Wells Evening Society

Next Lecture

Thurs 2nd April 2015
Dr Allan Phillipson
Painting the Fallen Woman: Dickens and the Pre-Raphaelites

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Wells Evening Society

Wells Evening Society is a friendly, not-for-profit organisation that welcomes anyone and everyone to membership. Its aim is to promote a lively and active interest in, and the study of, our cultural heritage. Its principal activity is the presentation of lectures – at monthly intervals – from October to April with all the lectures taking place in Wells Town Hall. They are always held on the first Thursday in the month starting at 7.30 p.m.

The opportunity to meet before the lectures helps to foster our community spirit so wine and soft drinks are available in the foyer of the Town Hall from 6.45 p.m.

The next lecture on the 5th March is entitled The Golden Age of the Royal Navy and will be given by Peter Warwick (see box on the right for more information). The cost of individual taster visits is £7.00/person/lecture.

Click on image for information and booking form.


For further information on the Wells Evening Society please contact the Membership Secretary
Val Stanford on 01761 232788

Thurs 2nd April 2015
Dr Allan Phillipson
Painting the Fallen Woman: Dickens and the Pre-Raphaelites

Dr Allan Phillipson currently teaches cultural studies throughout the South-West, both independently and for the Workers’ Educational Association. He gives day-schools on art and social history and he has published articles on Victorian social history, New Zealand literature and film and detective fiction

After Charles Dickens wrote David Copperfield in 1850 there was an outpouring of art and articles about the fallen woman. Around the same time Dickens set up a home for fallen women with the help of the great Victorian philanthropist, Angela Burdett-Coutts. What prompted this surge of interest, and what forms did it take? This talk will focus on the work of Dickens and his illustrators, as well as artists such as John Everett Millais, William Holman Hunt, and D.G. Rossetti.


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Report on Lecture:
Archaelogical Adventures in Albania
by Louise Schofield

The first lecture of the new season for the Wells Evening Society was held on Thursday 3rd October.  An enthusiastic audience welcomed back a favourite speaker: Louise Schofield, an exceptionally adventurous archaeologist. Last time she spoke to us in Wells she described her work in Ethiopia. which involved local people in her archaeological work. Water was piped to the area, the valley terraced, and toilet facilities and a little museum were built so the findings have become a tourist attraction which is breathing new life into a previously desolate and underprivileged area.
This time Louise spoke about her long relationship with another troubled and underprivileged country. Albania lies alongside the Adriatic Sea opposite the island of Corfu. It is blessed by a beautiful coastline and a wonderful interior with dramatic mountains, rivers and lakes.  But the country has had a particularly stormy history and we were lead with images and stories through its many centuries of occupation by Greeks, Romans, Ottomans and Italians.  We heard of the unsuccessful attempt to establish a lasting royal family in the 20thcentury, and of the extreme form of Communism which more recently isolated the country from the rest of the world.

When the Communist regime crumbled in the early nineties, piece meal development began to despoil the beautiful coastline. Somewhat surprisingly, encouraged by Mussolini and the Communist dictator Enver Hoxha, archaeological work had been proceeding for a number of years on Butrint, the site of an ancient city dating back thousands of years.  It was a fortunate chance that a villa owned by the Rothschild family lay on Corfu immediately opposite this coastal area and in 1993 the Lords Rothschild and Sainsbury set up the Butrint foundation. This paid for work to continue on the site and preserved the area as both an environmental and archaeological park. It was here that Louise came to work when she left the sobriety and safety of the British Museum for a more active and adventurous life as co-director of excavations in that wild and sometimes lawless country.

Archaeologists have a term phasing which refers to the sorting out of different phases of land use by logical deduction of works found and recorded during excavation. A single photograph made the necessity of this clear: just one wall had obvious remains of different civilizations dating back not hundreds but thousands of years. Where do you start?  The answer is with immense patience and accruing knowledge as you go. Pottery from 1200 BC leads to remains of an 8th century BC acropolis, and then to the town being re-built as a colony by the Greeks, complete with an theatre which has been restored to much of its former glory.  Roman occupation followed the Greeks, and emperors came and went with such regularity that they were represented by identical bodies with only a different head to distinguish them from each other. Fishing has always been a vital activity in the area and fish and marsh birds form decorative features right back to the time of the beautiful Roman mosaics discovered from this period.

A major earthquake caused floods which destroyed most of the city and lead to its decline. Reoccupied on stilts over the water-logged site, many of the remaining population died – it is thought of malaria – and the skeletons from this time give grim evidence of this.  In the 6th century, an early Christian settlement became the seat of a bishop and new construction included a large baptistery, which had the civilised addition of heated water so the ceremony of baptism must have been quite a pleasant experience.

A beautiful Venetian tower may well cover remains of much earlier buildings and the history of warring Byzantines, Venetians, Ottomans and Italians from the mainland is reflected in the different castles which dominate the hill sides. Eventually, the local Ottoman governor Ali Pasha  retrieved Butrint from Napoleon’s occupation and it became a part of the Ottoman Empire until Albanian independence in the early 20th century.  By that time, surrounded by malarial marshes, Butrint, the site of the original city, had been unoccupied for centuries.

All this could have been dry academic stuff, but not as delivered by Louise! The country came to life as we heard anecdotes about her work with its people.   For example: we heard that thanks to there being no capacity for aerial photography in Albania the (excellent) aerial photos that we were shown were taken by an intrepid local.  He would strap himself to a rocket and, launching himself with wings from a near-by mountainside, could in this way photograph the excavations as he descended unsafely back to earth.

It is clear than Louise is a very successful organiser and galvaniser of others but it is also clear that sometimes she longs to be back in the pure world of excavation. She told us the story of a particular find:  a happy accident amongst all the painstaking work that can be associated with archaeological digs.  A young student and she were carefully examining a ten foot deep trench, and as they climbed down into it they balanced their feet on a small piece of stone half way down the unexamined side. (Archaeologists always leave half a trench for the next generation, aware that methods and knowledge may have improved by the next essay on the dig.) The piece of stone than was their foothold looked unusual.  They first brushed, then scraped, then dug...and eventually revealed the beautifully carved marble toga of a nobleman from the second century AD.  Perhaps he was an emperor, but it was a ‘socketed’' statue with no head, so who could tell?

There is still such a lot to tell about the sites and history of Albania, but for the time being the digs in Butrint are finished.  On holiday there this year, Louise was hailed by a group of men who materialized to be students of hers from ten years ago who are now leading their own excavation, the last in the present series. This meeting obviously pleased her as much as her amazing find of the marble statue.  We were all fascinated to learn about the wild and un-explored country of Albania and we were warmed as well as enlightened by Louise’s frank and illuminating talk about her particular and exciting world of archaeology.

Phillipa Collings

Please remember that there will be a brief election meeting at the start of the 7th March meeting to select the committee for the next year running from the 1st May 2013 to 30th April 2014. The final date for proposals has now passed and the situation regarding the committee for the coming year is that the following have agreed to continue for another year; 

Chairman & Publicity              Mrs Jane Lee

Vice Chairman &
Membership Secretary              Mrs Valerie Stanford

Acting Hon Secretary               Mr Chris Hann

Programme Secretary               Mrs Phillipa Collings

Hon Treasurer                          Mrs Clare Lockyer

Technical Manager                   Mr Norman Ross

Minutes Secretary &
Website Manager                      Mr Steve Lee

Visit Organiser                          Mrs Ros Bufton

Committee Member                  Mrs Sally Howett

New committee member to be elected; Proposed Mrs Jane Lee        Seconded

Committee Member                   Mrs Ann Cook

Colin Booth at the Spinet during his 7th February lecture.

                                                                                                                                                                                             Your Chairman, Jane Lee, with the Wells Town Crier.