Home

















Permanent Displays include:
Mining section & replica coalface
• Miner's Cottage kitchen, scullery and privy

Geological Section, Fossils, William (Strata) Smith (Click for more information)
Victorian Classroom
• Village Co-op Shop
• Radstock Town Centre Model (Circa.1930) incl S&D & GWR Stations
• Agricultural Implements
• Memories of Wartime
• Friendly Society Sashes and Banners

John Wesley & Methodism (Click for more information)
Chapel and Commemorative China
Nelson Connection (Click for more information)
Blacksmith's Forge
• Victorian Printing Office
• S&D and GWR railway artifacts and memorabilia
The Reverend John Skinner of Camerton (Click for more information)

  Special exhibitions are held throughout the year (see Events).

William Smith FGS and North Somerset.
Father of English Geology.


Bearing the title 'The Father of English Geology', William Smith brought his enquiring mind to the study of rock and fossil formation in the North Somerset Coalfield.

Born in 1769, he first learned land surveying as a young man in Stow-on-the-Wold, a place where he became aware of contrasting rock formation with that of his native Oxfordshire.

Moving to
Somerset in 1791, initially lodging at Rugborn House near High Littleton. he was employed both as a land surveyor and civil engineer. On descending into some of the pits, he was increasingly aware of the regular sequences of rock strata and the position of coal seams in relation to them, learning much from the local coal miners. In this, he added to the descriptions given by John Strachey of Sutton Court in 1721.

In 1793 he was asked to take levels for the construction of a canal to link the local mines with the Kennet & Avon and was subsequently engaged by the Somerset Coal Canal Society as engineer and surveyor for the construction of that canal.

He collected fossil specimens, making detailed drawings of the strata associated with the coal measures. In the course of time, he became acquainted with the geological stratification in a wider area around Bath, and was encouraged by a local clergyman with interests in geology to make a map of his findings in 1799.

His employment with the
Somerset Coal Canal Company came to an end in 1799 when he was suddenly dismissed, the reasons for which are unclear.

Locally Smith is closely associated with Rugborn House at High Littleton, which he later referred to as ‘The Birthplace of English Geology’, and the Swan Inn at Dunkerton. A plaque at the former commemorates his seminal contributions to the subject of geology, able to accurately relate fossils to particular rock strata.

Eventually leaving the district, he interpreted strata as far north as Newcastle, linking rock formation from one county to another. Over succeeding years, he published geological maps of many counties, earning him the name 'Strata Smith.'

He died at Northampton at the age of 70 in 1840, having been elected
a Fellow of the Geological Society.

The Radstock Museum acknowledges his importance as a man with an enquiring mind, and one who helped to make the North Somerset Coalfield better known in scientific circles.

Back to top
 

John Wesley and North Somerset.

John Wesley was born on 28 June 1703 in Epworth, Lincolnshire. Along with his brother, Charles, he is largely credited as founding the Methodist movement. The Wesley brothers were well known Methodist preachers in old North Somerset, particularly through their work among the colliers.

Taking over from George Whitfield, John Wesley continued his evangelical work at open air sites such as Publow on the slopes of Priestdown, having been excluded by the clergyman from use of the parish church. Large numbers of people attended, attracted by the appeal of the message spelling out hope for the hereafter.

From 1739 until 1789, John Wesley was a regular visitor to many communities, helping them to establish Methodist Societies that enjoined a discipline of bible study, hymn singing and prayer. Other preachers from the Methodist New Room at the Horse Fair in Bristol lent support to the emerging groups of people who discovered a living Christianity, so different from the set and staid moralising Anglican services at which they were inactive observers.

Life for most working Somerset people entailed either working on the land as agricultural labourers or as colliers. The latter particularly was a dangerous and uncertain occupation, with little recreation beyond drinking alcohol and living a coarse existence.

The Wesleys brought a sense of self worth through their gospel of hope, encouraging sobriety and mutual respect, literacy through attending meetings, and an individual eloquence in men who became lay preachers in their own right. John Wesley's unique genius was in organising his converts so that the Christian message was reinforced and refreshed through weekly group activity known as the class system. Here Methodists shared their spiritual progress.

Erecting their own Meeting Houses added to their sense of independence, although they were strongly encouraged to attend the parish church for communion. Licences obtained from the bishop of the diocese legitimised 'dissenting' preachers using these buildings; that is, men who had not been ordained in the Church of England permitted to take religious services without penalty of persecution.

Meeting Houses produced a spontaneity and release of spiritual emotion that held members together, reinforced by Watch Night services and revivalist schedules. Methodism gave a purpose and relevance to lives that otherwise were set in repetitive drudgery. Hard earned pence were put aside as regular contributions to pay for a visiting preacher's fare. At a practical level, pamphlets on simple dress, general spiritual advice and home medicine were circulated. Children too, were not neglected but given their own classes.

Charles Wesley's hymns and own dynamic preaching in the 1740's created a powerful effect, helping to inspire and unite Somerset converts into a happy fellowship with each other. The eloquence of sermons transformed ordinary people's minds and helped preserve social order, but would also be the basis for articulating grievances against employers in later years.

While there was disquiet and even resentment among some clergy and middle class parishioners, Methodism's dogged persistence in the face of hostility won the day. Eventually, church membership suffered, as Meeting Houses became more widespread and independent, evolving into chapels with their own structure, separate training and administration.

Radstock Museum holds a collection of Wesleyana, some of which is on display.

Back to top
 

Revd. Horatio Nelson Ward
Nelson and the Radstock Connection


The Reverend Horatio Nelson Ward served as rector to Radstock between 1855 until 1888, dying from complications of a chest infection. His middle name was in honour of his naval grandfather, Admiral Lord Nelson, whom he never met on account of his birth date occurring several years after the Battle of Trafalgar.

The kinship arose through the passionate liaison and infidelity of the admiral with Lady Hamilton, leading to the illegitimate birth of the rector's mother named Horatia, the latter never knowing the identity of her mother. Upon marriage to a clergyman, Horatio was her firstborn.

However, the paternity of the rector's mother was fully accepted by
the family, who amassed a number of important items once belonging
to Lord Nelson and Lady Hamilton. Some of these items remain in family keeping; others have joined national museum collections. A beaker traditionally associated with a drink proffered to the dying Nelson on HMS Victory is owned by the Radstock Museum.

Horatia maintained a lifelong contact with her son, even after his move
to Radstock in the mid 19th Century, visiting him and attending divine service when he did duty. After her death in 1881, the rector added the
second Nelson name to his own, thus becoming Revd. Horatio Nelson Nelson-Ward.

Perhaps imbued with the family association, his childhood ambition had been to-join the navy, but objections from his mother to securing this early aspiration were reluctantly heeded: she being anxious to avoid another death at sea in the family. Another brother, christened Marmaduke did go to sea however, rising through the ranks to become
an admiral, eventually dying during a visit to the Radstock rectory.

Continuing the tradition, a grandson of the rector also pursued a naval
career, and becoming an admiral.

The parish of Victorian Radstock was a thriving coal mining and railway
centre, with a constantly growing population to administer unto. Strikes
and political protest were part of the working-man's scene, but cordial
relations between church and chapel, and church and collieries were
maintained throughout.

Life on land was a complete contrast to the discipline at sea. The rector oversaw the evolution of a non-church school, and served the community with a social conscience, and at the time of his own passing, the people mourned his loss. The local church has memorials to the Nelson connection, while the museum has a small permanent display on the subject. A book detailing the full story can be obtained from the museum bookshop.

Back to top
 

Revd. John Skinner

Without the Journals assiduously kept by this profoundly learned
clergyman who held the rectory of Camerton between 1800 until
1839, we would lack the detailed knowledge of life in a local North
Somerset parish.

While his temperament and family tragedies affected his personality,
and doubtless the cause of much psychotic depression, his accounts of
parishioners and events, albeit subjective, were at least first hand.

We gain insights into everyday incidents, epidemics, peccadilloes, frailties
of human nature, tensions between the rector and dogmatic dissenters.
Both the lower orders and the higher orders came in for his vitriol and
condemnation. Above everything, he was convinced of the inherent
rightness of the Church of England, equating its institutions with the
status of kingship and the state, and refusing to quit his position.

An unshakable Tory by conviction, his political views brought him into
occasional conflict with what he saw as revolutionary elements.
Skinner's death preceded the growth of Chartism by only a few years
but the signs were apparent, even allowing for his pessimism for the
future of his otherwise beloved country.

His lofty sense and personal dignity was the target of mockery and
spiteful comment; while his inability to command overflowing
congregations and his vexations caused by rebellious church singers
and bell ringers cast himself as a martyr.

Some of his troubles were undoubtedly the result of losing his young
wife after only six years of marriage. Lacking support for bringing up
surviving children, with their illnesses, needs and challenges,
superimposed on his sensitive person a burden that would eventually
lead him to take his own life.

He found relief in antiquarian interests, partly supplied by archaeological
finds in his own and neighbouring parishes. Congenial company was
found with fellow gentility of like mindedness, but his own company in
the privacy of his study brought a degree of solace.

Although mistaken in his interpretation, his fixation with a supposed
historical Roman significance of Camerton brooked no challenge, and
he found comfort in searching for documentary evidence and copious
writing of his convictions.

In a sense, his Journals were his alter ego, and through the often
tortured commentaries, the pages reveal both his own feelings and the
scenes in which he found himself. A background of legal training enabled
his obsessions with detail to be pursued in minute thoroughness.

His will asked that no Journal should be read for fifty years after his
death. Had it been different, the Journals may have risked the fate of
a public bonfire by irate subjects mentioned unfavourably.

The Museum Society is indebted to the 'intellectual' legacy of this man,
whose extensive record abounds with items that would never make
newspaper headlines of the day, but were the very stuff of parish life.

Back to top