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Women's Institute: The Village 1939 - 1959

Week St. Mary is a parish situated at the Northern extremity of the delectable Duchy of Cornwall, surrounded by the parishes of Jacobstow, North Petherwin, Marhamchurch, Poundstock and Whitstone on the border line of Devon and Cornwall, and almost equi-distant from Launceston, Bude and Holsworthy. It has a population of 402, according to the figures of the 1951 census, a drop of 58 in twenty years. No figures are available since 1951, but there has been a steady decline in the past hundred years.

It has also changed in composition, there being fewer children and more retired couples, the former due no doubt, to modern family planning, and the latter to the War, when it was a reception area and those seeking shelter stayed on.

There is no railway or daily bus service. Its isolation and extreme northern position in the County affect it adversely in some ways. It is an entirely agricultural area, producing high-grade cattle and sheep. Ever since the fifteenth century, when Thomasine Bonaventure, the Shepherdess of Greena Moor, met and married John Bunsby, the Wool Merchant of London, who was later to be its Lord Mayor, and Thomasine an enlightened benefactor of her native village and County. It has reared the gentle sheep who feed and clothe us and fertilise the land.

In this village too, at Swannacott Manor, dwelt Sir Richard Grenville and the tenants still have the ancient right and honour of paying dues to the Sovereign of a goatskin. Goscott’s offering is a Rose, sword and pewter and are in Swannacott to this day. Another historical survival is the “Poor Man’s Piece” existing before the enclosures. That charity is still administered yearly by the Parish Council and the rent paid to the poor recipient: an illustration of the Welfare State in olden days.

Being a highly agricultural area there have been no outstanding changes in scenery, but if scenery has not changed, manners, morals and customs have greatly altered, due to the War in the first half of the period under review, and to economic, educational and cultural changes in the latter period. From a native insular community it now comprises varied British, German, Austrian and Polish inhabitants. Most of these changes have been for the better. Twenty years ago illegitimacy was frequent, now it is very rare.

Conscripts have married wives from other parts of England thus bringing fresh blood and differing temperaments to mingle with the conservative West Country nature. But the later changes have been equally spectacular.

Agriculture, an industry vital to the nation, and to Week St. Mary, is now scientifically operated and mechanised by the use of the Combine Harvester, Baler, Hedge Trimmer, Manure spreader and many other labour saving devices. Some of these implements were in short supply in 1939, but now they are in use in season every day. The land has also improved by the use of modern fertilisers and the draining of marsh land, thus bringing a greater acreage under cultivation, producing more crops and improving the landscape. Agricultural wages have risen from thirty-shillings to £7/14/- with a recent award of a further four shillings.

New Council houses with all modern conveniences and the reconditioning of old cottages have greatly improved the structural appearance of the village, and the boon to the housewife of main drainage and water supply (electricity was already installed) are other recent and very necessary improvements. The water supply from two bore-holes was sufficient to meet all needs of the past very dry summer.

The weekly market has increased in the past few years by one hundred per cent, both in numbers of cattle and dealers attending, cattle lorries and cars extending the whole length of the village on market days. The standard of cattle sold is much higher due to improved methods of feeding, introduction of TT certificates and better farm buildings.

Eggs are now collected by lorries from Egg Packing Stations and graded and paid by weight. Many of the farms have their own electricity plant installed. A Honey Factory for processing Nature’s sweetmeat, the work of the busy bee, has been a recent hive of industry, many tons of honey being sent all over the country from the Sunny West.

No new roads have been made but the existing ones have been resurfaced after the laying of underground telephones, sewers, and water pipes. There have been changes in education: the school is old but has been modernised and is capable of accommodating fifty pupils, but now has only twenty, the eleven plus having graduated to Bude Grammar or Stratton Secondary schools, being conveyed by school bus. School dinners for the twenty remaining are provided at the Temperance Hotel. The small numbers at present at the school are considered uneconomic by the Ministry and we risk the closure of the school and the loss of two teachers.

The comparatively recent introduction of the Health Service has been a blessing. There is no resident Doctor, the nearest living eight miles away, but surgeries are held three times a week and there are two highly efficient Queen’s District Nurses living in the village, their services being much appreciated. The nearest hospital, the Stratton Cottage Hospital, is seven miles distant. Emergency cases are taken to Plymouth (45 miles) by ambulance or hospital car. The Twilight Home at Bude receives aged infirm patients no longer able to care for themselves and without relatives able to help. We are glad to report we have a Blood Donor Service available.

Especially noteworthy has been the introduction of Television as an amenity in rural life. There are approximately forty sets in the village, creating amusements, increasing knowledge and providing wider horizons for the mind by a worldwide appreciation of life and people and nature in other lands. It is safe to say no single factor has been greater than the “Telly” for opening up the world to a rural community.

Church and Chapel have held their own, though attendances are not large, but co-operation between the two, both in attendances on special functions and in monetary aid is welcomed and generously given.

We are glad that Dances, Whist Drives, Socials, Skittle Clubs and Women’s Institute all thrive in competition with Television for they create the communal spirit in the village and aid various charities.

This Autumn the young leaders of the Methodist Church have acquired a film projector and during the winter films are shown. A Musical Festival is held each Spring, including classes in singing, elocution and woodwork. A Travelling Library has been a great improvement on the old method of distribution and is much appreciated. It gives one the opportunity of borrowing any book, no matter how expensive either fiction or non-fiction, and a greatly increased choice.

An all-night light in the Public Telephone Box has been another amenity added, due to the initial efforts of the Women’s Institute. Cherry trees were planted during the Coronation Year and public seats provided. The R.S.P.C.A. van pays a weekly visit to care for sick animals and household pets. A Public Convenience is in course of erection. The building of new Post Office and the provision of & letter-box at Week Green have been welcome facilities.

We were proud, too, when this year a working member of the community was invested by the Queen with the MBE for services to agriculture. He already held the honours of a Justice of the Peace and Alderman. This emphasises the fact that the small community has its public spirited residents.

Living standards are high. The introduction of deep freeze refrigerators in shops and private houses makes possible a wider choice of food, in season and out, and allied to the farm produce provides abundant diet much appreciated by the numbers of summer visitors drawn to the area by its proximity to the sea and moor. There are no poor, sub-standard houses; old cottages have been reconditioned and new dwellings built, including an ultra modern, centrally heated and insulated bungalow. No great advantage is taken of hire purchase. There is a high percentage of motor vehicles owned per resident, due to isolation and the problem of transport.

In concluding, one must stress the need of better transport facilities for non-car owners and recognition by the Government of that need. Hospital extension is also a matter of priority as the long journey to Plymouth for specialised treatment involves a journey of 80 miles. There is also the problem of the young people having to go further afield to earn their living and being compelled to provide their transport to get there. A Village Hall is badly needed, the present Church Hall often being inadequate and is not equipped with sanitation. Street lighting is a hope of the future.

We are proud of the achievements of the past twenty years, but continue to strive for further improvements. Long may we guard and cherish the heritage of the English Countryside and that of our own ancient village of Week St. Mary.

Compiled by: Mrs O Goodman, Mrs L Hutchings, Mrs W Ridgman, Mrs D Treleven, Miss N Orchard & Miss E Teague.


An excellent article reflecting the times exactly as we remember them - thank you again Week St. Mary Women's Institute.
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