Passive Resistance in Stoke St Gregory
As we approach a new and exciting era in the life of our village school [October 2023], let's look back a 120 years or so. In 1902 Parliament passed a new Education Act, drafted by AJ Balfour (who became prime minister later that year, and was also the same man responsible for the Balfour Declaration of 2nd November 1917, which led to the creation of the state of Israel), which radically reorganised the administration of education at local level. It abolished the school boards in England and Wales. All elementary schools were placed in the hands of local education authorities under the control of the county and county borough councils (which had been established in 1888).
Nonconformists and supporters of the Liberal and Labour parties campaigned against the proposed act. David Lloyd George led the campaign in the House of Commons as he resented the idea that Nonconformists would be contributing to the upkeep of Anglican schools, as, for the first time, church schools were to receive public funds. Stoke St Gregory Primary was one such school.
Nonconformist opposition was championed by John Clifford, the Baptist pastor of Westbourne Park Church in London, who became the recognized leader of the passive resistance to the education act. He was opposed to Arthur Balfour's bill for three main reasons:
The rate aid was being used to support the teaching of religious views to which some rate-payers were opposed;
Sectarian schools, supported by public funds, were not under public control;
Teachers in sectarian schools were subject to religious tests.
Clifford formed the National Passive Resistance Committee, and rate refusals began in the spring of 1903 in various parts of the country.
The Chard and Ilminster News reported on Saturday 19 September 1903:
"FURTHER SUMMONSES AT TAUNTON. THE CHAIRMAN AND THE BAPTIST MINISTER. At Taunton on Saturday, several other summonses against passive resisters were heard. Mr. Wyndham Slade was chairman of the bench. The defendants were Rev. E. Curtis, a retired Baptist Minister, of Hatch Beauchamp; the Rev. H. Bishop, pastor of Fulwood Congregational Chapel; Edmund Boobyer, of Stoke St. Gregory ; John Thomas Dare, of North Curry ; and Albert William Hurle; of Stoke St. Gregory." The magistrates refused to listen to any arguments as to why the men should not pay the rates set by the council. " . . . defendant replied, 'I have a difficulty about it, and I wanted to state that difficulty.' The Clerk : It is a pure question as to whether the amount is due or not. Defendant : I will admit it, then. The Chairman : That is all we have to do with you, Mr. Curtis. Thank you, we will not trouble you any more. Defendant : I thought I was summoned to show muse. The Chairman : There is no cause to be shown.'"
Edmund Boobyer, then age 35, and William Hearle, 31, were both wicker chair makers, and the following year they were in court again, along with Charles Garland, and Clifford Garland, willow merchant of Curryload Farm. Refusal to pay resulted in visits from the Bailiffs, who took silverware from Edmund Boobyer's home at Lees Farm.
By 1905 Edmund was the only Passive Resister left in the village - the others had all decided to pay their rates, and the story made the Daily News in London: "FOR FOUR SHILLINGS. Mr. T. S. Penny, President of the Taunton Citizens' League, writes: Mr. Edmund Boobyer. farmer and basket manufacturer, is the only Passive Resister in the parish of Stoke St. Gregory, a village nine miles equidistant from Bridgwater and Taunton. He was on Friday distrained upon for the education rate amounting to 4s. Two overseers, with the assistant overseer and a policeman, drove up to his house and seized the following goods : 1. Eight-day marble clock, silver watch and chain with gold links, silver plate and ware biscuit barrel, and the following silver-plated goods: Egg stand and spoons, teapot, 6 tea spoons, 8 dessert spoons. 2 table spoons, 4 salt spoons, 3 jam spoons, 23 forks, 3 butter knives, bread fork, cake knife. I presume that the overseers expect by treatment of this kind to intimidate Mr. Boobyer to prevent his further resistance. They will find, however, that their action will have consequences quite another sort."
The following week Edmund's possessions were put up for auction at the Royal Oak in order to raise the money to pay the rates., although the only item sold was the marble clock which fetched £2 - the amount needed to cover the rate payment. Edmund then claimed that "as the overseers laid taken away goods so largely in excess of what was really required, they were legally bound to return to his house those remaining unsold. This, however the overseer refused to do, saying his intention was to leave the goods at the inn until Mr. Boobyer saw fit to remove them himself, and also to charge so much per day for storage.—The Rev. J. Hayden, of Burrowbridge, then moved a vote of thanks to Mr. Keirle fur conducting the sale free of cost, and in doing so remarked upon the large number of articles seized to pay so small a sum. One of two things was very evident, either those responsible for making the distraint were ignorant as to the value of the articles taken, or they were actuated by a spirit of vindictiveness and sought to indict much suffering as possible upon Mr. Boobyer because of the position be had taken up in reference to the Education Rate.—The resolution was seconded by Mr. G. Musgrave, and carried unanimously.