Look Back with Little: Fetes are welcome relief from thoughts of war

Mrs Salter's Easington Poorah band who provided entertainment at St Hugh's Fete. Picture courtesy of Barry Davis. NNL-180608-105417001
Mrs Salter's Easington Poorah band who provided entertainment at St Hugh's Fete. Picture courtesy of Barry Davis. NNL-180608-105417001

Recent editions of the Banbury Guardian show that July is a popular month for fetes.

The year 1939, despite the looming threat of war, was no exception and reports about them merited front page news in Banbury’s newspapers. Their contrasting locations were Hanwell, St Hugh’s Church Easington and Broughton Castle. In each case a lady of considerable status performed the opening ceremony.

Since the consecration of St Hugh’s Church there had been four annual fetes but 1939 was the first year it was held in the field behind the church as well as in the hall itself. Previously supporters of the occasion had to make their way to the grounds of the Springfield Hotel off the Bloxham Road.

The occasion was a very special one for the Rev ALE Williams, vicar of Banbury. He had been the driving force behind the neighbourhood move that brought about the church as a community base for the people of Easington. Welcoming Lady Bicester, Rev Williams commented on the weekday role of St Hugh’s Hall in catering for the social life and needs of Easington while not neglecting worship and Sunday School provision. It follows that the words with which Lady Bicester opened the fete would have meant a great deal to him and to the Rev RC West, minister responsible for the church.

Her remarks would have been remembered long after the occasion: “There is a great deal more to these fetes than just getting money for our churches. They give a wonderful opportunity to practise real Christian fellowship when we all work together for a great end.”

There was a variety of attractions on offer during the afternoon and evening: stalls and sideshows accounted for many of these but added events included a keep fit display directed by Mrs Raymond Barker, a variety entertainment organised by Mrs Salter and Mrs Clark, and a whist drive with the Rev West as MC. The onset of rain meant the hall became the centre of activities but as Lady Bicester forecast, it was people power that made the event a success. The occasion ended with a dance to the music of Newman’s Band.

The scene of Hanwell’s fete was the castle where Countess De La Warr, wife of the minister of education, was delighted ‘people were finding time to devote to civilised things’. Her family links with Hanwell village made it a very special occasion.

Tree protected lawns allowed a great variety of attractions to survive the impact of rain. These included the ever-popular coconut shy, hoop-la, bowling for the pig and crazy golf. For those hoping for background music, the choice was Shelley’s Omniphone. As at St Hugh’s, dancing brought the day to a conclusion at the village hall, and who better to get people on their feet than Ken Prewer and his band.

After a lapse of several years during which the Rectory grounds provided a home for Broughton Fete, it was a case of back to the castle for 1939. Lady Elton performed the opening ceremony and commented on the opportunity to seek, however temporarily, an escape from rumours of war. As the day drew to a close her husband, having made a last minute dash from London, sounded the same note about community spirit being the keynote for a successful fete and reminding people all good causes needed money. The event they were attending was a classic example of ensuring a flow of cash from wage packet to collecting box.

Some of the activities were particular to the location, including trips on the moat and visits to the hoop-la stall manned especially by Lord Saye and Sele. Space made it possible to have a shooting gallery and, in common with Hanwell, bowling for the pig was very popular.

Considering the gravity of the situation in the late 1930s, it is remarkable how much space was allocated to these fetes. People expected local journalists to make their events known; in this case sharing the front page with a report on the ongoing recruitment for National Service.