Jackson’s Oxford Journal

Saturday, July 11th 1868

Great Western Railway Fete.

This annual fete took place on Tuesday last at Aldermaston Park, the seat of Higford Burr, Esq., near Reading, and passed off with the greatest eclât. Tempted by a splendid day, the heat tempered by a slight breeze, some thousands of visitors availed themselves of the opportunity of revisiting this beautiful domain, and those to whom its many and varied attractions were new were loud in their expressions of delight with the splendid views of the surrounding country obtained from various points of the Park.

Before proceeding to detail the proceedings of the day, we may say that the primary object of the gathering is to aid the funds of a most valuable Institution, initiated and maintained chiefly by the humbler portion of the employés of the Great Western Railway Company, by which they are enabled to succour many a bereft family from distress, consequent upon accidents - alas! too frequent - and death. Its operations are so extensive that nearly 200 widows and a proportionate number of children have been recipients of its funds; these, then, are the objects with which every railway traveller can sympathise, because incessant toil and risk of life are inseparable from the duties of a railway servant. Fortunately, the high character which the men enjoy for steadiness, attention to duty, amid general sobriety, enables them to command the sympathies of the local gentry, and for twelve years past access has been afforded by many of them to their private Parks, a privilege which has been greatly heightened by the Great Western Railway Company conceding facilities for transit for the members, friends, and visitors.

The visitors began to arrive as early as ten o'clock, and from that hour, until the day had far advanced, the numbers were swelled until it was computed that 15,000 persons were present. The heaviest laden trains were those from Cheltenham, bringing 1200 persons; from Oxford, with nearly 700; London, about 1200; Swindon, Reading, Henley, Hungerford, and Basingstoke contributing their quota. The terraced gardens and pleasure grounds appeared the first point to be mastered, and here the eye was gratified with some beautiful collections of bedding plants, the fantastic designs in box causing some amount of speculation and curiosity. The walks and avenues had an immense number of promenaders, but the largest gathering was to be found on a spot where dancing took place to the strains of an admirable quadrille band, under the direction of Mr. Matthews, with Mr. Bareham as master of the ceremonies. Here also were the large marquees and tents, in which Mr. Browning, of the Great Western Refreshment Rooms, Paddington, provided refreshments in a way that gave general satisfaction to those who patronised him; there were also distinct departments for the dispensing of cooling beverages and confectionery, as well as bars, where the working man's beverage was supplied in copious streams - the intense heat and dust rendering a draught of good English ale particularly acceptable and refreshing. In close proximity was cricket, between eleven Paddington players and eleven of the Newbury Working Men's Club, in which the latter had an easy victory; the Great Western Paddington Band under the direction of Mr. Surman, was stationed near, and played a goodly selection of music throughout the afternoon. The fine band of the Gloucester Artillery Volunteers also added effectively and efficiently to the musical part of the programme.

An immense number of people massed themselves round the stage, on which for several hours some of the best London comic talent rivetted their attention. First there was Mr. George Leybourne, who was described as the Lion Comiqne and Original "Champagne Charlie,” who showed himself to be quite at home in the humorous ditties which he sang, and which were received with great applause, viz., "The Eel. Pie Shop," and “I'll have your Hat," "The Crow," "A Prize at the Cattle Show," and “The Girl with the Ginger Hair." Miss Nelly Power, a young and talented danseuse and vocalist, gave specimens of her varied powers with much archness and humour; in an "Olla prodrida," "Bay a Broom," and the "English Jockey." Mr. Wilkinson, who is a very clever "patter" singer, gave a humorous chant on Artemus Ward, or “Yankee Doodle Man," in which some pungent "digs" were made at man's follies, frolics, and habits. Mr. Robt. Coombes, as author, composer, and comedian, from Canterbury Hall, was very successful in several new character songs, especially in "The Spark;" and Miss Smithson, who has always been well received by her audiences, gave with her usual vivacity, "Our Sal" and other amusing songs, in a manner which fully entitles her to the high position in which she stands among the habitués of the London Music Halls. Each part was concluded by a comic ballet, sustained by Mr. and Miss D'Auban, and Jane and Emma Ward, one entitled "'Love in a muddle," the other, "'I'm a married man myself," in each of which their remarkable skill as dancers, contortionists, &c., drew down immense applause. These performances on the stage, which was placed under a magnificent oak, concluded about 4.30, and was a source of continued fun and amusement to thousands. There was also the "Magic Post Office," which did a roaring trade in vending the "soft nonsense" which produced a merry giggle from the fair damsels who appeared to monopolise the scene of amusement. Mr. Dunton was again present with his implements of toxopholite warfare, with a novelty called "pigeon practice," which would have been more agreeable if placed at a greater distance from the general public; the continued explosions being sufficiently noisy to put nervous people in a perspiration. In addition to all this, Aunt Sally, knock-em-down, trap, bat and ball, quoits, " kiss in the ring," &c., were provided, and each had a share of patronage. Baker's steam engine and boilers supplied hot water, &c.

The arrangements of the fête were confided to a Committee assisted by the newly-appointed Secretary, Mr. Elve, and resulted in the most complete success. The trains started with great punctuality, and no accident of any hind came to our knowledge; and the dispatch of such immense numbers from Aldermaston station with promptitude and safety speaks well for the energy of Mr. Inspector Bath, who charged himself with that arduous duty. The Oxford train was under the special care of that officer and Inspector Vigors, and reached Oxford shortly after 9 o'clock. The Committee were greatly indebted to Mr. Phillips, the steward to the estate, and to the head gardener, for the facilities' which were afforded for carrying out the arrangements, and the latter must have taxed his staff to some extent to enable him to make such a splendid display of flowers after such a long period of heat and drought. The park herbage, indeed, presented a very dry aspect, its slipperiness occasioning a good many falls, but no serious casualty occurred to mar the pleasures of the day.

Transcribed by Colin and Daniel Taylor, 2019