A Village Reunion
Have you ever thought about investigating the history of your community but aren’t sure where to start? Why not organise a Reunion! This is something I first started in Horningsham in 1995 and 23 years later we are still going strong! It first began in 1994 when I wanted to mark the 150th anniversary of the rebuilding of our church. We held a special service with refreshments afterwards and it was a great success. Someone then had the idea of tracing as many people as we could find who had been baptised in the church, to invite them to a Reunion. Everyone who came enjoyed it so much that they asked if we could do it again the following year, when we chose marriage as our theme………
There are some key factors that will guarantee success. Food and drink is always a good ice breaker, so try and offer some nice treats to your guests. If they are travelling a long way it is good to offer lunch if you can. My experience is that once people sit down with friends over lunch, they are very happy to just sit and chat.
Old photographs are always popular and are a good way of stimulating conversation and memories. This will also encourage people to search through their own collections and find you something for next year. My best find was the year that I was given a photograph of the Royal School at Bath, who were evacuated to Longleat House during WWII. I couldn’t believe my luck and knew immediately that I had my theme for the next year (2008). Many villagers were on the picture as staff who helped look after the girls and I was put in touch with some former pupils who were still living locally and who offered to share their memories with me. This proved to be one of our most successful events.
You will be surprised by how quickly your invitation list grows. Many times I was asked ‘have you contacted my cousin/auntie/school friend….’ and for many years the number of people attending was over 60. Every year I think of a theme and put up a display of photographs in the church, for people to look at before the service. If you tell people what the theme will be in their invitation, someone is sure to offer you some photographs. Photos with people or houses are the most popular; everyone likes to see a wedding photo or the house they grew up in. The friends who come to the Horningsham reunion have been so generous over the years that in 2000 I had enough material to publish a book for the millennium.
This year’s event has just taken place and was very successful. In her sermon the vicar commented on how lovely it was to meet so many people with an obvious affection for the village. There was also a lovely atmosphere in the hall over lunch; lots of conversation and laughter. Try and sit together a group who lived in the village as children and now only meet once a year. Not only is it good to see them enjoying themselves, but you will be surprised what you will learn about the village as it was 50 years ago when you listen to them reminiscing.
Suggestions for possible themes for you to think about are the village school; football and cricket; Women’s Institute; Flower Show; church (specifically baptisms & marriages); chapel; local industry; buildings. You can also visit us here at the History Centre to see if we can help with your display. For example, the vicar might give you permission to borrow parish registers; you could try looking for school admission registers or log books to copy; your WI might have its own archive.
This is a great way to start investigating your village history; you never know where it might take you………..
Helen Taylor, Senior Community History Advisor