metal items on the shelf above the windows, as I wasn’t sure whether these were weather vanes or purely decorative. She told me they had been made by a modern artist based on items in the gallery and were designed to throw interesting shadows on the wall behind.

The attic gallery housed British paintings and some household items, such as tables and chairs. The paintings were from the seventeenth century onward. Among the paintings is one of Daniel Lambert, the fattest man in the country in the early 18th century. When he died at the age of 39 he weighed 52 stone and it took twenty men to get his casket into the grave.

We had just under 3½ hours in Compton Verney but it wasn’t really enough to do the place full justice. I gave myself some time to look at part of the grounds on my way back to the coach.

West Wycombe Village

Our next stop was West Wycombe. The coach stopped at the entrance to the drive up to West Wycombe Hall so those who wanted to visit the village could get off. (Today the National Trust owns some 90% of the village’s buildings, which are rented out.) The rest of us were taken up to the house.

The house was owned for hundreds of years by the Dashwood family before being given to the National Trust in the 1940s on the condition that the family could continue to live there in perpetuity. Since it is still a family home, the opening times are more restricted than is normal for a National Trust property. Visitors only have access to certain rooms on the ground floor.

My wife and I visited each room in turn. They were all furnished and they all had numerous paintings on the walls, many of them of members of the family over the centuries. One shows one of an 18th century male head of the family dressedA view across a lake towards a portico as an eastern potentate and another shows his wife also in eastern dress. One painted in 1966 shows the then family relaxing in the grounds.

The paintings of family members in eastern dress reflects at the time in exotic places. One family member established a “Divan Club”, whose membership was restricted to those who had visited the Ottoman Empire (which then included Greece).

More notorious was the Hellfire Club established by Sir Francis Dashwood. A painting showing a man dressed as a Franciscan friar is thought to be of a member of this club. A few of the paintings in the house could well have appealed to members of that club and are certainly not the sort of thing I would want to reproduce on this website!

After we had finished in the house my wife and I took a leisurely stroll round the lake before meeting up with the rest of the group to get on the coach for the journey back home. The coach driver dropped us back in Chelmsford at 7:35 pm.

Outing to Herstmonceux Castle

Herstmonceux Castle is one of the oldest significant brick buildings in England. It was built by workers from FlandersA castle with a sitting statue in the foreground using bricks made from locally sourced clay, starting in 1441 under Sir Roger Fiennes, and completed by his son, Lord Dacre, in 1449. The castle viewed from across the moat is a magnificent sight. However, in 1777 the interior was demolished and it stood as a ruin until the early 20th century. The restoration to turn it into a residence was completed in 1933 to a design by architect Walter Godfrey. The Castle is now used as a university and we will be allowed to visit by a guided tour – hence the Sunday visit.

In 1957 Herstmonceux became the home of the Royal Greenwich Observatory. This has since been relocated to Cambridge and the original Observatory buildings have been converted into an interactive Science Centre for school children in particular.

We may visit Royal Tunbridge Wells if we have time as assessed by the recce.

Outing to Sutton Hoo and LavenhamReport by Keith Otter

Sutton Hoo

Our first stop was at Sutton Hoo. It was a good day to visit because the new exhibition hall was opened only a few days earlier. This proved to be well worth a visit. I suspect that it was a good day for another (and somewhat selfish) reason; the high winds may have kept some potential visitors away, so it wasn’t too crowded even though it was a Saturday during the summer holidays. The high winds did mean that all the walks were closed, though.

Most of us started by going to Tranmer House as we were told it was likely to be closed first. This was the house owned by Edith Pretty, on whose land the Sutton Hoo burials were found. The ground floor houses an exhibition about the excavations. (The upper floor is closed to visitors but we could see the impressive staircase leading up to it.)

The first excavations were carried out in 1938 by a local self-taught archaeologist at Edith Pretty’s invitation. The first areas he excavated proved to have been dug up previously by grave robbers but were interesting nevertheless.

When he excavated the main burial mound he found the remains of a rivet, which alerted him to the fact that this mound could be particularly interesting. It was realised to be a ship burial and quite quickly a professional archaeologist based at Cambridge University was put in charge. Fortunately, although grave robbers had dug down into the mound in Tudor times they had not dug as far as the burial.

A photographic record was kept of the excavation. Some of the photographs are on exhibition in Tranmer House. These include some fascinating shots of the area where the ship was. All the wooden parts had disintegrated over the centuries but the impression they had made in the soil could be clearly seen. The archaeologists knew that this impression would be destroyed by the excavation process so the photographs are now the only remaining evidence of it.

At the outbreak of the Second World War the items already removed, which were held by the British Museum, were placed in an underground chamber at Aldwych Underground Station in London for safety and the burial site protected as much as possible by having bracken spread over it. In fact no damage was done to the site during the war.

The excavations were resumed when hostilities ceased. It was eventually concluded that the burial was that of King Raedwald of East Anglia, who died in the seventh century.

I guess most of us are familiar with pictures of the famous Anglo-Saxon helmet found in the burial chamber. Tranmer House holds a photograph of some of the numerous broken fragments that were found, making one realise just what a difficult job it must have been working out how they all fitted together.

After going over Tranmer House Pat and I walked back to the exhibition hall. The exhibition hall has a video and audio presentation about King Raedwald’s burial. The video is to the left of the entrance and depicts a conversation between an old woman and younger woman as they polish some of the grave goods. The audio presentation unfolds as you proceed clockwise around the hall and is a series of imaginary conversations between the Anglo-Saxon court poet and a Flemish trader. Both presentations mention the fact that King Raedwald received a pagan burial but Christianity was already coming in from the continent.

Around the exhibiton hall are pictures illustrating some of the sort of people who might have been involved in the preparations for King Raedwald’s funeral and the places they occupied in Anglo-Saxon society. It seems Anglo-Saxon women had a degree of freedom and authority that was not enjoyed by their English successors until the last century.

A red round shield decorated with goldThe exhibition hall also houses replicas of some of the grave goods as they would have originally looked, including the famous helmet. I was struck, though, by the size of the shield (see the picture on the left), which looks much too large to be effectively wielded in combat; it may have been intended for ceremonial use only. The beauty of the brooches and clasps that were found is amazing.

There are explanations of how some of the artefacts were made, showing stages in the processes. I did not know sword making was so complicated! You also gain an admiration for the craftspeople who made the jewellery without the benefit of modern lamps and magnifying glasses.


The coach then took us all to Lavenham, where the National Trust looks after the Lavenham Guildhall. Our second visit should have been to Melford Hall but this was closed because of the winds so Paul had made alternative arrangements at very short notice.

A model of the timber frames of a Tudor building“Guildhall” is a bit of a misnomer as only part of the current building was ever a guildhall. It was not built for a merchants’ guild but for a guild of very wealthy local men who organised it to ensure prayers were said for their souls (and that they would have a very nice and exclusive meeting place).

Over the centuries the building has been used for a variety of purposes, including tenements, shops, workhouses and a prison. These are all illustrated in the different rooms.

After visiting the Guildhall Pat and I made our way through the town up to the church where, purely coincidentally, there was an exhibition by the local amateur arts society. From there it was a short walk across the road back to the coach and our journey home.

It was a very enjoyable day. Our thanks, as always, to Paul for organising the trip (including the last-minute change of our second destination) and to our driver, Tim.

Group holiday centred on YorkPlaces available

A street signpost with York Minster behind it

Monday, 9 SeptemberWe travel to our hotel in York via Chatsworth, where we will spend about three hours before continuing our journey.
Tuesday, 10 SeptemberWe visit the Jorvik Viking Centre and then have free time in York, where there is much to see.
Wednesday, 11 SeptemberWe visit Goddards House (very close to our hotel) and in the afternoon we travel to Beningbrough Hall.
Friday, 13 SeptemberDepart for home, visiting Mr Straw’s House in Worksop in the morning before proceeding home.
Thursday, 12 SeptemberAll day at the National Rail Museum - and, for those who consider all day too much, further time in York.

All members have been sent a booking form and information pack with the Spring 2019 Newsletter. Each pack will be numbered in order of request and will be issued on a first-come basis. We will need a minimum of thirty-five people. The cost of the holiday is £484.00 per person and the single room supplement is £113.00. Insurance through Kings Coaches will be, as a guide, £29.00 – see details in the information pack.

Talk on the History of the Petre FamilyPay on the door

A heraldic shield 
Lord Petre will tell us about his family.

Outing to Wakehurst Place and Quebec HousePlaces available

Wakehurst Place

Wakehurst Place (NT) is Kew’s Country Garden in the heart of Sussex. The Price family bequeathed the property, with a large endowment, to the National Trust in 1963. The current position is that since 1965 the House and land have been leased to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, who use and manage the property.

The Grade I listed Mansion was built in the late 16th century, but the garden is mainly 20th century. Visitors are able to explore several rooms in the Mansion, which was commissioned in 1590 by Edward Culpeper. Items of furniture used by Sir Henry and Lady Price are arranged beside the marble fireplace in the Blue Room, and include Hepplewhite easy chairs, a side table and a Chinese screen. There is currently a display of Botanical paintings by John Day, brothers Franz and Ferdinand Bauer and Sarah Drake in the gallery. Visitors are able to tour parts of Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank, housed in a modern, temperature-controlled building, which is used to store seeds from around the world.

The wild Botanic Garden has over 500 acres of beautiful ornamental gardens, woodlands and a nature reserve. Looking up at the head and chest of a statue of a man wearing a tricorn hatThe Mansion Garden has formal and informal borders, a sweeping lawn, a pond and a walled garden. The Seed Café serves sandwiches, soup and cakes, plus hot and cold drinks. The Stables Restaurant serves hot and cold food as well as cakes and drinks.

Quebec House

On our way home we plan to visit Quebec House (NT) which is the birth-place of General James Wolfe. He lived in the 16th century brick-built house from January 1727 to 1738. The house was extensively rebuilt in the 18th and 20th centuries. The Coach House contains an exhibition on the Battle of Quebec and Wolfe’s life, whilst the house has memorabilia and paintings connected to him.

Refreshments available are cake, plus hot and cold drinks.

Guide price: £20.50

Talk on David Parr House, CambridgePay on the door

A presentation by Tamsin Wimhurst.

“From Crime Scene to Art Photographer”Pay on the door

A camera 
Chris Farndell tells us the story.

“I need a lifestyle adviser”Pay on the door

A cartoon clownSays Linda Scoles.

Talk on Thomas Hardy and the National TrustPay on the door

Engraving of a balding man wearing a high collar 
A talk by our President, David Simmonds.

Talk on bridges, triumphs and disastersPay on the door

View along a suspension bridge 
Paul Chaplin, our Vice Chairman, will tell us about materials and how they influence bridge design. He has promised us some practical demonstrations!

Annual General MeetingPay on the door

A gavel 
Following our AGM Paul Forecast will give us an update on the National Trust.

Talk on Eastbury ManorPay on the door

Looking towards a large country house down the drive 
A talk by Barbara Elliot.