8 things Somerset is famous for
- Credit: PHOTO: Philafrenzy.
From Mulberry bags to Henry the Hoover, which great things is our county well-known for?
Now, historians reckon cider making came to Britain with the Romans, but we know its production in Somerset was first recorded around the 11th century, so before or after the Norman Conquest. As such, I’m going to claim it as the earliest of my ‘inventions’. Apparently, cider has been viewed as a health supplement (good for the complexion apparently), so maybe we can imbibe it medicinally. It was even used for baptising babbies until the 15th century.
I ticked an item off my bucket list in 2015 when I consumed a Cheddar cheese sarnie in Cheddar. I’d previously eaten a sandwich in Sandwich, but that’s another story. Traditionally having to be made within 30 miles of Wells Cathedral, Cheddar has been produced since at least the 12th century. We know this as there’s a pipe roll of 1170 recording the purchase of over 10,000lbs of the stuff during the reign of Henry II (1133-89).
Roger Bacon (c.1220-c.1292)
He was a bit of a polymath young Bacon, having his fingers in more pies than Little Jack Horner. Born near Ilchester, ‘Friar Bacon’ offended some with his scientific methods and reliance on empiricism (evidence), so was reputedly chucked in the slammer for a while, possibly at the behest of the Franciscan order. One of the many claims made for Bacon is that he may have formulated gunpowder.
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William Herschel (1738-1822)
German-born maybe but Herschel, musician and teacher, came to live in Bath in 1766, then took up astronomy (as you do), making himself a reflecting telescope (1773-74) with which he discovered Uranus (1781), that planet that famously had its pronunciation amended. He also discovered some of the moons of both Uranus and Saturn and was joined in Bath in 1772 by his sister, Caroline, who acted as his assistant.
John Stringfellow (1799-1883)
I know, when we pontificate on the birth of powered flight, we think of the Wright brothers, who took to the skies in December 1903. Chard has an earlier claim to this bit of laurel though, as John Stringfellow flew a plane in 1848, but his 10ft wingspan craft was unmanned. What a pity he couldn’t have ‘ramped it up’ to the next level: what a story that would have been. There’s a bronze replica and a couple of plaques in Chard High Street.
James Gillingham (1839-1924)
Still in Chard, James Gillingham was a prosthetic limb manufacturer and one of the first to have photographs taken of his creations. His first customer was a gent who’d lost an arm to a celebratory cannon salute. A boot and shoe
maker by trade, Gillingham went on to provide his services for more than 15,000 amputees. Grade II Listed Prospect House (1728), in Combe Street, was his home and workshop, and has another blue plaque.
Into the 20th century and I’m talking Mulberry, the luxury fashion company that was founded in Somerset in 1971 by Roger Saul, who’d been born in Lottisham, and attended Wells Cathedral School, and his mother, Joan. Two years later they’d opened a factory in Chilcompton. The area already had a heritage of leather manufacturing with the long-established Clarks Shoes, a company Roger’s own father had worked for in Street.
I happen to know the term ‘vacuum cleaner’ is a British invention of 1901 even if the vacuum itself may have had origins across the pond. The British were certainly involved early doors with Hubert Booth’s so-called ‘Puffing Billy’. Those traditions are maintained by Numatic International Ltd, a company established in 1963 and based in Chard. It is best-known for its smiley-face vacuums, the ‘Henry’ (1981 with a name on the cap) and the ‘Hetty’.
The cause of Somerset inventiveness is clearly alive and kicking: what’s next in store for us I wonder?
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