Our monthly update in Spotlight - Uffculme's village magazine

February and March 2018

March and April Meetings

From March we have moved our meetings to the first Saturday of the month at 2.00pm. On Saturday 3rd March, Charles Noon was booked to talk about ‘Mis-representations in history’. However, sadly the Beast from the East intervened and we were all snow-bound, including our speaker.  Charles will be booked again for one of our autumn meetings so we won't lose out on another interesting presentation from him. We look forward to welcoming you to our April meeting, whether or not you are (yet!) a signed-up member of the group. If you are a member and haven’t yet collected your smart new 2018 membership card, you can do so at the next meeting. And if you have not already joined, please do think about signing up to the Uffculme Local History Group.  On Saturday 7th April Francis Burroughes' intriguely titled talk is "Seated one day at the organ ... " - come along and find out!

Our February Meeting: Fire and some silver linings

More than 40 people packed into Uffculme Village hall garden room in February in eager anticipation of hearing Dr Todd Gray speaking about the Clarence Hotel fire in Exeter in October 2016 and its aftermath. From previous talks by this erudite and engaging speaker, we had high hopes of an entertaining and informative evening – and we were certainly not disappointed.

This fire was the single most destructive event in the centre of Exeter since the Blitz 75 years ago. Two buildings were destroyed, another three were seriously damaged and the fire harmed a great number of adjoining properties. We saw some of Dr Gray’s slides of the fire itself and what has been revealed about the hotel and the surrounding buildings since that terrible event. Our speaker underplayed his contribution, but it became clear that his expert guidance to the fire service whilst they were tackling the blaze and to the Council afterwards, resulted in important bits of Exeter’s historic buildings being saved. He was able to advise the fire service about aspects of the structure of the Clarence and surrounding buildings due to his knowledge about the age and construction techniques used at various times in history. This helped them in their strategy to contain and control the fire in this historically important area. Crucially, when the Council were on the point of having the whole Clarence Hotel demolished due to fears of it being totally structurally unsound, Dr Gray was instrumental in explaining that the lower floor was a solidly built, medieval part of the building which had not been compromised by the fire or water used to douse it – definitely worthy of preservation. The devastation of the fire revealed layers of previously unknown, much older, features of the buildings around. A silver lining from the dark cloud of the catastrophe, perhaps. Another being an increased awareness of the fragility of these ancient structures with a corresponding greater interest in, and appreciation of, the city's historic buildings.

We were treated to fascinating pictures of the upper floors of surrounding buildings – and we were amazed what treasures were hidden behind and above the modern shop frontages. Dr Gray had brought the copies book he has written (with Sue Jackson) about St Martin’s Island – that group of buildings which once formed a self-contained ‘island’ of which the Clarence is a part. It was published to mark the anniversary of the fire. The book is a detailed study of 42 of the buildings. It’s fair to say that copies flew off the table at the end of the talk! All in all, a compelling and worthwhile evening.


It looks like this year will be a bumper one for significant historical anniversaries, including the centenary of the end of the 1st World War; the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King; the 200th anniversary of the publication of Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’ and the centenary of the Representation of the People Act which, for the first time, gave (some) women the right to vote.

It’s also the NHS’s 70th birthday this year. Despite its current problems and pressures, it is an essential and much valued part of our lives. There are a couple of projects running about the history of the NHS to which people can contribute their memories and tales of their experiences (if you can get access to the internet - not everyone can, we realise):

https://www.england.nhs.uk/ nhs70/memories/

Perhaps you have got memories of local health services in years gone by? One of the committee members has uncovered some fascinating archive material and we wondered whether we could find some more information from those of you who perhaps remember the earlier days of the NHS in the area. Watch this space in Spotlight in the next few months for our plans on this subject and get in touch with any members of the Uffculme Local History Group committee if you’ve got ideas about this.