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Joan Harris obituary

She made a difference and brought our history alive

August 2016

I am writing this on Joan Harris’ birthday, 6th August; today she would have been 90 years old. At the August Bank Holiday her wonderful quilting work will be on display in St Andrew’s Church. To be there at her exhibition was one of the brave ambitions that kept Joan going in later years, although sadly she died earlier this year before she could achieve it.

The Bank Holiday exhibition is a fine way to remember Joan. It will combine her strong faith and long involvement with St Andrew’s, with her considerable quilting skills, together with the enduring tradition of Clayhidon Local History Group’s exhibitions in the church; of these, she was always an inspiring organiser.

The History Group’s exhibitions tell us a lot about Joan. She was a never ending source of ideas for exhibition topics! Add to this her ‘Joan-like’  to organise and persuade people, places and things, and the end result was 30 years or so of interesting local history exhibitions.

The exhibitions reveal other things Joan thought were important. She was always keen to learn about Clayhidon’s history and then give people - past and present inhabitants of the parish, plus anyone who was interested - the chance to learn about the community and how it developed over the centuries. She also saw the exhibitions as a way of allowing people to contribute their own stories or those of their families, together with any personal memories, memorabilia and documents they might have. She mixed history and the personal beautifully, giving people lots of ideas, often leading them to start their own research in to their family, farm, house or whatever.

Her interest in all things historical in Clayhidon inspired her to become one of the founders of Clayhidon Local History Group in 1983; Joan was certainly a driving force in this. The planting of this ‘seed of the past’ went on to bear considerable fruit. Amongst these were monthly History Group meetings at the Old Rectory and in the Church Room; guest speakers; the History Group Newsletter; an annual Christmas dinner and quiz; and various visits to farms, old houses, and other local sites.

Then there was the History Group archive and library, which was a real passion for Joan. She had a remarkable ability to research and assimilate information about Clayhidon and its history - Google isn’t a patch on Joan! From her work on the census and parish registers, she developed an inter-connected knowledge of people, families and properties from the 17th century through to the Edwardian era. This made her the obvious person to answer questions from people around the world who were researching their families and had found a Clayhidon connection. Joan invariably acted as a guide when they visited, taking them to places in the parish associated with their family, often ending with lunch at the Half Moon.

Joan’s research meant she made many acquaintances in archives and libraries in Devon and Somerset, most notably the Librarian at the Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Library in Taunton, who gave her considerable help and time, perhaps recognising a like-minded spirit who wanted to ‘know’ and unravel the occasional historical mystery.

I recall fascinating research trips with Joan to the Devon and Somerset County Record Offices in Exeter and Taunton; and a lesson for us all and how we can influence people for the good - these trips were one of the things that inspired me to train to become a professional archivist. Thank you Joan. Indeed, we should all honour Joan with a vote of thanks for the unassuming, but influential work that she undertook for Clayhidon Local History Group. Joan was someone who made a difference and sought to bring Clayhidon’s past alive. She will be missed.

Ian Wakeling
Clayhidon Local History Group President