Friday, 29 August 2014

On the night of 24th January 1889 ...

On the night of 24th January 1889, the people of Felsham, Gedding, Rattlesden and Woolpit were involved in an event that created such as “stir” that even the oldest inhabitants of the area could remember nothing like it.  A local newspaper reported that at nine o’clock “the parish bells sent forth a merry peal, and the excitement which had been showing itself during the day became intense.” 

The village was Rattlesden and the event that created such a “stir” was the election of a County Councillor for the Rattlesden Division in the newly formed West Suffolk Council. 

The Local Government Act of 1888 set up the County Councils of West Suffolk and East Suffolk. Prior to 1888, apart from the borough corporations, Suffolk had been administered by magistrates meeting in quarter sessions, one in the east at Ipswich and one in the west at Bury. From 1889 County administration passed from appointed magistrates to elected councillors.

The Rattlesden Division was contested by two members of the local Conservative Association: one was Mr Duncan Parker, JP, living at The Grange, Woolpit Green and the other was Mr John Anderson, a retired barrister, who resided at Yewlands in Felsham.  The Parkers were a well-established family with roots in both Woolpit and Rattlesden; while the Anderson family were well-known for their good works in both Felsham and Gedding over many decades.  Their respective supporters tended to align themselves according to whether they lived in one or other of the two sets of villages.

The election campaign began in earnest in December 1888 when a meeting of electors was held at Rattlesden School where both candidates addressed the audience which contained a large and unruly group from Felsham.  The Bury & Norwich Post reported what happened:
“Unfortunately the rough element preponderated in the audience, and as it seemed friendly disposed towards Mr Anderson, that gentleman obtained a good hearing.  On Mr Parker rising, however, the hitherto placid state of the meeting was displaced in favour of a most riotous scene.  Hooting and braying was indulged in while Mr Parker was endeavouring to speak, and he ultimately had to desist…”

The ringleader of the “rough element” may well have been a Felsham farmer named Samuel Scott from Brook Hall Farm.  There are two pieces of evidence from local newspaper accounts that support this conjecture. Firstly, Samuel Scott was John Anderson’s main supporter having nominated him for election.  Secondly, this same farmer had been involved in a fracas on Felsham Upper Green during an election rally three years earlier when he and other young farmers had fought with labourers from Rattlesden.

John Anderson appears to have been the favourite candidate.  Certainly, his supporters worked hard to secure his success in the weeks leading up to the election.  The Ipswich Journal (1st February 1889) reported that:
“Mr Anderson’s agents have been assiduously busy in the four parishes in spotting and counting voters, at one time even declaring they could command 150 in Rattlesden alone out of its 214, the largest of the four.  In the distant parts of the parish people were called up at night even, and some in a semi-frightened state suggested the “Jack the Ripper” had made his appearance.”  [It needs to be remembered that reports of the horrific killings in London were in all the newspapers at this time.]

Who was Jack the Ripper?

The election took place on Thursday 24th January and the results were:
Parker               270
Anderson          197
            Majority  73

Despite the concerted barracking of their opponent at public meetings and despite their energetic canvassing of the neighbourhood electors, the Felsham faction was left licking its wounds.  

The Ipswich Journal reported that John Anderson was magnanimous in defeat.  He “thanked his supporters, and was sure they would find in Mr Parker a worthy gentleman as County Councillor, and hoped that no ill-feeling would be shown between the people of the different parishes.”  

As the evening progressed, “the Felsham people began to draw off, evidently downcast at the result, while some of Mr Parker’s supporters were enjoying the ditty of ‘O dear, what can the matter be?’ 

Between ten and eleven o’clock the parish bells ceased ringing, and the usual quietude of the village was apparent, but never in the remembrance of the oldest inhabitant had there been such a “stir” as in the election of the first County Councillor for the Rattlesden Division.”

Note on the Conservatives:
The politics of the Conservative Party at this time was coloured by its opposition to Irish Home Rule and its coalition with the Liberal Unionists.  Much of the rhetoric was similar to that currently taking place concerning an independent Scotland.  In October 1887 Duncan Parker addressed the audience at the Annual Dinner of the Woolpit Working Mens' Conservative Association:

Bury & Norwich Post, 4 Oct 1887

Note on the social composition of the new West Suffolk Council:
The new Council was dominated by Justices of the Peace.  JPs had previously had an important role in administering local affairs at the Quarter Sessions so it was hardly surprising that they retained their interest within the new arrangements.  Farmers in the village divisions also predominated while tradespeople such as ironmongers, wine merchants and hotel proprietors held sway in the town divisions such as Bury St Edmunds.

Note on John Thomas Anderson
Thomas Anderson’s eldest son, John Thomas Anderson, had returned from Canada soon after the death of his father.  He lived in Bury St Edmunds for a while and then moved to Yewlands [Felsham House] after the death of his sister, Mary.  He carried on living at Yewlands with his wife, Mary Montgomerie, for twelve years until his death, at the age of 72, in April 1894.  Apparently, their initials appear on the dining room mantle-piece with the date 1883, when four large rooms were added to the house.  His tragic death was reported in the Bury & Norwich Post:

3rd April 1894

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Clerical magistrates in the 19th century

Nowadays, we are used to regarding local clerics as fairly benign figures who are more community social workers than guardians of "Victorian values".  They are usually tolerant, run 'messy churches' and produce relatively saccharine pastoral newsletters for their parishioners. Occasionally, more senior clerics may intervene in moral and political matters as in Bury St Edmunds recently, but on the whole, village clerics avoid the limelight and try to be as even-handed as possible in relation to local issues.

This was not necessarily the case in Victorian times when clerics combined their church duties with the responsibility of being local magistrates.  Sometimes these two roles were in conflict: how could you act as pastoral "shepherd of your flock" but at the same time administer the law which was often severely punitive?

The clerical magistrate

John Glyde was adamant that "a clergyman's connection with the civil power, as magistrate or guardian of the poor, is detrimental to his spiritual influence".
(Glyde, John, Suffolk in the Nineteenth Century, Simpkin Marshall & Co., 1856, page 284)

Some clerical magistrates became very unpopular.  The Reverend Robert Davers (1772-1853) seems to have been loathed by his working class parishioners.
A prominent magistrate and Rector of Bradfield St George with Rushbrooke and Rougham, the Rev Davers possessed a large land holding in his own villages as well as Felsham’s 63-acre Davers Farm (Capel Farm) with farmhouse and 3 cottages.  He worked closely with the Felsham Rector and was a trustee of the village bread charity.  He was probably the most aristocratic of all our landowners being the son of Sir Charles Davers of Rushbrooke Park and first cousin to the Marquis of Bristol.
He does not appear to have been particularly popular with his parishioners partly because like many clergy he was the target of resentment over the payment of tithes before they were reformed in the 1830s.  Payment of tithe had never been popular with farmers.  It was regarded as a tax on improvement, since the more efficiently one farmed the more one paid.  In 1822, he promised his tenants that he would be making a reduction in his tithes and rents to compensate for “the distressed situation in agriculture.”  This led to an angry response in the Bury & Norwich Post where a correspondent writing under the pseudonym ‘Rusticus’, declared:
“… now, Sir, I have paid the above Rev. Gentleman a large sum of Tithes ‘to the uttermost farthing’ positively out of my Capital, but can assure you that I have not nor can find any one that has received the slightest abatement or return.”
His unpopularity among agricultural labourers was reflected in the fact that his property was frequently targeted by incendiarists particularly during the early 1840s when rural unrest was at its height.
In 1843 he appeared in court to answer a charge of riding his horse on a foot-path on one of his regular visits as magistrate to Bury Gaol.  A local man was reported as telling him off saying, “What business have you to ride on the foot-path any more than a poor man?”  To which the Rev Davers replied, “A Commissioner may ride where he thinks proper.”  This high-handed response led him to being fined 10s with 10s 6d costs, no doubt to the satisfaction of many disgruntled locals who must have rubbed their hands with glee at seeing him brought so low. 
His wife was equally unpopular, particularly among the dissenters of Bradfield, against whom she actively campaigned when they founded a Baptist congregation in the village.  Many non-conformists lost their homes and jobs because of her intolerance.  It was reported that she came into the meeting-house and
 “… carefully noticed every individual present as the number by which this time was much reduced by the persecution to which the poor people were exposed who came to hear the gospel.  The poor man who occupied the house in which the services were now held had regular notice to quit his occupation.” 
Resentment against Robert Davers was not confined to non-conformists.  The congregation of the Church of England in Rougham frequently complained that they were served by a mere curate during the 50 years he was Rector.
Sport was an all-embracing enthusiasm for many landowners who frequently rode to hounds and joined shooting parties.  The Reverend Davers was no exception.  He owned some of the best wooded land in the locality for hunting and his library contained books like “Strutt’s Sports & Pastimes”.  Furthermore, between 1797 and 1812 he was master of a pack of fox-hounds.  He also took a lively interest in horticulture and horse breeding.  On his death in 1853 the sale of his property included a “Thorough-bred entire horse, “YOUNG PREMIUM”, a beautiful Bay, with splendid action…”
Shooting, like fox-hunting was a fairly exclusive activity since it was restricted by law to landowners, though after 1831 tenants could shoot game on their farms with the landlord’s permission.  Local newspapers published lists of those people licensed to shoot game.  In 1832, Robert Davers’ gamekeeper brought a prosecution against a young gentleman named Thomas Cocksedge for shooting game without having obtained a certificate.  The magistrates decided that this was a genuine oversight and “convicted Mr Cocksedge in the penalty of one farthing.”  The reporter present sarcastically commented:
“It is lamentable to find the servant of a clergyman employed in such a task as that of proceeding against a school-boy for so trifling an irregularity, because it chanced to be committed near the ‘sacred groves’ of his master.” (Bury & Norwich Post, 5 Sept. 1832)
Poaching was rife during Robert Davers's lifetime.  The deliberate preservation of game birds in enclosed woods like ‘Felsham Hall Wood’ encouraged poaching by both organised gangs and by the opportunist local labourer looking for something to supplement his family’s meagre diet.  Landlords sought to protect their property by employing armed gamekeepers.  In Bradfield and Felsham woods a running war broke out between poachers and gamekeepers with casualties on both sides. 
Bury & Norwich Post, 1 December 1841
This extract was first published in Signposts to local history, May 2014, available from the Felsham PO Stores price, £3.50


Green Wars

Whilst researching nineteenth century Felsham I have been very dependent on the reports to be found in local newspapers, such as the Bury & Norwich Post, which can be accessed through Suffolk Libraries online. Using this facility, fascinating bits of village history are reported which do not appear in any other local records.  A good example is the report of the violent disturbances on Upper Green in 1885 during an election rally.  Even today village politics only makes the headlines when something unusual or illegal occurs such as that at Wyverstone in July 2014: "Explosives found among huge arms' haul on parish council chairman's property."

I often wonder what resources local historians of the future will use to describe events occurring today.  Perhaps the archives collected by the Local History Recorder will be of immense value here because this person is tasked with seeing that the present is adequately recorded at local level.  But as the post is currently vacant the interesting events of the last few months in Felsham may well go unrecorded.  I am thinking here of the controversy amounting to a "cause celebre" that surrounded the 'experimental nature reserve' on Lower Green. This began with a resolution, accepted by the Parish Council in May 2013, that a revised maintenance regime should be adopted for Lower Green for an initial trial period of one year.  A year later, after much local acrimony and the resignation of the Parish Clerk, the experiment was abandoned.

OS Map showing Lower Green c. 1900
Over the months villagers rapidly divided into two camps - the 'pros' and the 'antis'.  In the account that follows I will refer to the pros as the Eco Messy Mob and the antis as the Neat and Tidy Brigade.

Right from the start, objections were raised to letting the grass grow longer.  In this minor skirmish at the beginning of the Lower Green War, the idea that wild flowers were to flourish on Lower Green was anathema.  One objector even resurrected some archaic enclosure laws from the nineteenth century to buttress her case for a tidy Lower Green.  The SALC legal team quickly pointed out that these archaic laws did not apply to the land under dispute and the objection was rejected.  The experiment continued and by July 2013, the Green was looking very different to its usual 'short back and sides' appearance with flowers growing in profusion.

Self-heal on Lower Green, July 2013
Sadly, as the year progressed an unforeseen development reared its head.  Suckers put up by the old Black Poplar situated in the middle of the Green began to spring up everywhere.  This was a definite turning point and resulted in the Neat and Tidy Brigade gaining many converts.  It was unclear whether these suckers could be prevented from growing in future years and the Eco Messy Mob were put on the defensive.

Black Poplar sucker, Lower Green
The controversy over the maintenance of Lower Green only became acrimonious when, in March 2014, the grass was 'accidentally' cut short, though there was some suggestion that this was done at the instigation of a member of the Neat and Tidy Brigade.  As the year's experimental period had not expired, the Eco Messy Mob came out with all guns blazing, marshalled their forces, and bombarded the Parish Council with their views on why the experiment should continue.

The Neat and Tidy clique on the Parish Council panicked.  An attempt was made to move the date of the April Parish Council meeting so that all Neat and Tidy Councillors could attend to vote down any motion to continue the experiment.*
In any event, the Neat and Tidy clique came out victorious voting by 5 to 2 to abandon the experiment forthwith.  

Not content with this victory, some Councillors felt that old scores had to be settled.  The target was the Village News Editorial Team who were to be arraigned for daring to report on the controversy.  They argued that a recent article in the Newsletter "undermined the position of the council and belittled the decision-making regarding the maintenance programme for grass cutting on Lower Green."  A correction to be printed in the next edition of the Village News was insufficient; they wanted their "pound of flesh" and insisted that a retraction and an apology was required.  This was satirized in a spoof newsletter called THE FELSHAM PARISH PUMP.

Fortunately, with the absence of the main instigator of this nonsense (see Parish Councils and the law of defamation), the attempt to humiliate the Newsletter team was voted down at a subsequent meeting of the Parish Council.  There was now a definite desire to draw a line under the controversy and the Green War was finally over.  But have any lessons been learnt?

It has been officially acknowledged by MSDC (2 April 2015) that it is acceptable for a chairman of a parish council to change the date of a scheduled meeting to influence the outcome of a proposed vote through the deliberate and subsequent exclusion of some councillors and the inclusion of others.
The Parish Clerk, who at the time of the Green Wars controversy was in cahoots with the"neat and tidy" faction on the Council, changed the date of the scheduled meeting at which an important vote was to be taken over the future of Lower Green.  When challenged on this she blew her top and eventually resigned in a huff.  She asserted she had been insulted.  On closer investigation it appears that she disliked being reminded that she served all councillors and all parishioners and not just her associates and friends.  Furthermore, she took particular exception to being reminded that she was "public servant"; a term which, among the self-serving, self-employed local ruling clique, is regarded as a term of abuse.  It is a sorry state of affairs when people who serve the community in a public capacity, whether teachers, nurses, planning officers or local authority clerks, are ridiculed and demeaned by Tory types and their Lib Dem lackeys.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

“Uproarious proceedings” on Felsham Green, 1885

In 1885 there was a violent confrontation on Felsham Green between local farmers and farm labourers.  It illustrates how the mutual respect and shared values that characterized farming communities in an earlier period had broken down, and how the traditional deference paid to farmers and landowners had been replaced by class antagonism and opposed political values.  The Rector’s description of “the poor deluded labourers” is very telling.  The rural elites often regarded the farm labourer as an ignorant simpleton and a low-paid rustic drudge who could not think for himself and was easily exploited by radical forces including rural trade unionism.

Bury & Norwich Post, July 21,  1885
Since 1884, farmworkers occupying property of sufficient value, had enjoyed the right to vote and were beginning to be wooed by politicians.  Waggonettes decked out in either yellow or blue and bearing emissaries of the two major parties – the Liberals and the Conservatives – crisscrossed the Suffolk countryside to garner votes. 

There was a second Liberal meeting in August 1885 when about 700 people assembled on Upper Green to hear Felix Cobbold speak.  The chairman referred to the disturbances of the last occasion and said that they wanted “to preserve the cherished rights of public meeting” and to “protest against such rights being interfered with, whether by the parson of the parish or others.”

The next month the Conservatives held their own meeting but in the Felsham National School rather than on the Green.  The newspaper report records that Sir Thomas Thornhill MP addressed the meeting which was attended by many local worthies including well-known farmers and the rectors of both Felsham and Gedding.  “There was only a small audience in the room, but a number of labourers assembled in the churchyard and around the schoolroom door.  These behaved in an orderly manner until the conclusion of the meeting, when loud cheers were given for Mr Gladstone, Mr Cobbold, and Mr Arch, and groans for Sir Thos. Thornhill and the Conservatives.”

  1. In 1881, only 14% of Felsham male residents over the age of 21 could vote in Parliamentary Elections.  Ten years later, in 1891, the franchise had been considerably extended: 82% could now vote.  Some men were still excluded as were all women.
  2. The 1885 general election was from 24 November to 18 December 1885.. It saw the Liberals, led by William Gladstone, win the most seats, but not an overall majority. As the Irish Nationalists held the balance of power between them and the Conservatives, this exacerbated divisions within the Liberals over Irish Home Rule and led to a split and another general election the following year.
  3. Felix Cobbold (1841-1909) was a British barrister and Liberal politician.  Cobbold was the son of John Cobbold, MP for Ipswich. He was educated at King's College, Cambridge, and later became a senior fellow of this college. Cobbold also sat as MP for Stowmarket between 1885 and 1886, and for Ipswich between 1906 and his death. In 1895 he presented  Christchurch Mansion to the town of Ipswich as part of an arrangement to preserve the mansion and surrounding Christchurch Park from development. He also bequeathed Gippeswyk Park to Ipswich.
  4. Joseph Arch (1826 -1919) was a Liberal politician, born in Barford, Warwickshire who played a key role in what Karl Marx called the "Great awakening" of the agricultural workers in 1872.  When the National Agricultural Labourers Union was established in 1872, Arch became its president and subscriptions were set at 2d a week. A rise then came in the wages of agricultural labourers which had the unforeseen effect of destroying the union as labourers, deeming their object gained, ceased to agitate. Later, lock-outs of union members by farm owners became widespread. The union finally collapsed in 1896 but was resurrected as the National Union of Agricultural and Allied Workers in 1906.

 This article first appeared in Signposts to local history, available from the Felsham PO Stores.

Friday, 20 June 2014

Social housing in Felsham

In her report to the June meeting of the Parish Council, Penny Otton pointed out that MSDC and Babergh DC are to apply for funding to build new council houses.  But the key point was "although this will provide some new social housing they will be subject to market level rents and the right to buy (after some years) [unspecified]".

The scandal of building houses with public money and then selling them off where they end up in the hands of private landlords who make massive profits is seldom publicized.  However,the Daily Mirror (5 March 2013) has done us an important service in highlighting this untenable situation:

.... Meanwhile, the private rented sector has almost doubled in a decade and 8.5 million people are tenants – one in six households.
Experts link the crisis to Mrs Thatcher’s decision to sell off council homes to tenants at a discount.
Right-to-buy proved popular, but our investigation has found 30 years later, the next generation has not benefited.
Controversially councils were not allowed to spend the cash on building more homes.
We used the Freedom of Information Act to ask city councils how many of their ex-flats, where they still own the freehold, were being sub-let by the leaseholder.
The 13 that responded told us in 32% of the properties, the leaseholder had an “away address” for ­correspondence – a clear sign the flat was being rented out.

We are fortunate in having a district councillor  who opposes unfair rent increases.  A year ago I wrote to Penny Otton saying:
Just to say how much I support your stance opposing rent increases at this time.

Don’t fully understand all the ramifications of housing policy but it strikes me that if this increase goes ahead we will see more defaulting on rent payments, more debt and greater reliance on housing benefit.  Seems to me that we need policies which keep rents lower across the board. 
Apparently private rents went up last year by 4.3%  Private landlords will make a killing while the Government picks up the bill for benefits – looks to me like money going straight from public coffers into private ones.  With rents  kept high because of housing shortage any policy of converging public with private rents has to be unfair and plays into the hands of rentier capitalists in the short term and fails to look to long term improvements. 
Earlier this year I carried out some research after a parish councillor argued for higher rents for council house tenants.  The following is the summary that I circulated to members of the council.

Rents increased in this sector 3.1% last year.  When you read that average wages/salaries went up by only 2.1% in the same period you realise how some people are feeling the pinch. See BBC report. 
 In some occupational areas like Health, workers have seen a drop in wages of over 12% if this report is accurate.  Another report states that workers in Britain's public sector are £23 a month worse off this month compared with this time last year (in real terms).
Such workers who are tenants in Felsham will find an increase of £13.40 a month quite a challenge when you also realise that food and other costs are increasing considerably. (Oddly enough, my enquiries came up with an unspecified, but doubtless, considerable increase in Housing Association rents in Felsham:“The housing regulator maximum increase for the for the period 01/04/2013 – 31/03/2014 is +3.1% plus £2 per week (£8.67 per calendar month)” [Orwell Housing]) Nationally, commercial rents continue to rise and have reached quite extraordinary levels though I have no figures for our local area.  Renting privately when 43% of your income goes on housing costs, compared with 19% spent by mortgage owners, is a disgraceful state of affairs.  See:  
Rents in the Association and Social housing sectors will only become manageable when commercial rents are regulated.  Not only should we regulate private rents we need to allow councils to build thousand of new homes, reducing reliance on extortionate private rents and thus reduce public subsidies to landlords through the housing benefit scandal. At this time, when the Coalition government is waging war on the poor, should we be raising rents at all?  If you think I am exaggerating the current state of affairs check out this local story which gives an indication of what is happening in our (relatively wealthy) neck of the woods:

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Democracy and the parish council

In general, democracy in Felsham is healthy and the Parish Council functions efficiently.  However, there are several caveats.

1.  Parish Meetings vs. Parish Councils
I recently attended the Gedding Parish Meeting and was very impressed by the way the meeting was conducted and by the large number of parishioners that attended.  The following evening, the Felsham Annual Parish Meeting was relatively poorly attended and the 'audience' consisted mostly of councillors and reportees of village bodies.  It went through my mind that the institution of a parish meeting is perhaps more democratic than a Parish Council with elected councillors.  Arguable and debatable?

Interestingly, and this is not generally well-known, a parish meeting can be called at any time if a particular issue needs to be discussed to which the whole village can be invited and participate fully just like the Gedding Meeting.  I researched this and it appears that the following is the correct procedure:
Parish meeting
A parish meeting may be convened by the chairman of the parish council or any two parish councillors, or in a parish council without a parish council by the chairman of the parish meeting or by any representative of the parish upon the district council, or in either case by six electors for the area for which it is to be held (Local Government Act 1972, Sch 12, para 15(1)(d).  The parish council may also convene it but is under no obligation to do so unless its consent is required before the parish council does certain acts.'
 So, six parishioners can call a meeting.  Meetings cannot begin before 6pm and notices specifying the time and place and business of an intended meeting and signed by the conveners must be affixed in some conspicuous place or places in the parish and in addition, the conveners may give such publicity to the meeting as seems desirable.
 Ordinarily the minimum notice required is 7 days, but if any of the business relates to the establishment or dissolution of a parish council, or to the grouping of a parish with another parish it is 14 days.

2.  Rules of debate and STANDING ORDERS
When I was first elected to the Parish Council three years ago, I was amazed how informal the meetings were.  In fact there was little regard for Standing Orders and accepted rules of debate. Nobody appeared to address their remarks through the Chairperson and sometimes discussion seemed aimless and even farcial.  I wondered whether I had drifted into a rehearsal for a FAGENDS pantomime.  At a recent meeting I proposed that "the council proceed to the next business on the agenda".  Nobody seemed to know what I meant, even though it is part of the approved Standing Orders.  It is rather like having a school rule that says - DO NOT WALK ON THE GRASS - where the children a. do not know the verb 'to walk' and b. do not know what 'grass' is.  All seriously embarrassing.

3.  Elections and co-options
Sometimes there is a vacancy for a councillor.  Accepted practice in Felsham is to ask for volunteers to come forward, provide CVs etc, and then an election by 'in situ' councillors takes place.  There are problems here and one very succinct exposition was recently aired on the CPALC site:

What do you think?


Friday, 13 June 2014

Felsham & Gedding Parish Plan 2012

The local historians of the future looking back to 2011 and 2012 will find the Parish Plan both interesting and informative.  But how accurate is the picture of village life presented by the Parish Plan's Report?

At the recent Annual Parish Meeting for Felsham, the chairman of the Felsham & Gedding Parish Plan Steering Group presented her final report and formally closed the Group while acknowledging that many sub-committees spawned by the action plan were still functioning.  She was the only spokesperson to get a resounding round of applause at the meeting and it was certainly well deserved.  Subsequently it may seem a little churlish to voice some criticisms of the Parish Plan process and its conclusions.  Nevertheless it is standard practice in social research to conclude a study with some sort of evaluation but I would like to stress that the informal analysis that follows is an independent and personal view.

1.  The Questionnaire was too long and cumbersome
From the off, criticisms were voiced about the complexity of the some parts of the questionnaire that was sent to all parishioners in Felsham and Gedding. Some people found the introductory section, where recipients were asked for personal details, both unnecessary and intrusive.  It was also unclear how the Steering Group were going to analyse and present their findings in a statistically satisfactory fashion.  The final booklet, however, was not only very attractive to look at with it excellent graphics, it was a thoroughly good read.  In the back of my mind though was the carping thought that could this have not been done more cheaply and easily if the exercise had been broken down into smaller chunks and with better use made of Web apps. such as "Survey Monkey".

2.  The BIG SOCIETY and the distribution of the questionnaire
The introduction to the questionnaire stated that the exercise was a reflection of the Tory's policy of the 'big society'.  What exactly this means is still open to debate but it appeared as an attempt to emphasize the voluntary over the paid contribution to society's well-being.  Subsequently it seemed inappropriate that parishioners were invited to complete the questionnaire with a 'carrot' of money that they would be eligible for when their questionnaire number was entered into a raffle.  I think the total amount available was £50. Offering an inducement to parishioners to complete a questionnaire has implications for the validity and reliability of the conclusions drawn.  Could some people have just filled in their responses in a haphazard fashion just to be entered into the draw?
An interesting parallel can be drawn with the 'donating of blood'.  In this country we have always depended on volunteers and we have some of the best quality blood around.  In other countries, including the USA I think, payment for blood has led to a poorer quality of blood being supplied.  People are not supplying blood through altruism or other intrinsic motivations but through necessity or other extrinsic motives, and this has led to people donating blood that has not been properly screened, perhaps from drug addicts etc.

3.  The questions in the questionnaire did not provide enough alternative responses
To take one example:  A village sign for Felsham.  If my memory serves me right, the question was 'Do you want a Village Sign?  Yes/No.'  Many people answered Yes (including myself) and a committee is now progressing the action with a sizeable budget to help get things moving.
Now, what is the purpose of a Village Sign?  Perhaps the main reason is that it can provide a focus for village identity.  However, as many people have pointed out Felsham already has its village pumps as a reference point, so it is actually unclear what can be added.  I have made some stab at finding some worthwhile historical references which could appear on a sign but they are not that obvious.  [By the way, what has happened to the excellent pub sign for the Six Bells Inn?]
Perhaps the question should have been broader providing a range of different options relevant to the village. For example:
Place in order of preference
  1. Village sign
  2. Museum case of historical documents and artefacts
  3. Village information board
  4. Village trail of listed buildings and places of note
  5. Shelter for pump on Upper Green with seats
4.  The Parish Plan as a mandate for the two villages
The report from the Steering Group was adopted and accepted by both the Gedding Meeting and the Felsham Parish Council, and over many months was the subject of numerous and lively discussions and the production of a comprehensive action plan.  However, there appeared to be some assumption written into the report that it was a 'mandate' for the two elected bodies and this has given rise to some problems both legal and practical.  A 'mandate' is 'an official order or commission to do something' but within the context of  the parish council this cannot be the case.  Parish Councillors are not elected on a mandate but to represent parishioners.  For example, I was elected on a platform "to work for a greener, safer Felsham" which I have tried to do to the best of my ability.  I did not stand for election to carry out the conclusions of a parish plan without question or criticism.
This issue came to the fore recently in a parish council meeting where lengthy and sometimes acrimonious discussion took place concerning the experimental grass-cutting regime on Lower Green.  The Minutes of 24 March state:
... It was confirmed that there was no interest identified from the parish plan for a wildlife area on Lower Green or anywhere else in the parishes...
The implication of this statement was that as the Parish Plan did not sanction a wildlife area then there could not be one.  This is clearly nonsense.  The Parish Council does not require the permission of a report to sanction any action within the village.  Councillors cannot be mandated.  
Something similar happened in the Report's section on LOCAL DEMOCRACY.  Some respondents complained that they did not know their local representatives.  We are not told how many thought this but, even so, the action plan stipulated that personal profiles of parish councillors should be published on the website, in the Village News, and on the Noticeboard.  Innocuous enough you may think, but in fact involved some invasion of privacy.  Not everyone wants a Facebook page and neither does everyone want their personal details splashed all over the internet.  However, despite my personal opposition, the Council agreed to publish the profiles and subsequently I was forced to resign my position as website administrator, a job I thoroughly enjoyed doing.  I outlined my reason in a NALC blog:

   It might seem to many people a trivial matter but I think there is an important privacy principle at stake here.  The silly thing is that it is so unnecessary.  We are a small village and if people want to know what we look like they can attend our monthly meetings plus the occasional “surgeries” that are held in the Village Hall.
 My fellow councillors and Parish Clerk disagree and point out that our District and County Councillors are fully described on-line.  But I feel that at a Parish level it is a different matter entirely and that councillors should be able to opt- out from having similar profiles published.  If new candidates standing for the Parish Council knew in advance that their picture and personal profile were to appear on a website that is a different matter.  They can then decide not to stand in the first place if they felt this was inappropriate for them.

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