Jackson’s Oxford Journal

Saturday, July 10th 1869


A visit to Nuneham, in the estimation of pleasure-seeking Oxonians, is the perfection of enjoyment The neighbourhood of Oxford abounds with places of interest where the weary and jaded citizen can enjoy a few hours of healthful recreation, amid scenes of picturesque beauty and historical importance, but Nunehain outrivals them all. Even Blenheim, with its Princely Palace and magnificent Park and Gardens, appeals much less forcibly to the popular imagination than Nuneham. The causes of this state of things are not far to seek. In the first instance, Nuneham is within a reasonable distance of Oxford; in the second place, the proprietor of the domain affords the greatest facilities to the public to visit the Park; and in the third place, - and this is, perhaps, after all, the chief cause of its popularity, - it is easily and cheaply accessible by water. For these and other reasons Nuneham has always been a popular place of resort, and when the announcement was made a few weeks ago that the annual fête of the Great Western Railway Provident Society would be held for the third time during the last 14 years in the beautiful Park, which the Rev. W. V. Harcourt had placed at the disposal of the Society, it was received with the greatest satisfaction by all classes of persons resident in Oxford and the adjoining district. The out-door holiday of this valuable Society is becoming year by year more and more popular, and never more so than upon this occasion, all classes evincing the utmost readiness to enjoy the diversified entertainments provided by the Committee, and, at the same time, to assist a fund which is judiciously dispensed for the relief of the widows and orphans of those railway employés who, from the constantly recurring casualties incident to their occupation, may stand in need of assistance. This class has a strong claim upon the sympathy of the public, and it is satisfactory to know that these annual gatherings have been the means of adding largely to the funds of the Society, thus enabling the Managers to deal in a liberal spirit with the many urgent and painful cases which from time to time occur in the management of a gigantic undertaking like that of the Great Western Railway. Tuesday last, the day fixed for the annual fête, as stated last week, was observed in Oxford as a holiday, almost as general as if the people were celebrating a State pageant or some great military or naval victory; the Mayor (Jos, Castle, Esq.,) had issued handbills recommending the tradesmen to close their places of business on the afternoon of that day, and the request was generally complied with. The same course was adopted at Abingdon, Wallingford, and other places on the line, with a similar result, business in all these towns being almost totally suspended. The railway arrangements for the féte were similar to those of former years, with this exception that a special train was despatched for the first time from Leamington, calling at all the intermediate stations. Special trains were also run from Paddington, Cheltenham, Swindon, Hungerford, Basingstoke, Oxford, and most of the stations on the line; and some idea of the labour imposed on the Great Western and its branches may be gathered from the fact that somewhere about 15,000 people were conveyed to Culham and back, and we have much pleasure in stating that this extraordinary amount of traffic was conducted with the utmost regularity and without the occurrence of a single casualty. A considerable number of persons found their way to Nuneham by other conveyances, the most popular, however, being by water, The large house boats, such as "The British Queen," "The Lily," "The Britannia," "The Cardinal," "The Nelson," &c., were crowded with persons from Oxford of both sexes, who beguiled the somewhat long and tedious journey with dancing; while every imaginable species of craft was put into requisition for the occasion. The appearance of the river was extremely animated.

The success of an out-door fête being so largely dependent upon the weather, it was not without serious misgivings that people regarded the “skyey influences” on Tuesday morning. The bright sunshine of the previous day was succeeded by a leaden dullness, and when rain began to fall, from 10 till 11 o'clock, there seemed every probability that the gathering which had been the subject of so many joyous anticipations would end in disappointment. Fortunately, however, the elements became more propitious, and the remainder of the day was as fine as the most ardent pleasure-seeker could desire. About mid-day all the avenues to the Park were thronged with pedestrians who had come far and near for a day's “outing,” and it was evident from the demeanour of many of them that such holidays were “few and far between,” and that they were determined to enjoy it in their own way. For some hours the carriage road from Culham Station (which was, of course, the great landing place) to the Park, a distance of a mile, was filled with a compact mass of human beings, trudging along a dusty road. Omnibuses, brought from London for the purpose, conveyed, passengers to the Park at a small rate of charge, but it is hardly surprising that the supply was utterly inadequate to the demand.

The amusements provided in the Park did not differ from those of other years. A little novelty in this respect would not be unacceptable to those who are in the habit of attending the féte. Around a stage erected on the high ground was collected an immense crowd listening to the performances of several well-known popular favourites, including Mr. George Leybourne, Miss Kate Bella, Mr. J. G. Forde, Miss Emma Alford, the Great Little Levite (the electric), Jessie Nina, Mr. J. H. Stead; and the D’Auban and Warde, nearly all of whom were enthusiastically encored in their efforts to gratify the spectators. In other parts of the ground dancing was carried on with great vigour to the music of Mathews’s quadrille band; the Paddington band, under the direction of Mr. Seaman, played on the cricket ground, while Aunt Sally, quoits, trap-bat-and-ball, knock-’em-down, and archery, each attracted their fair quota of visitors. The Magic Post Office, from which tender little billets-doux were obtained ad libitum for a small fee, was, as usual, much patronised. We must not omit to mention that a number of working models were exhibited by Mr. Lee, of Gloucester, which afforded a good deal of interest and amusement, especially to the juvenile portion of the company. Through the Kindness of Mr. Harcourt, the splendid gardens, which are now resplendent with flowers, were kindly thrown open to the public, and thousands availed themselves of the privilege of seeing them. The great centre of attraction throughout the day was the wooded height above the Isis on which stands the famous conduit of Otho Nicholson, which formerly stood opposite Carfax Church, from whence it was removed by Lord Harcourt in 1787. Here were seated crowds of spectators, viewing with evident interest the animated scene on the river below, or delighting the eye with the magnificent prospect of the surrounding country which is obtained from this point, and a large number indulged in the diversion so popular with visitors to Nuneham of running up and down the hill - a feat which was the source of never-ending amusement to all who could muster up courage enough to risk a fall on the slippery incline.

Mr. Harcourt was present in his carriage for some time while the amusements were going on in the Park.

The responsible task of providing refreshments was confided to Mr. G. H. Browning, of the Refreshment Rooms, Paddington, but the arrangements made in this department were utterly inadequate to supply the wants of the immense multitude which assembled in the Park, By six ‘o-clock every scrap of food was gone, and nothing except wine and spirits could be obtained. The break down of the victualling department was the subject of comments by no means complimentary, especially by those who had long distances to travel.

Notwithstanding this drawback the fête was a great success, and we have no doubt it will result in a large addition to the funds of the Society.

The Messrs. Drace, agents to the Rey. W. V. Harcourt, offered every facility to the Committee for carrying out their arrangements in which they were ably and earnestly seconded by Mr. Crane, Mr. Stewart, and Mr, Aldridge, officers on the estate. The Committee have to acknowledge the invaluable aid which was afforded by Mr. Thompson, the Locomotive Superintendent of the Oxford District, for his excellent arrangements in providing plenty of locomotive power; to Mr. Gibbs; Superintendent of the Oxford Station, for his zeal and promptitude in despatching the numerous trains from this city: and to Inspector Bath, for his important services in despatching the trains from Cheltenham with such extreme regularity and safety. The Committee who took an active part in the fête consisted of fhe following gentlemen :- Messrs. Atkins, Bradley, Powers, Craig, Kibbler, Durdle, Gillio, Mason, Harper, Bath, Grimes, Bosisto, Weston, Kirk, Noble, Johns, King, Elliott, &c., &c., ably assisted by Mr. Elve, the active and greatly-respected Secretary.

Transcribed by Colin and Daniel Taylor, 2019