South Holland has some of the finest parish churches in the country and we will delve into the history of some of them in future columns.
First though, let’s debunk the myth that Sunday Trading, made legal against stiff opposition in 1994, was the first time that shops had regularly opened on Sundays.
Looking back at village life a couple of centuries ago conjures a popular notion that everyone, young and old alike, kept Sundays a special day.
The one day off a week. A day for quiet reflection, family, going to church, bible study, maybe a family or church picnic in the summer.
The Reverend Charles Jerram, new curate to St Mary’s church, arrived in Long Sutton in March 1797 and wrote: “The inhabitants of Long Sutton were mostly respectable and many of them were opulent yeomen and farmers; but the lower class was generally profane, disorderly and addicted to drunkenness and that these tendencies to vice had, from the neglected state of the parish, been greatly strengthened, and that the Sabbath was almost universally desecrated by buying and selling, and by visiting parties; and by the labouring people by excessive drinking and consequent quarrels”.
The church was generally well filled, but attendances were irregular. People also seemed to turn up when they liked, including during the service. Shops were open until late in the evening, Sundays appeared to be the busiest shopping day of the week and ‘numbers came with their baskets from the various small hamlets in their parish, gave their orders at the shops, went to church and on their return called for their purchases and carried them home’.
The public houses - ‘these hotbeds of vice’ - were also open well into the night and rioting ‘prevailed to a fearful extent and no check was given to them by the constraints of the law; for there was not a single magistrate resident within 13 miles of Long Sutton.’
Jerram said this was ‘the sad desecration of the Sabbath’ and resolved to do something about it. On Sundays, he walked around the town and found people ‘in that degrading state’. He spoke to them sternly, reminding the men of their ragged, hungry, poverty-stricken families at home and accused them of profaning God’s Holy Day.
Coincidentally, magistrates at their Petty Sessions also decided to clamp down on Sunday trading and the Rev Jerram, now with the law behind him, read out the new proclamation from the pulpit.
The next Saturday, the Town Crier went about the town proclaiming that shops were to close the next day and Jerram, with a constable in tow did his rounds on Sunday to enforce the new local law.
Some shops were open in defiance and were served summonses by the constable. It took a few weeks for everyone to comply and the Rev Jerram received one or two threats of physical violence as a result of his stand, but the ban on trading held.
Jerram left Long Sutton in 1805,at which time the hostess of the Bull Hotel apparently said “I am glad he is going because he has destroyed all the trade in this town. This inn used to be one of the best in the neighbourhood.”