Neston's Greatest SOB Story
|Published: 1st April 2014 06:20|
As a project gets underway to tell Neston's greatest story - 200 years of Neston Female Society and the Ladies Day Walk - a significant problem has emerged that threatens to stifle celebrations.
In what should be an epic year of civic celebration, hitherto-suppressed legislation threatens to make 2014 Neston's very own ‘Annus Horriblis'.
During the course of due diligence to enable the recent asset transfer of the Town Hall and Market to the stewardship of Neston Town Council, research has uncovered legislation dating back to 1728 which threatens dire consequences for local residents, as it appears to ban the sale or consumption of alcohol in the town.
Regulars at local pubs have launched the S.O.B. (Save Our Beer) campaign. An initial meeting of campaigners took place at the Brown Horse at the weekend, to formulate a strategy for heading off the potential fall-out that will inevitably ensue if officials persist in enforcing the law. A petition has been launched, with over 800 signatures collected already.
Campaigners include former Mayor David Clark; Hon Secretary of the Female Society Rob Halsall and Brown Horse landlady Terri Binns. A petition is already attracting hundreds of signatures.
During 1728, Great Neston, as the town was then known, established its Market Charter after lengthy negotiations with the Foris estate, the land-owning family at the time. As a condition of granting the Market Charter, life-long exponent of temperance and campaigner against the vices of alcohol, Lady Opal Foris, insisted on the inclusion of the condition that ‘the sale, storage or consumption of alcohol within a one mile radius of the centre of Great Neston be banned under penalty of imprisonment'.
The document recently unearthed.
Details of the original charter uncovered during due diligence have verified that the condition was written into statute - repealing the supplementary Beer Bill of 1684 - and to this day remains law within Neston.
Further investigations have been taking place to establish why the law has never been enforced - investigations which have pieced together a web of intrigue.
Town Government during the 1700s was effectively a corporation of privileged aldermen, each one a member of the Lodge of Freemasons ensconced at The Swan Public House in High Street. The theory is that fraternal interest contrived to suppress the legislation, with chair of the local aldermen, Roland de Robinson being the brother of The Swan's Landlord (Richard) and Chief Market Trader (Robert). Of further intrigue is the mysterious and sudden demise of Lady Foris, fortuitously avoiding query as to the continuing sale of alcohol within the town.
Advocate for temperance - Lady Opal Foris
Although an interesting story, the consequences for Neston residents are dire. The law remains in effect, requiring that all pubs and retail outlets within a one mile radius of The Cross must cease the sale of alcohol immediately - though they have been given until the end of April to comply. Legal representatives are investigating if this must also apply to the storage or consumption of alcohol on any premises within the designated area.
David Clark, a former Mayor of Neston, explains: "The Town Council is powerless to intervene - it can issue a formal letter to the regional authority to represent public feeling - but this could take months of legal wrangling to resolve, with no guarantee of the desired outcome."
Local Publican Terri Binns (landlady of the Brown Horse) is outraged: "It's bureaucracy gone mad", she says. "It's crazy to try and enforce this law after so long. No other town in the country has such loony legislation and I'm not surprised if Lady whatsherface got what was coming to her."
Of immediate concern is the impact on the planned 200th Anniversary Celebrations of Ladies Day. Honorary Secretary of Neston Female Society, Rob Halsall, is incensed: "It's madness. Two hundred years of tradition and this year of all years we can't have a drink to celebrate? The world's gone mad. They can drag me off afterwards if they want but I'm having my pint."
Copies of the S.O.B. campaign petition can be signed at any of the town's public houses and licensed retail outlets. Campaigners are also encouraging residents and businesses affected by the ban to attend the annual town meeting in May where the matter will no doubt be robustly debated.
Editor's Note: Yes, it was this year's April Fool's article. Thanks to all who took it in good part. See more AMA April Fool's Day articles here.