From Nowhere to Normandy, the Glider Assault on Pegasus Bridge

On Friday 25th October 2019  over 60 people attended The Wincanton and District Museum and Heritage Society talk by Brig. Richard Folkes, entitled “From Nowhere to Normandy”.The Glider Assault on Pegasus Bridge in Normandy 1944.   Brig. Folkes talked about Operation Deadstick, which was the codename for an operation by airborne forces of the British Army.  This took place on 6th June 1944.  The objective was to capture intact two road bridges in Normandy across the River Orne and the Caen Canal.  (To provide assistance to British Forces landing at Sword Beach.)  Using gliders for this operation.  The bridges were thought to be heavily guarded,  However, there proved to be unguarded moments when the Pegasus Bridge was not so guarded, ie at night.  This information came via the Gondree family who owned a small cafe in Benouville.  The cafe is close to Pegasus Bridge and is well known for its support.  After the war the cafe became noted for D-day anniversary celebrations every June, and is known as the Pegasus Bridge Cafe. (where you get a good omelette.)   Brigadier Folkes went on to speak of Lawrence Wright, whose book, The Wooden Sword, contains photographs of WW2 and of this operation.  Some of the photographs were used during the talk.  Also speaking highly of Major John Howard DSO, the British Army Officer who led glider-borne assault on the two bridges.    Interesting facts emerged during the talk.  One that the gliders ranged between 8, 15, 25,and 40 seaters.  Some could glide 100 miles, given the right conditions.  Some could carry tanks and jeeps.   This was a very interesting, and well attended, talk.  Followed by a good Question and Answer session.  Our thanks go to Brig. Folkes for giving his time for this subject.  

The British Response to the East African Slave Trade, 1840 – 1890

On 27 September 2019 an audience of around 20 gathered in the Wincanton Memorial Hall for this presentation by Brian Garton.

He introduced us to the life and activities of Captain Sullivan of the Royal Navy whose book “Dhow Chasing in Zanzibar Waters and off the Eastern Coast of Africa” was something of a best seller in the 19th Century. It was both an Adventure Story and a serious influence on public opinion and politicians, and was also remarkable for having some excellent photographs from the very early days of photography.

He touched briefly on the very controversial figure of David Livingstone who, whatever his personal failings, had a huge role in bringing the appalling atrocities of the East African Slave Trade to the attention of the British public, and whose funeral in Westminster Abbey was a major event.

In this context he introduced the audience to “The Bombay Africans” – former slaves, released by the Royal Navy and given security and an education at an African Asylum in India. A number of these played a very important part in helping European explorers and in the settlement for freed slaves that was established in 1874 at Freretown just outside Mombasa, Kenya. There was also an important personal connection here as the training in India was supervised by the Rev. William Salter Price who was the maternal great grandfather of the speaker. When it was decided to rehabilitate some of these former slaves actually in Africa, it was Price who was chosen to set up the Mombasa settlement.

This was a huge undertaking at that time, long before the development of Kenya under British colonial rule. After getting Freretown up and running, Price returned to his parish in Suffolk, but had to be recalled to Africa twice to deal with problems within the settlement. These included serious examples of brutal racist behaviour by some of the other white missionaries and potential attacks from Arab and Swahili slave owners in the area who saw their livelihoods threatened.

The presentation was illustrated by a number of slides including contemporary photographs. At the end the Chairman in thanking the speaker noted that so much of the information was quite new to the members present.

Talk: Friday 29th March 2019

The Wincanton Museum and Heritage Society held a very interesting talk on Friday 29th March 2019 in the Memorial Hall by Emily Utgren, entitled:  Lost Features at Stourhead in the 1700s.

 Emily, a Swedish national, arrived to work at Stourhead a few years ago, and the area has become her home.

 The talk started back when the new house was designed by Colin Campbell and built in the new Palladium style. Henry Hoare I was the first of the family to be involved,and unfortunately he died the same year in which the house was completed.  However, along came Henry Hoare II (called The Magnificent – 1705-1785) and the design of the garden was influenced by his love of the arts – he had a great interest and love of paintings and sculpture, and his collection included works by Poussin, Rysbrack and Bampfylde.   All this influenced his work in the garden, the choice of Hercules being one example.

 The house started as a summerhouse, but by 1722 they had started to live there and the house and garden took shape. (When Richard Hoare became the owner, he added the two wings to the house).  So the development of both garden and house span many years, and different influences.  One of the main influences of Henry the Magnificent was Addison’s book “Developing the English garden” and Kent’s quote: “When developing  garden, do it your way, via your travels etc.”

 The gardens emerged through French and Dutch influences, into an English Garden – avenues of trees being thinned to arrive at this.  Very much the style of the time was a Turkish Tent.  We saw sketches of this, which was a very plain affair, compared with the Painshill Tent, which was rather elaborate.  Henry thought the view was more important than the tent.  Long disappeared, we were very pleased to see the sketches.  In the early 1800s a wooden bridge (destroyed three times) was built. Plans are ahead to re-build this as the original plans have been located – albeit in Swedish, English and French.  The intention now is to put seating in the original view points that Henry regarded as so important.

 The Fishpond was enthusiastically talked about by Emily, as very little was known about this.  However, a snorkel team went in to research (among them Emily).   This was a successful effort, but not much of the original structure was left.

When it was time for Richard Hoare to take over, he took down many structures, and changed the garden to make it less “Temple heavy”.  So the garden has evolved over the years.  However, it is based on Conservation, Education and Research.

This was a very interesting talk, followed by question and answers, and make enjoyable by Emily’s enthusiasm for her work.  Many thanks were due, and given, to Emily for her work and time.

Shepton Mallet prison by Graham Miller

The Wincanton and District Museum and Heritage Society held its AGM on the 25th January followed by a very interesting talk by Graham Miller, and his wife Laura, entitled The History of Shepton Mallet prison. Around 35 people were in attendance.

Shepton Mallet prison closed in 2013, after approximately 400 years is service. At the time of its closure it was the oldest operating prison in the United Kingdom. It had held, at any one time, 189 prisoners. But this Grade 11 Listed Building has a vast history.

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Paul Maze, the Last of the Impressionists by Paul Schofield

On Friday 23rd November 2018 The Wincanton and District Museum and History Society, held a very interesting talk by Phillip Scholfield, entitled “Paul Maze, the Last of the Impressionists”.

Phillip Schofield had first come across this remarkable man whilst a schoolboy – finding Paul Maze’s book in the school library.  This led to a lifelong interest in his paintings, and his life.

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Nigel Fox and John Baxter speak to Town Council 12th Feb.

Nigel introduced John to the Town Council who were all given a leaflet summarising Bioletti’s life and they both spoke of how publicising Bioletti and John’s book Surviving Napoleon could make a positive effect on Wincanton the wider his remarkable story is known.  The possibility of getting a Blue Plaque for his home in the High Street was raised and the response of the council who have been given a copy of the book to circulate amongst them, seemed very positive and the Town Clerk, Ms Sam Atherton also spoke of the stream of Bioletti descendants who have already been visiting Wincanton to see where he lived and to get a copy of the book.  Both John and Nigel felt the meeting had gone very well.