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Tom Parsons

William Thomas Parsons lived in the parish of Stoke St  Gregory from 1927 until 1974, and during this time he was very active in village affairs. He lived in Stathe which though now is part of Burrowbridge, in his time Burrowbridge was part of Stoke St Gregory Parish.


He came to Dairy House Farm in Autumn 1927 as tenant, and was married at Kilmersdon in the coal mining area of North Somerset in January 1928, and continued farming at Dairy House with his wife, Kathleen. 


He was not of a farming family, his father being a teacher at a school in Langport, having been made redundant from a school at Holcombe where Tom grew up. They had found it more economical to employ a lady - no equal pay then! They were not wealthy people. Tom’s father returned to Holcombe at week ends, by train, something you would be unable to do now, and he resided at one of Langports  many hostelries during school time. His father saw the tenancy advertised in the Langport estate agents window. Previously Tom had  won a scholarship to Shepton Mallet Grammar School, and went there by train from Chilcompton Station.  He was at the time working on a farm at Kilmersdon.


In the Autumn of 1932 his Landlord, Mr Jack House, offered him the tenancy of Walkers Farm, a much larger farm with an almost grand house. Tom and his wife and daughter duly moved into Walkers Farm from 29 September 1932 where he remained as tenant until 1974. Over this period of 42 years, they had many hard times, but generally managed to keep going and make a living.

Tom was a proficient musician and took on the job of organist at Stoke St Gregory church. He used to break his milk delivery at the church, tie up his pony and cart, do his musical duty, and then finish his round later. The milk was delivered in churns and a bucket, and measured into the customers jug. Toms wife delivered milk in one third pint bottles to schools in the area under the free milk in schools scheme for a while by car and trailer.

Most farms in those days had hens and produced eggs and sold them to a packing station, they also did Christmas geese and poultry.

Electricity did not come to Stathe until around 1950, and the first tractors around 1944 during the war. Houses were lit with oil lamps and coal and wood used for heating. Mains water in Stathe was not reliable either and had to be collected at night. Very few houses had flush toilets in those days - even those in public ownership had chemical toilets and the public sewer was late to come to Stoke, and never to Stathe.

With the farm at  Stathe there was a Milk Round which he did with a pony and trap after he and his wife Kathleen had milked the cows. During the 1930 Athelney flood when the River Tone burst its banks Tom walked down the railway line from Bullplace to Athelney with milk for his stranded customers and then delivered it by boat.


As stated before Tom was a very public spirited man and became sidesman  and Church Warden at Stoke St Gregory  Church. He was also on the Parish Council for many years and a School Manager and governor both in the village and at West Monkton.  He sang at fund raising concerts and played the piano, and was also good at public speaking. Some measure of his popularity in the village can be seen when he topped the poll for  parish councillors in 1946 with almost one hundred more votes  than any one else. This was in April 1946, the first after the war. Fifteen candidates stood for 6 places. To-day they rarely have an election as few are bothered  and mostly co-opted  if they wish to serve. Tom took great pleasure when his daughter in law (Barbara) was elected the first chairman of Burrowbridge Parish council when it became a separate parish some years later.


Tom helped organise gymkhanas which were held in the large hill at Walkers Farm, and later in the playing field, these were initially to raise funds for the men returning from the war They also organised a Donkey Derby at Stathe in a field at Black Smock plus numerous other functions for the Church and community as a whole.

Times during the 1939-45 war were very worrying as in the early days defeat seemed possible.  Planes would fly over to bomb Bristol and Cardiff and these cities could be seen as a burning glow from the hilltop fields at Stathe. There was a large RAF base at Weston Zoyland and another at Ilton, so there was much aerial activity around. When the news was really bad Tom and his family were pleased to see the trains come down on the main line from Paddington which they thought indicated that the capital was still functioning.

The cows were initially milked by hand, but after the war a milking machine was installed, though during the winter this often froze with ice in the vacuum pipes. The milk round was  done with two ponies using them on alternate weeks and during the war a land girl did the round. Later on a van was purchased and a roundsman employed and all the milk was bottled and capped with a machine, local school boys helped on the round and a good time was had by all, probably against the law now. There were evacuees in the village and they tended to go to farms for fun. The milk was fresh from the farm, but then the powers that were, decided that all the delivered milk should be pasteurised. This led to Tom buying ready bottled pasteurised milk to distribute. This he did for a few years and then gave up the milk round.


Farmers tended to rely on people from the village working on the farms and it was rather labour intensive but as mechanisation  came so the labour was not needed and indeed not available as the men were tempted by twice the wages for factory shift work, and who could blame them. At Walkers Farm there were two milk round ponies and three or four  cart horses  to plough, mow, and haul loads of hay straw etc. Latterly there were no horses.

At the age of 70 Tom chose to retire. A member of the landlords family took on the tenancy of the farm, and he bought a bungalow in Langport. Life was becoming hard for an old man and the economics of being a tenant farmer and employing people to do the work not good.

Tom was quite fortunate in that property prices had not run away in 1974 and the sale of his stock and savings enabled him, a tenant,  to buy a place of his own, something probably not feasible to-day. His parents had never owned a house.

Tom lived a long and happy retirement in Langport where he tended his garden and was relief organist at four churches, and spent many happy hours writing about the West Window of Langport Church, and reading and studying church history. He probably visited most of the cathedrals in the South of the country.


He passed away in 1998 aged 94. Many thanks to Tom's son Edward for writing this piece and supplying the photographs.

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