Town councillors and others who run our affairs gathered at the Abbey Church this weekend to celebrate Civic Sunday, an annual event that has become part of the mayoral year that began over 80 years ago.
These occasions which are held throughout the country to coincide with the appointment of a new mayor or first citizen are intended to bring together the elected officials who are involved in our administration and those who put them in office in what has become a religious and social occasion.
Civic Sundays became popular in England during the early years of the last century and were introduced in Bourne by Councillor Thomas Rickard when he became chairman of Bourne Urban District Council for 1929-30. He was a Cornishman who moved to Bourne in 1891 to work as an ironmonger’s assistant at a town centre hardware shop but eventually established his own agricultural machinery company and became one of the most successful businessmen in the district.
He also devoted a great deal of his time to religious, public and social work and was an active member of the Wesleyan [Methodist] Church in Abbey Road where he held many lay appointments including that of choirmaster. He was elected to Bourne Urban District Council in 1924 when his work in improving the refuse collection service was particularly valuable and he was also chairman of the Fire Brigade Committee which authorised the purchase of the latest available equipment.
Social work saw the beginning of regular rag days which succeeded in raising funds for the Butterfield Hospital while his involvement with the business and commercial life of the town also brought about the revival of the Tradesmen’s Association that had foundered some years before.
He also cultivated the concept of pride in the council and the town with a civic service to be held each May at a church of the chairman’s choosing, in his case the Methodist Church, preceded by a parade of the various organisations headed by the Bourne Town Band which assembled in the market place and then marched through the streets to the church.
The diversity of choice for the service was evident in 1931 when the new council chairman was Councillor Frank Wherry who held the event at the Congregational [now the United Reformed] Church in Eastgate although the arrangements remained much the same with representatives from the magistrates, police, fire brigade and many other organisations in attendance and a collection taken in aid of the Butterfield Hospital.
Few people in the history of Bourne have received such eulogistic acclaim as that showered on Tom Rickard when he died suddenly at his home in North Road in January 1931, aged 65. “His death”, reported the Stamford Mercury, “has bereft the town of the most able of all its public men and one who still had the faculty for much good in the days ahead. What few faults he had were of the lovable type and they were eclipsed by his invariable kindliness and his capacity for good deeds.”
Civic Sunday continued during the Second World War of 1939-45 although with less regularity as uniformed personnel taking part in the parade were often required for emergency duties. In 1940, for instance, the event was postponed for a week because ARP wardens were engaged in a regional exercise.
The event was given a new impetus in the years that followed, particularly through the enthusiasm of Councillor Jack Burchnell (1909-73) who was chairman of Bourne Urban District Council in 1967. He had a tremendous feeling for tradition and was anxious to ensure that there were sufficient opportunities during the year when those involved in the decision-making process could be brought together with the people for both religious and social occasions as in the past, although his choice of venue was the Abbey Church where he was a worshipper and choirmaster.
The event was again held at the Abbey Church the following year when the Vicar of Bourne, Canon Hugh Laurence, outlined the aims of Civic Sunday during his address to a packed congregation when he said: “Only when government and religion become two sides of the same coin can society become healthy and happy. Since people get the kinds of governments they deserve, it matters supremely what kind of people we are.”
The day began with a procession led by parade marshal Reg Chapman and headed by the band of the Boys’ Brigade with the chairman of BUDC, Councillor Ted Kelby, and Councillor Harold Scarborough, chairman of South Kesteven Rural Council, at the front together with other councillors, magistrates and officials followed by representatives of various organisations in the town such as the Round Table, the Rotary Club, Fire Brigade, St John Ambulance Brigade, the Red Cross, girl guides and boy scouts, Bourne United Charities, the British Legion, WRVS, police and special constables and the Royal Naval Association.
The various delegations assembled in the market place and then marched down South Street and Church Walk to the Abbey Church where the lessons were read by Councillor Kelby and Frank Mason, clerk to the council. After the service, the parade re-formed and moved off to the Corn Exchange for an informal gathering over coffee and biscuits.
BUDC ceased to exist in 1974 when its duties and responsibilities were taken over by the parish council which, because of the town’s historic status, was given special dispensation to become a town council and appoint a town mayor who is now responsible for Civic Sunday.
The event no longer includes a parade through the streets but the enthusiasm of councillors has been no less evident, usually gathering outside the church and then walking in procession down the aisle to their places in the front pews after the congregation has already assembled.
A PORTRAIT OF BOURNE is the definitive history of the town and is available on CD-ROM.
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