Moonraker Probus Club of Devizes
We were delighted to welcome James Methuen to give a talk, illustrated with slides, about his ancestral home Corsham Court. The Methuens are a great family of art collectors, this combined with the stunning architecture and grounds made for a very interesting presentation. Corsham Court was the first stately home to be open to the public back in 1780, when carriages brought people from Bath to view the collection. And what a fascinating collection it is ranging from “The betrayal of Christ” by van Dyck, to a painting of “Three Children” by Sofonisba Anguissola, Europe’s first female artist. Perhaps the most haunting and unflattering painting is that of Queen Elizabeth I looking dejected with the grim reaper at her shoulder. On a lighter note was a portrait of one of James’s ancestors, by Gainsborough, who is dressed in the same blue clothes that were later worn by the boy in the “Blue Boy” painting. Many of the paintings were done on wood panels using tempera paints. That is coloured powder mixed with egg yoke. Capability Brown as architect and landscape gardener played his part in the development of Corsham Court. He also in 1760 planted an ornamental plane tree which now has the largest spread on any in the British Isles. An interesting feature of the tree is that branches touching the ground may take root.
As a child PG Wodehouse spent time with his aunt at Corsham Court where she was a servant. It is believed that the roof pinnacles gave Wodehouse the idea for Blandings Castle. On parochial note the Methuens have a Devizes connection returning several Members of Parliament for the town.
There is much to see at Corsham Court with between 90 -100 pictures on display it is open to that public 150 days a year. The meeting was grateful to James Methuen for giving such an interesting talk which will no doubt inspire many members to go and visit.
Dr David Reed gave a fascinating talk on DIY and Building a Basement to Moonraker Probus Club. He trained as an audiologist but his hobby is DIY. Rather, unusually he decided to build a basement in his backyard. David presented the trials and tribulations that this involved in a humours and entertaining way. He was not alone in this venture having co-opted his long-suffering wife and children as helpers. Having moved house he decided that he needed space for a workshop and the only way to get it was by building a basement. First, he had to persuade his wife, this he did by letting her specify the criteria of how the basement would be used, whilst David had his own criteria. Using a CAD (Computer Aided Design) software package, he designed a layout not only of the basement but also for the whole house. Excavating the basement was a mammoth task that required the removal of 272 tonnes of earth. The authorities not being used to basements needed convincing, this being achieved with 13 pages of structural calculations. David made extensive use of Rotary contacts with building experience. He took every opportunity to learn, for example, the technique of shuttering from a guard during a strike. As the basement was excavated huge Sarsen stones were unearth one of which is now embed into a basement wall. The excavated basement ran close and parallel to the next-door neighbour’s path, part of which disappeared into it during heavy rain. The neighbour was not happy. What would have mortified and defeated others David took in his stride. Eventually, the basement was built, becoming in turns a playroom, music room and now a cinema.
Moonraker Probus Devizes were delighted to welcome Commodore Ian Gibb to present his talk on the history of Trinity House: “500 Years in fifty minutes”. Trinity House originally incorporated in 1514 under Henry VIII with the aim to reduce the number of ships wrecked in the Thames Estuary due to shifting sands. One of the ways to do this was by marking a safe channel. Over the centuries, Trinity’s House has developed to provide for the general safety of shipping and seafarers. This it achieves via Aids to Navigation to assist the safe passage of vessels, annual inspection of Aids such as lighthouses, training and licensing of pilots through to charitable funding especially of the RNLI. Building lighthouses on small rocky outcrops has always been hazardous. Ian told the story of Mr. Henry Winstanley who built the first Eddystone Lighthouse. Henry had great faith in his lighthouse and wished to be inside it during that "the greatest storm there ever was". He got his wish and he and the lighthouse duly disappeared.
Trinity House is ruled by a court of thirty-one Elder Brethren, presided over by a Master. There are 300 younger brothers. An elder brother has to “fall off their perch” before a younger brother can join their rank. There are 31 elder brothers, Ian being one of them. Past and present Masters and elder brothers include the Samuel Pepys, the Duke of Wellington as well as other Prime Ministers such as Winston Churchill, Harold Wilson, Ted Heath, John Major, members of the royal family. The current Master of the Brethren is Princess Anne the first female, taking over from her father Princes Philip. Ian said that Prince Philip and now Princess Anne take their responsibilities very seriously regularly attending meetings. Princess Anne is a keen pharologist (“lighthouse lover”) and likes to bag was many as she can. The Admiralty Court, which adjudicates on maritime incidents such as collisions, fires etc, calls upon Trinity House to provide nautical assessors. Ian has been one of these and related the case of a collision that happened in thick fog off the coast of Tunisia.
Trinity House also supports many charities especially the RNLI. As a closing remark, Ian suggested that if you come across the new £2 coin, which commemorates 500 years of Trinity House, be sure to pop it into an RNLI charity box.
The August meeting was in Market Lavington Museum, a jewel hidden in the wonderful Wiltshire countryside. The small but extravagantly-provided museum was introduced to us by the volunteer curator, Roger Frost, in front of the museum, because of the limited space inside, until rain threatened. Then we spread out over the 2 floors exploring the often evocative exhibits. After the museum visit we made our way to the Green Dragon where we had a satisfying lunch each to our own taste and a very pleasant end to our most enjoyable trip.
This October’s Devizes Moonrakers Probus talk on the “Andes, Amazon and Incas” was given by Peter Noble. Peter is an Outdoor Pursuit Leader who took a group of 16 years old on an expedition to Peru. Before taking the group he and his wife made a recce of Peru to help him plan the expedition. Whose objectives were to: have fun, commit the pupils to doing something, learn about a different culture, payback something to the country. The payback consisted of teaching the parents of small Amazonian town, English. The reason for teaching the parents, rather than their children, was enable them to communicate better with tourists when selling produce and hence increase profits. The constant background theme was the difficulty of travelling around. The group journeyed along the Amazon by steamer for over 3 days along the Amazon, sleeping in hammocks close to a loud thumping engine, which made conversation impossible.
Peter promoted self reliance by doing. Each day members of the group were designated as a supervisor responsible for a given task and allocated a deputy: tasks such as obtain transport or food. Each day the tasks and the roles of supervisor and deputy were rotated. Peter described how well the group rose to the challenge.
In the Andes the group experienced the worst weather for years; the peaks were shrouded in mist, which all too briefly lifted to reveal their majesty. At the high altitude there were no trees or plants apart from the Queen of the Andes (Puya raimondii) which can grow to 40 feet high and live 100 years, blooming once and then dying. Finally the group reached the heartlands of Incas and their capital of Cuzco, before travelling on to Micchu Piccu.
This November’s Devizes Moonrakers Probus talk was on “Beyond Repair” by Terence Tovey. It was a fascinating talk about how the planning permission to build a house depended on the repair of a list barn. Parts of the barn dates from the 13th Century, with many additional over the centuries. At first English Heritage wanted to stop the building of the house claiming that the barn was “Beyond Repair”, as there was water damage in one corner. Terence rose to the challenge and contacted Carpenter Oak and Woodland (COW), based at Colerne in Wiltshire. They make bespoke oak framed house, they also restored the roof at Windsor Castle after the 1992 fire. They said that the barn was easy to repair. English Heritage relented and gave the go ahead. Ever enterprising Terence brought a digger and proceeded to clear the area of overgrown vegetation. Work on the barn now started in earnest with COW. They braced and jacked up the roof, suspending it on supporting scaffolding. Finally, Terence showed us the completed barn in all its glory.
This December’s Devizes Moonrakers Probus talk was on “Travels to the USA 2010-15” by David Lucas. David is a former music teacher from Devizes. Initially we were treated to delightful photos of Chicago, ending up in the Art Institute of Chicago, and staring at a painting called “American Gothic” by Grant Wood. David explored the background to the painting. It shows a farmer with a pitch folk in his hand, a woman next to him, at the back of them is a building with a gothic window. Next David travelled to Davenport, the home of the Figge Art Museum, which houses a collection of Grant Wood’s paintings, including John Turner a pioneer funeral director.
A theme was developing based around the painter but not exclusively so, an excursion was made to Spillville where some of the Czech community invited Antonin Dvorak the composer to spend some time there. It seems that he enjoyed his stay, playing each morning on the local church organ. Spillville is also famous for the Bily Brothers, self-taught farmers, who craved beautiful clock cases. Henry Ford supposedly offered them a million dollars for one clock but they refused to sell. Then onto Rock Island on the Mississippi, which is the largest, government-owned weapons manufacturing arsenal in the USA. Next stop Pittsburgh, named after William Pitt, the home of Andy Warhol, Heinz and Rachel Carson who wrote “Silent Spring” an environmental science book.