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The Druids Banner is on the Move at last!!

posted 17 Apr 2012, 14:48 by Westover Labour
An odd procession through the Town centre today saw the ceremonial delivery of the famous and long hidden banner of the Druids Friendly Society from the Unity House headquarters of the Bridgwater Labour Party to the Council Chamber of the Bridgwater Town Council in the Town hall. The delivery - by Secretary of the Bridgwater & District Trades Union Council, Dave Chapple and secretary of Bridgwater Town Labour group, Westover ward councillor Brian Smedley, was achieved with the help of Dave's Post Office bike and crucially , just before it rained.

The Druids banner, which saw the light of day for the first time in over 80 years some five years ago when Mr Chapple and Cllr Smedley discovered it in  the Unity House attic, has now been donated to the Town by the Labour Party so that people can see it on display in all it's splendour and remind themselves of a period before a National Health Service and the role of Friendly Societies -a precursor of modern Credit Unions and influenced by the early Trade Union movement. 

Dave Chapple, a local socialist historian, said "This  wonderful silk banner of the Bridgwater Independent Druids' Friendly Society was made by George Tutill in East London in about 1890 and  is now in the care of Bridgwater Town Council at the Town Hall with a real chance it can be displayed for local people to see, if some basic conservation work can be completed. Friendly Societies-still existing today-were in some ways the 18th and 19th century precursors of trade unions and looked after working-class people with sick out of work and funeral benefits."

The banner, which is 12ft by 14ft, comes complete with carrying poles, brass spearheads and silk cords and tassels in it;s original box, dates from about 1890 and features designs painted in oils on both sides. On one side the image depicts a Druid official giving money to the sick and  is entitled "I was sick and ye visited me" whilst the reverse side is replete with ancient imagery including stonehenge, a celtic cross and the all-seeing eye often found on masonic iconography.

At the end of the 19th century 1,145 Bridgwater people were registered with the Druids and this figure had risen to 2,000 in 1917.

Cllr Smedley said "In those days,before a National Health Service, groups such as  Friendly Societies provided sickness, unemployment and funeral benefits for Bridgwater's poor and actually saved families from destitution. This banner and what it stands for should serve as a reminder to today's generations of how ordinary working people organised and fought back against the injustices of  of a society stacked against them and brings to mind the struggle that many people continue to face even to this day ."

Dr Peter Cattermole from the Blake Museum met the banner on it's route to the Town Hall  said "Great care will be needed if the banner is to be recovered from its rather sorry state." He urged "obtaining specialist conservation advice, so that an initial conservation appraisal can be obtained without delay."