Midsomer Murders History Header Widows Skimmington Fayre

The Widows of World War 1

(Caution: Contains spoilers for Episode: 09×05: Four Funerals and a wedding)


Joyce’s mother, Muriel, is a guest at the Barnaby home. Much to the chagrin of Tom Barnaby, who gets on well with his mother-in-law, but doesn’t seem to have a warm relationship with her. Nevertheless, he gets the conversation going at home after work. Cully wants to go to Broughton for the Skimmington Fayre. Her parents are less than enthusiastic, but her grandmother is more so. Everyone but her seems to know the origins of the Skimmington Fayre and is enlightened.


One ride to rule them all

Brill Bucks
Robert Dixon: Brill, Buckinghamshire – All Saints Church, 2003. CC-BY SA 2.0.

In 1916, in the middle of the First World War, there was an influential, important, weighty landowner in Broughton. He enlisted all the men in his company and in one night they all died. Dozens of families were left with no income or livelihood. So they formed a self-help group, the Skimmington Society. They were able to help many, but developed a strong dislike, even hatred, of men. And this battle of the sexes is what the Skimmington Fayre is all about, especially the Skimmington Ride. It’s about gender honour – not just for the rider, but for everyone else of their own gender (only the binary genders are referred to in the episode).

Well, we know how it goes with the Skimmington Fayre and what she gets up to afterwards.

A little fun fact at this point: The title of the episode alludes to the romantic comedy “Four Weddings and a Funeral”. It’s easy to see why. In fact, there are several actors who appear in both the 1994 film and this Midsomer Murders episode.


Left alone

During the First World War, an estimated three to four million women were widowed. In the UK there were around 240,000 women. Most of them already had children and now had to support themselves. They received a state widow’s pension. But the pension was never enough to cover their daily needs, so they had to work as single parents. In fact, widows were expected to wear mourning clothes and respect a period of several months of widowhood.

Widows were generally suspected by moralists of living in social disorder, which might contribute to the military defeat of their country. And if they remarried, they would lose their widow’s pension? Oh, it was much worse than that: the mere suspicion of ‘relationships with men other than close relatives who might be expected to provide for them, the quality of their housekeeping and, where relevant, the quality of their parenting’. Pensions would be withdrawn if evidence came to light that these standards were not being maintained. Given that ‘evidence’ of falling standards could include neighbourhood gossip, it was not uncommon for pensions to be withdrawn.

In addition, pensions would always be withdrawn if a widow remarried or entered into a relationship with another man, as he would be expected to provide for her and any children”. (Quoted from the War Widow Association on the National Army Museum’s website)


Helping each other

Brill Windmill View
Nick MacNeill: View from Brill windmill, Oxfordshire. CC BY-SA 2.0.

As a result, women were mainly dependent on the support of family and friends. Many therefore set up self-help organisations. Charity organisations. Especially after the war, because it was expected that women would return to domesticity with the return of the surviving soldiers.

This is so absurd because before the First World War it was quite common for women to work. The most common employment for women during the war was domestic service, but there was also agricultural work and work for charities. Unfortunately, even then they did not get equal pay, even though they were doing the same work as men or working alongside men. (There were also women in the munitions industry, the so-called munionettes, but not as many as you might think. War propaganda did a good job of making people believe that, then and now).


Brill and Broughton

Most of the filming took place in Brill, Buckinghamshire, whose windmill is a recurring location for Midsomer County. The site is recorded in the Domesday Book, but before that Edward the Confessor had a palace here in Anglo-Saxon times. It remained in royal hands for centuries. Converted into a royalist garrison by Charles I during the Civil War, it was destroyed by Parliamentarians in 1643. The Reverend Gant’s Church is the Chapel of All Saints in Brill and belonged to the Priory of St Frideswide, Oxford, until the Dissolution of the Monasteries. It was also the terminus of the Brill Tramway, which ran from Fletcher’s Cross Station, er, sorry, Quainton Road to Brill.

It is possible that a self-help group such as the Skimmington Society also existed in Brill, Buckinghamshire. Unfortunately I have not found any evidence of this. Nor in Beaconsfield (Buckinghamshire), Dorchester (Oxfordshire) and Little Missenden (Buckinghamshire), where small parts of Broughton were also filmed. (I’m happy to receive tips in the comments or by email).

Read more about Midsomer Murders & History

The Chronology of Midsomer County by Year or by EpisodesDeep Dives into Midsomer & History.

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  • Beckett, Ian F. W.: Buckinghamshire in the Great War. A research framework. In: Records of Bucks 57 (2017). P. 191-203.


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Petra Tabarelli has studied history and has earned an international reputation as an expert on the history and development of football rules. But she is also a big fan of Midsomer Murders - and that's why this website about history and nostalgia in and around Midsomer exists. She was looking for a website like this, couldn't find it, so she madw it. For others who, like her, are looking for the website, and now can find it.

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