Visit to Iceland, 2015

24 - 29 June




For 2015 the annual meeting departed from its normal format as it had been decided that a group of SBGAS members would visit Iceland, to get some idea of the places that Sabine Baring-Gould visited on his journey to Iceland in 1862, and described in his book, Iceland, Its Scenes and Sagas. 21 members and friends met in Reykjavik for the visit, including 7 Baring-Gould family members from the USA.

Our tour followed SB-G’s route closely for the first few hours, though our four-wheel drive coach made rather faster progress than he did on horseback. We visited Thingvellir, the site where the Icelandic parliament met in the old days and where SB-G camped out on the church steps. We could not follow his route further, as the spring had come late to Iceland and the mountain roads were still blocked by snow. Instead, we returned to the coast before heading inland to Reykholt, the home of the medieval saga writer Snorri Sturluson, where we spent the night in the comfort of a hotel that Baring-Gould could not even have dreamed about.

Our journey then took us to see sites associated with sagas and the Vikings, particularly Erik the Red, before we headed northwards and to the east, rejoining Baring-Gould’s route. We visited two of the oldest churches in Iceland, the stone-built church at Thingeyrar and, as a complete contrast, the little turf-built church at Vithimyri, which we know that Baring-Gould visited. We stayed for two nights at Varmahlith, well placed for our next day’s visits, which started with the remarkable turf-built farm complex at Glaumbaer from where we drove to Holar, the site of Iceland’s first cathedral and which SB-G described in some detail in his book. After a stop at Hofsas, we drove on up the eastern side of Skagafjordur with a clear view of the island of Drangey, where Baring-Gould’s favourite saga figure, Grettir the Strong, met his end through witchcraft (or Vitamin C deficiency, as SB-G rationalised it). In Siglufjordur we visited the Herring museum – a remarkable record of what was Iceland’s most important industry for many years and, rightly, an award-winning museum.

Another night at Varmahlith prepared us for the final day’s journey which took us as close as we could get to the snow-covered mountains and then onwards to Geysir, where the hot water spouted regularly for our entertainment. The sun came out weakly to give a small rainbow to the majestic waterfall at Gulfoss, before we drove back to Reykjavik for an enjoyable seafood dinner at a local restaurant, where we said goodbye, as some of the party were leaving very early in the morning. For the majority a more leisurely morning preceded our homeward departure, after what had been a very interesting and enjoyable visit.




The 2014 Annual Meeting

Bromsgrove, Friday 3 to Sunday 5 October



The meeting in Bromsgrove was centred around Sabine Baring-Gould's novel, Nebo the Nailer, which was set nearby. The Avoncroft Museum was chosen as our meeting place because of the opportunity it afforded to see a nailmaker's shop and cottage, and to get some sense of the cottage industry that SB-G described. Roger Bristow has studied the geology and other factors and gave a more precise location for the setting, as well as information about the real people who had the forename 'Nebo'. Becky Smith talked about the novel itself and local historian, Pat Tansell, told us more about the area and the nailmaking trade.

On Sunday the well-known folklorist and historian Roy Palmer gave an interesting and informative talk on life in the Black Country, giving us some insight into the rough humour and pleasures of men such as Nebo. On an unrelated topic, Martin Graebe talked about Baring-Gould's championship of country dancing in Lewtrenchard. The meeting concluded with a visit to a Chartist cottage, Rosedene, in nearby Dodford, a settlement described in the book.



The 2013 Annual Meeting

Exeter, Friday 11 to Sunday 13 October




The meeting in Exeter attracted about 40 members and we were fortunate with the weather. On the Saturday we met in the Devon and Exeter Institute, in the heart of the city and a stone's throw from the cathedral where Sabine Baring-Gould's religious life was centred. We hear a series of talks about his connections to the city, to the Devonshire Association, as well as an excellent talk by Anthony Gibson about farming in his time. In the afternoon, after attending evensong, we visited the cathedral library to see the autograph copies of his hymns that they hold, as well as the famous Exeter Book, given to the library in 1050.

On Sunday we heard a talk by Norman Wallwork about SB_G's hymns before taking a walk around the city led by Hazel Harvey to see some of the sights associated with Baring-Gould. After an enjoyable lunch, we concluded an enjoyable and informative visit to this beautiful city where Baring-Gould was born, and with which he had so many connections



The 2012 Annual Meeting

Lewtrenchard Manor, Devon, Friday 12 to Sunday 14 October


Our meeting at Lew House attracted more people than have ever been to an Annual Meeting of the Society before, drawn by an excellent programme put together by Roger Bristow with help from other West Country members. A light drizzle brought out rainwear and umbrellas for the opening walk to learn about some aspects of the estate from Ron Wawman and Albert Spry, who provided a memorable demonstration of how to shape a slate.

Back in the dry, Martin Graebe explained what was happening with the move of the Baring-Gould book collection from Killerton House to the Special Collections Library at the University of Exeter. Becky Smith then told us about the mysterious lives of some of the people in Baring-Gould's life. After lunch Ron Wawman told us about his last, unpublished book The Growth of Religious Conviction.

We were delighted that our President, Merriol Almond was able to be with us this year and the opportunity was taken to sit her down for a chat with Martin Graebe, during which she shared her memories of the 40 years since she first learned that she had inherited responsibility for the Baring-Gould Estate. Committee members Ray Scott and Bill Oke also took the floor to tell us how they came to take an interest in Sabine Baring-Gould. The afternoon concluded with a short film compiled by Martin Graebe about the song 'Widdicombe Fair'.

On Sunday morning Bob Mann talked bout Baring-Gould and European Romanticism, putting Baring-Gould's antiquarian studies and folk song collecting into a European context. After making the short walk up to the gallery to hear about its construction from Ron Wawman we re-grouped for a fascinating talk by Dr Todd Gray on the ancient woodwork of St Peter's Church. After an excellent lunch, the meeting concluded with the AGM, at which all the current officers were re-elected. The minutes of the AGM can be read here.






The 2011 Annual Meeting

Mersea Island, Essex, Friday 30 Sept. - Sunday 2 Oct.



The 2011 Annual Meeting on Mersea Island was blessed by good weather - belying the descriptions given of it by Baring-Gould as a bleak, wet place. We met in the East Mersea Village Hall where Roger Bristow opened the batting with an excellent overview of the topography of the island and the locations used by Baring-Gould in Mehalah. The novel itself was covered in all its gothic depth in a paper by Troy White, based on his PhD thesis and read on his behalf by Becky Smith. David Nicholls, the Warden of Ray Island, then told us something of the history of the island and the 'real' Mehalah (or rather 'Mahala') before Brian Jay filled us in on the local history of Mersea. After lunch we split, with one group making a glorious boat trip to Ray Island with David Nicholls, while the other group enjoyed a visit to the local museum and a walk round West Mersea. On our return to East Mersea Martin and Shan Graebe performed a few songs before people got stuck in to the book sale and their evening meal.

On Sunday the day started with a sunlit service at East Mersea Church, where Baring-Gould had presided for 10 years. Back at the Village Hall, David Shacklock gave us an introduction to Baring-Gould's literary output whilst at East Mersea. We then held the AGM before rushing to escape the rising tide after a very enjoyable weekend. Thanks to all those who spoke and to Ray and Shirley Scott who organised the event so ably.



You can see the minutes of the 2011 AGM here