The Reeves Feast was a manorial event. The menu included: “chine beef roasted, boiled rump and rump beef, bacon served with a sprig of rosemary and powdered with flour, boiled chicken, served with sops of bread, and proper vegetables”. Desert was a large mince pie with an effigy of King John in paste and painted to represent a King. Once the company sat down, four candles weighing a pound each were lit and the company had the right to sit drinking until they were burnt out. The 'The Jack of Knapp' and the 'Real Jack of Slough', both pseudonyms for two local manors, sat at the head and foot of the table. As in a deck of playing cards, the Jacks were there as deputies of the King or Queen. The Jack of Slough was the owner of Slough Court in Stoke. The Jack of Knapp was the owner of a piece of ground in Knapp called "Parker's Mead". It is near the river at Haymoor's End, behind what was the Royal Oak Inn.
King John is often credited with responsibility for feast. However, in his local history book, Dr Olivey suggests that it was a Saxon or Ancient British custom, and had its origin in ancient land tenure and rights of pasturage and services. Many local rights of landowners, commoners, tenants and workers were granted without any written charter. Instead they would continue only if certain rituals and customs were followed. Most local customs were not changed when the Normans took over the country.
Olivey also noted that ”Certain farmers have a prescriptive right of being present, and should that right at any time be disputed, there is a song of unquestioned antiquity by which they claim their privilege, and march in procession to the scene of the festivity singing it . . . . Particular farms are assessed to furnish provisions. One estate provides three oxen, another so many sheep, another pigs, another poultry, another strong beer, &c. The living animals are driven to the pound the week previous and examined by the parochial authorities, who send them back and demand others if disapproved.”
Along with the right to be present came the demands made on the various tenants of the manor in order to maintain their rights to the land. The accompanying list is for East Curry (equivalent to most of the modern parish of Stoke St Gregory),
The left overs were supposed to be given to the poor. Until 1866 the Lords of the Manor, the Dean of Chapter of Wells Cathedral each year paid 14 pounds 10 shillings towards the expenses of the feast. However, when the estate was transferred to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners their agents Messers Cluttons stopped the payment and reported the feast had degenerated having 'become a scene of riotous dissipation and waste which it would be desirable to abolish' especially because 'the poor do not receive the share of the provisions' the custom 'intended for them'. The Commissioners, as good Victorians, followed their agents advice and the feast was discontinued. The last feast observed was in the year 1865, when the Reeve for the year was Mr Robert Bobbett.The previous year Mr William Hurman, then living in White Street Farm, had held the office and the feast was held at his house.
A New Beginning
On November 18th 1867, a meeting was held "to consider and determine in what way the money herebefore paid by the Dean and Chapter of Wells towards the Reeve's Feast shall in future be applied through the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. W. H. P. Gore Langton, Esqr., M.P., is expected to attend and inform the meeting of an interview he has had with the Ecclesiastical Commissioners."
In the 1890s, a separate charity was formed for Stoke St Gregory. The first meeting of the Trustees was held at the School on Friday evening 17th January 1896, at 7 o’clock. The Trustees were: Rev H F S Gurney, Vicar; G L Bobbett & T B Rowsell (District Councillors - ex officio); F Bastable & G Musgrave, being elected by the Parish Council to take the place of the outgoing Churchwardens. The Vicar, Henry Gurney, was elected chairman, Frank Bastable became treasurer, and Thomas Rowsell took on the role of secretary [the Rowsells farmed 160 acres in Huntham, employing 3 men & 3 boys]. A follow-up meeting was held on 24th January. The Trustees decided to make themselves responsible “for any small amount for necessary expenses not to exceed five shillings (25p) so that the whole of the Charity money may be expended”. William House of Stathe Court was appointed auditor.
Tickets were issued to the needy of the parish, signed by all the trustees. These could be taken to “any tradesman living in the parish and there exchaged for coal, provisions, etc.” At a meeting in December 1896, “The Chairman reported that he was 3s 4d out of pocket expended in payment for books & the members present paid him 8d each, their share of the deficiency.”
As people died, and new needs arose, the list was altered. In some cases specific items were donated: “In the case of Thomas Hembrow (Deaf and Dumb) the Committee asked T B Rowsell to get him a Flannel shirt of not less value than 3 shillings.” In fact Mr Rowsell bought enough flannel for two shirts to be made for Thomas. The following year blankets were bought for the two Richards brothers.
Henry Gurney continued to chair the committee until 1927, when the new vicar H Lawrence Walker took over. By now the committee consisted of the new Vicar, Geofferey Musgrave, B Hector, Edmund Boobyer & William House. In 1930 (while the church was without a vicar) Edmund Boobyer took the chair, but by the 1931 meeting the Rev Lano Coward had taken up his position as the new vicar and chair of the Committee. Rev Coward continued in this role until his sudden death in 1958.
Since then trustees have included Hugh Chedzoy, Clifford House, Rev Haddon, Rev de Brett, W T Parsons, Ken Court, David House, Christopher Rowley.