Winsham cartoon village map showing the church, primary school, jubilee hall and community shop with fields, cows and sheep. Created by Bethany Fowler as the header banner for the Winsham Web Museum.
Home Parish Council Historical Perspective

Historical Perspective

Orginally published Mar 2016
Last updated Mar 2021

In order to put the history of Winsham Parish Council into historical perspective it is useful to look back as far as the earliest post-roman communities and the influence of the Saxon invaders and settlers. Small groups of people, as communities, needed to evolve systems that ensured good order within the group. Following the departure of the Romans in 409 AD, there followed some hundreds years of conflict, with increasingly frequent incursions from the Angles, Saxons, Danes and Vikings.

Eventually, as the Saxons took control, settlements formed, and Winsham is an example of this, as evidenced by its Saxon name. A mill was probably built at the side of the River Axe, trees were felled, land cleared to grow grain and to graze animals. Simple houses were built. These were agricultural, not pastoral people. Their purpose was to settle, and for this a form of self-government evolved.  Such a process was also essential to establishing relationships with neighbouring groups, especially in matters relating to their collective security.

The Saxon concept of representation of the people is reflected still in the current broad structure of our Local Government system, and they also no doubt had similar arguments with the central authorities! As a result, from the earliest days, England established a system that gave most adults in the community a say. All, except the absolute slave had a voice. However the Norman Conquest marked a sharp change towards central government.

At the time of the Norman Conquest the country was already developed into Manors, and held by the Lord from the King .The Normans used this system to inflict their control, but allowed the systems of law and order set up by the Saxons to grow lax. As a result much lawlessness followed. Large portions of the land were let to tenants, who gave services, not money to the Lord. A Manorial Court enforced these services and laid down byelaws.

Richard I,  seeing that financial penalties could supplement the exchequer moved the penal system for punishing major crimes into a more centralised judicial system; for example the post of Coroner for a defined area was established at that time. One of the reasons for this was to raise money for the Crown. This was resented by the  Norman  Manor Lords, as they also saw this as an erosion of the power they had over the ordinary people that lived on their estates. Norman names around the area indicate the power of the Normans at that time.  In Norman Medieval times, Richard the First's ransom, resulting from his capture by Leopold V, Duke of Austria on his return from a Crusade in the Holy Land, caused a substantial financial deficit which would have been met by taxation .  The ransom of 150,000Marks was severe-65,000lbs of Silver! Estimated to be worth some £2Billion in 2011 UKP)!  Very likely not a happy time for the people of Winsham.

Although Winsham had Norman overlords - it was then part of the Cricket St. Thomas Estate,  the Cistercian Forde Abbey, just a couple of miles away, no doubt had an influence on the day-to-day live of the Winsham community. The Church was able to maintain its independence during these early centuries, and played its role in the development of the English nation, often protecting the interest of local people as best they could.

Rural Parishes such as Winsham  evolved in this way, with the opinion leaders of the community working with the Lord of the Manor and the Vicar . By and large it worked. It became a facilitator for central Government. Such Parishes administered the ‘Poor Law’ and founded schools and took care of many other matters of concern to the community. They might not have been strictly democratic in to-days terms, but of course the populations were smaller, poorly educated and communication was slow. However by the late nineteenth century, following the massive expansion in the size of the nation's population and economy arising from the Industrial Revolution,  reform came in the form of the 1894 Local Government Act introduced by Gladstone. Under this legislation, Parish Councils as we know them to-day, were established.

The manner in which Parish Councils developed thereafter is for the most part mirrored in the details of the activities of the Winsham Parish Council recorded in this Gallery. In recent years, around the Millennium, partly as a result of the 'digital revolution' , partly due to pressures for more centralized control by central government, Parish Councils have been obliged to be more professional in their approach to administration. This caused resentment among many Parish Councils because of the 'red - tape' it has generated, and in their context, meaningless extra bureaucracy. Sometimes they wondered why they bothered to contribute their services to the community. There were also substantial cuts in central government and district council grants, placing increased burdens upon the precept, placing even more pressures on the Parish Council.
Whether these pressures result in more greater overall cost effectiveness and administrative efficiency for the benefit of the residents of the Parish, only the passage of time will tell. Winsham Parish Council who pride themselves on their administrative efficiency have for the most part been pragmatic about the changes.
The Winsham Parish Council is close to the community they represent, which is, by and large, prepared to leave the parish council to do their job. In return the parish council has been a pioneer in transparency in its work, being quick to use the opportunity presented by the internet to inform via initially the Parish Web Site and later, its own web site, the use of social media and the Winsham E-Letter.

John Sullivan 2016