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Bishops Hull fights a losing battle – 1961

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This is a story found in an original copy of the Western Daily Press by local resident Jane Evans. Jane was kind enough to sent me the text from the story shown below, together with scanned copies of photographs taken at the time.

Western Daily Press, Friday June 23rd, 1961. By Bill Beckett

Villages on the doorstep of towns usually struggle to maintain the typical characteristics of the English village. Bishops Hull – one and a half miles from Taunton, the county town of Somerset, is no exception.
Bishops Hull, in fact, is so close to Taunton that it is almost impossible to determine where the town ends, and the village begins. It is this close proximity to the town that has been the cause of the village’s biggest problem.
The problem is: How long will Bishops Hull be able to remain a village?
In the last 40 years Bishops Hull has more than doubled in size. Most of the development in recent years has been for the overflow of population from expanding Taunton.
Two large estates, Smithy Cottages and Northfield, have linked the village with the town. There is also development away from the village at Shutemead, where another large estate is being built.

A dormitory
Smithy Cottages and Northfield house people from Taunton. But Shutemead has been built to accommodate people from parts of Bishops Hull that have been demolished.
As the village has no industry apart from farming, Bishops Hull has become no more than a dormitory for Taunton workers.
It is this that makes it almost inevitable that, before long, Bishops Hull will be absorbed in the Taunton Borough Council area.
The only people who will gain by being merged with Taunton will be the Taunton Borough Council. They will gain a great deal each year from the rates.

Unequal fight
The losers will be the rural council who will lose a corresponding amount of rateable value and the villagers themselves, who will have to pay substantially higher rates than they are paying at the moment.
I asked the Congregational minister for his views on the matter. The Rev. D.A. Liley, who has been minister at Bishops Hull for 18 months, said:
“It is inevitable that Bishops Hull will become part of Taunton in the not so distant future. The place is no more than a dormitory for Taunton workers.
“But there is a move in the village to keep it as a village apart from Taunton. I believe that it should be kept wholly parochial.

Green belt
“But I’m afraid that it’s rather like a gnat fighting an eagle.”
Mr. Charles Payne has lived in Bishops Hull for more than 42 years. He said: “Bishops Hull will be in Taunton within the next four or five years.
“This would mean that our rates will go up considerably. I don’t think we would gain many advantages by being part of Taunton.
“There must have been more than 1,000 houses built here in the last 40 years. If Taunton took us over then all the rates will go to them.

New houses
“However, there is one thing that could stop us becoming part of Taunton, and that is that a lot of the surrounding land here is part of the Green Belt.”
Mr. William Martin, who has lived at Bishops Hull for 26 years, agreed with this.
Mr. G.M. Turner also feels that Bishops Hull will soon be within the Borough of Taunton. He is the owner of the village shop.
He told me: “It will go into Taunton sooner or later. However, the general feeling in Bishops Hull is that we don’t want to become part of Taunton.
“But the building of new houses is bringing us closer and closer to the town.”
Mr. F.J. Coles, of Musgrove Post Office, is an ex-vice chairman of the council, and still a member. Said Mr. Coles: “The general feeling of the council is against the suggestion of being taken into Taunton.
“Undoubtedly we would much rather retain our identity as a village as long as we possibly can. We should very much regret being taken into the borough.

Pros and cons
“However, I think the borough council will almost certainly have a go at getting us into the borough.”
“The expansion of the village towards Taunton has made us almost part of Taunton. It’s a pity that the village has been encroached on by all this new building.”
There can be no doubt that the Borough of Taunton has its eye on Bishops Hull. And it is doubtful whether the village will be able to withstand demands to take it over.
What are the pros and cons of this problem?
Arguments against are that Bishops Hull would lose its status as a village, and all that remains of its rural character. And the people there would have to pay higher rates.

No amenities
What can the borough council offer Bishops Hull if it takes over the village?
The village lacks many things that the borough council could provide. Bishops Hull has almost no amenities for villagers at all.
There is no village hall; no playing field for the children – and with an expanding population Bishops Hull has many young children with no place to play.
There is also no club for the old people. All these necessities could be provided by the borough council.

Youth club
If these things were provided, then it would compensate somewhat for the increased rates that the villages would have to pay.
What has the village got to offer at present? Mr. Liley told me that until recently there was no youth club in the village.
However, under the auspices of the Congregational Church, the young folk have taken over an old garage in the village. They will shortly convert it into a youth club.
It remains to be seen whether the club will be a success, for any activity in Bishops Hull has to compete with the bright lights of Taunton.
And, generally speaking, Taunton always wins.
There are also the usual clubs for women- the Women’s Institute, the Bright Hour and the Young Wives Club. All are successful, and in recent years have raised a great deal of money for the village church.
The Young Wives Club have just completed the mammoth task of cleaning the village church, Mrs. Joyce Weaver, who lives in the older part of the village, opposite the church, told me.
They scrubbed the church out, polished it and re-covered many of the hassocks. The church itself, with an odd octagonal tower, has also had exterior renovations recently.
Mr. W. Scobell, who is 80, and one of the oldest inhabitants of Bishops Hull, feels strongly about the lack of amenities for old folk.

Old people
“There is nothing done for the old people here, and I would definitely like to see something done.” He said.
“The expansion of the place doesn’t bother me. But I would definitely like to see the village remain as Bishops Hull.”
Still remarkably active at the age of 80, Mr. Scobell does all his own housework and cooking. And still he finds time to look after the attractive rose garden at the front of his cottage in the main street.
So it seems that, despite the presence of so many people who would regret the merging of Bishops Hull with Taunton, the town can offer far more to the village than it has at the moment.

Their chance
With the influx of people into the new housing estates, there is no longer a strong village feeling.
After all, it is far easier to buy the canned entertainment that the town can provide than to make your own. As one villager harshly said: “Bishops Hull is a dead village.”
This may or may not be so. But Bishops Hull would have a far greater chance of withstanding the demands of Taunton if more was done by the villagers to make it a separate community.

I’d like to thank Jane Evans for sharing this fascinating story with me.

John Hunt

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