I Shot the Shire Reeve

I’m just about getting my wordage correct in my Mercury columns so there’s less chance for them to edit out my text. So this week they managed just to change my hilarious historically hysterical headline. So I’ve added it back here. Following a talk I did last week for the Civic Society which led me to look back at how taxation had been raised locally over the last millenium (keep it current Bri..) I thought I’d try to prepare the ground a bit. Please note that today Saxons, Vikings and Celts all get along fine in Bridgwater and we eagerly await the first Viking Sæmhrimnir Smörgåsbord  restoraunt to open in Eastover, multicultural capital of Somerset.

Local Government in ancient Wessex

The ‘Wappentake’ was the form of local government closest to the people in Anglo-Saxon England. They’d ‘wap’ you on the head and ‘take’ your money.

That was how we knew taxation in these Saxon or Viking ‘hundreds’ that would eventually go on to form the Parishes that we know today.

The Official in charge would be a Shire Reeve (later a ‘Sherrif’) and the boss man would be an ‘Earldorman’ (Elder man). In return the people would get protection. Although this often meant the Earldormen would have to lead them into battle. Such was the case at the Battle of Maldon in 991 where 3 Earldormen held off an entire Viking army on a 3-man wide causeway. ‘That’s hardly fair!’ whinged the invading Vikings. ‘Okay’ said the English and retreated to open land. Whereupon the Vikings promptly massacred them.

Bridgwater has been a Borough since 1468

But the other point of these locallest of local government units was to agree the level of taxation needed to provide the services needed in these areas. And that’s pretty much the same as it is today. English ‘fair play’ means that the responsibility falls on the broadest shoulders. Whether you’re the 3 toughest Earldormen at the battle of Maldon, or the modern-day equivalents who have the most at stake in today’s capitalist society, you’ll be the ones on the frontline.

This year is going to be a tough settlement for local government and some tough decisions will be taken. Councils have been deprived of proper central government funding levels and Shire Reeves have not raised the correct amount of taxes. We know the reason is the last 13 years of austerity, but this time round we can’t blame the Vikings…..

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