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22nd March 2024

Last week didn’t really get going (in Mayoral terms anyway) until Friday, but then it really took off in style!

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Friday lunchtime was spent at St. James’ Church for the town’s annual commemoration of the life and death of Thomas Helliker.

Often referred to as the “Trowbridge Martyr,” Helliker was a young, 18-year-old apprentice shearsman at a woollen mill at Semington near Trowbridge.

Whatever one thinks of the actions of his contemporaries and fellow workers (and I am in no way condoning violence as a legitimate form of industrial protest), Thomas Helliker had strong principles and a deeply held sense of right and wrong—qualities that sometimes seem in short supply these days. For that alone, I respect his memory.

Thomas Helliker stuck by his principles, and ultimately those principles cost him his life.

It is a matter of record that Thomas Helliker sympathised with the aims of the mill burners who torched the mill in Semington, where he worked on the night of July 22, 1802. but we don’t know whether he sympathised with their methods of protest. He certainly did not participate in their actions that night. It is a matter of record that Helliker had a solid alibi for the night the mill was burned, but that alibi was ignored, and Thomas Helliker was convicted on the back of some extremely questionable evidence provided by a paid employee of the mill owners.

Whatever one thinks of the actions of those who did set fire to the mill in Semington that night, Thomas Helliker was not one of them, but because he refused to implicate others, he was sentenced to be hung for a crime that he was undoubtedly innocent of.

Thomas Helliker died on his 19th birthday, never revealing the names of those he believed to be responsible.

I firmly believe that we cannot do anything but respect and admire his unswerving loyalty to his fellows and his refusal to abandon his own personal code of ethics.

For that moral courage alone, I believe that we are right to remember and honour him.

***

Moving on…..

As Mayor of Trowbridge, I’m the Honorary President of the Trowbridge/Leer Twinning Association, and on Friday night, the association held its Annual General Meeting at the Conservative Club on Roundstone Street.

Five of our friends from our twinned town of Leer in Ostfriesland had flown over to be with us for the annual Mayor’s Civic Dinner on Saturday night (plus one who drove over with his family). All these visitors from Germany joined us at the twinning association’s AGM on Friday night.

It was a very informal meeting, and we got through the business part of the agenda quite quickly. Annual reports were given, a new committee was elected (of which I’m one), and a lovely speech was given by Herr Hauke Sattler, the Leader of Stadt Leer Council and Chair of the Leer Twinning Association.

After the speeches were over and done, we relaxed with a buffet, a quiz, and a lovely catch-up with our friends from Leer.

All in all, it was a very enjoyable evening spent with friends and the perfect precursor to the events of Saturday night.

 

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