Marcus Barrett, Acting President of Crewkerne & District Chamber of Commerce, writes...
“Crewkerne has likely been around as a place for buying and selling – that is, as a market, for more than 1100 years. For most people, now, the only remaining evidence of our town’s former agricultural role within our regional economy is found in the name of our high street – Market Street. Indeed, many may not know that our high street is more properly known as ‘Sheep-Market Street’. Things have changed.
It is fascinating to note that the history of the verb ‘to change’ itself derives from commerce. The Oxford English Dictionary tells of the likely link with the classical Latin ‘cambire’ meaning to exchange or to barter, a word which came into English from French. And it is no coincidence that both the verb and noun form ‘change’ are first recorded in use in the 1200s in the English Language – a time of great political and economic change in Britain when our nation continued to feel the social effects of the Norman French ‘takeover’.
Somerset has seen many industries come (and go) which formerly employed many people. This is the inevitable change of an economy which continues to develop. As sectors of business and employment come and go, so our town and our physical environment change: Crewkerne has long been shaped by the work of local people and the daily hard work of small business.
So change is inevitable - and healthy. That is why our local planning system needs to be flexible in the way it views business in our town and area. That is why all our elected representatives need to continue to be open-minded about encouraging new ventures around our town – not with public money but rather with encouragement and practical support. And that is why we must be optimistic about new businesses which come to our historic town and invest in our local economy.
Recent work I have been doing on the changing perspectives which visitors have had on coming to Crewkerne has reinforced the significance of physical change to our local built environment. There are, alas, no physical remains of perhaps our earliest commercial history – the Royal ‘mint’ which was one of the settlement’s privileges in the Saxon era; nor is there any obvious physical remains of the feudal estate which once grew in the hands of Royal owners and their merchant successors: by the 1500s all that remained of Crewkerne Manor were a few tragic ruins in the Court Barton area of town.
Respected historians have argued that the current layout of our town suggests the market and surrounding features heavily influenced Mediaeval town building. Yet to see living evidence of the prosperity brought by the town’s association with agricultural trade we need only look to the beauty of our church, mostly from the 1400 and 1500s. And, leaping forward to yet another economic era, it was brought home to be very clearly that observers of the 1800s found the town’s growing industrial base an impressive sight, one commenting: “immense buildings have sprung up, powerful steam engines have been erected, and an enormous business is now carried on...” and the cause of this boom, according to Pulman, writing in 1875? The coming of the railway to town in 1860.
Although largely out of date (my faith in QUANGOs and government-funded surveys of the business community has never been high) the 2007 economic statistics on Somerset’s economy suggests over 14% of employment is in manufacturing – is significantly above the GB national average. We also have a higher proportion of tourism-related employment at 9.3% in Somerset. And, perhaps the most significant of all trends and one which politicians would do well to keep firmly in mind, is that at 83% of businesses in our county, there is an overwhelming number of small businesses - defined as having less than 10 employees. Crewkerne is just one of Somerset’s many market towns that has adapted to survive.
It must be remembered that restrictions, regulations and over-zealous reform can act as a disincentive to enterprise and innovation: at the national policy level, or on our local high street. Businesses need national economic stability and a system of law and taxation which frees enterprise to do what it does best – respond to the demands of customers and work to fulfil the needs of the economy. In short, businesses need stability to manage their own change.
And in our town, here in Crewkerne, your Chamber is moving with the changes, with a small band of local business volunteers, working together to keep up the spirit of enterprise which quite literally put our town together.”