By Harry Mottram: The Friends of King John’s Hunting Lodge have published the latest issue of their newsletter Retrospect with details of talks and events coming up and an excellent and informed tribute to the local historian and former engineer late John Chapman who died recently.

If you love Axbridge and its history then joining the Friends of King John’s Hunting Lodge – the town’s local history society – is a great way to discover the incredible heritage of the area. From Neolithic Mendips to the Romans, the Saxons, the Normans up to the early modern period and the rich industrial and social history – there is much to discover.

To join The Friends of King John’s Hunting Lodge email Liz at or use the contact page on the website at


March 20: China Comes to Wells. Talk by Dr Oliver Kent on a pottery hoard found in Wells. Cross Memorial Hall, 2pm; non-members £5, refreshments £2

Some 30 years ago, the cellar of an old house in Cathedral Green, Wells, which had been renovated in the early 1800s, was excavated to reveal almost 700 pieces of domestic pottery, fine porcelain and glassware. The discovery poses the questions: who amassed the collection, when, and what does it say about trade with China and life in Wells in the 18thand early 19th centuries? Dr Kent helped to stage a display of some of the finds, in Wells Museum until April 12.


April 17: The Matthew, the replica of Cabot’s ship. Talk by Clive Burlton

Cross Memorial Hall, 7pm; non-members £5, refreshments £2


…and at King John’s Hunting Lodge Museum…

March 29 (Good Friday) doors open for the season, then official opening ceremony Saturday 6 April 10am to coincide with Axbridge Farmer’s Market.


April, May: Allerton Historical Society exhibition of archive photographs taken over more than a century, with earliest images thought to date from the 1850s. The collection was assembled by residents of Stone Allerton, Chapel Allerton and Ashton, and they are a remarkable record of life and times in the area.


JOHN CHAPMAN, 1933-2024

 Heartfelt tributes have been paid to the lifetime’s work in archaeology, caving, local history and the community by John Chapman, who died just a month after making a most memorable contribution to the Friends’ January talk on the excavations at Winthill. His passing was announced by John Page at the February  meeting, and Liz Scott led the audience in a minute’s silent contemplation in his memory. John was a devoted husband, father and grandfather, a highly-skilled engineer, an expert in research and imparting his great knowledge to others, and a great friend to many.

Liz Scott recalls she first met John and his wife Margaret when they were on the management committee at the King John’s Hunting Lodge Museum, then run by Sedgemoor District Council. “They were both passionate about the Museum,” she added, “they put in hours of work for the Museum and subsequently the Museum Trust. They were a truly delightful couple with such knowledge and passion for the area.” After Margaret’s death, John became an enthusiastic Friend. “It was such a privilege to listen to him at the Winthill talk and to learn first-hand about the dig and his involvement,” said Liz

John was born in Swansea but the family moved to Somerset after a German bomb wrecked their property in the Blitz. After completing his National Service, he was employed by the Naval department at the Ministry of Defence as an inspector on the Poseidon and Trident missile production line at the Bristol Aerojet factory at Banwell. He remembered first walking to Winthill as a boy aged 10, then years later taking a leading part in the 1954-56 excavations (pictured left). David Bromwich very kindly has researched his long career with the Axbridge Caving Group and Archaeological Society which he helped found in 1950, and he was briefly treasurer in 1952. After returning from his National Service he wrote the very first account of the archaeological work at Winthill for the Journal in 1955. Being an enthusiastic caver he had already contributed an item on a cave found at Chelmscombe Quarry, Cheddar.

John held the position of caving secretary through the 1960s, then became chairman, a position he last held in 1999. With Professor Mick Aston and Jackie McKinley, he contributed a paper on the radiocarbon dating of finds from Winthill to the Somerset Archaeology and Natural History Society, and took an important role with Vince Russett on a detailed account of the dig. John wrote The Story of Banwell Caves, published in 2011 by the Banwell Caves Heritage Group. In it, he wrote: “I first visited Banwell Caves in 1950 with the Axbridge Caving Group and Archaeological Society [to carry out excavation work] and more recently working with the Banwell Caves Heritage Group in their efforts to conserve both above and below ground in this most important piece of our heritage.” John is pictured by Mark Lumley exploring the cave by candlelight, surrounded by the thousands of animal bones found there and stacked around the walls. John Page says he was the inspiration which drove the huge amount of restoration work  carried out in the cave and follies built on the hillside by Bishop of Bath and Wells George Henry Law, who lived in the main house in the 19th century. In 1824, Winthill farmer William Beard began the exploration work which led to the discovery of two caverns close to Bishop Law’s house, including the one containing a vast mountain of bones of bear, buffalo, reindeer, wolf and other prehistoric animals. Beard, dubbed “Professor” by the Bishop, was described as “a reserved man of quaint manners and with a high opinion of his own skill” and he acted as guide to the many visitors to the Caves. He died in 1868 aged 95.

Museum Friends Phil and Sue Thorne knew John for 50 years or more and they have contributed their thoughts. Phil writes: “I first met John in the early 1970s when he was Captain John Chapman and I was a senior Cadet and member of Cheddar Army Cadet Force. He always had great patience when teaching young cadets Army skills such as map reading, field craft and rifle shooting in our own rifle range under the Cadet hut at Kings of Wessex School, where we could use the playing fields and all of the surrounding moorland for field craft and map reading.

“I vividly remember one annual Cadet camp in Dorset when we had a visit to a Naval Dockyard and had a guided tour when we were led past a missile. The guide told us it was ‘top secret’ and he couldn’t tell us anything about it, little knowing those missiles were made at Banwell and that John was the MoD quality inspector on site so knew every small detail! His job was later moved to the MoD at Bath and he was most sad to have to leave us Army Cadets. But before that, John took us to show us tunnels at Rowberrow Bottom which had been used as secret stores in case of invasion during the war.

“We had many talks about caving and cave digging as, like John, I enjoyed both of these activities. It was fantastic to see him at the Winthill talk .and shortly after, I visited him to lend him a book about various archaeological sites on Malta. We sat drinking tea and eating fancy biscuits with him and his daughter Sally. and of course reminiscing about old times.”

Sue Thorne adds: “John was a wonderful, caring family man and I remember times spent chatting with him, Margaret and the very young Sally and Tom. Of course I heard a great deal about John’s Cadet and caving exploits from Phil as the ACF was a huge part of both their lives. John was very interested in the talk we gave at the Axbridge Archaeological and Local History Society (AALHS) last year and I was humbled that he bought copies of my books and afterwards told me how much he had enjoyed reading them.”

David Roberts, former chair of the AALHS, writes: “John and Margaret were a powerful team, devoted to their children and grandchildren. John was a skilled engineer, with his background in Naval defence, and in retirement he pursued his skills through the Cheddar Modelling group, making some impressive models.

“John and Margaret took a significant part in the Hay Wood excavation and the dating of finds to the Neolithic period. He also made a big contribution to the publication of Earth Colours, a study of the Bristol and Mendip ochre industry. As long-serving chair of AALHS, he was always a calm, knowledgeable, reassuring and modest presence, and he made a major contribution to the development of the Museum.” 

John Page writes: “I knew John for more than half-a-century, and he had a major influence on my life as he introduced me to the AALHS and the Museum Trust, which have played a significant role in my retirement years. He also cajoled me into becoming treasurer of what became the Banwell Caves Heritage Group.

“In all these enterprises I worked alongside John for many years, and we often had long discussions about what should be done in each. John was chair of the AALHS and the Heritage Group for many years, and his extensive knowledge of the area, and of its many significant people, were a major factor in their ability to achieve their objectives.

“John was such an easy-going man that I cannot remember an occasion when he appeared to be ruffled or agitated, although that doesn’t mean he agreed with everything that happened. He always took life calmly and was always the gentleman, in all the senses of that word.

“I will remember him with affection, and thank him for a lasting and fascinating friendship.”


Ian Tabrett writes: It has been a great privilege to compile this obituary, and my thanks go to the many of John’s friends who have contributed their thoughts and tributes to him. I hope we have done him justice.