Wednesday 18 May 2022

From the Parish Magazine - Eton Wick History Group Meeting - Local Entertainment Before the Age of the Telly.

The members of the Eton Wick History Group enjoyed illustrated talks from three speakers when they met on the 8th July, 1998. The topic was 'LOCAL FETES, FAIRS, CARNIVALS AND CONCERTS' and the group was entertained by John Denham, Joan Ballhatchet and Frank Bond. 

Frank was the first to take the floor; he described the various 'big' days in Eton Wick going back 200 years to when, for the 100 people who then lived along Common Road or in farm cottages, a 'big' day was simply having a day off from work. There would be traditional days of celebration; May Day for example, the day when cattle and horses were let out on to the Common; the 1st August (Lamas) which was at harvest time; there was Eton College's `Fourth of June' celebration when many of the inhabitants of Eton and Eton Wick would turn out to see the Procession of Boats. Another special day was the one reserved for `Beating the Bounds' - this was originally an ecclesiastical duty, with the civil authorities later becoming aware of the necessity to mark out the area's boundaries; the College used to provide a breakfast of ale and roast beef for those taking part. (Perhaps we could 'Beat the Bounds at the Millennium?) Less formal, but just as welcome, treats would be those such as Mr. Lovell's Concert Parties; Pelham's Funfair at Eton Wick; Sunday School and Boys' Club outings and pub outings; and the Horticultural Society's tradition of donating fruit and vegetable, taken by horse drawn cart, to King Edward VII Hospital. There was certainly no shortage of functions to prepare for, anticipate and enjoy. 

Mrs. Ballhatchet gave a vivid and fascinating description of the Horticultural Shows, which were among the highlights of the Summer. Trestle tables were laden with fruit, vegetables, flowers, needlework, and various types of craft work manufactured by men and boys; there was poultry and livestock; there was a beer tent; there were coconut shies, and races for children and adults, with prizes presented by a VIP.; and in the evening there would be dancing to a band which would have played all day. The earliest record of an Eton Wick Horticultural and Industrial Exhibition appears in the first Parish Magazine, and the event was to take place on the 21st August 1878 in the Wheatbutts orchard. Mrs. Ballhatchet read out various highlights from the Magazines' reports, which included subjects as diverse as the need for Eton Wick's Drum and Fife Band to have new uniforms (1887) to the fact that a 'Collection of English Snails' had received a special award, a swan in a lake scene was constructed entirely of fish scales; and on one occasion two live wasps' nests were displayed as exhibits. The last Horticultural Exhibition entry was in the Parish Magazine of September 1939; but after the Second World War, in the 1950s, the exhibitions recommenced under the title 'The Allotment Holders' Show and these continued until 1963 by which time there was a new entertainment in the form of the annual Wicko' Fair which, with its many star turns and celebrity attractions, eventually, grew to be so well known, popular and successful it became difficult to control, it had lost its 'Village flavour' and so was finally abandoned after 1982. 

A delight of the evening was the sight of so many photographs of Concert Parties and Pantomimes - originally these were held to raise money for the football team's kit - the team originally wore their own white shirts and black shorts made from the blackout material. The entertaining troupe was called The Unity Players' (after 'United'); and costumes for the shows were made from parachute material, crepe paper, 1/- worth of dirty muslin from Petticoat Lane and any other odd bits and pieces that came to hand; props and scenery were painted in the old mortuary; and a generator provided power from outside the building. 

John Denham was the expert on Scout Fetes, also their Gang Shows, raffles, jumble sales, whist drives, in fact anything which would bring in money. The first of the Village's Scout Fetes is recorded as being in 1952 and it was held in Wheatbutts, where the Scout Hut was then sited. This but was burnt down in 1961 - it had been hired out to a skiffle group who had suspect wiring. The fetes and gang shows (which were in true Ralph Reader tradition) were held over a period of about 45 years; there were exhibitions, and the displays were always of a very high standard. Mr. Moss of Eton Wick School introduced the boys to the game of 'Shinty' and this soon became Eton Wick's adopted sport; the Shinty finals were always played out at the Scout Fete, including men against women - it eventually became so rough that Mr. Moss pulled out! Other entertainments at the fetes ranged from Penny Rigden's dancing troupe to Guards' weapon displays and American Air Force drill exhibitions. These fetes continued until interest waned in 1973. 

Earlier in the evening Frank Bond had pointed out that this was the end of the 7th year of the Group; and he thanked Mary Gyngell who had provided cakes for every meeting over that period; and thanks, were also given to the Committee, particularly Joan Neighbour, Zena Redhunt, Rene Thompson, Mrs. Jean Tyler and Brenda Irvine. The programme for 1999 was issued in September, suggestions for subjects welcome. 

During the 1990's the Parish Magazine of Eton, Eton Wick and Boveney reported on the meetings of the Eton Wick History Group. A member of the audience took shorthand notes in the darkened hall. This article was published in the August edition of 1998.

No comments:

Post a Comment