Jackson’s Oxford Journal
Saturday, August 1st 1863
THE NUNEHAM FETE
The Ninth [sic] – this is incorrect, as all other newspaper reports correctly record it as being the eighth. Annual Fête in aid of the Great Western Railway Widows’ and Orphans’ Fund took place on Tuesday last in Nuneham Park, the use of which was kindly granted by the Rev. W. V. Harcourt, and passed off most successfully. The weather was magnificent, the holiday makers mustered by thousands, and numerous amusements were provided for their gratification.
Special trains ran as usual from numerous stations on the Great Western line at low fares, and by the middle of the morning the little station at Culham presented a most lively appearance, as throngs of visitors arrived and wended their way – under a broiling sun – to the Park. Trains left Oxford at 10.15, 11.15, 12.30, and 3.30, at the fares of 2s. 6d. and 1s. 6d., including admission to the fête, but the excursionists from the city were much less numerous than they were six years ago. Whether this was owing to the Cambridge or Crystal Palace trips, or to the Choral Festival, which took place the same day, we are unable to say; certain it is that the numbers were considerably smaller than had been anticipated, and the Mayor’s suggestion for the suspension of business at noon was by no means generally acted upon. Those, however, who did go appeared thoroughly to enjoy themselves, and the detachments from London, Cheltenham, Reading, Abingdon, &c., made up a large company.
To shorten the distance as much as possible from the railway station, the south-west portion of the Park was selected for the fête, to which coaches and car-a-bancs ran from the Lodge-gate to the spot at a fare of 8d., and found plenty of customers. The Committee showed their wonted judgement in providing the amusements, which were both numerous and excellent. Unsworth, who as the original “Or any other man,” has won such popularity at the London music halls, excited roars of laughter by his discourses on the topics of the day, the Polish insurrection, the Japanese imbroglio, Mr. Roebuck’s French visit, and other current incidents, furnishing material for fun. Sam Collins, with his Irish songs and witticisms, drew crowds of auditors; Eugene and Duley gave delineations of negro life and character; while Forde, the unrivalled patter singer, and W. Randall and Miss Parkes, from “The Oxford,” excited great merriment by their comic songs. Besides these famous artistes, the Committee had engaged the Brothers Conrade, of the Alhambra, who gave their wonderful performance on the flying trapeze, in which the younger one is considered to be only surpassed by Leotard; and Persivani and Faust executed some wonderful acrobatic feats. All these performers were much applauded. Unsworth, Collis, Forde, and Miss Parkes being especially popular. On another part of the ground the Piping Bullfinch, late of the International Exhibition, and lent for the occasion by Major Montressor, excited the wonderment of visitors; while further on one came to a post-office, where the “American mail” had just arrived, and laughter-provoking epistles were received by those who applied for letters. Archery, “Aunt Sally,” and kindred sports were extensively patronised. The musical department was efficiently represented by Mathews’s Quadrille Band and the Paddington Rifle Band, and not a few “tripped it on the light fantastic toe,” to their inspiring strains.
The beautiful and extensive gardens were open to the public from eleven till four, and large numbers availed themselves of the privilege, Mr. Harcourt’s well-known horticultural taste calling forth on every hand expressions of admiration. As for the Park, it was never seen to better advantage. It was a treat to walk on the smooth turf, after the dusty walk from the station, and the recent welcome rains had caused nature to assume her most smiling aspect. The foliage of the trees presented its most pleasing tint, and the undulations of the Park, and the picturesque views which it commands, excited the admiration of strangers. The eminence upon which the Conduit stands was naturally a favourite resort, and certainly the view from this spot was one of surpassing loveliness. The fine stretch of fertile land, shut in by an amphitheatre of hills – the alternation of verdant meads and waving corn, with its golden hue inviting the reaper’s sickle – the Isis placidly meandering through the valley - the mansion enbosomed in trees – and the towers of Oxford peering in the distance, formed a landscape on which the eye was not soon tired of gazing. Of course the Conduit also, with its curious sculptured figures, was an object of curiosity. It stood, as is well known, on Carfax, from 1610 till 1787, supplying the citizens with water conveyed in pipes from North Hincksey, and on being taken down in order to widen the High-street, was presented by the University and Corporation to the Earl of Harcourt, the then occupant of Nuneham, who placed it in its present imposing position. The bill on which it stands is a very steep one, and several slight accidents occurred to persons who descended it at a quicker pace than was advisable.
Of course the “inner man” was not forgotten by the managers of the fête. Mr. Drinkwater, of the George Hotel, Oxford, supplied the refreshments, several booths being erected for the purpose, and his cooling drinks were in great request, while a steam-engine was brought into requisition to boil the water for tea.
As the shades of evening began to approach, dancing was entered into with great spirit, and kissing in the ring – pooh-poohed by a countryman in our hearing as “all a slobbering affair” – was very freely indulged in, apparently affording equal amusement to participants and lookers-on. Mathews’s band left shortly before eight in the barge “British Queen,” and a number of persons availed themselves of this route homeward. Most of the return trains started about the same hour, but the Oxford people had the option of staying till ten, and a considerable number remained in the Park as long as practicable. We believe that nothing whatever occurred to mar the enjoyment of the day.
The Rev. W. V. Harcourt, with his family, drove round the Park in the course of the day, and was evidently pleased to see the numbers of happy faces around him.
Some of the county police were stationed on the ground, in order to prevent ingress by unauthorized routes, but there was no need for their services, as far as maintaining order was concerned, the behaviour of the people being unexceptionable.
We must not omit to mention the services of Mr. Boreham, who acted as master of ceremonies, and of Mr. Baker, by whom the principal arrangements were made.
Transcribed by Colin and Daniel Taylor, 2019