Clifton Antiquarian Club 1884-1912
On Wednesday 29th May 1884 the club arranged their first day excursion when thirty members enjoying a beautiful spring day, setting out in a group of carriages from Clifton. They toured around seeing various churches and houses, including Ashton Court, Barrow Gurney, Stanton Drew, Chew Magna and Dundry, finding time also to climb up to the earthworks on Maes Knoll in a very successful inaugural outing. Women were invited to join the excursions but were excluded from membership, even though Mary Ellen Bagnall Oakeley (a keen supporter of women’s suffrage) contributed various papers to the proceedings and her husband was a member.
The old society limited itself to 40 members who lived in the Clifton area of Bristol and was dedicated to the investigation of antiquities in the surrounding country. They joined forces with other clubs on occasions to conduct excavations, such as at Heston Brake Neolithic chambered tomb and Roman Caerwent, both in Wales. They maintained a keen and wide interest which included heraldry, ecclesiastical architecture, early metalworking, a study of the origins to the naming of America, and prehistoric monuments.
A considerable body of research work was undertaken, which produced seven volumes of proceedings amounting to an active 28 years before the club was officially dissolved at their 28th annual general meeting on Monday 15th January 1912. This was held in the Bishop’s Palace, Redland Green (later destroyed during a bombing raid on 2nd December 1940) at the invitation of the Right Reverend Browne, Bishop of Bristol who was then president of the club.
The intimacy of the club was its chief undoing as a handful of gentlemen of much the same generation grew old and the appendix of the later proceedings featured familiar entries in the margins “…retired; died; retired…” One of the final acts of dissolution was to find a buyer for the several hundred copies of leather-bound proceedings that the club held in stock, a Bristol bookseller offered them £9:10s but this was declined. Just one complete set of the original proceedings fetches over £500 today.
Renaissance in 2006
96 years passed before, in June 2006, a field study of the Heston Brake monument in Monmouthshire that included members of the present committee, a reference to the club cropped up, which soon turned into a desire to resurrect the long forgotten association. A complete set of the seven volumes of proceedings was obtained, together with some personal notes and mementoes which originally belonged to Robert Hall Warren; he was for many years Treasurer to the club and a very active member who had contributed a number of essays to the proceedings. It was decided to follow the principal objectives set out in the nineteenth century and so the new society is dedicated to its membership on a personal level. A major and welcome change from the old club is that 50% of our members are women.
High quality field trips and lectures are augmented with formal research projects and members are encouraged to participate in all aspects of the club’s activities. There are opportunities for publication of personal research in the biennial Proceedings of the Clifton Antiquarian Club and an editorial board has been appointed to ensure that all published material is of the very highest standard. The first proceedings of the revamped club, volume 8, were published in December 2007. It was a momentous occasion for the society and the book itself was very well received. After this came Early Medieval Enquiries, published in March 2010 and with very good reviews. In January of 2015 Volume 10 of the Club’s Proceedings was published. It concentrates on contributions from our members; as a result the subject matter covers a wide range of time periods, reflecting members interests and, in some cases, excavation results. A call for papers has already been issued for Volume 11.
The club holds two lectures annually, a summer and winter Lecture which tends to alternate between prehistory and medieval ages. These are popular events with some wide ranging and stimulating subjects, which are usually held at the Wills Memorial Building, University of Bristol, and are open to members and non-members alike.
September 2019 Update
Another year is rushing by and here we are in September again! Looking back to earlier in the year, we completed another of our annual Dartmoor walks back in April, which, although mainly dry, was beset by high winds which proved exhausting. However our intrepid team soldiered on to finish an extensive circuit of pantemporal monuments on Holne Moor. It seems we never run out of sites to visit on Dartmoor.
The following month the Club returned to Guernsey to excavate some mounds on L’Ancresse Common that were thought may be Bronze Age. As usual with archaeology, all was not as it seemed and the time period of the features proved to be somewhat later than expected! A report is in the pipeline…
Another annual event for the Club is our attendance at the Festival of Archaeology, run by Bristol City Council and located at Blaise Castle House, Bristol. So it was that on the 3rd August that Donovan Hawley and I had a great day meeting the public and catching up with friends from the world of archaeology who’d come along. Happily we were located next to our close friends in the The Travelling History Company!
As far as the rest of the year is concerned, we next have a trip to Normandy, in October. Having come across some good prehistoric sites near the ferry terminal at Ouistreham some years ago, I’d toyed with the idea of a Club trip to visit them and look in on Bayeux, its tapestry and some of the World War 2 beaches and associated sites in the area. The fact that 2019 is the 75th anniversary of the Normandy Landings was, it has to be admitted, coincidental, but very relevant.
We’re also planning another Bristol walk for our annual Christmas day trip. More details soon!
Pete Fenn, Chairman, September 2019
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