Reading Mercury

Saturday, August 1st 1874


This monster Fête, which is in aid of the Great Western snd Bristol and Exeter Railways’ Provident Society's Widow and Orphans’ Fund, took place at Beckett Park, near Shrivenham, on Wednesday. The weather throughout the day was most pleasant and delightful, and the entire Fête passed off with great éclat. This was fourth time Beckett Park was placed at the disposal of the Fête Committee by Viscount Barrington, M.P., whose kindness cannot fail to be fully appreciated by the thousands of visitors. The whole of the arrangements were admirably carried out, and there was a decided improvement in the accommodation provided. It is impossible at present to state the number of excursionists on Wednesday, but it was estimated at between 12,000 and 15,000, besides a great number of visitors from Swindon, Faringdon, and the neighbourhood, who proceeded to the Park by road. The trains run specially for the occasion comprised 223 coaches from the following places :- Basingstoke, 14; Swindon, 24; Hungerford, 18; Paddington, 42; Wycombe, 17; Wolverhampton, 20; Oxford, 14; Bristol, 14 ; Cheltenham and Gloncester, 60. The following were the Fête Committee:- Messrs. Adkins, Bradley, Craig, Mason, Durdle, Gellion, Powers, Kibler, and Mr. Elve, Secretary. Mr. Stevens, district superintendent, of Reading, assisted by Inspector Bath and other officials, were most energetic in promoting the speedy departure of the trains, and they are entitled to unqualified praise for the able manner in which they discharged their duties. Shrivenham Station was gaily decorated with flags - red, white, and green, and the various locomotives of the “specials” were decked with evergreens and flags. Some of the trains were not so overcrowded as in previous years, and the journey to Shrivenham was not the least pleasant part of the day’s excursion. At intervals along the line the grass on the banks is considerably burnt, and in some places the hedges, shrubs, and telegraph posts are damaged by the fires. The whole of the gardens and grounds in the Park are in excellent order, the walks, slopes, shrubs ,&c., are scrupulously clean and well kept.

Beckett House is a fine mansion in the Tudor style, and was built by the late Viscount in 1831-4, from the designs of his brother-in-law, the Hon. Thomas Liddell, a large old manor house, part of which was burnt in the Civil wars, having been pulled down to make room for the new structure. The mansion contains some family portraits by Sir Joshua Reynolds and Sir T. Lawrence, and some fine landscapes. Amongst the curiosities are the chess-board and men of Charles I., in the original velvet bag in which they were sold by Parliament. The grounds are adorned with a large sheet of artificial water, which is overhung at one corner by a curious stone summer house, built by Inigo Jones, and it is said that this is the oldest of its class in England. Beckett formerly belonged to the Earls of Evreux, who gave it to the Priory of Norion, in Normandy. It was seized in 1204 by King John, who occasionally resided here, as appears by a mandate to the Sheriff of Oxfordshire, signed by him at Beckett. The artifical water is crossed by several stone and rustic bridges, and there are some very large and handsome trees in different parts of the Park. The hedges are particularly fine, especially those which are of box. The gardens are in harmony with the rest of the estate, and the shade afforded by the numerous trees was gratefully welcomed by the excursionists. On the southern side of the park are seen the hills that shelter the beautiful Vale of White Horse, and on every hand there was much to gratify the eye and please the taste. In some fields the “golden grain” is just ready for the sickle, and in many others the reapers have done their work, and shocks of corn fully ripe remind us of the plentiful harvest. Under the shade of the trees the thousands of visitors soon seated themselves in groups, and commenced in pic-nic style to refresh themselves.

In the open space, at some distance from the mansion, were erected the numerous tents and booths, where refreshments were provided by Mr. G. Browning, of the Royal Refreshment Rooms, Paddington. Another tent was fitted up as a bazaar, with two wheels of fortune, and a little farther on Mr. Lee, of Gloucester, exhibited his working models, which attracted crowds of visitors. In another part of the ground archery was provided by Mr, Dunton, of Cheltenham. Cricket, quoits, and knock-‘em-downs were amongst the amusements, and each attracted a large number of people. The Band of the 20th Middlesex Rifles, under the direction of Mr. Seaman, bandmaster, was stationed on the cricket ground, and Matthews’ celebrated Quadrille Band, and the Band of the 3rd Gloucestershire Artillery Volunteers were also in attendance. Hundreds of persons enjoyed themselves by dancing, the duties of M's. C's, being ably carried out by Messrs. Gellion and Kibler, of Paddington. The Magic Post Office had a fair share of patronage, but the centre of attraction were the stage performances, by a company of London Star Artistes, provided by Mr. Alfred Montgomery. Some of the witticisms were very good, but others were coarse and vulgar, and some of the sentiments were neither refined nor in good taste. During these performances a rather amusing incident occurred. It appears that a woman had her pocket picked, and the man was caught in the act. He was being hurrled to the artificial water, with his companion, amidst shouts of “Duck him!” when the police came forward and attempted to rescue the men. For a time their efforts were unavailing, and the men were brought very near to the water, followed by hundreds of people. By some means or other the men managed to run into the bushes by the side of the water, and they were ultimately captured by the police, One man was taken into custody, and the other was removed from the park.

During the day a cricket match was played between eleven of the Shrivenham Cricket Club and eleven of New bury, selected by the veteran oricketer Newton, It was arranged that the match should be decided in one innings, and the following were the scores :-
…..Newbury 40 ….. Shrivenham 24 …..
Messrs. Newton and Box were umpires. Beauchamp is, an excellent wicket-keeper, and the score proves that Taylor is a bowler of no ordinary merit. Both Beauchamp and Taylor were said to be “professional,” and the fielding of the Newbury eleven was excellent. Taylor took Smith's wicket the first ball, and Shrivenham were unable to make much of a stand against thelr opponents. The match attracted a large number of spectators.

Notwithstanding the vast numbers of people who attended the Fête, everything appeared to pass off orderly and quietly. No doubt there will be a considerable surplus to hand over to the funds of the Society. The balance sheet of the Widow and Orphans’ Account for 1873 showed the income, with a balance brought forward of £5,423, had been £9,957, and the expenditure enables them to carry forward a balance of £6,435, Last year the Fête was at Blenheim, the seat of His Grace the Duke of Marlborough, and the number of people present was unusually large, the receipts, after all deductions, being £1,800. This year the railway arrangements were far more efficiently carried out, and whether the Fête s compared with last year’s or any of its predecessors, we think it was the most enjoyable and successful that has ever been held.

The Widows’ and Orphans’ Fund was founded in 1846, during tho chairmanship of the late Mr. Charles Russell, and its success has been progressive up to this date. The funds are derived from a weekly subscription of 2d. levied on each policeman and porter in the service, supplemented by donations and the proceeds of an annual rural Fête, for the purposes of which the Directors liberally grant, without charge, a sufficient number of special trains to convey, at low fares, all such as can be attracted to the festivity, the amount going to the fund. It appears from the annual report, that during the past 12 months 315 widows and 265 orphans have been relieved, at a total outlay of £3,797. Immediately a member dies, his widow is entitled to an annual pension of £10. 8s., and 1s. per week for each child until it shall have reached the age of 14. Mr. Tyrrell, superintendent of the Great Western Railway, is the treasurer, and there is a balance of more than £6,000. invested in Great Western debenture stock, and not even the secretary receives any payment for his services.

Note:- The original reports use the symbol l to denote Pounds Sterling as in l.s.d., this has been transcribed in the modern form of £.

Transcribed by Colin and Daniel Taylor, 2019