“Benefits, Brass & the Girtest Grandest Day” Philip Hoyland May 17th

Philip Hoyland –  May 17th

A wonderful talk by a natural communicator in a delightful Somerset accent. The title, ‘Benefits, Brass, and the ‘Girtest, Grandest Day’ related to the village Friendly Societies, which were much in evidence during the 19th and well into the 20th century. These were societies started by the poor for the poor. Members were required to give a regular monthly amount into their particular Society. This then enabled them to draw out money in times of need, a kind of local ‘Welfare State’ This could be to pay the doctor, pay for a funeral or sometimes, in especially hard times, to keep a member out of the poor house.

Societies were very strictly reregulated. Monthly meetings were held in the largest room in the village and this was often the pub. Stewards were in charge of the money, which was kept in a large box, with several locks, screwed to a table. Money held was sometimes also used as a bank. Each Society had its own symbol. Many of them were known by the name of the pub where meetings were held, such as The Swan, The Lion, The Lamb and Flag, The Bell and The Ship.

The ‘Girtest Grandest Day’ was the great feast day, which took place around the villages on the 29th May, or Oak Apple Day. On this day Friendly Society members would parade in their best clothes, wearing sashes and proudly bearing their tipstaffs. The staffs, a pole topped with a brass sign displaying the society’s symbol, were peculiar to the West Country. There would be a brass band, the children would have a school holiday and all would wear their Sunday best. This was, without doubt, the biggest day of the year for the villages.

This fascinating talk, much enjoyed by all who attended, fittingly ended with a warm and spontaneous round of appreciative applause. It was indeed a splendid evening.

Ann Pugh

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