Jackson’s Oxford Journal

Saturday, August 23rd 1879


The twenty-second rural fête in aid of the Great Western and Bristol and Exeter Railways Provident Society Widows and Orphans’ Fund took place on Tuesday last, by kind permission of his Grace the Duke of Marlborough, in Blenheim Park. It is now three years since the last fête was held, it having been abandoned in consequence of the directors of the Railway Companies allowing the Committee a bare shilling on each ticket sold instead of giving them the whole amount charged for it, and which it was found would not cover expenses. A return has now been made to the original state of things, and the Fund therefore now receives the full value of the tickets, the train service being very generously given free of expense. The ill-luck which attended the holding of the fête some years since in Blenheim Park, as regards weather, was repeated on Tuesday, although the rain fortunately held off until towards the afternoon, by which time nearly all intending visitors had reached Woodstock. The ground set apart for the occasion was the same as that used by the Foresters a fortnight before, and closely adjoined Old Woodstock stile. Special trains from London, Basingstoke, Hungerford, Cheltenham, Swindon, Wolverhampton, Worcester, and intervening Stations ran to Woodstock Road and Hanborough, bringing thousands of pleasure seekers, and arriving with creditable punctuality. The proprietors of vehicles reaped a rich harvest in conveying visitors from the Railway Stations to the Park, situate as they are about a couple of miles distant, but many preferred the walk, which in the morning was pleasant and enjoyable. Mr. James Higgs, Mr. Portcr, and Mr. Campton had their teams and drags out, and were the means of conveying a large number of persons from Oxford, the invitation of the Mayor (Ald. Cavell) to his follow-citizens that there should be a suspension of business being generally adopted, and thus enabling many to attend who would otherwise have been absent. Almost every conceivable kind of vehicle was called into requisition, no small amusement being caused by a couple of donkeys driven tandem fashion by a party of five young men from Headington, wearing academic caps. In all it was estimated that there were from 10,000 to 12,000 people in the Park, where ample provision had been made in the shape of amusement. A large area of ground was roped off for dancing, and during the day some hundreds engaged in the pastime to the strains of Eaton’s Quadrille Band, Messrs. Gellion and Kibler efficiently acting as M.C.’s. The Bands of the 36th Middlesex Rifles (under the direction of Mr. Heath), and the 3rd Gloucester Volunteer Artillery, were stationed in suitable positions on the ground, and played in a very creditable manner during the afternoon. The great attraction to most of the visitors, however, was the stage performances under the direction of Mr. W. Bailey, manager of the Metropolitan Music Hall, Edgware-road, London. The company included Mr. Fred Albert, “The popular topic vocalist,” Miss Jenny Hill, ‘The vital spark,” Mr. Sam Redfern, “The great negro orator,” the wonderful De Castro troupe, five in number, the premier acrobatic artistes of the world, Miss Letty Pasta and Miss Nelly Mellville, serio comic, the sisters Mario, “Refined duettists and dancers,” the Cawthorn Boys (Paddy and the Dutchman), and Mr. Bailey himself as a comic singer. An efficient stage band accompanied the vocalists, whose performances were duly appreciated, judging from the applause accorded them. The acrobats were exceedingly clever, some of their feats being of un astonishing character, and it is almost needless to say that they were loudly and heartily applauded, There was, as usual, the magic post office, where letters were distributed to all comers for a smal charge in a manner which seemed somewhat to puzzle some of the country folk. Not a few indulged in the games of knock-‘em-downs and Aunt Sally, while only a small number of toxophilites could be found to patronise the excellent assortment of archery requisites provided by Mr. Dunton, of Cheltenham. Through the kindness of the Committee, the Rev, A. Majendie, Rector of Woodstock, was allowed to hold a bazaar in the grounds in aid of the Restoration Fund of the Church, this being the first time that anything of the kind has taken place at this fête. The three tents which it was held were devoted respectively to fancy in articles, flowers, and Woodstock gloves. The first mentioned were disposed of by Mrs. and Miss Pentycross, Miss Lock, and the Misses Heynes; the flower stall was in the care of Miss Majendie and Miss Haynes: and the gloves, which were provided by Messrs. Godden, Money, Buckingham, and Harper, were sold by Miss Sessions, Mr. Godden, and Mr. Money. It is expected that about 15l will be realised by the bazaar, and no doubt much more would have been taken but for the rain, which drenched a lot of the goods. The Fund was also benefited to some extent by the donations of a large number of people who visited the newly-restored Church. The refreshment department was entrusted to the able hands of Messrs. Browning and Wesley, of the Royal Refreshment Rooms, Paddington, who had several tents erected, in two of which luncheon and tea, at reasonable charges, were provided. The weather, which had gradually become more lowering as the day wore on, about four o'clock became worse, and half-an-hour later a storm of rain of unusual violence swept over the ground, drenching to the skin those who were not fortunate enough to be possessed of umbrellas or waterproofs, and almost completely putting a stop to all further enjoyment, The ground was converted into a slippery swamp, in spite of which dancers, with open umbrellas and in overcoats, could still be found when the musicians had resumed their positions on the platform. The rain continued to fall more or less for the remainder of the day, and by six o'clock the grounds were almost deserted, another drenching shower materially hastening the departure of the visitors. The prevailing desire was to obtain shelter from the rain, and as the hotels and public houses were crowded, a large number determined to make for the Railway Stations at once, the greater part on foot, The draggle-tailed condition of the female portion of the visitors as they wearily trudged along the roads was indeed pitiable to witness. The rush to obtain seats or standing room in any vehicle that presented itself was at times desperate, men scrambling into them while they were in rapid motion, in many cases only to be informed that every seat was “engaged.” The trains were despatched on their homeward journey with as much punctuality as circumstances permitted, and although the weather was the cause of so much inconvenience the general arrangements were smoothly carried out by the Committee - Messrs. Adkins, Bradley, Craig, Durdle, Gellion, Powers, Kibler, and Noble, of Paddington. We may add that the Society now numbers about 7500 members, who pay a weekly subscription of 2d. The Society makes grants to about 210 widows and 370 orphans, amounting to about £1500 a year, towards which the directors of the Companies contribute £750, and the rest is made up of subscriptions and donations, and any surplus realised from the fêtes is also applied to the Fund.

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