The Langport District Friendly Society banner states that it was established in 1827, but according to the Taunton Courier of 24 May 1826, the Society can trace its origins back as far as 1794, which must make it one of the oldest Friendly Societies in the country.
Until the Second World War most communities had a Friendly Society, usually affectionately known as “The Club” (hence the expression “on the club”). In the days before the welfare state, when there was no sickness or unemployment benefit, if a working man lost his job through illness, or when the breadwinner died, “The Club” was often all that stood between him and his family and the workhouse. However, the local Friendly Society provided a rudimentary form of sickness benefit and death benefit, and also provided a means of saving for its members.
Until recently the Friendly Society “broke” every seven years, when its assets were returned to the members, and the Society then reformed.
Every year the Society holds its “Club Day” (properly known as the “Annual Feast”) at the end of May. Traditionally this was on the Saturday nearest to “Oak Apple Day” (29th May), but in recent years has been changed to the fourth Saturday in May to avoid clashing with the Long Sutton Friendly Society. The members, dressed in their Sunday best would march round the town behind the Banner and the Band, first to Church, after which they would visit a number of private houses and local hostelries. Finally, they would sit down to a meal, to which they had invited members of the local gentry, some of whom would “sing for their supper” with a speech, and all would be invited to make a contribution to Club funds.
Memoirs of a pre-War Club Day, by Les Langford
Growing up in Langport during the 1930s I have many pleasant memories of the Langport Friendly Society. Long Sutton, Aller, Curry Rivel, Barrington and Fivehead all had their own clubs in existence then. High Ham had a Society and a Village Band until about 1930.
The Langport Club always walked on the nearest Saturday to Oak Apple Day (29th May). Members would meet in the Old Pig Market (where the new Town Square) is now situated), always dressed in their Sunday Best with drain-pipe trousers and polished boots. Members sported a blue and white rosette and wore an oak apple sprig. Mr Tout and Eddie Martin were Secretary and Treasurer of the Club in those days.
The Club President, Mr E Q Louch (Langport’s solicitor) would ‘inspect’ and chat with the members, and a roll-call was taken. Then, behind the Honorary President and Secretary, the banner and the Langport Town Band, the members would head off on the annual walk around the town and the surrounding areas. The bandmaster was Eddie Purchase, who was also the Landlord of the Angel Inn.
Different routes were taken each year, with various estates, farms and public houses being visited. The first call after the usual church service was usually Hurds Hill, the home of Mr Guy Barrington.
The Rose and Crown at Huish was a regular watering hole. Eli Scott, standing on a beer crate, would always give the club a warm welcome.
Another pub visit was ‘Trooper’ Bonning’s at Newtown (now closed). With other children I remember walking along with Club members from the top of Picts Hill and out to Wearne Road. At Jack Elston’s farm glasses of cider and trays of bread and cheese were put on his Barton wall, and after the members had taken refreshment the host would be thanked. The members would then sing “Here we are again” and “For he’s a jolly good fellow” before moving on to Ali Cullen’s farm and Bown’s Farm to get more of the same treatment.
The route then went to the top of White Hill and along the Aller Road, dropping into Combe for more refreshment at Ralph Cullen’s. We made other stops as well.
Late May can be very warm, and the odd member could be overcome by a mixture of sun and cider – occasionally missing a stop! However, with Langport Band still playing – although perhaps a little ‘cidered up’, and a bit off key, they could not resist calling in at the Newtown Inn for one last stop.
The Club finished their walk at a marquee in the Old Recreation Field (by Langport East railway Station). A substantial luncheon was provided for the members and local dignitaries – professional men and farmers. The King was toasted and speeches were made. Much ale was provided – jugs of beer a-plenty were used to keep glasses topped up until late afternoon, by which time the Members were quite legless. I understand that children’s sports then took place – perhaps before my time.
Townsend’s Funfair was set up in the Recreation Field, and they made a donation to Club funds.
After providing music all day, Langport Town Band returned in the evening to play for dancing in the marquee until late at night.
We are very grateful to John Hunt for permission to reproduce these extracts from: Langport Friendly Society: a celebration, by John Hunt and Les Langford, 2009.
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