Jackson’s Oxford Journal

Saturday, 9th July 1864


The ninth annual fête in aid of the Great Western Railway Widows' and Orphans’ Fund was held on Tuesday in Aldermaston Park, near Reading, the seat of Higford Burr, Esq. This festival is always looked forward to with much interest for and while promoting a very meritorious object it affords an excellent day’s enjoyment to many thousands of pleasure- seekers in the Great Western district. Tuesday last showed no falling off either in the character of the amusements or in the number of patrons, and special trains conveyed throngs of holiday-makers from Oxford, London, Cheltenham, Gloucester, Basingstoke, Hungerford, Devizes, and intermediate stations, the assemblage being apparently much in excess of that at Nuneham last year.

About two hundred and fifty persons left Oxford shortly after ten, the train being under the charge of Inspector Bath, and they were joined by a heavily-laden train at Didcot, where a stoppage of an hour and a half both in going and returning sorely tried the patienee of the excursionists, Certainly there are few things more than a delay at a junction, particularly if one is tantalised by occasional shuntings and other movements, but we suppose it cannot always be helped. Crowds of persons were in waiting at Wallingford Road, Goring, and Pangbourne, and the train, which reached its destination shortly before two, was of unusual length and weight. Aldermaston Station, which is situated on the Hungerford branch, between Reading and Newbury, was ‘beset with vehicles of every description, and the quiet country road of a mile and quarter which intervened between the railway and the Park presented, for the nonce, the appearance of Cheapside with its incessant traffic. Several London omnibuses had come down to ply on the occasion; cabs and carriers’ carts were in great number, and the owners of every wagon and other conveyance in the neigh bourhood appeared to have obtained a license for the day in order to speculate in the posting line. Nor could their expectations have been disappointed, for even the rudest vehicles were heavily freighted, and had the opportunity of accommodating several sets of fares. Flocks of pedestrians traversed the road, and the whole distance bore the aspect of a fair. An arch of evergreena had been erected by the villagers near the station, and refreshment stalls and shooting galleries were in profusion.

It was a treat, after exposure to clouds of dust and the unclouded rays of a July sun, at length to enter the Park, and tread its soft mossy turf, or “rest and be thankful” under its umbrageous trees. It is about a thousand acres in extent and is situated on an eminence, affording at various points fine views of the surrounding country. A more picturesque spot the Committee could scarcely have selected. The ground is pleasingly undulated, and the landscape is of the most varied nature. There are fine open avenues, cozy dells, and woods intersected by delightfully shaded paths, while a fine sheet of water, covering 20 acres, is a noteworthy adornment, its margin being fringed with trees and shrubs which are reflected on its silvery surface. Many of the trees have weathered the storms of centuries; some of the oaks and yews hollow with age, in whose one could easily stand upright, but yet by no means in the sere and yellow leaf, while others are in the heyday of maturity. They display grotesque forms, which many an artist would be enraptured with, and their massive limbs, with their foliage, fanned by a genial breeze, gave grateful shelter to the excursionists. Of course the visitors, for the most part, had scarcely time to perambulate more than a small portion of the Park, and probably missed many picturesque views which it comprises, but there was only one opinion on the charming scenery of the locality, and on the good judgment evinced in obtaining the use of it for the fête. The mansion, Aldermaston Court, is a very fine structure of the Elizabethan order, raised by Mr, Burrin 1849, and by Mr. Hardwick, the old mansion, which was of the date of 1663, and was celebrated for its fine pictures and painted windows, having been destroyed by fire. A small portion of it remains in the rear of the conservatory, and some of the antique staircase tapestry and carved Venetian furniture were happily saved and adorn the present edifice. It stands on an acclivity, fronting the lake, thus presenting an imposing appearance from various directions, and the clock tower, with which it is crowned, forms a prominent landmark for some distance round, Many of the visitors inspected the Church, which stands in the Purk, and is an old and interesting building having a saddle-backed steeple of singular shape. On the south side of the nave is the Forster Chapel, containing a handsome ancient marble tomb, on which are the recumbent effigies of Sir George and Lady Elizabeth Forster, the former possessors of Aldermaston Court. On one side are the figures of their eight sons, in armour, and in various positions, while on the other are represented their seven daughters, and it is altogether very interesting as a work of art and as a relic of antiquity. The church peal of five bells rang merrily at intervals during the day.

It is time, however, that we mentioned the amusements which were provided, and which all appeared to give great gratification, Sam Collins opened the programme, and a dense mass of persons speedily collected around the stage and listened with evident gusto to his ludicrous exposition of Irish character, which called forth rounds of laughter and applause. Miss Smithson give a number of comic songs in character, and with plenty of expression, besides “tripping it on the light fantastic toe.” Mr. J. D. Forde discoursed in his usual facetious style on men and manners, and his own adventures. The Martinette family performed some wonderful feats on the trapeze, which were loudly applauded; and Messrs. Howard, Little Bob, and Allen rendered some capital comic songs. There were also Brian and Conley, the French clowns, who gave their laughable entertainment, “Sandy and the Mill,” double violins, &c., so that, altogether, there was plenty of material for the
“Mirth that wrinkled care derides,
And laughter holding both his sides.”

But we ought not to have mentioned last Professor Logrenia’s performing cat, birds, and mice, from the Crystal Palace, which were exhibited in a tent at a small charge, and afforded much wonderment to hosts of spectators. The birds, at the mere word of command ascend and descend a ladder, take an airing (duly habited) in a carriage drawn by one of their number, and execute other surprising manoeuvres; while Grimmalkin, who lives in the same cage with them on the most amiable terms, with the utmost nonchalance steps out and fires a mimic cannon at one of the feathered tribe supposed to have cammitted the offence of desertion, and which incontinently falls down as though it had received the coup- de-grace. The mice have been taught to ascend poles and bring down in thair mouths whatever is placed at the summit. Besides all these amusements for the eye and ear, there were plenty of sports in which the visitors could take part. There were Aunt Sallys, whose physiognomies could sustain composedly any number of blows; targets for the lovers of archery to shoot at, though a “miss” seemed generally the rule and a hit the exception; knock-em-downs, wheels of fortune, and a magic post office, which afforded no small amount of fun. The musical department, too, was well sustained by Matthews’ Oxford Quadrille Band, the Paddington Rifle and the Berks Militia Bands, and a spacious ring was marked out for dancing, which was freely indulged in. As a matter of course, too, the “inner man” was not neglected. Mr. Harper of Reading, supplied all kinds of eatables and drinkables under a number of marquees, and a steam engine “made the pot boil” for tea.

Thus the time passed pleasantly, and all seemed to enjoy themselves to the top of their bent until the sun neared the western horizon, when streams of people began wending their way to the station, mostly with sun-burnt faces and weary limbs, yet all the better for a day’s out-door enjoyment. The return trains began to be despatched shortly before eight, and though there was the usual amount of confusion and bewilderment where thousands of people are assembled, all were safely started, the Oxford train reaching its destination about eleven o'clock.

Mr. Bareham, of London, acted as master of the ceremonies, assisted by Mr. Willett, and there appeared no hitch in any of the arrangements. The fête will, doubtless, yield a handsome surplus for the fund, which performs a very useful mission in providing for the widows and orphans of the Company's servants, and is constantly rendering invaluable aid to many necessitous and deserving cases.

We regret to have to add that on the return journey a fatal accident occurred to one of the excursionists by the Cheltenham train, who, while imprudently crossing the line at the Wallingford-road Station, was run over by the fast up-train and killed on the spot. Particulars of this melancholy occurrence will he found under the Wallingford news.

Transcribed by Colin and Daniel Taylor, 2019