Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Druids in Town. A timely reminder.
SILK banner of the Druids, and (right) Dave gets it on his bike.

IF you have only recently joined the readership of this blog, you may be relieved to know that it isn't all gloom and outrage, as now and then without detracting from our anger against governments and the system, there's news to let us lighten up a little.

Thanks to friends out West we have the good news that the banner of the Druids has been seen again in Somerset. Nothing to do with bardic robes or Midsummer night's ritual dancing around stone circles, but a bit of fine tradition nevertheless.

We've remarked before on Bridgwater postal worker Dave Chapple's ability to discover treasure, whether mining the memory of an old Mancunian militant in a care home, or digging out rich history from a heap of old union branch records in the cupboard, and bringing it to life by going to interview a participant.

This time it was going through the attic at Bridgwater Labour Party's Unity House that Dave, who is secretary of Bridgwater and District trades union council, and Labour councillor Brian Smedley found the colourful silk banner of the Druids Friendly Society, which had not seen the light for over 80 years. Now the banner has been donated to the town by the Labour Party, and yesterday Dave and Brian managed to load it on Dave's post office bike, take it through the town centre and deliver it to the Council Chamber just before the rain came on.

Dave Chapple said "This wonderful silk banner of the Bridgwater Independent Druids' Friendly Society was made by George Tutill in East London in about 1890 and is now in the care of Bridgwater Town Council at the Town Hall with a real chance it can be displayed for local people to see, if some basic conservation work can be completed. Friendly Societies-still existing today-were in some ways the 18th and 19th century precursors of trade unions and looked after working-class people with sick out of work and funeral benefits."

Measuring 12ft by 14ft, and complete with carrying poles, brass spearheads and silk cords and tassels in its original box, the banner dates from about 1890 and features designs painted in oils on both sides which show the two sides of its purpose. On one side there is an imaginative picture depicting characters in ancient dress, with Stonehenge in the background, and a Celtic cross, as well as the all-seeing eye often found in masonic designs.

But the other side shows a man in a modern suit, visiting a family with its sick and invalid breadwinner, and bringing some money. It is inscribed "I was sick and ye visited me".

At the end of the 19th century 1,145 Bridgwater people were registered with the Druids and this figure had risen to 2,000 in 1917. As Councillor Smedley explains:

"In those days,before a National Health Service, groups such as Friendly Societies provided sickness, unemployment and funeral benefits for Bridgwater's poor and actually saved families from destitution. This banner and what it stands for should serve as a reminder to today's generations of how ordinary working people organised and fought back against the injustices of of a society stacked against them and brings to mind the struggle that many people continue to face even to this day ."

See also, some references to Dave Chapple's historical work:

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At 1:03 PM, Anonymous Linda Kitch said...

im researching my Kitch family history,and found my Dad belonged to the society,very interesting to see,thanks.wondered what it was on his army records.


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