Fighting talk in East Yorkshire's Hedon

PUBLISHED: 11:24 13 January 2010 | UPDATED: 16:19 20 February 2013

The small East Yorkshire town of Hedon is used to punching above its weight and is ready to take on all-comers as Penny Wainwright reports

Folk in Yorkshire are famously independent and nowhere is that more apparent than in Hedon. When ancient privileges enjoyed for more than 600 years were threatened by the local government upheavals of 1974, the town was having none of it. It lost its borough status but representations to parliament achieved a rare victory. Hedon retained its own council along with an astonishing array of civic silver.

The collection of bowls, tankards and spoons really took off in 1640 when Hedons MP gave the corporation a silver wine bowl to mark his election. Others followed suit, including some candidates fighting for election, leading Hedon to be known as one of the rotten boroughs.

However, there was nothing dodgy about the earliest piece, a silver mace crafted in 1415. It is the oldest in the country, such a rarity that it was requested by the Victoria and Albert Museum for their 2003 exhibition on English Gothic. The mace is locked in a vault the doors so heavy that the mayor, Ann Suggitt, and her deputy, Brenda Goldspink, cant open it unaided but Hedon is keen to share its treasures and regular public showings are held throughout the year.

Originally, the mace-bearers job was to protect the mayor as he went about his duties. The office is a more ceremonial one these days, adding to the spectacle on formal occasions when the mayor dons magnificent (faux) fur-trimmed robes, a lace jabot and gloves, and a tricorn hat. Its no more than local people expect, especially when the full complement of 12 councillors appears outside the town hall for the annual penny-throwing ceremony. The kids love it, says Mrs Suggitt. We throw handfuls of money carefully, so it doesnt hit anyone! and we invite mayors from other areas.

Hedon once minted its own pennies, a privilege granted by a royal charter of 1158 when the town was on a par with York and Lincoln. There are only three Hedon pennies in existence and we have one in our collection, says Mrs Suggitt. They were about the size of a silver sixpence.

The councils role isnt all about history, however. Local people are encouraged to voice their concerns. At the last public participation meeting a gentleman wanted to resurrect Hedon in Bloom, said Mrs Suggitt. And a youth club has just started. Hedon town council put in 1,000 and 500 came from Holderness Lions.

Flooding is another issue. Hedon was hit in 2007 when the local drainage system couldnt cope with the huge volume of water from the Humber. Homes were inundated and children from one of the two local primary schools had to be moved out for months. For some people, it was the second time around, as they had suffered from a freak hailstorm in 2000, said Brenda Goldspink. Time will tell if the Environment Agencys work on Burstwick drain is successful.

Another hot topic is appropriately driven by a group called HOTI, Holderness Opposing The Incinerator. Saltend, on the coast just outside the town where there is already a large BP chemical works and a sewage plant, has been identified as a possible site for a waste-burning facility. The people of Hedon are worried, said Mrs Suggitt and Mrs Goldspink: We want our children to grow up in a healthy environment. Our fear is that if it isnt working to full capacity, they could even take waste from overseas. The strength of feeling was shown in October, when about 2,000 people turned out to march against the plan, releasing black and yellow balloons to draw attention to potential health risks.

A battle on a smaller scale is being waged with the East Riding of Yorkshire Council, on which Mrs Suggitt also sits. They want Hedon to charge for parking. Were going to put up a good fight, said Mrs Suggitt.

And we like hanging wooden signs above the shops, we dont want plastic ones.

Hedons main street, St Augustines Gate, is a conservation area. Shop fronts have retained their Georgian character, although the goods inside are right up to date and youll find just about everything here, from traditional shoe repairers to the latest in digital technology. In the British Red Cross shop, manageress Julie Parks does a brisk trade: Some people come in two or three times a day in case they miss something, she said. No wonder. The stock is refreshed to the tune of about 200 items a day and her customers, wearing their charity-shop finds, could have walked off the fashion pages of a magazine.

The money raised by Hedons loyal customers and volunteers Julie stresses that they are always looking for more recruits is spent locally. Some of the youthful shop volunteers have used their experience in till work, merchandising and management as a stepping-stone to paid work.

Hedons high street takes its name from St Augustines Church known as the King of Holderness (the Queen is at Patrington). When the foundations were laid in about 1190 their large scale reflected the towns prosperity. Hedon was set to become a major port when it was founded in Norman times by William le Gros, the Fat One. Ironically, Hedons waterway proved too narrow as ships got larger, and it lost out to its now much bigger neighbour, Hull.

Today, St Augustines, built for a town to rival Hull in size, is a financial burden on a small congregation. Nevertheless, funds have recently been raised to install a toilet, new heating and an attractive kitchen that provided this years harvest lunch for 30 to 40 people.

Hedon is used to punching above its weight and August1st next year sees it hosting Yorkshire Day. Its a tall order for a small town with fewer resources than other big-hitting hosts, but theyre confident they can pull it off if everyone pitches in: a local firm has already pledged a pig for the hog roast and by the time they light their beacon, Hedon will have shown what they can do.

Meanwhile, November 29th sees Hedons Christmas lights switched on by the mayor. Roads will be closed, stalls and shops will open late, choirs will sing and bands will play. It all bodes well for Yorkshire Day.

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