Meeting at Langdon Court Hotel, Sunday 8th. October 2000
A high turnout of some 59 members and friends - not including the speakers - turned out to this meeting which was somewhat of an experiment in that it was the Society's first meeting on a Sunday. The Langdon Court hotel did us proud with a full luncheon for those who wished and bar meals for others. In the event the location and food was considered excellent. But that is not what we are reviewing.
The programme started with Neville Oldham giving us one of the most spectacular lectures in our history detailing the discoveries made by their team diving on a wreck off the Garra Rock in the South Hams where significant quantities of artefacts including gold jewellery have been discovered. The illustrations were quite amazing for their clarity and detail and Neville's relaxed way of imparting the information made it the more pleasurable. It seems the wreck was probably that of a North African corsair preying upon local merchant shipping and it was interesting to learn the extent of their privations, in sailing boldly up estuaries and causing panic amongst the local inhabitants.
Neville went on to detail the difficulties encountered with bureaucracy in the shape of the British Museum, who seem to want to amass as much as possible and then keep it hidden from public view, despite being the custodian of public information and artefacts. I am hoping that Neville will write a piece on the subject for the Journal as the account was fascinating.
Mike Williams, who with his wife was also involved in the diving on the Salcombe wreck with Neville, then spoke to us unravelling the mysteries of the "Manorial Rights of Wreck" This is a subject upon which he had written a detailed article in the last Journal No. 13, which was distributed to members prior to the meeting to enable them to perhaps better follow what is a complex subject. Mike has the knack of being able to impart what is a dry legal history into a light-hearted and fascinating area of the rights of ownership stemming from research he undertook following the discovery of Garra Rock wreck. Interestingly the manor of Langdon Court, which dates back to Saxon days, is one of the few remaining which still has these rights - so, sailors, do not get stranded on the Wembury foreshore! You might be looked upon as "Sae Upwerp" - or cast up by the sea and unless the dog survives - lose the lot to the local manorial rights!
After lunch Peter Broughton and Mike Arnold gave a most interesting talk on the proposed Wembury liner port which was intended to rival and perhaps even supplant Southampton as the principal access to the United Kingdom for the passenger trade. The plans drawn up envisaged a significant port constructed across Wembury Bay with the associated services, including a railway passing through the grounds of the Langdon Court Estate and linking with the main railways serving Plymouth, Exeter and London. The proposal seems to have been somewhat flawed - if only because of the depths of water available and the obstructions to be overcome - but the promoters of the scheme seem to have been shadowy characters. Whilst the scheme went as far as proposals for discussion in Parliament and negotiations with adjacent landowners for acquisition of land to form the railway and land fronting the sea for the port facilities, the promoters remained discretely in the background and their true motives are still not known. Needless to say the funds were not found to proceed with the scheme and for anyone who has walked to the delightful church of St. Werburgh overlooking Wembury Bay and the Mewstone, and gazed at the peaceful vista I for one am delighted.
It was particularly apt that our meeting was held at Langdon Court, since it was directly involved in at least two of the aspects discussed, with its manorial rights, the necessity to use its land for the proposed port, and indirectly with Neville's talk - given the rights of Wreck it holds. Alan Cox, the proprietor had hoped to give us a brief talk on the buildings maritime associations - with its direct route to the sea from its Saxon cellars below the existing building - the manor dating from before the invasion of 1066. Clearly the idea of a passenger port had been thought of before - but I suspect the Revenue were not made aware of those proposals! Alan was not available on the day but hopefully we will revisit this superb location again in the future.
Not only are we indebted to David Clement for the above write up, we thank him for organising this very successful event.
Reported by David Clement
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