An Illustrated Social History

Chelsworth  Yesterday and Today

In the early 18th Century, there are regular opportunities through the year for the villagers to enjoy themselves in various festivals and merrymaking, generally associated with the seasonal feast days of the established church. At Christmas, in particular, there are the religious observances, topped off with dinner at the expense of the squire. There are markets and fairs to visit, with a range of competitions and challenges to attempt; harvest Horkeys and hunts giving a chance for a good deal of drinking and rough play; and the fun of watching neighbours engaged in the pretentious charades of the Manor Court and its Leet.

Once in a while, there may be the chance to go into town and experience the urban delights of the theatre or the fashionable shops.

Today, the inhabitants come together twice in the course of each year at the Parish Meeting, at which all local electors have the vote and which provides a forum for discussion of all kinds of matters of local interest. The main topics in recent years have been proposed housing developments and the problems presented by speeding traffic along the street.

A special gathering of all the villagers a couple of years ago was the Planning Inquiry into the status of the approaches to the church across land belonging to The Grange. It proved to be a classic of its kind, involving all kinds of contributions from a considerable range of participants, ranging from the pompous and the professional to the well-intentioned but wrong-headed local, over an issue that was ultimately trivial and uncontentious.

4.     Special Events

Each year, too, the village comes together for Open Gardens Day on the last Sunday of June. Thousands of visitors come to Chelsworth to see the gardens, small as well as large, immaculate as well as neat-but-unremarkable: and thousands of pounds are raised to finance repairs the church.

Other fund-raising activities also bring the community together, such as recitals or services in the church (usually organised for the whole benefice),the Christmas punch morning in the Victory Hall or one of the larger houses, and the occasional car-boot sale or exhibition of village history or patchwork quilts in the Victory Hall. Chelsworth also hosts some country pursuits for outside bodies, including annual clay shoots and horse shows at Chelsworth Hall, an early carriage driving competition and the local drag hunts (fox hunting is of course against the Law).

The Victory Hall, our War Memorial for the Great War, is indeed the centre for many village activities such as the traditional Harvest Horkey: and it also provides a home for the Quilters group, which draws support and interest from many of the neighbouring villages. The Women’s Institute, now a joint organisation with Monks Eleigh, meets from time to time in the hall, but its activities and membership seem to be falling away.