Stockland Womens' Activities Group

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Our News, Reviews and Future Events

We meet on the 2nd Tuesday of each month. Our aim is Friendship, Fun and Forays. Our programme for 2018 is available from our Secretary Jane. You can contact us using the website email address

August 2018 - Jessica Cross.

Gold was the subject for this month’s meeting when Jessica Cross, who formerly worked as a mineral economist for a South African company came to talk to us. She was responsible for its future, taking in everything from the 100,000 workers to price forecasting. The board with which she worked was made up of men who had little understanding of the gold market in terms of jewellery and it’s sale. So Jessica created a set of profile ‘girlfriends’ to enable the company to explore the market in more detail. These profiles made for a very interesting evening with aspects of gold that many of us had not considered.
First there is Eleanor – an empowered, independent woman who used jewellery as an adornment and an extension of her personality. She would buy at the top end of the market where there was a high mark up on the pieces and would be emotional towards her purchases.
Second there is Noor – she has no vote, no independence, an arranged marriage and could be simply discarded by her husband in favour of another wife. Her jewellery would be very simple in design and she would always wear it beneath her burkha in the knowledge that if she was discarded and thrown out on to the street she could sell her jewellery in order to survive. At this level, it is cheap to buy and is known as jewellery of the subordinated. Women sometimes wore breastplates of gold as their pension fund.
Third there is Jasmin - living in India where dowries are illegal but still flourishing, gold is saved from birth as a payment to a bridegroom and is seen to demonstrate social standing.
Fourth there is Tracey – an anti-establishment girl who wears Nike and Burberry tartan with her gold. Her jewellery will be from the cheap end of the market. We were reminded of Gerald Ratner who commented in a speech that his product was rubbish and was forced to resign after the value of the Ratner Group plummeted.
Having had a successful career in the business world, Jessica is now sheep farming and enjoying a very different kind of life.

June 2018 - Trip to the SS Great Britain

How lucky were we when we caught the coach to Bristol. It was not as hot as it had been the previous few weeks but much better for walking around the Quay and exploring Brunel’s ship the SS Great Britain. Our guide took us round the ship and explained that it was built in 1843 at the docks in Bristol where she now rests in a dry dock, that it took 60 days to get to Australia, much faster than any other ship at the time and that it carried 630 passengers plus about 140 crew. A gold rush in Australia encouraged gold diggers to spend the equivalent of today’s ticket prices.It made 47 voyages over 88 years to 32 to Australia, plus voyages to New York, San Fransisco, Crimea and Bombay. They carried on board cows, pigs, sheep, geese, turkeys and chickens, to mainly feed all the 1st class passengers en route. Plus of course barrels of water and beer.She had square sails which were used to carry her forwards in the right wind conditions but she also had a coal driven steam engine with a huge screw propeller for use when necessary. This was the first time that one had been used on an ocean-going ship.We were most impressed by the size of the bunks. People were certainly much smaller then and quite thin. However on the diet that most of the passengers had I am not surprised. Most of the meat was for the 1st class passengers who ate in the most amazing gold leaf covered dining saloon. After being damaged in a storm she was taken to the Falklands where she spent the end of her working life as a warehouse until she was towed back to Britain to be restored where she is today. I would certainly recommend a visit to see round her and to go down underneath in the dry dock.

May 2018 - Spencer Kingdon

In a change to our programme this month, Spencer Kingdon gave us a very entertaining talk entitled ‘Boy on a Farm’ – the boy in question being himself, having moved to a farm when his father returned from fighting in the second world war. Previous to that, he had lived in the village of George Nympton near South Molton where the pub, as he put it, was the 'centre of re-education‘ or gossip as it was otherwise known. This is how he came by the name of Spencer – after the prime minister of the day Winston Spencer Churchill . (His wife refers to him as ‘expense’ from time to time !) The farm replete with loo at the bottom of the garden, no running water, electricity, gas or oil provided opportunities for adventures – watching the men emerging from the barn, where the cider press was kept, in a great state of inebriation, bunking off school which was a three mile walk away, hiding in the enormous farmhouse and checking beneath gooseberry bushes daily for any new arrivals! Self medication was the order of the day with de-horning fluid used to deal with corns on the feet. Sadly this life came to an end when his mother died and his father, suffering still from the effects of the war and drinking heavily, left the family. Spencer went to live with his Uncle and Aunt in a bungalow near Lynton. They decided to adopt him which entailed inspection of the home by the council necessitating a hasty scrub for Spencer with carbolic soap and a quick run with the Ewbank cleaner over the floors until it spilled the contents. A court appearance and a payment of eighteen shillings and sixpence meant that adoption was complete. Spencer later married and went to live near Nottingham bringing up three sons – all of whom, according to the old tradition on holding a needle on a thread and watching in which direction it spun, should have been girls.
This was a lovely insight into life as it was many years ago in Devon – a life which some of us could just about remember!

April 2018 - Our Fun Quiz

We are indebted to Mel Pym for standing in at our annual quiz night. This was a fun event with Mel well and truly in charge as the competition heated up with questions ranging from gardening to general knowledge .In the course of the evening we learnt that Sir Charles Isham is responsible for bringing garden gnomes to this country ; that Cheddar, Skywalker and Graffiti are varieties of Cauliflower - whilst Sonata and El Santa are Strawberries. Some of us could recall that the Duke of Wellington’s horse was named Copenhagen ; that there are nine hoops in a game of Croquet; that the wedding ring in the Owl and the Pussycat cost one shilling and that sliced bread was actually introduced in 1930. Victory went to the Daffy Dils who were presented with plants , Flower Power a close second and Fairweather Gardeners third.

February 2018 - Ferne Animal Sanctuary

At the onset of World War II, Nina Duchess of Hamilton and Brandon, pondered the fate of family pets about to be abandoned as their owners went off to war. She was so concerned that she did a radio broadcast and soon found herself confronted with some forty pets left on her doorstep, Ferne House in Berwick St John near Shaftesbury. Needless to say, many of their owners did not return from the fighting and so Ferne Animal Sanctuary was born, the Duchess leaving the estate as a home for the animals in perpetuity upon her death in 1951. The organisation was then run by a friend until 1963 whilst all the finances were established and Ferne as we know it today was developed from the Duchess’s country house. In 1975, the estate was a collection of ramshackle sheds and was rehousing pets from a radius of some forty miles. A cattery was built first and fund raising took off with the sanctuary raising half a million pounds in eleven months to fund kennels and other necessary buildings. Today Ferne is home not only to dogs and cats but to abandoned cows and calves found wandering the paths in the sanctuary, goats who had been living in a second floor flat in Bristol, horses and ponies whose owners could not afford to keep them ,a variety of small furry creatures, together with geese and ducks.
The local community plays a part in running the Sanctuary with gifts of food together with plenty of volunteers who help with day to day things like dog walking. The site has been developed with nature trails, a cafe, children’s play area, a sensory garden and tree planting, together with conference facilities and offices. These have been made possible by benefactors like Betty Blakeborough who left £100,000 in her will and George Miller who used a collecting box to receive donations and who is commemorated by a wishing well for further donations to this day. The aim of the sanctuary of finding forever homes for furred and feathered friends for over seventy-five years continues.

January 2018 - Bingo

Our annual Bingo was held at the Tuckers Arms at Dalwood.

November 2017 - Devon Wildlife Trust

Steven Hussey from the Devon Wildlife Trust was our guest speaker this month on the subject of Beavers. There had been none in England for 4-500 years so when one appeared on the Otter river in 2010 a great deal of interest was aroused. By 2013, camera traps proved the existence of such creatures but a public outcry ensued when the government decided that a licence was needed to re-introduce Beavers to the countryside – they do carry not only parasites which can be harmful to humans but also bovine TB. An official trial is now in progress until 2020 when a decision is expected on their future.
Meanwhile, there are now three males and two females – with their only predators being dogs, they continue to do well. Adults can grow to 20 kilos and they are expert diggers and swimmers enabling them to build dams and lodges from where they feed from the riverside foliage. Two or three kits are born each year which are able to swim immediately. Beavers have poor vision but excellent hearing and sense of smell and are able to stay underwater for 15 mins at a time. Their dams and water structures have been shown to have great benefits to other water life such as frogspawn and fish. There are helpful effects on flooding and water quality. Regular testing and monitoring is taking place so as to provide the fullest picture for the government report.
The area around Otterton Bridge is a good location to possibly spot Beavers but more information is available at

October 2017 - Whitton’s

Whitton’s auction house in Honiton was the scene for our October meeting in the form of a quiz where we were confronted with various antique items for identification and evaluation. This formed the basis of a very entertaining and informative evening. Many of us coveted the diamond, onyx and seed pearl brooch made in Bond Street and valued at £6000, whilst others preferred the beautiful Exeter silver tankard – unusually assayed in Plymouth – dated 1716 and worth some £4000. A French Kingswood veneered cabinet inlaid with ceramic panels and made in the 18th century was valued at a mere £1500 . Perhaps a Famille Rose Charger from around 1800 at £3-400 would be of interest ? Sadly Edward, our host for the evening, told us that so called ‘ brown furniture’ held little value and that much of the sale contents these days was exported as far as Australia. The fact that houses are becoming smaller meant that larger furniture items like wardrobes do not sell, as cheaply made modern replacements flood the market.
The evening certainly generated much interest and the auction rooms will certainly be frequented by more of us in the future.

September 2017 - Buckfast Abbey

This month’s meeting took the form of an outing to Buckfast Abbey where, thankfully, the rain held off and we had sufficient sunshine to enjoy the day. The grounds, although past their best at this time of year, were laid out as Sensory, Physic and Lavender gardens as well as widespread lawn areas with trees. The Abbey itself, having been built by the monks, is beautifully maintained – full of light with enormously high white pillars supporting a beautiful brick patterned roof with central decorated ceiling panel. A vast modern metal and beautifully coloured stain glass window depicting Christ sits behind the altar occupying the whole end wall of the abbey. Beautiful music and prayers at an unexpectedly encountered short midday service furthered the whole experience.

May 2017 - Val Bugden-Cawsey.

Do you remember a time when the only fast food was fish and chips? When signalling whilst driving was with hands out of the window? What about black and white television? Hotpoint twin tub washing machines? We were reminded of these and many more memories by our speaker this month – Val Bugden-Cawsey who came to remind us that we needed to grow old disgracefully! Julie Andrews, when in the Albert Hall for a particular birthday celebration, chose to re-write her famous 'My Favourite Things' song in which she included back pain and fractures rather than snowdrops and kittens (Val gave us an excellent rendition of this). A copy of 'The Mature Times' from her local library yielded a page three which featured a vicar who sang his whole service – not everyone’s idea of what page three might contain. Other clear signs of aging included getting puffed out when playing cards, needing your glasses to find your glasses, and adopting the motto 'what doesn’t hurt doesn’t work'. This was a really fun evening from start to finish and convinced us that the only way to deal with aging is to be at least somewhat disgraceful.

April 2017 - Annual Quiz Night

This month saw the return of Mike Short for our annual quiz night – the difference being that this year we had questions on not only gardening but general knowledge as well. Champagne did not originate in France but here in England – which was a surprise to many of us. One of the first Xmas cards was sent from Devon when the custom began in 1843. Throughout history babies were christened not with holy water but with Cider. Spinach is known as the King of healthy vegetables whilst Strawberries first came from Turkey. Young trees are known not only as saplings but as whips. The largest herbaceous flower bed in the world is at Kew Gardens whilst the largest flower market is in Holland. The fun evening ended with victory for the Snowy Owls team who were suitably rewarded for their victory with Fuschia plants .

March 2017 - John Evans

John Evans, our speaker this month, has very limited sight with only tunnel vision in each eye. This condition is hereditary and untreatable although stem cell research might enable the retina of the eye to regrow at some point in the future. John describes his remaining vision as scanning through a Biro tube with the prospect of eventually losing his sight completely. He decided to investigate the process of acquiring a guide dog which meant both man and dog being assessed and matched for speed, size and strength. John stayed at a hotel for two weeks with a suitable dog – in this case Johnnie – one of a litter of ten black Labradors. He discovered that this entailed getting used to the dogs routine with half of each day spent training and the rest for general welfare. John confessed to wanting to give up at this point and had to be talked out of it – but after six weeks, John and his new friend were able to transfer back home. They set about learning new routes together, dealing with traffic and would have regular exchanges with their trainers until Qualification Day. After this guide dogs ‘work’ for around two hours a day and then have rest and recreation much like any other dog. Johnnie certainly claimed lots of our attention at the meeting – we hope he enjoyed meeting us as much as we enjoyed meeting him.

You could be a volunteer hero for Guide Dogs. Find out how a little time can make a BIG difference

February 2017 - Joy Raymond

Following our highly successful Xmas lunch at the Deer Park Hotel and our January Bingo session at the Tuckers Arms, we were delighted to welcome two new members to our January meeting at the village hall. Our speaker Joy Raymond described, in a very entertaining talk, the ups and downs of being a landlady.

Originally trained as an actress, she found herself in London and with work difficult to come by, took a temporary post as a secretary at the Old Bailey. She was offered a permanent job there after a year but was finding the evidence being shown there too horrific. She decided to look for work elsewhere and ended up spending some twenty years working in the House of Commons - plenty of ups and downs there no doubt. The life skills from the acting world came in very useful at The Old Bailey, House of Commons and running a B&B when she decided to return to the West Country. This entailed dealing with everything from the sudden appearance of a garden fountain, which turned out to be a burst water main, to awkward customers in the middle of the night. Music also played a part in her life and at one time she travelled around with an accompanist entertaining customers at the Kings Arms and other local venues. Joy eventually changed the B&B to running self-catering chalets enabling her to have more time to herself and her garden.

November 2016 - Devon Wildlife Trust

Ellie Nott, a member of Devon Wildlife Trust, came along to this month’s meeting to tell us about its work with Mammals. We have eight types of Mammals in the county and the Trust endeavours to monitor their numbers and habitat to protect them for future generations, using their own methods and utilising information from the public. Hedgehogs are becoming urbanised and so their habitats have changed greatly in recent years - as are Foxes. Badgers are becoming threatened by large housing developments on what was countryside on the edge of towns. Polecat-ferrets were already largely eradicated by gamekeeping activities by 1915. American Mink were first bred on the River Teign in 1957 but this has resulted in the decline of the Water Vole. However, Otters have returned due to our cleaner rivers and streams. Red Squirrels have returned to the Exeter area in recent years. Devon remains a stronghold for Dormice who are benefiting from us putting out bird food. We see the occasional Whale along our coastline along with Porpoises and Dolphins. Fishermen are being encouraged to add bells to their nets so that Dolphins are warned of their presence and will not get tangled in them. The public are asked to report sightings of mammals to the Devon Wildlife Trust who need to know where they are in order to give protection.
You can find all their contact details at (including an on-line contact form).

October 2016 - Devon Freewheelers

When Dan Lavery found himself in Ireland with his wife and newly born baby in hospital after an emergency Caesarean, he realised just how important the supply of medical needs – in his wife’s case that of blood – could be. He determined to do something about meeting those needs even though four previous attempts to set up a service had all failed and when they arrived back he sold the family home to raise funds and founded the Freewheeler Service in Devon. This is an admirable system of volunteers who freely give up their time to transport all sorts of medical supplies to and from hospitals, surgeries,and homes in Devon – everything from donated organs, blood, items for testing in laboratories and CDs of procedures, at any time of the day or night - the only qualification for this service being that it is for essential lifesaving purposes and not, as has been requested in the past, delivering commodes, pipes with tobacco or mislaid spectacles. A volunteer can travel up to 3000 miles per month on his motorcycle, must be over 25 years of age and can be one of eight riders covering Devon – each at an advanced level of driving with no penalties allowed. Many drivers are retested every three years or so and work closely with the ambulance services in all weathers. A transplant specialist team exists where, when the need arises, they simply get up and go at a moments notice. Knowing what an amazing service they provide does lead to financial support from local businesses from time to time but personal satisfaction in a job well done is the best reward of all.
You can find out more about Devon Freewheelers and make donations at

September 2016 - Widecombe Fair

Having set out somewhat early on a lovely September morning, we arrived amidst the hustle and bustle of Widecombe Fair. Stalls laden with country fare along with craft work of all kinds, country clothing, and gardening awaited our attention – as well as the traditional showing of farm animals and dogs in competition, with exhibits of farming skills and activities. A Town Crier competition was in full flow, the entrants accompanied by their ladies in beautiful Victorian dresses. A show tent was full of wonderful cakes and scones, garden produce, craftwork, flower arrangements, vegetables and it was lovely to see that children had been involved in their own flower painting competition as well as creating wonderful animals from fruit and vegetables. Some members however made straight for the Countryfile area to view their favourite exhibit - a certain Adam Henson. Local residents manned stalls and provided refreshments in the hall, the church was open to visit and the traditional granite cottages surrounded by high moorland looked beautiful. Morris dancers put on frequent shows throughout the day watched by, amongst others, Uncle Tom Cobley on his traditional grey mare. Beautiful birds of prey were on display with their handler. This was certainly a day with something for everyone.

June, July & August 2016 - Mystery Trip, Garden Party and the Fleet Lagoon

Following June’s Mystery Trip and July’s Garden Party, Swags returned to the village hall for August’s meeting to be addressed by Alistair Bruce on the subject The Fleet Lagoon – a climate change story.
We were introduced to Ostracods – minute creatures with a bivalve shell, two valves, one eye and the ability to live in both marine and non-marine environments. They move through sediment and water, are able to grow, swim, burrow and inhabit plants. They vary in appearance from hard to softer shell, and are varied in colour and can be banded. One of their favourite haunts is The Fleet at Abbotsbury, where the mud base provides the ideal habitat with marine, brackish and freshwater living .In their fossilised form, after collection, washing and cleaning, they provide information of events such as climate change and salinity of the fleet. Taking one metre deep samples of the mud in which they are found provides evidence of what became extinct and when, as well as a record of natural events such as the Lisbon earthquake of 1754 and it’s tsunami.
Alistair is about to return to live in our area and looks forward to furthering his exploration of these remarkable creatures and their surroundings.

May 2016 - Stockland History

We were delighted by a most interesting talk on our village’s history by Bryan Drew, we were so enthralled that you could have heard a pin drop. We learnt that many flint and chert artefacts have been found at Telegraph Cottage, Crandons Cross and Aller Farm, mainly by Nan Pearce and dating back to the early Mesolithic Period. The Great and Little camps were both built by the Dumnonia people who were a Celtic tribe. In 934 AD, King Athelston gave the manor of Stockland to Milton Abbey, so Stockland was part of Dorset from then until 1844. Stockland was called Ertacombestoche in the Domesday Survey of 1086. The school as we know it was founded in 1859. Previously the school building was in the Churchyard. Townsend Farmhouse is believed to be the oldest inhabited house in the South West. Kite’s Cottage is medieval. It was The Forge. Summerhayes was the Policeman’s House. Mannings was the Post Office run by the Clarke family. Pilgrims Cottage was the bakery and Post Office run by the Pidgeon family in the early 1900’s The Stores, Durrant’s shop was burnt down in 1969. Jack Nankivell was a bell ringer and Sexton. He liked a glass of cider or two and one day fell into the grave whilst digging it and was pulled out just in time before the coffin arrived! We were also shown many photos of years ago when some of the ladies at our meeting were projected on to the walls as young girls. Ah memories! Stockland was a very vibrant and fun village and has a huge amount of history with it. Bryan has written a book on the History of Stockland, with lots of old photos which will be out soon.