Jackson’s Oxford Journal

Saturday, August 8th 1857


The fête in aid of the Great Western Railway Widows’ and Orphans’ fund took place on Tuesday last in Nuneham Park, which had been kindly placed at the disposal of the Committee by G. G. Harcourt, Esq., MP. The Great Western Railway Company ran trains from various towns along their line at a very trifling charge, which covered the cost of transit there and back and admission to the Park. Trains also ran at different periods of the day from this City, and from 5000 to 6000 persons availed themselves of them. By four o’clock in the afternoon the fête may be said to have been at its height, and it was computed that at that time there were about 20,000 persons present. The band of Her Majesty’s Royal Regiment of Horse Guards (blue) by permission of Colonel Forester, the Great Western Railway Paddington Brass band, the Royal Berks Militia band, by permission of Captain Codd, and Matthews’s quadrille band, were in attendance, and were stationed in different parts of the Park.

The private gardens attached to the Mansion were thrown open to the public, and in the afternoon an immense party, headed by one of the bands, proceeded there; up to a late hour the gardens were crowded, and every one appeared to appreciate and enjoy the privilege so kindly conceded to them by the liberal owner of this beautiful domain. During the afternoon the Countess of Waldegrave, Mr. Harcourt, and a distinguished party who were his guests, passed through the Park in carriages and were enthusiastically cheered on their way. The weather was every thing that could be desired, and some thousands beguiled the time by dancing to the music of the various bands.

In various parts of the Park were tents, which were well supplied up to a certain period in the afternoon with refreshments of all kinds. A splendid pavilion, provisioned by Mr. Hayward, of the Wheatsheaf Hotel and City Arms, Oxford, was crowded during the whole day. A capital dinner could be obtained there at a trifling cost, but as the day advanced it was found that the supply was scarcely equal to the demand, and those who dined late did not fare so sumptuously as those who satisfied their appetites at an earlier period. The same ill fortune befell those who deferred taking tea till late, and many were compelled to put up with a scanty meal, and to be content with what little remained; notwithstanding that fresh supplies of eatables and drinkables kept continually arriving from Oxford, they were disposed of very quickly after being landed.

Beyond the sport of archery, in which large numbers indulged, there was no amusement provided, and parties had to fall back upon their own resources. The climbing and descending of the Conduit Hill afforded, of course, no lack of amusement to those who undertook the task, as well as those who were spectators, but we understand that some parties received such serious tumbles and blows as will remind them of the fête at Nuneham for some time to come. Considering, however, the immense number of persons present, the fête passed off better than could have been expected, although it failed to realize every one’s anticipations. Towards seven o’clock some hundreds of persons moved off towards the Railway station, where an extra train was in readiness to convey them to Abingdon or Oxford; the train was soon filled, and those who were thoughtful enough to leave early, reached Oxford before eight o’clock. Trains continued to run from Culham station till past midnight, and the last cargo reached this City about two o’clock in the morning. As might be expected, the rush to the trains at Culham station was terrific, and that might be said to be the only drawback to the day’s enjoyment.

There were but few private parties at the fête, the Committee of Management having very injudiciously prohibited carriages from remaining n the Park, and the consequence was, that many who intended to picnic in the Park, and take with them their own provisions, abandoned the idea and remained at home. Had it not been for this, the attendance would have been much larger, and the funds of the charity would also have been greatly benefitted. It was a great disappointment to many, and was the only ground of complaint that we heard during the day. The London train, which brought down an immense number of persons to the fête, returned from Culham station at 8.30. Business in Oxford was generally suspended about the middle of the day, and the place had almost the appearance of a deserted city.

Transcribed by Colin and Daniel Taylor, 2019