The inception of the Fund
The origins of the Bagehot Memorial Fund lay in the desire of various individuals and groups within the Langport area to commemorate Walter Bagehot more prominently in his home town. Other than a few references to him in the names of, or inside one or two buildings, the only visible memorial was a faded stone plaque installed in 1916 above the front door of his birthplace, Bank Chambers, in Cheapside. He seemed to be relatively little known, even in the Langport area, perhaps in part due to his unusual surname.
The immediate catalyst for the formation of a dedicated group arose in late 2010 and early 2011 from the need to repair both the border wall in the south east corner of All Saints’ Churchyard and the adjoining Bagehot gravesite, a listed monument. The Town Council had been advised that the deterioration of the wall was caused in part by the weight and pressure of the Bagehot memorial. Unfortunately, the legal liability for the repair and maintenance of the churchyard and its graves was complex, and the projected financial costs of repair were estimated at around £10,000 each for the wall and the Bagehot grave. With the very small council tax base of the population of Langport itself, these costs would have been a severe burden on the local community. There was little prospect of tracing any surviving descendants of the Bagehot family who might be responsible for the upkeep of the grave.
Several local people, including Janet Seaton & Barry Winetrobe from the local History Society, and Andrew Lee, the editor of the Langport Leveller newspaper, approached Langport Town Council with proposals to seek external funding support for the repair of the Bagehot grave, and to use this as an opportunity to promote the more general local commemoration of Walter Bagehot. Some local media coverage had also raised the possibility of external financial support from those connected with Bagehot’s life and work, such as The Economist newspaper, which Bagehot had edited for many years. Barry Winetrobe spoke briefly on this at the Town Council meeting on 11 January 2011, and the Council agreed that the Town Clerk, Robin Williams, should continue discussions with local interested parties.
The idea of a ‘Bagehot Memorial Fund’, with an initial list of founding supporters connected in some way with Bagehot who would be willing to publicise their support for the initiative, was then pursued. A document was drafted and sent to potential founding supporters in the spring of 2011, and by the autumn a list of founding supporters had been gathered and some early donations received. In particular, The Economist had expressed its positive support and wished to discuss their involvement further. A productive meeting took place on 19 January 2012 at the newspaper’s London office between Robin and Barry, for the Fund, and a number of their staff, led by the editor, John Micklethwait. In March 2012, it generously offered a substantial donation to the Fund.
At the same time, Fund organisers were developing proposals for Bagehot-related activities that would promote the aims of the Fund, including a Bagehot Memorial Debate as part of the inaugural Langport Festival in June 2012, and a talk on Bagehot as part of the History Society’s programme, to take place in March 2012 at Hurds Hill, the former Bagehot family home just outside the town. The Fund and its activities were beginning to gain local media coverage, which helped to promote it and to attract further support and finance.
Contact was also established with other people and organisations interested in Bagehot and the aims of the Fund. The new owners of Hurds Hill, Clifford Lee and David Holmes, offered positive support for the Fund, including the use of Hurds Hill for appropriate Fund activities. Ruth Dudley Edwards, the noted journalist and author, who had written a book on Bagehot as well as an official history of The Economist, together with Helen Mann, The Economist’s archivist, began a productive relationship with the Fund, and became an invaluable source of advice and support. Following the sad death in early March 2012 of Lord St John of Fawsley (who, as Norman St John-Stevas, was the modern biographer and chronicler of Bagehot and his works), who had agreed to be a supporter of the Fund, initial contact was made with his executors to express our sympathy at their loss and our hope that they would continue his support for the Fund.
The following people agreed to be founding supporters of the Bagehot Memorial Fund in 2012:
John & Janet Aram, voluntary tenders of Bagehot’s grave
David Clinton, Professor of Politics
Ruth Dudley Edwards, writer about Bagehot
Lady (Elizabeth) Gass, Lord Lieutenant of Somerset
Paul Heim, owner of Bank Chambers, Bagehot’s birthplace
Lord (Peter) Hennessy of Nympsfield, Professor of History
Sir Antony Jay, writer, author of the Yes, Minister TV series
Langport & District History Society, promoters of local history
Clifford Lee & David Holmes, owners of Hurds Hill, Langport, Bagehot’s family home
Lord St John of Fawsley, Bagehot’s biographer and chronicler
The Economist, Bagehot was the Editor from 1861 until his death in 1877
University College London, Bagehot’s university
Sir Graham Watson, Regional MEP
Organisation of the Fund
It became clear that there was a need for the Fund to be established on a more formal footing. It was agreed that it would operate, for legal and financial purposes, under the auspices of the Langport Town Trust, a registered charity (no. 242979) whose objects are the “maintenance, improvement and provision of public amenities for the benefit of the inhabitants of Langport”, and whose sole trustee is Langport Town Council.
The Fund was established with two objectives:
1. To refurbish and maintain the Bagehot family gravesite in All Saints’ Churchyard, Langport
2. To commemorate in other ways, locally and beyond, the life and work of Walter Bagehot as Langport’s most famous citizen.
To run the Fund on a day-to-day basis, a Steering Committee was appointed to represent various interested local parties. It included 2 members of the Langport Town Trust, representatives of the Langport & District History Society, the Parochial Church Council of Huish Episcopi cum Langport, and 3 members of the public. The Town Trust Administrator (the Town Clerk) acted as clerk to the Steering Committee.
The Steering Committee oversaw the fulfilment of the Fund’s objectives for the next 5 years. In 2017, however, preparations were begun to transfer responsibility for the Fund to the Langport & District History Society, now a registered charity. Langport Town Trust agreed the transfer on 18 September 2018, and the formal agreement was signed in June 2019.
Fund achievements 2012 - 2017
The main achievements of the Fund in its first five years included these:
- Bagehot Memorial Debates were held from 2012-2015. Read more
- A public consultation event was held at Hurds Hill in July 2012.
- Langport Town Trust agreed to rename the Town Garden as the Walter Bagehot Town Garden. Read more
- A large interpretation board was installed in the garden celebrating Bagehot as a Langport man and an international figure. Read more
- Artefacts and documents relating to Bagehot were donated by the executors of the late Lord St John of Fawsley, who had collected them when researching his multi-volume edition of Bagehot’s collected works.
- A public appeal for funds allowed the Fund to pay for the repair of Bagehot’s grave.
- A website was developed, a leaflet about Bagehot and the Fund was published, and talks about Bagehot were given to local community groups.
- A hustings event was held for local General Election candidates in March 2015. Read more
- The diaries of Bagehot’s wife, Eliza, covering the years 1851 to 1921, were professionally digitised.
- The Fund’s collection of ‘Bagehotiana’ was catalogued and stored at a secure location.
Bagehot Memorial Fund as part of the Langport & District History Society (LDHS)
The trustees of the LDHS, a registered charity (no. 1179718), are now responsible for the fulfilment of the Fund’s objectives, as part of their mission to advance education for the public benefit into the history of Langport and the surrounding areas.
Proposals for future Bagehot activities can be found as part of the History Society’s annual strategic plan.