The South West Heritage Trust is the best place to start for Stoke records. It is worth knowing what you're looking for before you visit and they will have material waiting for you. Their online catalogue is available HERE and some Stoke records can be found HERE, although to get the most out of the catalogue you sometimes have to be inventive in your search words.
British History Online provides a link to some of the documents of our old landlords, the Dean and Chapter of Wells. The Liber Albus records are available HERE
The Parish Council came in to existence as a result of the 1894 Local Government Act. The council's records are also available at the Heritage Centre.
The 'Vestry' Meeting
Before the days of ‘Parish Councils’, alongside the ecclesiastical hierarchy, there was also a civil one, which grew up as more and more procedures were created by statute law that had to be fulfilled by parish officers. The parish constable, the surveyor of the highways and the overseers of the poor (responsible for the needs of those residents unable to support themselves and their families) were usually nominated and confirmed by the parish meeting, or vestry. This was a meeting of all the rate payers of the parish, usually in the church, in the part of the church known as the vestry, hence the generic name for the meeting. Meetings were usually once a month or could be fortnightly and were usually chaired by the rector or vicar who was ex-officio, the chairman of the meeting.
The Overseers of the Poor decided to convert the Church House, located across the road from the old Village Stores, into a Workhouse. This was demolished when monetary payments came in to force. Actions of the national government in this field, no doubt supported by local landowners, were not always welcome in the village, as reported in the Bristol Journal, 1834:
The New Poor Law Bill - In the parishes of North Curry and Stoke St Gregory threatening papers have been dropped about in different places. The following is a copy of one of them, from which it appears the overseer has hitherto been more indulgent to the writer than the schoolmaster:- "Jentelmen - You has taken Away All Poor mens Pay and you must take care of your Self Corn Hay and stock this Wenter you will get it ham string"
Parish officers were usually elected at the Easter meeting and there was a property qualification. Offices were often held by rotation, the jobs passing to neighbours from year to year. Householders could be fined for refusing to hold office. If a female householder became liable for appointment, the office was usually held by a male substitute who was appointed on her behalf.
The Parish Council
This all changed with the Local Government Act of 1894 when, along with the rest of rural England, Stoke St Gregory Parish Council was created. Rather than having issues decided at Parish Meetings, where all ratepayers could attend and make decisions, a new body of elected members would take decisions on behalf of the villagers. In some ways this distanced and disengaged the local people from governance of the village. On the other hand, Tory MPs who opposed to the Bill saw it as “unnecessary, dangerous and revolutionary, and opposed to the best interests of the country - it would scatter ill feeling, confusion, bad government and financial extravagance throughout the country.”
In the elections, held in December 1894, there were seven seats to be contested in Stoke. The results were: J T Dare, 147; Bastable, 117; J P Hector, 113; G Musgrave, 109; Cousins. 100; T B Rowsell, 100; Godfrey, 93; were elected. Bobbett, 84; T Barrington, 83; H Barrington, 82; Squire, 60; Lockyer, 55; were not.
In the January 1989 meeting the council reviewed the state of footpaths, bridges and stiles. The Chairman read the list of the occupiers of the land visited by the council, and the defects and requirements noted for each noted at the time. After a discussion, Mr Dare proposed, and Mr Musgrave seconded, that the Clerk write to all the various occupiers concerned giving them the option of doing all the necessary repairs themselves. Mr Hembrow proposed as an amendment that as the paths were used by the public, the Parish Council should do the work required themselves, and the cost be paid from the rates. This found no seconder. Ultimately Mr Dare’s proposal was agreed to.
[Collickshire Lane would have been the main route between the village and the river, before the road was dug out down Curload Hill]
Footpaths continued to be important items on the agenda. In December 1899 two issues were discussed. Mr Salter called attention to the steps and stile in Dark Lane (leading up to Gerald’s ground in Highfield). He also talked about a footbridge in Collickshire, and "it was agreed to give the owners the usual notices to put the same in repair."
And in February 1900 Collickshire Lane was in the news again, as reported by the Taunton Courier:
HANDRAIL AND FOOTBRIDGE IN COLLICKSHIRE - It was decided that the Council should have a footbridge and handrail erected at Collickshire reported at the last meeting, Mr Hembrow and Mr Boobyer to arrange for the work to be done. Attention was called to a stile placed across a public right of way by George Boobyer, and it was decided to give him 14 days’ notice to remove the same.
Taunton Courier 14th February 1900
The election in March 1899 attracted eleven candidates for the seven available seats. Most of them provided transport to the polling station for potential voters. 240 people out of a possible 395 cast their vote, the poll closing at 8 o’clock. By 9 o’clock we had a result:
To Be Continued . . .