Oxfordshire Weekly News

Wednesday, July 23rd 1873


Never, probably, since it was a Park has Blenheim - that magnificent ducal domain granted to the first Duke of Marlborough for his services in the field - contained so many people, and it may be added, such happy people, as those by whom it was overrun, we had well nigh said filled, yesterday week. Certain it is, that the two quiet little stations of Woodstock-road and Handborough, ordinarily so deserted of all traffic that they might be described as full when they contained "a man, a boy, and a dog," - were never crowded by such a concourse of people as that by which they were besieged on the day of the monster rural fête of the G. W.R. in aid of the Great Western and Bristol and Exeter Railways' Provident Society Widow and Orphan Fund.

The seventeen previous fêtes held with this good object in different places of interest have all been successful in a high degree, notably so those held in the beautiful park at Nuneham; but it is an unquestionable fact that no fête on such an immense scale has ever been held near Oxford as that which the G. W.R. were enabled, by the great kindness of his Grace the Duke of Marlborough, to hold in a place probably unrivalled for such monster pic-nics throughout the length and breadth of the land. All who have had the fortune to visit Blenheim will need no description of it here, and to do justice to it would take more space than we have at command for the purpose; suffice it to say that this magnificent monument of a nation's gratitude to the victorious warrior-chief of Blenheim, Ramillies, Oudenarde, Malplaquet, &c., is thoroughly worthy of the noble family on whom it was bestowed in the reign of Queen Anne. The immense expanse of beautiful sward, thickly dotted with noble trees and groups of handsome shrubs, the sheet of water known as the lake, and which is crossed by numerous bridges, and above all, the magnificent private gardens, which are probably unequalled for extent and for the taste and effect with which they are laid out with every conceivable tree, shrub, and flower, miniature cascades, fountains, &c., together present a scene baffling the powers of description in a brief space, and cover a spot in which tens of thousands look as it were mere dots.

And now we come to the only thing, and that the most important of all in an open air fête, which at all marred the success of Tuesday's gathering - the weather. Who does not almost shudder at the word by anticipation, for the climate has been throughout the whole year so unsettled, and the rain so frequent, as to justify every apprehension even in the middle of July. Such apprehensions, however, appeared not to have entered the breasts of the patrons of the fête with more serious effect than to cause the major portion of them to provide themselves with umbrellas, overcoats, and waterproofs, while numbers of ladies, defying all, went in the brightest and thinnest of summer costumes, and it is to be feared, suffered accordingly. The rain commenced on Saturday night, when the whole district was deluged with a very heavy storm; on Sunday the rain was continued throughout all the day, and occasionally fell so fast, almost in sheets, as to threaten anyone unlucky enough to be exposed to it with a complete soaking in a minute or two; of Monday little better can be said, though people's hopes were raised by the fact that the wind shifted, and that for an hour or so between the rain storms the sun shone brightly from an unclouded sky, giving every prospect of a "break-up in the weather,” to use a popular term. It was no doubt due to this, and also to the moat fortunate circumstance, as regards the finances of the fund, that the weather was invitingly fine on Tuesday till practically all the pleasure seekers had arrived, that so many risked a wet skin to attend the fête. At any rate, a marvellous concourse of people numbering no less than from 30,000 to 35,000, the majority being females, assembled, and appeared thoroughly determined to enjoy themselves, no matter what the weather. Soon after midday the south west wind brought up a premonitory storm, which though of short duration, was very severe; this was followed by a brief spell of the most enchanting weather, the sun shining gloriously on the wet grass and trees, which sparkled as though thickly studded with crystals, and gave a most fairy like appearance to the scene, which well repaid the danger of colds and rheumatism to view. And this - sharp and violent torrents of rain, accompanied by thunder and lightning, but interspe rsed with sunny half hours - was the order of the day from the clerk of the weather till evening, when after a final storm, succeeded by a beautiful rainbow, the sky cleared for the day. Notwithstanding these unfavourable condition, not one of the thousands assembled betrayed any feeling but that of good humour, even the ladies before alluded to not seeming to care in the slightest for the fact that their costumes, the result of so much care and thought, were most miserably bedraggled with wet and mud - for between the frequent rain and the incessant trampling of feet mud prevailed to an extent which could not have been expected. The conduct of those present, too, is worthy of especial commendation, except in one important respect. Not one case of the slightest wilful damage to the trees, shrubs, flowers, walks, &c., came under our observation, though the temptations to pluck a bloom from the splendid festoons of roses in the gardens must have been great, especially to people from the large towns; and before leaving, we heard from one of the Superintendents of Police that not a single misdemeanour had come to his knowledge. Of course this does not apply to pocket picking, which will be found mentioned below. But in one particular, and that a most serious one, the British public, so far as it was represented by the concourse at Blenheim, is deserving of the most severe censure. Despite the special request to the contrary, a great number of bottles were wilfully broken, and the fragments of glass strewed over the ground, not only to the danger of the public themselves, but also to the deer, who are in the habit of especially patronising the portion of the park near the monument.

The amusements provided, which all took place in close proximity to the monument, were as usual of a good order, and varied. First must be placed the excellent stage performances, carried out with much success by those well-known caterers for entertainment, "The brothers Nemo." The following well varied programme was creditably performed, the artistes giving satisfaction :-
Part First.
1.00 Comic Song Mr. James Hillier.
1.15 Serio-Comic Song Miss Lizzie Pearce.
1.30 Patter Song Mr. Marcus Wilkinson.
1.45 Serio-Comic Song and Dance Miss Jenny Ashton.
2.0 Comic Song and Dance Mr. John Barnum.
2.15 Comic Song Mr. James Hillier.
2.30 Serio-Comic Song Miss Lizzie Pearce.
2.45 Patter Song Mr. Marcus Wilkinson.
3.0 Serio- Comic Song and Skipping Rope Dance, Jenny Ashton.
3.15 Song and Dance Mr. John Barnum.

Part Second.
4. 0 Electric Wire Walking Walter D’Altroy.
4.15 Burlesque Messrs. Ward and Spundley.
4.30 Serio-Comic Song Miss Selina Seaford.
4.45 Irish Song and Dance Pat Nowlan.
5. 0 Clown’s Act D’Altroy.
5.15 Song and Dance Messrs. Ward and Spundley.

Part Third.
6. 0 Horizontal Bar Act Fernandez and D’Altroy.
6.15 Serio-Comic Song Miss Selina Seaford.
6.30 Irish Song Pat Nowlan.
6.45 Drawing-Room Entertainment Brothers : and Madame Nemo.
7. 0 Serio-Comic Song Miss Seaford.
7.15 Irish Song and Dance Pat Nowlan.
7.30 Entertainment Messrs. Ward and Spundley.

A good stage band was in attendance. In addition to the above, there were “the bazaar,” the magic post office (which caused as much amusement as ever), quoits, the regulation Old Aunt Sally, knock’em-downs, &c., while the excellent Jesson’s Punch and Judy show, from the Crystal Palace, proved that it had lost none of its attractiveness; Mr. Dunton, of Cheltenham, also provided archery, which was not, however, well patronized, owing doubtless to the weather, the atmospheric influences being such as to manifestly deter any votary of the yew tree bow from rivalling the feats of Robin Hood. Theworking models, by Mr. Lee, of Gloucester, must not be forgotten. An attractive feature in the programme was a good cricket match, which, the state of the turf being considered, as well as the fact tht it had to be played in the intervals of fine weather, showed some admirable batting, bowling, and fielding. The match was between eleven of the Blenheim Park C.C., and eleven of Newbury, selected by that veteran wielder of the willow, Newton. Mr. Biddis, of Newbury, officiated as scorer, and the umpires were Messrs. Deller of Newbury, and Moberley of Woodstock. The ground not being railed in, the game was considerably interfered with by the unruliness of the spectators, who would, despite all protests, despite all protest on the part of the players, persist in passing over the ground, and pressing them too close. We subjoin the score :- Newbury, first innings - E. E. Robinson, 0; J. R, Coles, 2; H, J. Humphrey, 3; W. F. Robinson, 0; Brown, 0; Beauchamp, 15; Taylor, 6; Higgs, 0; Mackill, 3; Mecey, 4; Elliott 1; byes, 6; total. 40: Blenheim Park, first innings - H. Smith, 12; A. Collier, 20 ; W. Smith, 17; J. Gibbons, 13; W. Evetts, 0; A. Harcourt, 1; G. Spencer, 0; J. Peek, 0; Money, 0; Rowles, 11; Eccles, 6; byes, &c., 6; total, 86.

Matthews’ celebrated quadrille band from Oxford, and the band of the 3rd Gloucester Artillery Volunteers, also performed the following well arranged programme of dance music, and, under the direction of Messrs. Gellion and Kibler, M.C’s., a large number of persons engaged in the various dances with unflagging zest, though the ground was not in a very fit state for the display of their skill on "the light fantastic ” : -
Part First.
1. Quadrille - Barbe Blue, 2. Polka - Percola, 3. Lancers - Old England, 4. Redowa - Bohemian, 5. Contra Danse - 3 Figures, 6. Valse - Spring, Spring, 7. Quadrille - Babil Bijou
Part Second.
8. Schottische - Railway, 9. Lancers - Carnival, 10. Redowa - Favourite, 11. Quadrille - Comos, 12. Valse & Galop - Cliquet, 13. Quadrille - (Parisian) Genevieve de Brabant, 14, Redowa - Polish, 15. Lancers - Favourite, 16. Galop - Trumpet, 17. ContraDanse - Selections, 18. Polka - Carnival, 19. Quadrille - Dolly Varden, 20. Schottische - Sea Side, 21. Lancers - Young England, 22. Redowa - Polish, 23. Quadrille - Scotch Airs, 24. Valse & Galop - Fleck & Flack

By permission of Major Mitford, the band of the 20th Middlesex Rifles was stationed on the cricket ground, and played a well selected programme during the afternoon, under the direction of the band-master, Mr. Seaman.

Mr. Browning of Paddington, supplied the refreshments, and it is needless to say that from the opening to the closing of the fête the waiters were incessantly engaged in ministering to the refreshment of the thousands by whom the bars were beseiged, and who made away with marvellous supplies of refreshments, piles of fluids and solids, which appeared enough to provision an army, being demolished in an incredibly short space of time. Yet, however well Mr. Browning may have catered, it is inexcusable that a gentleman of his great experience in this business should not have provided such a supply of those staple commodities, for want of which persons who came from long distances must have been well-nigh famished.

Perhaps the most interesting sight of all the fête was that which came off last, viz., the appearance of the multitudes who literally swarmed over every available spot at the stations in the evening, waiting to be conveyed home again by the special trains. Four or five monster fête trains at a time, almost touching each other, and, waiting to get out of the station, packed with people “ like sardines in tins,” as somebody observed, and surrounded by the concourse of those eager to find standing room in them where no standing room was to be had, formed a sight not often to be seen. It will give some idea of the crowds who blocked up the station, and the line of approach, that the last were not able to depart till past midnight, though special long trains were running almost every five minutes from 8 o'clock.

The visitors to the fête came from all parts within reach of two lines; amongst the trains run were two from Paddington, carrying about 1000 passengers each; two immense trains from Cheltenham and intermediate stations, which could not have contained less than 1500 each; one large train from Swindon; two from Hungerford; one from Basingstoke; a heavy train from Slough; a very heavy one from Wolverhampton, &c. No less than eight special trains ran from Oxford only, and the tickets issued at Qxford station reached the immense number of 5000. Mr. E. Pickard Hall, with his unfailing forethought for the pleasure as for the welfare of those under him, personally conducted as many as 150 of the boys employed at the Clarendon Press to the fête, headed by their drum and fife band; special “carriages,” i.e., milk trucks, were chartered for them, and the youngsters, probably mistaking them for cattle trucks, created much amusement by exerting their lungs in “baa-ing ” as they neared the stations. They were, however, kept well under subjection by the admirable - exercised by Mr. Hall, who was perfectly successful in preventing any serious disorder. All the engines were decorated more or less elaborately, that from Oxford being especially worthy of notice, as were those from Cheltenham. Mr. Locomotive-Foreman Thompson, of the Oxford Station, must be congratulated on the tasteful appearance which his engine presented, and the happy effect of the numerous tin vases of flowers surrounding it which formed part of the decorations. The Cheltenham engines were also decorated with especial taste, a novelty in the shape of transparent glass in front being introduced.

The passengers did not get away without considerable difficulty. Despite every available train that could be run, between one and two a.m. on Wednesday some were still left at Handborough Station; information of this fact having been telegraphed to Mr. Gibbs, the highly respected Oxford Station Master, that gentleman at once made up and despatched a supernumarary train, which proceeded to Paddington, stopping at intermediate stations on the way. And so ended the Great Western and Bristol and Exeter Railways’ Provident Society’s Fête at Blenheim.

The greatest praise is due to all the railway officials; to the directors of both companies for their kindness in granting the trains gratuitously for the benefit of their servants; to Mr. Gibbs, for that energy and unfailing courtesy which never deserts him, even under such trying circumstances as those of Tuesday; and to Inspectors Johns and King, the local representatives of the committee, who exerted themselves most strenuously, and with the most happy effect, in promoting the success of this monster fête. The police arrangements were carried out under Capt. Owen, the Chief Constable, who sent as many as 75 of the county force to the Park; there were also a good staff of detectives, and a large number of the companies’ servants present.

The light-fingered gentry, as might have been expected, made a very fair harvest, though it is supposed that they carried on their trade almost entirely outside the Park. One rumour has it that as many as 22 empty purses were on Wednesday morning picked up Handborough Station (where the throng was particularly dense during the whole evening and night, and where, strange to say, no police appeared to be stationed).

It is stated on good authority that the Directors of the two companies intend in future to discontinue the annual fête, and in its place to present the widows and orphans’ fund with an annual donation equivalent to the profits realised by it. The reasons assigned are that this monster fête, which has become quite unwieldly, causes not only damage to the goods of the companies, and loss of their servants’ time, but also very serious interference with the regular traffic.

Transcribed by Colin and Daniel Taylor, 2019