A people not needing a church

News that more than half of the Church of England’s churches are closed during the lockdown barely registered among those whom I know, the church is far removed from their lives. It’s not that they are against religion, more that they have no need of a church of outsiders, no need of someone to tell them how to live. The local tradition of independent thought dates back at least six centuries.

In Fifteenth Century England, independent thought would have been a dangerous activity, to express doubt, or, worse, to question the teachings of the church could lead to a trial for heresy, and, for those who refused to deny their own conscience, could lead to being burned at the stake. In the history of Langport there is a tradition of independent thought that was never mentioned in lessons learned at school.

The bishop of Bath and Wells from 1407 until his death in 1424 was the powerful and ruthless Nicholas Bubwith, a man who held political as well as ecclesiastical office and had been a member of the council that had presided over the execution, in Constance, of Czech theologian Jan Hus because of Hus’ theological views. Within his own diocese, Bubwith encountered those who followed the ideas of the Lollards, a group that believed in the Bible as the only source of authority and who believed Scripture should be in the vernacular, that English people should hear the Bible in English.

Charles Kightly writes that:

In the spring of 1412 Bubwith placed an interdict on the parishes of Crewkerne, Stoke-sub-Hamdon, Seavington St. Michael, Whitelackington, Ilminster, Shepton Beauchamp , Kingsbury, Langport, Huish and Aller, all between Yeovil and Taunton, on the grounds that they or their incumbents had admitted an unlicensed preacher to preach in their churches. The interdict was lifted on the 2nd April 1412, but the unlicensed preacher had apparently not been captured at that time, for the incumbents were ordered to publicly and continually announce his excommunication in each of the churches at the time of mass. The preacher, described as ‘quidam secte nepharie, inobediencie fill, psendo-prophete, Lollardi nummpati …’, is identified as John Bacon, a chaplain of Stoke-sub-Hamdon,  and possibly a chantry priest of the chantry there, which was controlled by a prominent member of the local gentry, Sir Thomas Beauchamp of Whitelackington,  whose family had been responsible for its foundation. Subsequent events make it seem likely that the lollards of the Yeovil area received tacit, if not overt, support and protection from Sir Thomas Beauchamp, who owned land in the many of the parishes put under interdict in 1412.

John Bacon’s preaching activity would have imperilled his life and the parishioners would have been aware that the church took a grave view of his activity, but there must have been considerable support for his teaching. An interdict barred a parish from the sacraments and, in the Fifteenth Century, most would have believed that not having received the sacraments could lead to an eternity spent in the fires of Hell.

The interdict seems not to have frightened the people of Langport, for Margaret Deanesly writes,

In 1455, bishop Beckington complained to the duke of Somerset that the  duke’s tenants at Langport neither “dreaded God nor lived by Holy Church”; they ministered the sacraments and buried the dead themselves, and even alleged the duke’s support for so doing, though the bishop refused to believe that this could be true.

There is something inspiring in the inhabitants of our small and obscure Somerset town being refused to be cowed by one of the most powerful of bishops; something inspiring in them determining that only they could decide what they should believe; something inspiring in them dispensing with the need for the hierarchy and all the traditions of the church in favour of hearing the Gospel for themselves and deciding how they might live according to its teachings.

Posted in Out and about | Leave a comment

Singing games

Memories of the games are of summer days in the school field.  Perhaps it was the only place where there was space for the groups of people involved. There would be a dozen or fifteen, led by some of the older girls

Oranges and lemons listed names of churches which we could only imagine. We would sing, “I do not know says the great bell of Bow,” with great gusto. (My father explained to me that the great bell of Bow was important for Londoners, only those born within earshot of Bow bells could be considered really to be “Cockney”).

There were other games that involved the names of flowers, In and out the dusty bluebells involved forming a chain and winding in between people. Wallflowers, wallflowers growing up so high brought a strange thought to primary school pupils, “we’re all children and we shall surely die,” although there was reassurance in the idea that the youngest would not share the fate of the others.

The farmer wants a wife was the most common of the games we played while singing.

A turning circle of children singing of the farmer wanting a wife, who was chosen from the circle. Then the wife wanting a child, who was added to the duo in the middle; and the child wanting a nurse, bringing the circled number to four; and the nurse, wanting  a dog, by which time the number in the middle probably matched the number in the circle. Finally, the dog wanted a bone, and a further child was chosen. The entire company then surrounded the person who was the bone and sang, “we all pat the bone,” bringing our hands down with greater or lesser force.

Searching for information on a game that figures large in my memory, I discovered that material relating to the background of the song is sparse. It seems that it dates from Germany in the early-Nineteenth Century, from whence it travelled to North America.

How The farmer wants a wife came to the little English village of High Ham and came to be sung in the primary school will probably remain forever a mystery. Perhaps it was in a book; perhaps it was included in the training of our teachers, who would have attended college in the 1930s; perhaps, in times when the oral transmission of culture was something that happened unnoticed, it just arrived with us by chance.

Posted in The stuff of daily life | 1 Comment

The legacy of Langport’s first railway station

A single memory of the place lingers from childhood, standing with my mother on the platform as a steam locomotive pulling carriages came into the station. Neither of Langport stations survived the Beeching axe, so it must have been in 1964, when I was three years old that I stood at Langport West, waiting for that train to Taunton. Langport East was on the mainline from Paddington to Penzance, so although no trace of the station remains, the line is very active. Langport West was on the Yeovil to Taunton line, which was considered unviable and closed.

A trading estate now occupies the site of the former station.  All that seems now to remain is the bridge under which the railway ran on its way to the county town. On the far side of the bridge from the trading estate, the cutting through which the line ran is now filled with well-established trees.

How would anyone know that once a railway had run here? How would anyone know that people had travelled from here to who knows where? A fading stencilled number in the stonework of the bridge suggests that this bridge had once been part of something larger, had once been part of something so large that a five digit number was needed. “Yeo 154 26” pointed to the connection with Yeovil, but what did the rest mean?

There seems little now that cannot be found on the Internet, and a search for “Yeo 154 26” brought a link to a government buildings website. The bridge, it seemed had been retained as part British Railways Board’s “burdensome estate,” presumably the local council did not want responsibility for it. “Burdensome” was a fitting description of useless assets, what does one do with a bridge that is no longer necessary?

Not only was the estate burdensome financially, it was burdensome bureaucratically, there seems to have been an extraordinary amount of paperwork attached to a single bridge. “Yeo” indicated Yeovil, and “154 26” was 154 miles and 26 chains – but from where? Why would anyone wish to so precisely measure the distance to a bridge on a redundant line when a note that it was crossed by the A378 at Langport would have been sufficient? And how much of the bridge was actually owned? The area stated is 0.0087 square metres,13.5 square inches, that’s three and a half inches by four inches, even the stencilled code number covered a bigger area.

The bureaucratic burden will have increased in recent years. A government website announced at the end of September 2013, “BRB (Residuary) Ltd has been abolished.” The burden of the burdensome is now being borne by a new body:

The Highways Agency Historical Railways Estate is now responsible for the historical railways estate (formerly known as the Burdensome Estate). This includes legacy bridges, abutments, tunnels, cuttings, viaducts and similar properties associated with closed railway lines, and sales.

It is fifty-seven years since a train ran on that line, yet eight years ago the bridge was transferred to a new agency. Somewhere there is an office dedicated to “historical railways estate.” This is either a railway enthusiast’s dream or Sir Humphrey’s Department of Administrative Affairs,  that was presided over by Jim Hacker in BBC Television’s “Yes, Minister”, really does exist.


Department for Transport

UK Government property asset – Freehold/Feuhold/Fee Simple property located in LANGPORT (South West) used by BRITISH RAILWAYS BOARD (RESIDUARY) LTD – BURDENSOME ESTATE (Department for Transport). Property is 0.0087 m2 and tenure is Freehold/Feuhold/Fee Simple.


Structure 2145 – 154 miles 26 chains
TA10 0DZ 

Property Information

All data is sourced from data.gov.uk under the Open Government License.

Department Department for Transport
Region South West
Department Reference YEO/154m 26ch
Property Area 0.0087 m2
Floor Area Type Ha
Tenure Type Freehold/Feuhold/Fee Simple
Holding Type Land Only

Building(s) Information

There are no buildings data.


Structure 2145 – 154 miles 26 chains
Dept Occupation Ref 2145
Holding Name Structure 2145 – 154 miles 26 chains
Tenant Department
Tenant Property Centre
Occupation Type Owner
Occupation Name YEOVIL – LANGPORT, YEO/154M 26CH
Area 0 m2
Holding Type Land Only

Vacancy Information

There are no vacancy data.

Posted in Out and about | 1 Comment

Football by numbers

Ninety-four years ago today, 22nd January 1927 was a Saturday. At the Highbury ground of Arsenal Football Club, 16,831 supporters gathered to watch Arsenal play Sheffield United in a Football League Division 1 match. While the match was an unremarkable 1-1 draw, it went down in football history. It was the first game which was covered with live radio commentary. To help listeners, the BBC printed a diagram in the Radio Times in which the pitch was divided into eight numbered sections. As the commentator described the match, he used the numbers to enable the listeners to know where on the pitch the play was taking place.

Gavin Mortimer’s A History of Football in 100 Objects quotes from a review that appeared in the Manchester Guardian the following Monday. The reviewer gave an example of the diagram numbered commentary:

“Oh! pretty work, very pretty (section 5)..now up field (7).. a pretty (5,8) pass.. come on Mercer.. Now then Mercer; hello! Noble’s got it (1,2)”

The broadcast was judged a success:

With the chart before one, it was fairly easy to visualise what was actually happening and the cheers and the groans of the spectators help considerably the imagination of the listeners.

The use of the diagram and numbers in commentary must have continued into the post-war era, for my father, born in 1936 would recall commentators telling of the game  moving from section to section.

In the 1970s, live commentary was more limited than it had been fifty years previously. BBC Radio 2 began its sports coverage at two o’clock. At three o’clock, the studio would call into reporters at grounds around the country and would announce which would be the commentary match. Live coverage would not begin until the second half, just before four o’clock.

A teenage boy in a small village in Somerset would sit at the kitchen table on a Saturday afternoon and listen to every minute. Commentators became familiar voices and the reporters around the country seemed people who could bring excitement to even games that were goalless draws.

Those 1970s broadcasts were closer to the BBC of 1927 than to the blanket satellite and online coverage fifty years later. The constant flow of football stories and the nightly broadcast of matches means football has lost the specialness it had when just one-half of a match went out live on Saturday afternoon radio.

It is hard to imagine what the commentators who stood in a shed at Highbury that afternoon would have made of what the game has become.

Posted in Unreliable memories | Leave a comment

Out of season

Sainsbury’s had no Cox’s apples. I had to buy Braeburn instead, they aren’t as nice but are better than the alternatives. I would like Russets, but the only place that seems to sell them is Marks and Spencer and doing your shopping in the M&S food hall is not something to be contemplated on a teacher’s salary.

Eating a round of cheese and pickle sandwiches, six cherry tomatoes, and an apple for lunch, I looked at the Braeburn and thought it wasn’t bad for January. I couldn’t recall there being fresh apples in winter when I was young.

My grandmother who lived on the outskirts of Yeovil had apple trees in her Nash Lane garden.

The apples were picked with great care in the autumn, none were allowed to go to waste. Windfalls were gathered to be used in cooking or in making chutney. Good apples were wiped clean and placed carefully on layers of newspaper in cardboard boxes. In a mood of boyish enthusiasm, I once wiped an apple and tossed it into a box with the ones placed there by the adults. It brought me a telling off for my silliness. It was explained that throwing the apple could have caused it to bruise and bruised apples could go mouldy and the mould could spread to other apples. Contrary to the pop song sung by the Jackson Five, one bad apple could spoil the whole bunch.

The boxes of apples were placed in the cool darkness of the attic, from where they were brought out over the course of the winter. They did not like a Cox or a Braeburn, or indeed like any other apple you might buy in a supermarket, they tasted like apples that had lost freshness, firmness and flavour from being in a cardboard box in an attic.

With supermarkets that can provide 365-day supplies of almost ever sort of fruit or vegetable, it’s hard to imagine being restricted to what was in season. Were fresh vegetables at this time of the year reduced to root crops and brassicas? I remember a lot of cabbage and turnip, and there were people who said that parsnips didn’t taste right until they had been frosted (not that I ever liked parsnips, anyway).

If we were to be more environmentally conscious, I suppose we would be content with a small selection of vegetables, but it would hard to go back to a diet of the past.


Posted in The stuff of daily life | Leave a comment