Our popular WHS Talks are held at the Balsam Centre, Balsam Park BA9 9HB (accessed from Memorial Hall Car Park), usually on the last Wednesday evening of the month.
Doors open 6.30pm with the talk starting at 7pm. Our 9 talks throughout the year range widely, covering local and national topics such as the Roman Villa at the Newt, life of a local vet in 20th century, restoration of Earl of Shaftesbury’s house, the Nuremburg Trials.
A brief round-up of previous talks are available if you click the “Previous Talks” button further down this page.
The programme is being constantly developed so do revisit this site, check out our Instagram or Facebook and look out for our eye-catching posters in various locations around the town advising forthcoming subjects.
Entry Charges (per person):
Members and under 18s: free
From time to time Special Talks are being booked. The venue for these is the Memorial Hall. Last year we heard from John Blashford-Snell, and enjoyed a live performance of Flamenco dancing. Charges for these talks differ from the standard Talks charge. Keep an eye on this site for details.
Special Talks (per person):
Members: free (donation welcomed)
Non-members: See listing for prices
Janet Few on 17th century life in this area
29 March 2023 @ 19:00 - 21:00
A wet, miserable evening was forgotten as a gathering of some 50 or so were warmed, cheered and entertained by the pictures of 17th century country life drawn in words by Mistress Agnes and Master Christopher from North Devon, dressed in costume, as ordinary folk of the day. Numerous anecdotal comments and descriptions of what was going on in the wider world and society ways of the time, as viewed by Devonian villagers, drew laughter and the odd nudge.
Mistress Agnes (aka Dr Janet Few) took us through the housing of the day, the chores, the food, the sparse chattels of life, the clothing for women (with the assistance of Mistress Natalie from the audience turned model for the purpose), the illnesses and treatment options and the fine line between being a capable competent “goodwife” and being thought a witch in an era when belief in and fear of witches was widespread.
Covering a period roughly from the death of Queen Elizabeth I through to the restoration of the Monarchy, thus set in context, we were given a flavour of how life was lived by most of the population. Our ancestors were mostly in the countryside – hamlets, small villages, small towns – rather than the few cities, large in comparison to other habitations but small by today’s standards.
We learned the origins of a number of common sayings that have been used ever since – straight laced, derived from the manner in which women of the Puritan faith fastened their bodices in pursuit of modesty; threshold, being the line that held within the dwelling threshed straw and herbs that covered the compacted mud floors. There were many more.
Master Christopher, with some relish, informed us of some of the rudimentary (one might say “crudimentary”) medical practices of the barber-surgeon available then both for landlubbers and mariners, with conditions often exacerbated by the monotonous, even poor diet. Mistress Agnes turned our attention to the herb garden from which, in the growing season, fresh pickings added to food or made into “simples” (the cures) could alleviate issues to a greater or lesser degree.
While Monday was washday, a tradition that remained for centuries, it was perhaps a good thing, to our modern noses, that much of life happened outside. It seems a set of garments could be worn for days and day and days, even weeks; the base garment was even slept it.
Life was lived at close quarters with such livestock as chickens; they apparently, had the run of the, often, single roomed dwelling and the living space not “mucked out” daily. Some houses ran to a second, upper room. An adjacent structure would be the cattle byre, the animals providing warmth in the colder times of the year. An additional benefit was the short “commute” from home to such places of work as the dairy.
This talk was packed with information, observations and humour – so much that, frankly, it is a challenge to do it justice.