Tuesday 23 July 2013

Kingsley Fete in the old days

Kingsley fete was, I suppose, the highlight of the summer calendar and was held each year in the grounds of the Cricketers. In those days the area behind the large barn was all grass and, therefore, from the rear of the barn all the way down to the fence in front of Ockham Hall was a large paddock. Today the area of which I speak behind the barn is a car park. It was in the whole of this area that the festivities associated with the fete took place.
Along the fence by the Hall was erected a large marquee and in this various competitions would take place. There were jam and wine making competitions together with flower and vegetables. Handicrafts were also represented. For the children the most popular competition was a garden on a plate this was usually very well supported and most of us submitted an entry. Drawing / painting was also available for children to compete in. In addition to the competition displays there were a number of stalls selling various items. The ever popular cake stall and the white elephant stall would both be well patronised. I remember one year someone had donated a number of large volumes containing editions of Boys Own Paper bound within the covers. I bought several and they were prized possessions of mine. Containing, as they did, all the sorts of things boys enjoyed and detailed plans of how to make all sorts of interesting models and gadgets.
Outside of the marquee were erected a number of structures which were associated with a range of adult competitive activities. There was the greasy pole. This was a tall pole probably about six inches thick which was, I think, sunk into the ground and held up with ropes. However, it extended upwards to about fourteen, or so, feet and had been well covered with a fairly thick coating of grease. On top of the pole was pinned a five pound note. The idea was that the men would attempt to climb up and secure the note. I have no recollection of anyone having done so. Each contestant paid a small fee in order to enter and attempt the climb. Overalls were provided for those attempting the climb as it was a very messy business. It should be remembered that five pounds was a large amount of money in those days. To put it into some sort of context, when at the age of twenty two, I joined the Prison Service, my weekly pay was ten pounds. This, of course, was much later than my childhood days and the village fetes, so it will therefore, be appreciated that to obtain a fiver in those days would have been a significant prize. As with all of the events, the fees for entry, together with sales revenue, were used to support various village groups and projects.
Back to the structures, the other popular event was sack fighting. These fights were conducted upon a bar which had been suspended between two large cross structures high enough above the ground to ensure the combatants could not touch the ground with their feet. In fact, a space of about three or four feet beneath the feet would be the norm. Two men would then get on to the horizontal pole and sit facing one another and each would be armed with a hessian sack filled with straw. They would then batter each other until one of them lost their balance and fell off the pole. Yet another pole structure involved two high side poles, erected vertically, with a bar across the two. The side poles had nails in each side at the same height and these supported the cross bar and permitted it to be moved up the side poles in steps of, I think, a foot at a time. The object of this event was to toss a stook of straw and, at a later date, a bale of straw, over the bar by using a pitch fork. The "tosser" would continue to throw his straw over the bar until he knocked the bar off. The height would then be measured and, at the end of the day, the person achieving the highest toss would receive a prize. This was quite a strenuous activity and attracted the more macho young men, keen to show off their strength.
The other standard event was bowling for the pig. A set of large wooden skittles, nine of them, would be erected and the throwing distance set. The throwing distance was shorter for the ladies. The thrower or bowler would be provided with three large wooden disks known as cheeses. These were the shape of a smarty but, of course, much bigger and heavier. I reckon they must have been about eight inches across and at their thickest, about three or four inches. They were made of a heavy, dense wood. They were thrown with a sort of sideways action or flipped in order to achieve a rolling spin. Again at the end of the day the person achieving the highest number of knocked down skittles won the pig. The pig was a real one, donated by a local farmer and was on display in a makeshift pen for all to see. If the winner did not want the pig a deal was usually done with the provider and the pig bought back.
As though all of the above were not enough the fetes had sports as well. These took the form of various races. Two legged, egg and spoon and wheel barrow races being the norm and spread across the age groups and sexes. There would also be a tug of war competition and teams of both men and women would compete. The evening would be taken up with music and dancing in the marquee and the Cricketers provided the refreshment.
The fetes over the years were very well supported and provided the village with an opportunity to get together and, no doubt, a welcome rest from the labours of the week. In those days most of the men folk of the village worked upon the many farms and, of course, the hours were much longer and the work much harder than it is today. Not least because most of the work on a farm had to be done by hand. Large heavy sacks filled with all manner of crops had to be lifted from A to B as there was not the complex machinery that the modern farm enjoys.
The Church, the school and the pub were the institutions that regularly joined together in order to put on village events, and these included the village fete. Whilst talking of marquees, there was an occasional marquee which would appear upon the village green below the church and opposite the school. This would turn up, I suppose, every few years and was erected by The Missionary Society. Into this people of the village were invited to go and join in song and prayer and to contribute monies by buying books and various items depicting the work of the Society. Early forms of film would be shown and photos of people from Africa in mud huts and various states of poverty. From the perspective of the village boys these occasional events were met with much enthusiasm. Now I am not going to try and convince the reader that this was as a result of a surge of religious belief or indeed a new found pity for our fellow man. Sadly it was none of this, the reason, I am afraid, was very much more basic. The fact is the Society was fairly liberal with the distribution of biscuits and orange squash and we took full advantage of their largess!
It seems to me that the fete in the Cricketers grounds went on for quite a few years, exactly how many I have no idea now, but eventually the event was relocated into the vicarage grounds just below and opposite the Cricketers. As far as I can recall the various attractions went on in much the same way but the large marquee was replaced with smaller tents. I think the evening dancing was discontinued at the new venue. Why the relocation took place I don’t recall.

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