History Day 2023 round-up


The yard of tin was blown! It heralded the start of the Transport Parade during the Wincanton History Society’s first History Day on Saturday 4 March 2023. And a successful and well received day it was. Lots of people in town, watching events, visiting shops, taking part in activities. More people than ever now know about the History Society of this town.

The Mail Coach, drawn by a team of four gleaming and well-behaved horses, caught everyone’s attention, announced, as it always was in the days when up to 70 coaches passed through our town daily, by the coach horn, or “yard of tin”, being blown to alert people to the important vehicle approaching.

The first big event of the day was the opening of our new Museum premises by Richard Price who has appeared many times on the Antiques Roadshow. A generous offer by Nicholas Cave has considerably increased the space that was available to the Society at the location previously occupied by the Museum and the day demonstrated a good level of interest in the displays. As more items are retrieved from storage, the displays will undoubtedly alter.

The Victorian schoolroom, held in the Quaker Hall beyond the Peace Garden, next to the Dolphin, had queues of eager families outside between sessions.

Gary Hunt, who provided the Metal Detecting event, reported a very good day with lots of youngsters, with their parents in tow, detecting what there was in the gardens of Balsam Centre. There was also mention of his forthcoming Talk for the Society in April - so don’t miss that.

The second major event on the High Street happened at 11.30 when Richard Price unveiled a commemorative blue plaque to Alberto Bioletti on the wall of the High Street house he settled in after his eventful life during the Napoleonic wars. We were thrilled to welcome two descendants of Alberto together with their families. Jocelyn Booth, her husband and grandson, came from Havant for the day while Suzi, who uses the Bioletti name, and has one of her ancestor’s clocks, made a weekend of it, travelling from Ireland with her husband.

Meanwhile, Sarah Lloyd Winder held listeners spellbound at the Seed Café with her various atmospheric tales including one from Iceland. She was followed there by Dr Andrew Pickering, his subject being the witches of Selwood Forest and covering much of the 1600s, a time when belief in and fear of witches was rife in society.

From noon, for three hours, a steady stream of people with appointments made their way through “The Antiques Groan Show”, our local version of a well-known TV programme, in the Balsam Centre where Richard Price, Richard Bromell of Charterhouse and Lee Young of Dore and Rees gave their time and considered opinions of the items brought in. With patience and good humour they attended to a wide variety of articles produced to them. Such a success was the event, we very much hope to repeat the exercise next year.

If you were feeling peckish there was the NAAFI canteen in The Barn adjacent to the Peace Garden. On offer were soup, cheese-and-pickle rolls and lots of scrummy cakes, accompanied by music that was all the rage during the 1940s. Nothing grand, but 1940s wartime stripped away the grand stuff.

All day the experts on family and local history from The British Association for Local History, the Association for Genealogists and Researchers in Archives as well as the Somerset and Dorset Family History Society were kept busy in the Balsam Centre answering enquiries from those fired up to delve further into their past. So busy were they, they are eager to return next year and continue this work.

At 2.00pm the room on the lower floor of the Balsam Centre was packed to hear John Baxter discourse on Alberto Bioletti and the French in Wincanton. He took us on a wider journey that stretched from Italy to England to the Caribbean to Russia. Within England we were led from Porchester Castle to Norman Cross to Crewkerne, to the offshore hulks and to Wincanton. Afterwards he did a brisk trade in his book on the subject, “Surviving Napoleon, The Clockmaker’s Tale”.

And the Transport Parade, which went round twice, ran the gamut of the days of the internal combustion engine. Names long gone like Alvis, Lanchester, Wolsley Hornet, Austin Cambridge plus military transports, coach and lorry examples from the old days, as well as the more recognisable such as Rolls Royce and enough Minis to make us feel The Italian Job had come to town.

Among the many people drawn to town by the event were several in period dress. From “Queen Victoria”, highlighting her overnight stay at the Greyhound during childhood, to a smart officer of World War One and his lady, to a country gent at the races, a land girl and a “goodwife” in her bonnet and shawl.

By three o’clock many gravitated to the main room of the Balsam Centre where were displayed the contributions from the schoolchildren of the town which were then praised and appraised by the Society’s co-chairs.

Among the winners were:

Isla Pearce King Arthur’s School

Niamh Delve Wincanton Primary School

Olivia Tooth Wincanton Primary School

Commended were:

Hannah Wiltshire King Arthur’s School for her power point presentation

Imogen Thompson Wincanton Primary School

Bethany Hiscock Wincanton Primary School

The Caroline Hunt Trophy was awarded to Zuzanna Wojciechowska of Oak Class at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Primary School.

The winning pieces are to be displayed in the new Museum.

This event could not have been staged without a huge amount of time and energy being spent on it by a determined and enthusiastic team of committee members, society members and numerous others working flat out in the short time afforded us to pull it together. We are immensely grateful to each and every one of them.

All in all, we think the day can be considered a success. Positive comments came from many of those around town on the day and many have been received since. We will aim to make next year’s event better and bigger. So, watch out for early notice of Wincanton History Day 2024.

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