The castle saw action in two civil wars. The first less known between Empress Matilda and King Stephen in 1130 and the second between the Royalists and Parliamentarians in the 17th century. Devises has more than 400 listed and protected buildings and our guide pointed out
some of the many having ancient timber frame structures dating back 500 years or more. Naturally an ancient town like Devises has many legends, some of which were relayed to us with gusto by our guide. Following our tour of the town, which included a quick look inside the church with Norman origins we had lunch and then met at the Wiltshire Museum.
The museum is home to the best Bronze Age Collection in Britain and includes finds from around Stonehenge including the famous Bush Barrow gold. Ten galleries chronicle the history of Wiltshire over 500,000 years.
A temporary exhibition which attempted to relate the local landscape to the works of Thomas Hardy was interesting but did not live up to the promotional hype. We also felt the Stonehenge gold could have been exhibited better. However, despite these small criticisms the museum is well worth a visit. We had a very interesting afternoon there.
A big thank you to John Hawkes for taking and suppling the photographs for this trip.
Visit to Gold Hill Museum, Abbey Ruins and to enjoy Shaftesbury Fringe Festival
Once again, the AHA Group found itself in the position of having to cancel the above scheduled visit on Friday 22nd July.
Sadly, it seemed as though everything was against us! The weather was extreme for us Brits and we could not take any risks with some members who have health issues, in addition, two of group tested positive for Covid.
But we will not be defeated! There is no group visit for August, which has been our annual practise. We will be back for our September visit to Devizes, a tour of the Museum followed by a guided tour of the town. As per our normal procedure, we will be sending out details of this event.
On Friday 24th June we met our Blue Badge guide and old friend of the AHA Group, David Richards. He was in his usual good form for the planned visit to Stratford-sub-Castle.
We were there to learn about the roguish Pitt family and their connection with the old Rotten Borough of Old Sarum, which was only abolished by the Great Reform Act of 1832. He started by explaining the chequered history of Jack ‘Diamond’ Pitt who, after 3 very profitable periods working in colonial India both against and for the British East India Company, managed to acquire a huge uncut diamond. This very large diamond was sold to France to initially embellish Napoleon’s sword hilt. It was subsequently removed and placed in his coronation crown. The remains of the uncut diamond ended up in Russia as part of their crown jewels. At this time, Pitt turned his attention firstly to buying influence in the form of the Rotten Borough of Old Sarum and then to buying properties and farmland (a lot of it). Indeed, to this day, certain members of the Pitt Dynasty remain prominent landowners.
Diamond Pitt’s original elegant home, which he had built remains a sizeable property in Stratford-sub-Castle as do a few other old houses in the village. The village would remain (apart from post WW2 developments) largely recognisable to Pitt the Younger. The dynasty produced two prime ministers, both of whom relied upon the Rotten Borough system for their power and influence. During the walk around the village, we saw the site of the old Parliament tree under which at election times the few eligible electors would gather to bargain their votes, which usually went to the highest bidder. However, in the case of Old Sarum, Diamond Pitt had all the important votes in his grasp well in advance of any election.
Apparently, Pitt the Younger did not become Prime Minister in his twenties via talent alone. He knew how to fully exploit patronage to his personal advantage, being schooled in his corrupt ways by past generations of his family, who were extremely adept at the art. The old church was a delightful building, located close to glorious, thatched cottages and a few elegant houses which must have been built for wealthy families.
As usual, David was a complete master of his subject and was able to answer our many questions with humour and precise information. The tour lasted about two hours, by which time we were in need of some refreshments. Taking our leave from David, we journeyed to the next village Lower Woodford for lunch at the Wheatsheaf, thus concluding yet another very successful AHA outing.
Prepared by: Ron Bryan - AHA Organiser
The AHA Group had planned a visit to the above venue for Friday 27th May, unfortunately due to the lack of interest this was sadly cancelled.
Members have been asking for guided tours etc. and it was thought that this met the bill, with a 45-minute introduction into the Nepalese culture, dress, beliefs, landscape, and history of the country. This would have led to the connection with the Gurkha Regiment and the British Armed Forces. In addition, this was local and not a full day just over in Winchester.
We try to bring all aspects of interest into the AHA group and this museum visit was considered to have brought more than just a military interest.
If anyone has a particular interest / idea of a venue that may be considered of general interest to others, as previously said, “all suggestions are most welcome”.
We do hope that you will continue to support the AHA subgroup – Anton u3a, and in particular the June function which is a walk/talk by David Richards around Stratford sub Castle and its connection to the old Rotten Borough of Old Sarum via the Pitt family.
This guide was very knowledgeable, amusing and kept it interesting*. At this juncture, it was a good time to take lunch, again basking in the warm spring sun in the courtyard.
*Originally, advised no guide would be available.
We then returned to complete our interior tour of the house. The house was built c. 1598 by Sir Edward Phelips a wealthy lawyer and an influential member of Elizabeth I’s Parliament. As the Speaker of the House of Commons, he was involved in the trial of Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plotters.
The house was built of the same golden Ham Stones as nearby Tintinhull House, it remained in the Phelips family until 1911 and became the property of the National Trust in 1931. The Tudor west front went under a major change in 1786, as at this time to get around the house, you had to go from room to room. A local property known as Clifton Maybank House was being demolished and Phelips purchased the material and it removed stone by stone and was transported across to Montacute. The main entrance was then changed from long East drive to the West, making a shorter drive coming direct from the village.
Montacute House has at 172ft the longest Gallery in the UK, which now contains a very interesting exhibition by the National Portrait Gallery. The house has one unique facility, which is a plumbed-in bath, installed in the 1920, housed in a cupboard! The house has a wealth of interesting artwork, mainly portraits of the associated family of the Phelips and their association with Royalty.
Around 4pm it was agreed that we all were beginning to feel a little weary both physically and mentally in a nice way, that we would make our way back home, but to go a scenic route through the delightful countryside. In fact, we all believed that we had touched on an interesting new territory. As usual, we had planned to have dinner somewhere on our homeward route. However, not knowing the region well, we opted to keep it fairly local to us all and dined at the Three Cups, Stockbridge. We had an excellent meal and returned to Mike and Pam’s for coffee, thank you both for your hospitality.
A great day had by all, enhanced by the marvellous weather!
Rosemary Crumplin-Clark - AHA Co-ordinator
Please note:- April 22nd visit is to Laycock Abbey, Church & more !!!!
Anton u3a Group News
Reports and records of Groups' activities.