Village Conflict over the Custom

Changing Village Politics

The Villagers continued with the practice of hay strewing after the restoration of the church and the installation of underfloor heating in 1888. The vicar, the Rev Lockhart believed the custom should be discontinued, and this resulted on one occasion in hay being deposited in the porch of the church, because the door had been locked. The practice then became part of a dispute between the Parish Council and the vicar which provides an insight into the changes in late victorian village society.

The passing of the Local Government act in 1894 meant that the Vestry had to cede powers to a newly established parish council. This council, elected by a broad section of the male villagers had a very different composition to the old Vestry. Whereas the latter was made up of the Vicar and local landowners the new council comprised tradesmen and labourers, many of whom were non-conformists. Some of them believed that the Established Church's powers over the affairs of the local community were still too powerful and therefore requested the Charities Commission to institute a local enquiry into the administration of the parochial charities which included the church land allocated to provide hay for the annual strewing.

One of these new councillors was Joseph Bonham, a chimney sweep. He led the demand for an enquiry. Click here for a recollection of who he was from Hilda Roberts and click here to find out who she was. Her account is read by her daughter-in-law, Pat Roberts.

The Charity Commission Enquiry.

A flavour of the wider issues being considered is seen in the accounts of the enquiry's proceedings published in the Bucks Advertiser on May 22 1897. After considering the management of various charities providing income to the poor of the parish, the enquiry turned to the Church Land Charity.

" Mr Joseph Bonham (a local parish councillor and also a chimney sweep!) asked if the representatives of this Charity had any right to do away with it?

The Assistant Commissioner said that was a very wide question, but he did not see that they could? Why did he (Joseph Bonham) ask that question?

Mr Bonham said because the door of the church was locked against those who wished to take the grass into the church, in accordance with the ancient custom, and the man who took it there 'chucked ' it just outside the door and left it for the parishioners to take into the church themselves.

The Assistant Commissioner said they must remember that the Vicar and the churchwardens were responsible for the fabric of the church, and therefore if they considered it would at all injure the interior they were quite within their rights in saying that they would not have it in, and as the Vicar and Churchwardens were the trustees of the charity they acted in a dual capacity.

Mr Joseph Bonham - But the land was left for that purpose.

The Assistant Commissioner said that might be although they had very little knowledge of it, The method of strewing grass over the church may have been all very well in primitive times, but it was scarcely in keeping at the present time.

Mr Bonham - But the charity was left for that purpose, and having been carried out now for so many years it should be continued (Hear, hear)

The Assistant Commissioner said if the Trustees were to apply to the Charity Commissioners for power to decorate the church on Feast Day instead of strewing grass over it, they would no doubt be in favour of it. Even if they had a small amount of grass they would not object to the custom.

Mr Bonham - But they locked the door against us (laughter)

The Assistant Commissioner - It is in the discretion of the Vicar and Churchwardens. There is a difference between a handful of grass and a HayStack (laughter)

Mr Bonham said that when he was a lad it was scattered all over the church and everyone who attended had some grass in their pew, but now it was only placed along the aisle.

A voice in the body of the room - We have a good many come to the Village on purpose to see it (hear, hear)

The Assistant Commissioner said it might perhaps be a pity to away with it altogether but there were many ways of observing such an ancient custom. (Hear, hear)

Mr Joseph Bonham said as the trustees had the power of letting the land he would like to know if they could let it to one of their own party (laughter)

The Assistant Commissioner - No, why do you ask?

Mr Bonham - Because I understand that the Parish Warden rents the land at the present time (laughter)

The Assistant Commissioner - Is that so?

A voice - Yes that's quite right.

The Assistant Commissioner - Then I am afraid he will have to give it up (roars of laughter)................................ "

Eventually, the Assistant Commissioner made his own opinions clear by saying that he thought it a pity to waste money in such a manner when it might do more good and the enquiry moved on to another charity.

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