Friends of the Wembdon Road Cemetery
Bridgwater, Somerset
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Dedication of a Tree and Memorial to Dr Peter Cattermole
12 May 2017


A service was held in the Wembdon Road Cemetery in order to dedicate a cherry tree and a memorial to the memory of Dr Peter Cattermole. The tree and memorial were placed in the Spiller/Browne corner of the cemetery, in the old Dissenters section, where a number of dead trees had been removed in the previous years.


A memorial on a Ham Stone block had been erected two days before by Fine Memorials of Bridgwater, in the form of one of the town's blue plaques. The Latin quotation comes from Marcus Tullius Cicero's Tusculan Disputations, book one, chapter 14 (from c.45BC - which in turn is a quotation from Caecilius Statius' lost Synephebi).


A large gathering of people and representatives attended, including Mrs Cattermole, their four children and five of their grandchildren. This was the last official engagement of Cllr Glassford and Liz Leavy as Mayor and Mayoress of Bridgwater, representing the Town and Town Council, with Aiesha Dabenett as Mayor's cadet. Cllrs Gill Slocombe and Rachael Caswell, ward councillors for the cemetery's Wyndham Ward, represented the elected membership of Sedgemoor District Council, while Allison Griffin represented the District Council's management team and Amanda Young the Green Surroundings team, who manage the area's cemeteries and parks. The Reverend Ed Moll represented the Parish of Wembdon. Derek Gibson attended representing the Bridgwater and District Civic Society, Joyce Hurford for the Blake Museum and Martyn Aldridge for Bridgwater College, along with various other friends and dignitaries.


Dr Miles Kerr-Peterson, chairman of the Friends of the Wembdon Road Cemetery welcomed the attendees and gave the following speech:

Thank you all very much for coming today, thank you to those of you from near at hand and those of you, especially those members of the Cattermole family who have come very far to be here today. We are here to dedicate this memorial and this cherry tree to the memory of Dr Peter Cattermole, the champion of Bridgwater's heritage in all its forms. It is a wonder to see so many people here today from many different organisations to pay tribute to him.

The memorial takes the form of one of the town's blue plaques, which Peter was instrumental in designing and affixing to the historic buildings around the town. This has been affixed to a handsome Ham Stone block, quarried especially from Ham Hill up the Parrett. This was chosen as it was the principal decorative stone used in medieval Bridgwater. The town used red Wembdon stone and blue Polden stone for most walls, but this beautiful golden stone was reserved for the important parts of decoration and carving and Peter often talked of its importance. The memorial has been placed here by Fine Memorials of Bridgwater and generously funded by Bridgwater Town Council and the Bridgwater Heritage Group. The tree was placed here jointly by the Friends of the Wembdon Road Cemetery and Sedgemoor District Council.

I first met Peter through Bridgwater College and the Civic Society back in 2005 in relation to the Blue Plaques project. My first proper meeting with him was on the scaffolding outside of number 32 Friarn Street, while he was working on the brick pointing. Having spent most of my childhood on building sites I was able to actually have a conversation about brick bonds, and I think earned his ear. I like to flatter myself that over the coming years I might have been a friend to Peter, although to him I was probably just another student. He was certainly a mentor to me and taught me a great deal: I certainly wouldn't be where I am in life without his influence.

We are here in the Wembdon Road Cemetery, principally because it was Peter who first encouraged me to come in here in 2008 to make a record of what was here. The possibility at the time being that the memorials might be cleared away with the redevelopment of the old Jam Factory over there. This eventually, with the help of many here today, led to the formation of the Friends of Wembdon Road Cemetery in 2010 to preserve and enhance this special place. Who knows what this place would be like now without our intervention and if not for that initial spark and subsequent help from Peter. So in a sense, beyond this stone, beyond this plaque and beyond this tree, the survival of this cemetery as you see it today, might be seen, indirectly, as another of his many memorials. And there are many memorials beside these and his tomb in Shapwick. If you want to see Peter's legacy you may see it wherever you look around town.

The blue plaques are the most immediate and obvious bequest, some forty-six of them on historic buildings around the town, remembering people, places and events. One plaque, also on a plinth (upon which this one is loosely based) stands in Friarn Avenue, designed by Peter to recall the medieval friary. Its plinth he had made to be the shape of the base of one of the friary's grand gothic pillars, for which we have fragments in the Blake Museum. The green upon which it stands is currently being redeveloped by Hannah West and her volunteers into a community garden. This is another project, although not executed by Peter, which was sparked and initially helped by him.

On West Quay stands the old crane, which Peter, with help, was instrumental in restoring to its current state. I remember it being just a mass of rusty ironwork, but he had it conserved a new white jib put in place and a chain installed, returning it to its former glory. He said it would work too, and carry a fair bit of weight, but that was something he was not allowed to test. The crane is now taken for granted as part of the river-scape.

The Dureligh Brook, a very ancient waterway, which flows through the town and into the Parrett, best seen at the top of Blake Street, was a pathetic trickle a decade ago, most of its water draining into the canal through a leak. But Peter had the Environment Agency fix the leak and its hearty appearance now, with flourishing wild banks full of wildlife is another of his legacies. And perhaps the most impressive and living.

Peter helped the Town Council in numerous ways and was especially involved with the renovation of the Town Hall. It was during this latter work that he helped to discover a lost medieval hall behind the Mayor's Parlour, a previously lost jewel of Medieval Bridgwater, which was subsequently revealed and preserved to expose its former glory, now known as the Cruck Room. His loving restoration of 32 Friarn Street likewise stands to his memory, revived from its long dilapidation, and both of these buildings will stand for many generations to come, thanks to him.

Until stepping back in 2012, he had been one of a number of key individuals who saved the Blake Museum from folding. Acting on behalf of the Town Council, Dr Cattermole not only ensured the initial administrative organisation of the museum, but also the first round of refurbishment since the early 1990s. He was instrumental in the first phase in the consolidation and conservation of the ruined Lytill Mill attached to the museum, helping to build the Museum a new stores and laying the groundwork for later conservation, which is now being taken forward. It would be fair to say that the now thriving institution would not be where it is without his involvement, although the torch is ably and happily passed on, safe in the hands of Tony Woolrich, Mike Searle and the volunteers of the museum.

Dr Cattermole was also highly active in the academic sphere, his work, not just on the buildings of the town, but the chancel ceiling in St Mary's Church or the towns glorious collections of charters have advanced our knowledge and appreciation of these medieval wonders. What's more, all the materials he made available on his websites, and have been passed on to provide a vast and rich resource that anyone in the world can access.

There are also the unseen memorials to his tremendous energies. Recognising the contemptible destruction wrought on the historic town in the second half of the twentieth century and wishing to ensure that it never happened again, first as vice-chairman of the Bridgwater and District Civic Society and then as founder and chairman the Bridgwater Heritage Group, Dr Cattermole was tireless, right into his final days, in making representation on planning matters. He strove to ensure that historic features, contexts and character should be protected against inappropriate, lazy or downright destructive development. This was often a losing battle, but there were some notable successes.

It is fair to say that Peter could be both a benefit to, but also the bane of Sedgemoor District Council, and he certainly didn't win many friends there, although I'm delighted a number of his old associates there are here today. I'm sure they would admit that his persistence and hours of unpaid scrutiny was mutually beneficial, if, at times, unpleasant.

And, of course, these are only Peter's memorials in Bridgwater. His PhD at Exeter advanced the field of chemistry. His students, first from Milfield and then Winchester College and latterly those he taught informally via Bridgwater College, have spread around the world in many spheres. He had a very long involvement with the Somerset and Dorset Railway Trust, of which he was variously Chairman, Curator and Archivist. He had a great love for medieval and early modern music and was a patron of the world famous Stile Antico.

Through all these stories you'll note that all the work is being carried onwards and it is of course incumbent on all of us here to build upon this legacy and ensure that it is not lost. Like this cemetery, the town is still in the process of revival.

For services to the town of Bridgwater he was presented with the Bridgwater Cup in 2010. He was thoroughly uncomfortable with the award as he tended to be embarrassed by any sort of recognition; he was certainly not in it for any form of personal glory. I dare say he'd dislike being honoured by the town today in such a way, but memorialisation works both ways, for the dead as well as those left behind. A man of civic virtue should be honoured by his community, remembered by us and his virtues emulated by us where we can.

As any good schoolmaster, Peter was firm but fair, those on the end of his disapproval certainly knew it, but it is this intractability which was put to the greatest service and benefit of the town. As we all here know, he was a great man, he was also a difficult man and occasionally a bloody minded and impossible man. Yet character flaws are universal to us all and are what make us human. You have to take the good with the bad; the bad isn't excused by the good, but neither is the good invalidated by the bad. In Peter's case the heap of good things he leaves behind far outweigh the scales of those times he wasn't quite as diplomatic as he could have been. We must always remember, that with the passing of Dr Peter Cattermole Bridgwater has lost its greatest defender and supporter.

Arbores seret diligens agricola,
quarum aspiciet bacam ipse numquam


The diligent farmer plants trees which he will never himself see fruit. The full fruits of Peter's legacy are yet to be seen. This cherry tree, we hope, will blossom each Spring and be a beacon of colour and life amongst the memorials to the dead. And that, symbolically, was the whole point of what he was trying to achieve.


The vicar of the parish of Wembdon St George's, Ed Moll, then gave the blessing and prayer.

Thank you very much and I am happy to speak today of Monuments and Men.

Peter was an able scientist. He taught me O-Level Chemistry, a subject that I went on to study for A-Level and at University. As a teacher I found him to be methodical, the typical response for any pupil asking 'where are the test tubes?' would be met with 'in the drawer clearly labelled 'test tubes'', a reminder to us to use our eyes and wits. As his colleague Andrew Wolters reminded us last year, Peter was also a showman. His joy at showing how explosively sodium reacts with water was infectious, and that of course is the point. Several of his colleagues wrote text-books, and I am sure Peter could have done the same. Be he was a teacher and for such people their books are their students. And I am grateful to be among them.

Peter was also, as we have heard, a strong character. It was this determination that enabled him to stick to his heritage guns in Bridgwater. I suppose that makes him what former Chancellor of the Exchequer Ken Clarke would call a 'bloody difficult man'! And the fruit of that work was mentioned by Miles - blue plaques, and areas saved. (And I am grateful not to have been on the other side of Peter's attention!)

And so we come to monuments.

This monument is a token: it's not the sum of Peter's work, but a pointer to the seeds that he sowed - in students as a teacher, in the town as a heritage champion. Se we're looking at a symbol: the rock of stability, the tree of life and a future. Of course, these monuments are even more fitting, as for Christians they can be reversed in their symbolism. The tree can represent life, but also death, a reminder of the rood on which Jesus was crucified on. And the rock can be death, as in all the memorials around us, but also life, being the rock heaved away on Easter Sunday at the Resurrection.

I have been asked to help with the dedication today, and I need to declare two hesitations that I have.

The first is that I do not know how far Peter and I would agree on spiritual matters. And while I would not want to trample on his memory by praying against his wishes, the dedication is more for our benefit than for his, and I hope it will help us to reflect and maybe inspire us to consider our own legacy.

The second is that I'm not that used to praying for objects. I find that we Christians do better when we pray for people. I explain this when taking weddings and praying over the rings: the words of the prayer are actually for the couple that the rings would remind them of the vows they have made. So in a similar way, if you will permit me to pray, it will be that this monument may remind us of Peter's life, legacy, and example, and help us to reflect on our own life, legacy, and example.

Miles' quotation and the tree planted here lead me to the very first verses of the Psalms, which remind where stability can be found in a fading and passing world:
Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
and who meditates on his law day and night.
That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither-
whatever they do prospers. (Psalms 1:1-3)

Let us pray.

Heavenly Father, this rock, and this tree stand as reminders to us of stability in a passing and fading world. Yet because of that other tree, on which your Son our Lord hung and died, and because of that other rock, in which the Lord was buried, and from which he was raised ever to die again, we can pray with hope and faith.
Thank you for the gifts, legacy and memory of Peter Cattermole, and the ways in which he has enriched our lives, and for the service he gave to this town.
May we seek a legacy that is as solid and enduring as this rock: and find daily refreshment that is as nourishing as the roots and leaves that will feed this tree, so that for ourselves we may echo the Psalmist's word describing the person whose delight is in you and in your word:
That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither -
whatever they do prospers.

In Jesus' name

Amen.


Peter's grandchildren then laid three floral offerings and a moment of silence was observed.


The attendees then retreated to the Quantock across the road for refreshments.


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