THE HIGHDOWN BRANCH of the BRITISH & FOREIGN BIBLE SOCIETY 1866-1944
A Short Account, compiled in 1951, by Miss Pollard And Lady Robertson Nicoll.
In 1866 the first Highdown British and Foreign Bible Society Meeting was held at Highdown by Mr. and Mrs. Pollard. They had held some meetings previously in Pirton at the “Middle Farm.” The present red rick Highdown Farm had just been built in 1866, and the first use to which the big barn was put was to hold in it this Bible Meeting.
Collecting boxes, looking like Bibles, were given out to the children; among those first young collectors were the names of Zillah Shepherd, Maria Pollard and George Handscombe.
In many cases these original boxes have been handed down to succeeding generations. One of the youngest of the present boxholders, David John Saunders, is a great-grandson of John Handscombe.
Miss Alice Catterill, who died in 1950 at the age of 83, had kept her box from early childhood until the end of her life.
Later on in the list of children’s names appear those of George Abbiss (now Sir G. Abbiss, K.B.E.) and John Thrussell (now Pirton Postmaster). When Mr. Thurssell was grown up and married, each of his children, in turn, owned the box. It was always a full box and is so still.
The Highdown Meeting became an annual festival looked forward to by all in the neighbourhood, old and young. The hour was fixed for 6 p.m. to enable the farm workers to attend; when they would join in with the old hymns “Tell me the old old story”, and “O God our Help in ages past.” On these occasions the children would be invited to Highdown to bring their boxes.
These would be opened by Mr. Pollard and the money counted then there would be tea and games and finally the meeting.
The children’s tea would be under the trees in the Grove or in the old court-yard. The meeting would be in the barn in wet weather or on the tennis court if fine.
To this entertainment, later on, a flower exhibition was added. The collectors brought bouquets of garden or wild flowers, and prizes were given for the best arranged bouquets, or the greatest number of wild flowers.
In the early years the annual collections varied from £3 – £6. This gradually increased and in 1905 the sum sent up to the Bible Society was £24 5s. 7d. made up from boxes, “Sale of pincushions”, and collection. In 1907 the amount increased to £47 12s. 10d. of this £1 6s. 3d. was made by a “Scotch Fair” which a little grand-daughter of Mr. Pollard, Mildred Robertson Nicoll, had organised and work herself. She also owned a tiny collecting box. After one of the meetings the little girl (visiting her grandfather) went to him with her large doll named “Marie Claire” in her arms and asked “Can Marie Claire have a box, Grandfather?” He immediately responded by giving a tiny “box for sixpences.” For many years Marie Claire’s box was a full one.
The Speakers for the meetings were always outstanding workers for the Society. Amongst them were – Sir Algernon Coote, Dr. Baediker, Dr. William Wright, Mr. Sorabji, Dan Crawford, Sir Andrew Wingate, The late Lord Radstock, Mr. H.A. Harper, Sir Arnold Wilson. The Rev. J. Thomas, beloved of all, was for many years out district Secretary. He was succeeded by the Rev. J. Crossley. The present Secretary is the Rev. Handley C. Ingle.
Mr. Pollard was deeply interested in the Bible Society. As a very little boy his widowed mother took him to his first Bible meeting and this made a lifelong impression on him. He became a Vice President of the Society in 1907 and was a member of the General Committee from 1890 to 1906. He also served on the Translations Sub-Committee, and on the Home Organisation Sub-Committee, travelling to and from London regularly to attend the meetings.
May this work which he and his generation commenced, and carried on so eagerly, be continued by the present and future children of Pirton and the neighbourhood.
Ellen Pollard and C. Robertson Nicoll.