Reading Mercury

Saturday, July 2nd 1860


We have now to record the excellent and interesting fête which took place on Tuesday, at Hungerford Park, for the benefit of the Great Western Railway Widows’ and Orphans’ fund. This event, which is joked forward to every summer as the most attractive and important fête of the season, was not this year, we are sorry to say, so well attended as on previous years. Hitherto it has generally been favoured with fine weather, which is an all important consideration in outdoor entertainments; but, although their good furtune did not wholly forsake the friends of the cause of the widows and orphans on this occasion, there fell on the previous day an amount of rain sufficient to damp the ardour of most people, and to fix the determinations of many to stay at home; the result was a much smaller attendance than there would have been had the weather been more promising. Notwithstanding, it, was gratifying to see the large numbers that did attend. The morning proved fine, and the people flocked to every station down the line for the purpose of meeting the special trains, which came from Oxford, Cheltenham, and Paddington. The latter was especially of prodigious length, and contained many hundreds of eager faces and happy countenances. A special train started from Reading, containing a great many persons, and made large additions at the various stations along the way to Hungerford.

The trains stopped on the line opposite the park gate, where laurel arch was fitted up, and the words, “The Widows and Orphans” were conspicuous on the top. When all had arrived on the ground from the various places, near and far, it was computed that there were about five thousand present. This was a number which the most enthusiastic friends of the fund could hardly have expected, under the adverse circumstances which we have already referred to, The object of the fête is one which must claim the sympathy of all. The railway employès are a body of intelligent and industrious men, and the travelling public can bear testimony to their obliging dispositions. They subscribe largely towards the widows’ and orphans’ fund out of their own earnings, but, as is well known, their vocation is a dangerous one to life, and the consequence is that large demands are made upon the fund, and we think they have a legitimate claim upon public support, towards a provision for those dependent upon them. That claim, however, is put forward in an independent, yet most pleasing form in these fêtes, and the promoters of whom can truly say that they have given a quid pro quo to every visitor for the money paid. Indeed, the public must feel indebted to these gentlemen for affording such excellent opportunities of a day's pleasure and amusement at so cheap a rate. The park and grounds on which the fête was held are admirably adapted for the purpose, The scene around is of the most delightful description, and the fineness of the day had a most exhilarating effect upon all present, as was manifest in every beaming countenance. The old appeared renewed in youth, the young sported about the park, and the picture was complete when groups of ladies in white muslins were seen collected under the different clusters of trees which dotted the grounds, Hungertord Park is pleasantly situated at the eastern extremity of the town, about one mile distant. It was formerly the residence of the Barons of Hungerford, who took their title from this place. The mansion is in the Italian style, and occupies the site of the old house which was built by Queen Elizabeth, and presented to the Earl of Essex. Some most delightful views can be obtained from various parts of the park and gardens, which were opened on Tuesday, by the kind liberality of Major Willes, the present owner. There were the usual tents erected for refreshments, and the most ample accommodation was provided. Outside the inner gate presented all the appearances of a fair: there were several refreshment stalls erected, booths, and a penny show. The leading feature in the entertainments was the performance of the artistes from London, upon the platform erected for the urpose. Mr. Sam Collins “in all his glory,” was there. There is no living actor so truthfully and forcibly represents the Irish character as Mr. Collins, but he is nevertheless occasionally extravagant. He delighted the spectators, and was most enthusiastically applauded and encored on each appearance. Mr, Busby, comic singer from the Surrey Music Hall, sang admirably, with great effect, and was consequently rewarded with the most hearty plaudits. Messrs. Collis, and Davis, the London Ethiopians, were received with particular favour. Their burlesque performance called forth “laughter holding both his sides,” and the park was filled with loud and merry sounds. At the conclusion, stentorian cheers rang through the air, and the professionals were recalled. Dancing formed no small part of the day’s amusement. Two pieces of ground were enclosed for the purpose. The larger one, however, where Matthews's celebrated Oxford Quadrille Band played was the favourite place, and there were abundant opportunities for this exhilarating exercise during the day, Besides Matthews’ band there were also in attendance, the Great Western Railway Paddington brass band, in the Volunteer Rifle Uniform, and the Slough band. These added materially to the harmony and enlivenment of the day, by their excellent playing. There were extensive provisions made for the lovers of archery, and not a few availed themselves of this fine sport, and numbers during the intervals had a throw at “aunt Sally,” while others walked about to admire the rural walks and umbrageous valleys; and thus the day was spent. We heard of no accident or anything to mar the general comfort of the party, and great credit is due to the gentlemen who took the most active part in the management of the affair. Mr. Baker, of the Paddington station; Mr. Harper. of the Reading station; and Mr. Bosisto, of Hungerford, specially deserve praise for their attentions during the day, and for the efficient manner in which they conducted the various matters. The vast assembly had all quitted the grounds by half-past eight o'clock, and were taken up after a brief delay by the various trains and conveyed back to the different stations. We believe the various amusements of the day gave universal satisfaction. All was harmony, and eyery one appeared in the highest spirits on leaving the ground. It was indeed the most orderly, temperate, and happy party that could possibly be gathered together in such numbers, and the merry voices of the ladies and gentlemen, as they journeyed home, formed a pleasing conclusion to the day's enjoyment.

Transcribed by Colin and Daniel Taylor, 2019