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Around twenty members enjoyed a tour of the historic
hill-top town of Malmesbury in Wiltshire, which vies with
Barnstaple for the title of Englandís oldest borough. With
rivers on three sides the site was on obvious one for a fort
from the earliest times before it grew into a major town in
the Saxon period. The remains of the Abbey, founded in
the 12th century, which we see today, are only one third of
the original structure which, with its spire rising to over
400 feet, must have made a magnificent sight on the
skyline. Unlike Keynsham, the town was not on any main
routes and hence has experienced little redevelopment over the last few hundred years, meaning
that it retains the old street plan and many fascinating buildings. Local historians Charles and
Valerie Vernon gave our group a fascinating walk round the town, pointing out many buildings
and features that an unaccompanied visitor would overlook.
Bristol has many connections with the Slave Trade and its abolition. Society treasurer, Keith
Norton, led members on a tour of part of the central area, to discover the buildings that link the
City to the Slave Trade and its eventual abolition. The status and success of the various
merchants, businessmen and professionals involved
was reflected in the houses they built and their
locations. The tour took us from M-shed along to
Redcliffe Parade and to some curious survivors in
Guinea Street - a name of West African origin - and to
Queen Square, once the cityís top address, where we
heard about some of its more eminent residents.
There is a lot of history in the buildings of central
Bristol and our interesting visit showed just one aspect
of this; one that until recently has been rather hidden.
The Starfish Control Bunker near Tynings Farm
After lunch at one of the pubs on the plateau, we drove to
Black Down to visit the Starfish Decoy site, built to lure
German bombers away from Bristol in World War II. A
recent research project has unearthed much information
but apart from the control bunker, shown in the picture,
physical remains are limited. Our guide was Ruth
Coleman, who led the research. She explained how the
site operated and took us to the bunker, which also
housed the generators that provided power to the site.
We then walked across the moorland to see where the
lights and flares replicating target sites in Bristol
including Canons Marsh and Temple Meads were
situated. After the War the site was almost completely cleared but it was fascinating to see the
site and to speculate on whether it succeeded in its aim; there appears to be little evidence that
it had any measurable effect.
Kingston Lacy House is a 17th century property near Wimborne, built by the flamboyant Bankes family in an Italianate style, and is home to their large collection of paintings and other treasures from across Europe and Egypt.
Above left - Kingston Lacey House and right - Gold Hill made famous by the bread tv commercial of the 70`s
Thirty-five members of the Society enjoyed a day visit by coach to the House, now owned by the National Trust.  We were split into small groups and some very knowledgeable guides gave us the stories behind the priceless artworks and furniture.    After time exploring the gardens and grounds, the group took a break at Shaftesbury before returning home.

A dozen members first visited a relic of the Cold War that was little known at the time and is even less known to-day.  In the late 1950’s the government set up a network of about 1600 monitoring stations across Britain, staffed by the volunteers of the Royal Observer Corps, to determine the position of any nuclear blasts and then to measure the resulting  fallout.  Few of these stations survive but one, on the Mendips above West Harptree, has been kept in its original condition and is open, by arrangement, to groups of visitors. 
At ground level there was little to see, but climbing down a 12ft vertical ladder takes you into a rectangular concrete box slightly smaller than a domestic garage.   In the event of attack, this would have been home to three men for a fortnight.  Former Chief Observer Mike Parfitt demonstrated how the various items of monitoring equipment operated and explained the communications arrangements.  Dating from the pre-digital age, the techniques seemed somewhat primitive but fortunately their efficacy was never put to the test.   It was an unusual but interesting place to discover.

Above left - Mike Parfitt demonstrates how the direction finding sensor worked. Right - The underground bunker

A group of about twenty members and friends visited this unique piece of engineering on a very warm day.   Our guides explained how canal engineer John Rennie designed the pumping station to lift water from the Avon a height of 48ft/15m up to the Kennet & Avon Canal to provide sufficient water to operate the locks at Bath.  A huge waterwheel uses the power of the river water to drive two 18inch/46cm diameter lift pumps which move water from the mill leat to the canal.  The inside of the pumping station is dominated by the twin 18ft/5m long rocking beams that operate the pumps and the drive wheels that  transfer the power from the water wheel to them.   Some alterations have made over the years, particularly to the water wheel, but the simplicity of the concept enabled the pumping station to operate continuously from 1813 to 1952 - and all without consuming any fuel.  It is an impressive piece of machinery and is today maintained and operated for display purposes by a small group, of dedicated volunteers.  
The mechanism explained

An unseasonably warm day made exploring the many reconstructed Victorian-era houses, shops and workshops at the Museum very enjoyable, while those wanting to cool down sampled the local ale in the sawdust-strewn pub or took a boat ride into the limestone caverns next to the site.  The Museum covers a 26-acre site and many of the buildings, including shops and the school, are staffed by very knowledgeable guides in period dress to give an insight into 19th and early 20th century industrial life.  Many of the practices and products continued into the 1940s and 50s so it was a visit that brought back memories for many people in the party.
Above left - Main Street and right - boat trip through the many tunnels