The Era

Sunday, July 10th 1870

Great Western Railway Provident Society Fete at Shrivenham.

A fete or a feast is evidently the nearest way to an Englishman's pocket in the cause of charity, and if we “take our pleasures sadly” - an accusation to which we by no means plead guilty - it will at least be found that many of those pleasures are closely allied with some movement having for its object the amelioration of distress. The Great Western Railway Provident Society is a notable example of the great and noble ends to be attained by simple co-operation among working men. This Society has now been established something like twenty years, and at the present time we find there are no fewer than 276 widows and 180 orphans receiving a weekly allowance from its funds. About £4,000 is annually disbursed, and the income of the Society is raised by the small contributions of twopence per week per member, by donations from the charitably disposed, and first, and foremost, by the annual fete of which we are about to speak. Our opening remark receives substantial support from the fact that the principal item in the income arises from this pleasant “outing,” now held annually for about fifteen years. By the kind permission of the Right Hon, Viscount Barrington, M.P., the beautiful grounds of Beckett Park, Shrivenham, formed the spot selected for this year’s holiday, and on Tuesday morning last the London contingent of the members and their friends proceeded from Paddington by two special trains to the scene of the festivities, some seventy-one and a quarter miles down the line, At eight o’clock the plattorm at Paddington presented a gay and animated appearance, the ladies of the pleasure party especially coming out in the gayest of attire. Even the engines put on a holiday suit, and were almost literally smothered with garlands and flags. A huge open luggage van retired for the nonce from the carriage of coals or iron, and devoted itself to the accommodation of the 36th Paddington Volunteer band, which discoursed lively music throughout the journey, interrupted only occasionally by the counter-musical proclivities of holiday-making porters and jovial guards, who either ‘‘wished they were a bird,” or poured forth the most pressing solicitations to some imaginary fair one to “meet them In the lane.” The journey down was rendered more enjoyable by the beautifully wooded and undulating country te be seen on both sides of the line, and, in spite of occasional showers - sad omens to pleasure - every one seemed determined to be jolly. While the Londoners, however, were on the road, other provident sons of the rail were proceeding from all points of the compass towards the same goal. Bristol, Gloucester, Cheltenham, Swindon, Reading, Basingstoke, Oxford, Hungerford, and a host of minor towns and villages sent their contributions to the throng, and by one o'clock the small hamlet of Shrivenham was completely inundated with a heterogenous mass numbering something like 15,000 souls, all, of course, on pleasure bent. The Committee had not been unmindful of the entertainment of the visitors, and some of the most popular of our London Music Hall artistes poured forth their mirth-provoking lays to the laughter-loving crowd assembled in the grounds before a rather diminutive stage. Among them were George Leybourne, who talked to the countrymen in white smocks - many of whom were present - in their own dialect, and Miss E. Kerridge, who was loudly applauded in a peculiarly appropriate song for the “ yokels,” entitled ‘Chuck, chuck, chuci,” and treating of the farm-yard. Mr, J, Milburn also found something suitable in a remarkably clever and amusing impersonation of a scarecrow. Miss Patti Geddard, by her charming style of vocalism, must certainly have set the hearts of the rustics in a flutter; and the D’Aubans and Wardes, in their comic ballets, made the grounds of Beckett Park reverberate with laughter. Dancing on the green formed one of the chief amusements, and kiss-in-the-ring was indulged in to an alarming extent. Then we found a mystical, magical Post-office, which drew we fear to say, how many twopences from the pockets of the innumerable loving couples present anxious to “‘have a line” from the object of their affections, A Turkish Bazaar was presided over by a stalwart engine-driver, not in the orthodox fustain of his class, but in full Turkish costume. Britons ambitious of cocoa-nuts and pincushions patronised “cock-shies,” and targets were shot at by sportsmen who seemed capable of hitting anything and everything but what they aimed at. A capital cricket match was played during the afternoon, and the beauties of the really picturesque Park, with its noble Gothic mansion, were fully explored. The wants of the “inner man” were excellently catered for on the ground by Mr, Browning, of Paddington. Omnibuses, too, had been sent down from London, and Shrivenham folk stared at Bayswater and Oxford-street vehicles with wonder and admiration. The London train for the home journey was despatched about 7.30, and arrived at Paddington at twelve o'clock. A special compartment was reserved for the representatives of the Press, who at starting were described by a knot of curious youngsters as “them ‘ere newspaper men.” Of the other courtesies paid to the members of the “Fourth Estate” during the day the less said the better. We must question the propriety of holding an affair of this nature so far from town, ten out of the sixteen hours which the Londoners spent being occupied in travelling. An otherwise pleasant story must be finished sadly. An old shoemaker of the village of Shrivenham, named Jeffries, aged seventy, having walked down to the station to meet his son, one of the excursionists, and his daughter from a neighbouring village, from over excitement dropped suddenly dead on reaching his cottage gate on his return. This event cast a gloom over the villagers, but the fact did not become generally known among the holiday makers from a distance.

Transcribed by Colin and Daniel Taylor, 2019