Reprinted with grateful thanks from the 150 th Anniversary special booklet.
“From the very earliest times, when man first began to till the soil and reap the fruits that were brought forth, there existed the natural yearning to give thanks for the harvest.”
In ancient lands the custom grew of bringing in the harvest with feasting, merry-making and song, and last but not least, with thanksgiving.
And it was to give thanks for the harvest, and to rejoice that all was safely gathered in, that Archdeacon George Anthony Denison, introduced at East Brent, where he was Vicar from 1845 - 1896, the first harvest home of its kind ever to be held in this country. That was in 1857, and the first harvest home was held on September 3rd, in that year.
In those far-off days the country folk had their own way of rejoicing when the harvest had been safely garnered, and it was to stop excesses, especially in the over-indulgence in strong liquors, that Archdeacon Denison introduced the harvest home.
First the whole parish gathered together to give thanks to God for the plenitude of His gifts, and then the fun and the feasting followed, although the fun was innocent and wholesome. In 1857 there were 300 at dinner and 500 at tea, but these numbers quickly grew, and two years later, it was estimated that 6,000 people visited the parish for the great day.
A report in the Weston Mercury recalls that in 1859, a capacious tent erected in the grounds adjoining the Vicarage, was decorated with appropriate designs, mottoes and emblems, which included: "Long life to our worthy Vicar and to his benevolent Lady;" "G. Reed, Esq., Lord of the Manor of East Brent, and Burnham's Benefactor;" and "G.Reed, Esq., the friend of the Poor." The large company included the Bishop of the Diocese, Members of Parliament, the principal parishioners, and clergy and gentry for the neighbourhood. The rich plum puddings and the immense loaf, for which East Brent harvest home has always been famous, figured in the menu.
The event came about through the suggestion of a churchwarden and this is how Archdeacon Denison described what happened, in his own words, written 21 years later: "in 1857 my Churchwarden, Mr. John Higgs, a constant communicant and near and dear friend, came to me to suggest having every year a harvest home at East Brent. I entered into the proposal immediately and heartily. It had long appeared to me that we wanted recognised holidays for the working-men, women and children; and here was a step in that direction, specially recommended by one of its leading features, that it was not only a holiday for all classes alike, but a holiday which all classes kept and enjoyed, in close contact with one another.
"The proposal was generally welcomed as soon as made, and we held our first harvest home Sept. 3rd, 1857. At that time there was, I believe, northing of the kind in this part of England. The East Brent harvest home has become a Somerset institution; and although it has long ceased to retain all its original character in respect of gathering together here many chief people on the harvest home day who came to see what we were about, and whether it would be good to follow suit at home, it has retained, and more than retained, it has increased all its original popularity; and I am enabled to say, having watched everyone of them from year to year - with rare intervals every year has had its harvest home, beginning with 1857 - that each one has been an improvement upon its predecessor. The original scheme has in all its substance remained intact. Alterations have come in matters of details. I have read and heard of, and have seen other schemes of harvest home arrangement; but of no one which was, I think, so good as our own."