History Group

The scope of the St Petrock’s History Group covers Timberscombe and the surrounding area of Exmoor. We aim to arrange interesting talks which represent the wide diversity of interests of our members. Whilst the coronavirus pandemic continues to impact on us and mean that meetings are not possible, we are instead preparing monthly newsletters which are emailed to members and later made available on this section of the website. Feedback and topic suggestions are always welcome! Details of our talks can be found in the events section of this website


Newsletter 12 January 2021

Dear All

I hope this finds you all keeping well and warm at this time.

This month our issue is a little different to the previous newsletters. Whilst researching on the internet about a former Vicar at St Petrock’s, an intriguing story emerged. Most of this article is based on National Archive documents which were released to the public by the Security Services commencing 2003. Given the Timberscombe connection, Tom Sperling and I felt an issue devoted to the detail of this story is warranted and we hope you feel the same. As always, your feedback and comments are very welcome.

Work on the History Group website is continuing apace with approximately 200 entries nearing completion. All our thanks must go to Tom Sperling for this monumental achievement which we will be sharing with you in the next few months.

With all best wishes



Newsletter 16 December 2020

Dear Members

I hope that you continue to be well and safe.

Tom and I would like nothing more than to be able to resume our meetings at St Petrock’s but at the moment this still looks to be some way off. As soon as it is possible to plan for this, I will.

Meanwhile Tom, albeit in Florida for much of the time, has continued developing the St Petrock’s History Group website assisted by generous contributions from many local families which is combining to create a really excellent resource for us and those who will be interested in the future. I am deeply grateful for his commitment to this project and for the untold hours and days of work he has devoted to it, as I am sure we all are.

This website should be ready to launch early next year and we will let you know when in due course.

Tom has put together a fabulous Christmas Newsletter which is attached here. I am sure you will enjoy his research and presentation as much as I have.  Please remember to keep your thoughts and comments coming through as in this rather restricted environment we all now inhabit, this does provide encouragement and focus for future research.

With my very best wishes to everyone for a Happy safe Christmas and brighter New Year!

Marion Jeffrey

Christmas Day 1952 Tom Sperling

Newsletter 18 November 2020

Dear Members

I hope this finds you all keeping safe and well at this time.

Tom Sperling and I have had difficult choices to make this month for our Newsletter as our topic has some excellent photographic records to choose from. We thank everyone who has been so kind as to donate or share their images for the History Group archive. The variety and time span covered by this particular choice means that we can here only give a flavour of what was such a key date in the village calendar, when work could be set aside and a day of colourful display, entertainment and revelry could be enjoyed by all.

Until the advent of national services developing from the early 1900s which looked to provide support for the working man, Friendly Societies had flourished in parts of Somerset such as Timberscombe in the form of voluntary associations of workers for the previous hundred years or so. These Friendly Societies were regarded positively as they were open to all trades and when successful in raising and managing their subscriptions, they would relieve pressure on the parish poor rates.

Working men made regular contributions to a common fund in order to mitigate the effects of illness, poverty and to provide for a decent burial. By coming together in such company, conviviality and solidarity were able to find expression and support, and once a year men, women and children enjoyed an important celebratory Club Walk day in Timberscombe.

The routine of hard work and heavy toil, poor housing, few holidays and a limited diet familiar to most, meant that a day of colourful floral exuberance was welcomed by all. The festive nature of the event and the excitement generated by the march and the music from the band, with the eating and drinking after the church service, and the entertainments, dancing and revels, fortunately made this a desirable event to photograph and record.

The club procession was controlled by Stewards who carried staves with brass finials as can be seen in the Alfred Vowles image on page 2, which released them from the exacting requirement to make a six foot stave of flowers to exhibit otherwise. 

As always, your feedback and comments are welcome.

With all good wishes



Newsletter 2 October 2020

Dear Members

As I said in the September message to the History Group, I’m delighted to let you know that Tom Sperling continues his sterling work on archiving quantities of village history materials, even though now it is from Florida!

For our October Newsletter we agreed to combine various sources of information to focus on the Huxtable family, who have been an enduring village presence in Timberscombe since at least 1742. Maurice Huxtable was kind to contribute to the St Petrock’s Oral History Project last year and was interviewed by Alan Hines. I have included below a short 90 second extract from that recording for you to listen to and enjoy.

The majority of Tom’s work is still focussed on developing a dedicated village and local history website which will, in due course, be openly available to all. Your feedback, praise or otherwise, or further helpful provision of materials we can catalogue is always welcome. Thank you all for the very encouraging and supportive comments which were made after we sent out the first Newsletter focussing on the 250th Anniversary of Timberscombe School which is now posted on the History Group section of our village website www.timberscombevillage.com

We hope that you enjoy reading this as a another example of the work being undertaken, and we are keen to reiterate that this is a dynamic project. If you can identify anyone not identified that is also helpful. Of course if you have any other photographs of Timberscombe’ s past, that could be part of this ongoing project, we are keen to see them.

With all good wishes for your continued good health and interest in matters historical!


Wartime plane crash in Timberscombe

Newsletter 1 September 2020

Dear Members

I hope that this finds you, your family and friends all in good health.

It has been some time since we were able to meet at St Petrock’s Church for our History Group due to the impact coronavirus has had on our way of living. Part of the reason for setting up the History Group was to encourage social interaction and learning opportunities in a beautiful Listed building which is now equipped with modern facilities after a great deal of hard work and fundraising by our community. This has now been completed and is ready for use but we are currently constrained from using St Petrock’s for more than services of worship.

During this period, and even before lockdown started in March, our archivist, Tom Sperling, has been working extraordinarily hard to sift through a large volume of material accessible or acquired from local donations, the school, the church and other external sources. This is in order to create a fantastic unique online resource of village history and heritage in our area which in due course will be openly available. I can honestly say that the website will contain an amazing body of work which will benefit researchers of local history and is of interest to anyone with a passion for social history as much as those who simply wish to enquire into their own heritage.

Tom has proposed that we could issue to History Group members a monthly bulletin which will focus on one particular aspect – whether a person or place of local historical importance – drawn from this resource whilst it is in formation, and I am sure you will agree that this is an excellent idea. It was very hard to decide what to feature first but we agreed that the 250th Anniversary of the foundation of Timberscombe School was a good choice, and this bulletin follows on below.

We hope that you enjoy reading this as an example of the work being undertaken, and we are keen to emphasise that this is a dynamic project. You may have material to add to that given in which case we would be delighted to be made aware of it, or you may have corrections which are also welcome! If you can identify anyone not identified that is also helpful. Of course if you have any other photographs of Timberscombe’ s past, that could be part of this ongoing project, we are keen to see them. Tom or I can quickly scan it, if that helps, and return your original to you.

Our intention is that when the next monthly bulletin is issued, the previous featured piece will be made generally available on the History Group section of the Timberscombe website, and so on.

On a financial note, I would like to add that for existing members the 2020 membership contributions made will also cover membership for 2021.

If you have any comments or suggestions, they will of course be most welcome.

With all good wishes

Marion         11.09.20


POSTPONED – with regret owing to coronavirus concerns.



Our History – Through the LensTom Sperling20 January 2020
Soldier JackPatrick Hoyte18 November 2019
Lorna DooneChristopher Chanter27 September 2019
Archaeology of St Petrock’s ChurchDr Jerry Sampson16 September 2019
Rev JP Martin – Minister and AuthorJames Currey15 July 2019
Somerset ArchaeologyStuart Blaylock10 June 2019
Timberscombe Iron Age Hill Fort walkRob Wilson-North5 June 2019
Farming and Estate on ExmoorSir Antony Acland20 May 2019
English Church Bells and BellringingSara Coward18 March 2019
Life below Stairs – Servants in DunsterPatrick Hoyte21 January 2019
Timberscombe’s Fallen of WW1Harvey Grenville4 January 2019
Timberscombe Iron Age Hill FortRob Wilson-North19 November 2018
Archiving Images – QuantocksKeith Edwards17 September 2018
Stained Glass – our HeritageClare Maryon-Green17 September 2018
A Blacksmith’s Life on ExmoorJim Horrobin16 July 2018
Inaugural Meeting of History GroupMarion Jeffrey4 June 2018

Our History Through the Lens

Soldier Jack

On 8th November the St Petrock’ s History Group hosted a mesmerising event when Patrick Hoyte, assisted by two readers – one of them was his wife, who stepped in at the last minute – gave us an account of one ordinary man’s experience of the Second World War. That was not all, though, as Mr Hoyte skilfully wove into his narrative, tellingly illustrated with correspondence read by his fellow presenters, the account of how he had pieced together the story. What we were presented was as full of shocks, surprise turns and dramas as an episode of “Who Do You Think You Are?” all delivered with a pace and energy which earned a well-deserved round of applause from the audience after the surprise ending.

I shall say no more as I do not want to be accused of leaking a spoiler, given that the whole story is published as a book, copies of which Mr Hoyte made available at the meeting.
Allan Sutton

Lorna Doone

On the 27th of September, 2019, Christopher Chanter, a Trustee of the Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society presented a Victorian Magic Lantern Slide Show entitled ” DOONE AND DUSTED, The Story Behind LORNA DOONE” . Here Mr. Chanter reads extracts from his privately published article which first appeared in the Exmoor Review 2015 and is based on his research into the origins of the Doone legend in Exmoor.
The reading was followed by a showing of a number of antique and beautifully preserved slides which illustrate the areas referred to in this romantic novel. They were presented by Mr. Chanter, using his Victorian Magic Lantern. This timeless machine and examples of the slides are below. 2019 is the 150th anniversary of LORNA DOONE, which has never been out of print. All photographs are courtesy of Richard Jeffrey.

Jerry Sampson has kindly made available the text of his research which is available in full on https://timberscombevillagehall.files.wordpress.com/2019/11/somerset-churches-project.pdf

On the 16th of September 2019, Dr. Jerry Sampson FSA , presented “The Archaeology of St. Petrock’s Church, Timberscombe”. The talk was a detailed exploration concerning the fabric of the church, with an unique finale. It has always been suggested that St. Petrock’s had two altars, the present one in the chancel and a side altar on the east end of the south aisle, likely devoted to St. Michael. Dr. Sampson’s theory is there was a third altar, dedicated as the Chapel of the Five Wounds. Here, Dr. Sampson points out it’s location in the middle of the south aisle, between the two windows on St. Petrock’s southern wall. The church’s one ornate column (seen in the upper right of this photograph) and the placements of bosses , the lamb boss and the boss of the Five Wounds (pictured below) support his educated belief. To the left, looking upward, are John Gratton, Elisabeth Powls, Martin Booth and the Rev. Caroline Ralph, Vicar of St. Petrocks. (The vase of flowers positioned on the font was in the church this evening as a small tribute to Sue Crawford, a founding member of the History Group, who passed away this same morning).
  • The diagram on the upper left indicates the probable position of the three altars, in red, with the Chapel of the Five Wounds on the bottom centre.
  • Bartenders of the evening, Tom Sperling and Alan Hines.
  • Slides of the Five Wounds boss and the altar positions were supplied by Dr. Sampson. All other photographs are by Marion Moncrieff.


In 1948, after volunteering as a chaplain to the British services in World War II, J. P. Martin, the future author of the six Uncle Books (about Uncle the millionaire elephant, usually attired in his purple dressing gown and illustrated by the reknown Quentin Blake), came with his wife Jane to Timberscombe, to serve as minister of the Methodist Chapel. He was here until 1960, living at 8 Willow Bank, serving his congregation, the community (he was Vice-Chairman of the Timberscombe Cricket Club) and writing about Uncle. His daughter, Stella Martin Currey, wrote of his time here as “A Dance of Joy on a Lonely Road” and on the 15th of July 2019, his grandson, James Currey, was the guest of the History Group.
Before a capacity audience, Marion Jeffrey introduced Mr. Currey. Displayed along St. Petrock’s Rood Screen were photographs of J.B. Martin’s life and family and Quentin Blake illustrations from the Uncle books, published from 1964 to 1973.


As a culmination of the evening, a painting by J.B. Martin, an interior of the Methodist Chapel, was presented to St. Petrock’s Church by Mr. Currey and happily accepted by John Gratton, Church Warden. It was an acknowledgement and celebration of “…in this Somersetshire village our Methodist Church has been, for years, in the habit of joining with the Anglican Church…” as written by J.B. Martin in July 1959.
All photographs by Richard Jeffrey

The full Lecture notes of the presentation given at St. Petrock’s, are available through this link on the Timberscombe website, with the kind permission of James Currey. https://timberscombevillage.com/timberscombe-methodist-chapel/


Stuart R. Blaylock, B.A., Ph.D., F.S.A., Independent Scholar and Archaeologist from Cullompton, Devon, came to Timberscombe on the 10th of June 2019. He spent two hours in the afternoon discussing specifics of St. Petrock’s Church and in the evening gave a presentation on the art and science of how to “read” and explore the history of a West Country building.

In 1955, when the Tudor south doorway of St. Petrock’s was uncovered, a medieval wall painting of King David playing his harp (seen above to the right) was rediscovered along with accompanying fragments of English text-that have not been able to be deciphered. The climax of Mr. Blaylock’s talk was his belief that there were two texts here. He proposes that the lower text, from the Book Of Common Prayer read “Take the psalm, bring hither the tabret (a tambourine), the merry harp with the lute” and more chillingly, the upper text states (from Ps 112 v 10) “The wicked shall see it, and be grieved, he shall gnash with his teeth, and melt away, the desire of the wicked shall perish“.

Photographs by Richard Jeffrey


Rob Wilson-North, Head of Conservation & Access for ENPA was the History Group’s third speaker on the 19th of November 2018, with a talk about Timberscombe’s local iron age fort, first reported as an archaeological site in 1992. On the 5th of June 2019, Mr. Wilson-North returned for a walk to the site, entitled “AN EXPLORATION OF THE TIMBERSCOMBE HILL FORT”.

Rob Wilson North at Timberscombe Hill Fort
The History Group assembled at the North Porch of St. Petrock’s Church for the 25 minute walk to the hill fort site, on the southwestern edge of the village. Rob Wilson-North is to the left, holding papers.
On location, Rob Wilson-North points outs various locations of the iron-age fort, including where the furnace and borders are thought to have been and describes the particulars of exploring and maintaining an archaeological site in the modern world. All photos by Marion Jeffrey

Sir Antony Acland, the President of the Exmoor Society, was educated at Eton and earned his BA in Philosophy , Politics and Economics at Christ Church, Oxford. Entering the Foreign Office, he has served as Her Majesty’s Ambassador to Luxembourg, Spain and the USA. The Acland family has been associated with Exmoor since 1155. In 1745, Sir Thomas Acland, the 7th Baronet, married Elizabeth Dyke, altering his family name and gaining control of the Holnicote Estate. In 1944, Sir Richard Thomas Dyke Acland , the 15th Baronet, presented the estate to the National Trust.

Sir Antony, accompanied by his wife, Jennifer, spoke to the History Group about his life, his family and his Exmoor.

Marion Jeffrey ‘s introduction to Sir Antony Acland.
Photos: Gabrielle Horrobin
Richard Jeffrey offers a glass to Jim Horrobin (who accepts). Photo: Gabrielle Horrobin

This meeting will tell you more than you could ever have realised about the proud and ancient tradition of bells and bell-ringing, especially in our part of Exmoor.

After being introduced by Elisabeth Powls, Tower Captain of St. Petrock’s, a presentation was made by Sara Coward, Tower Captain of Stogumber and a bell ringer since the age of eleven. Here she is speaking of muffled bells, as used for funerals and often on Armistice Day. Photo: Marion Moncrieff

A Ringer’s Meeting held at St. Petrocks on the 13th of May, 1922.

In 2019, at St. Petrock’s Ringing Room, from left to right, Martin Booth, Tower Captain Elisabeth Powls, Allan Sutton, Alan Hines, Gwynie Poole, Andy Cooper, and Eric Lucas
Photo : Jenny Gratton

A talk and slide presentation by Dr. Patrick Hoyte, entitled LIFE BELOW STAIRS.  Dr. Hoyte, a resident of Wootton Courteney and a longtime volunteer at Dunster Castle discussed aspects of being a servant from medieval to modern times. With his access to records of the Luttrell family at the castle, Dr. Hoyte was able to provide specific information on everything from salaries, the status of one servant to another and their relationships with their employers.
Dr. Patrick Hoyte , just before his presentation, LIFE BELOW STAIRS, at St. Petrock’s Church.  Photo : Gabrielle Horrobin
An undated photograph (possibly the 1920’s) of an outing of the staff
of Dunster Castle and their families.  
Photo : Courtesy of the Rural Life Museum of West Somerset
A photograph of the gardening team at Dunster Castle. It would be dated between 1887 and 1900, as Mr. Webber, the Head Gardener is seen on the left and these were his years in that position. In 1900 he left service to open Webber’s Nursery in Minehead.  In typical Victorian fashion, each gardener holds the tool that most reflects their particular duty.  To the right, a child has entered the photograph, seemingly holding a lamb- hopefully a toy one.  Photo : courtesy of the Rural Life Museum of West Somerset

The St. Petrock’s History Group moved to the Timberscombe Village Hall for this presentation by Harvey Grenville, the author of  “Timberscombe’s Fallen of World War I”. This booklet was written to commemorate the centenary of the outbreak of World War I, to reflect on its consequences to the village and its people, and mostly to honour the men of Timberscombe who lost their lives. The names of 66 local men are listed on the wooden memorial tablet in St. Petrock’s Church, who served in the war. Mr. Grenville’s book profiles the twelve who gave their lives. Harvey and his wife, Jeanna , then traveled to the grave-sites of the fallen, an experience they shared during this talk. Details of all of the men and with a great deal of supporting background information, are available in a beautifully presented booklet from St Petrock’s Church priced £5. Excerpts are available https://timberscombevillage.com/timberscombes-fallen-of-ww1/
Harvey Grenville holding a copy of “Timberscombe’s Fallen of World War I”, beside the 15th century font at St. Petrock’s Church. This booklet was a non-commercial endeavour, with all proceeds going to the church.   Photo : Gabrielle Horrobin
Attendees gathering for Harvey Grenville’s presentation of IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF TIMBERSCOMBE’s FALLEN in the Timberscombe Village Hall. To the right, Tony Webb is seen talking to Mr and Mrs Grenville. Photo : Richard Jeffrey
Jeanna Grenville opened the talk and slide show of  IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF TIMBERSCOMBE’S FALLEN, describing the personal impact and importance of her husband’s research and writing in creating this book, and how it lead to their visits to the memorial gravesites in 2018. Photo : Richard Jeffrey
At the kitchen window of the Village Hall, during IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF TIMBERSCOMBE’S FALLEN are Erica Holmes, Sheila Ridd and Carol Wheeler, serving tea, coffee, cake and biscuits—as they have generously done many times before. Photo : Richard Jeffrey
From left to right, Allan Sutton, Bob and Jenny Masters at IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF TIMBERSCOMBE’S FALLEN Photo : Richard Jeffrey

The third meeting of the History Group welcomed Rob Wilson-North, Head of Conservation &Access for ENPA, to give a Lecture about the background, and what has been understood about our local iron-age hillfort since it was first reported as an archaeological site in 1992. A detailed earthwork survey was completed in 1995, geophysical and geochemical surveys carried out in the early 2000s, followed by an archaeological excavation and Open Day in 2010.
Rob Wilson-North describing to an enthralled audience how the Timberscombe iron-age fort has been investigated and understood thus far. Photo : Richard Jeffrey
A capacity audience at Rob Wilson-North’s Lecture.
Photo : Richard Jeffrey

The second meeting of the St. Petrock’s welcomed two speakers, Keith Edwards and Clare Maryan Green. Mr. Edwards, a leader of the Quantock Hills AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) Service volunteers, conducted a talk about the proper procedures (and what is decidedly not proper) when archiving photographs, postcards, paintings and other graphic images. He heads The Quantock Views Picture Archive, a collection of images of this Somerset area, some contributed by people living in the Quantocks and others from a variety of sources.
Ms. Green is a member of the Somerset Guild of Craftsmen and a Freeman of the City of London. She lives and her studio is on the moors of Exmoor. As a stained glass artist, she specializes in painted and fine stained glass. Ms. Green is also a painter, learned about old glass and is partial to sheep.

Keith Edwards beginning his slide show, A VIEW THROUGH TIME-AN ARCHIVE OF IMAGES OF THE QUANTOCK HILLS, concerning the twists and turns of archiving historic images. Photo : Richard Jeffrey

Clare Maryan Green exhibiting an example of stained glass in front of the 16th century Rood Screen at St. Petrock’s Church, as part of her presentation,  STAINED GLASS – HERITAGE AT WORK. Photo : Richard Jeffrey
People of Timberscombe, attending the lecture by Clare Maryan Green and examining samples of stained glass. Visible from left to right: Allan Sutton, John and Pippa Prideaux, Ian Moncrieff, Owen Rush, Erica Holmes, XXXXXXXXX and Carol Wheeler. Photo : Richard Jeffrey

Master Blacksmith James Horrobin (FWCB) launched  the St. Petrock’s History Group with a talk and slide show about his life and work, entitled A BLACKSMITH’S LIFE ON EXMOOR.  Jim, a life-long resident of West Somerset is a member of the British Artist Blacksmith’s Association and the Devon Guild of Craftsmen.  His commissions have included gates for the Metalwork Gallery at the Victoria & Albert Museum, lanterns for St. Paul’s Chapel on Broadway in New York City and The Churchill Memorial Screen at St. Paul’s Cathedral, London.
He and his wife, Gabrielle, live at Furze View, Timberscombe, where he also maintains his studio.

Marion Jeffrey, at the lectern of St. Petrock’s Church, welcoming everyone to the opening evening of the St. Petrock’s History Group and preparing to introduce James Horrobin.  Jim is seen to the left. Photo: Richard Jeffrey

Photo : Richard Jeffrey
Photo : Gabrielle Horrobin
The  Doverhay Forge  
A photograph of the Doverhay Forge, at Doverhay, Porlock, that has been identified, by different sources, as being taken in 1900 and 1911. The head blacksmith at the time of this photograph was James (Jim) Norman, who was succeeded by his son, Tom. The forge was next owned by Fred Kent, whose family had been blacksmithing in West Somerset since at least 1832. Later the Doverhay Forge was headed by artist/Head Blacksmith Jim Horrobin, who created the designs for some of his most renowned commissions from his studio here.  Photograph courtesy of the Rural Life Museum of West Somerset

The invitation to the village posted for the inaugural meeting in June 2018.
36 people attended which confirmed there was a desire for the formation of a History Group. Photo : Richard Jeffrey

June 4th meeting agreed that Marion Jeffrey would co-ordinate the History Group for the first year, Carl Farmer would be Treasurer, Tom Sperling would be Photo Archivist and Paul Sheldon would assist with Archiving of objects and images. Gabrielle Horrobin would provide creative input to the production of posters to advertise the meetings, and take photographs of the meetings, along with Richard Jeffrey, to add to the archive. Meetings would be held in St Petrock’s Church on the the third Monday of alternate months and annual membership should be £10, with £1 additional per meeting and £4 per visitor to encourage membership. In view of the support extended by other villages it was decided to name the group Local History Group for Timberscombe, Wootton Courtenay and Neighbours.

Mary Siraut, County Editor of Somerset Victoria County History, kindly gave a Lecture titled Timberscombe and its Neighbours in June 2017 at the invitation of the St Petrock’s Timberscombe Parochial Church Council (PCC), as part of a weekend of celebration of the patronal feast which historically has been celebrated at the beginning of June.

Her research https://www.victoriacountyhistory.ac.uk/sites/default/files/work-in-progress/timberscombe_intro_and_landownership.pdf

Packed attendance at her Lecture in the Village Hall clearly demonstrated the level of interest in matters historical and so in July 2018 a new local group was formed : St Petrock’s History Group for Timberscombe and its Neighbours.

There are a number of interesting websites and history societies which cover our area of Exmoor and some of them are listed here:

Somerset Archives https://swheritage.org.uk/somerset-archives/

Friends of Somerset Archives : https://www.friendsofsomersetarchives.org.uk/