Oxfordshire Weekly News
Wednesday, August 27th 1879
GREAT WESTERN RAILWAY WIDOWS AND ORPHANS FETE.
After a lapse of several years this popular and deserving fête was successfully resuscitated on Tuesday, the locale being the picturesque and historic grounds of Blenheim, the magnificent domain of his Grace the Duke of Marlborough, who generously placed his extensive park and gardens at the disposal of the Fête Committee. The weather on Monday was charmingly fine and gave promise of a favourable day for the fête, so that those who had been in doubt from the dripping weather of Sunday, as to their intended holiday, had their anxiety relieved, and were sanguine of a sunny day, especially as Tuesday morning broke fair and enticing. Jupiter Pluvius, however, prevailed over Jupiter Redens, and unfortunately before most of the holiday-keepers had reached their rendezvous a drizzling rain commenced, and lasted with little or no intermission all the afternoon and evening, increasing at intervals to a heavy downpour. It might be supposed that the unfavourable climatic influences would base had a deterrent effect on the attendance, but as most of the special trains had been despatched before the rain began, no perceptible falling off was noticed, and an immense assemblage congregated in the Park and town of Woodstock.
For the convenience of excursionists special trains ran from Paddington, Wolverhampton, Worcester, Basingstoke, Hungerford, Windsor, Oxford, and most stations on the Great Western Railway system within reasonable distance, and these were crowded with passengers. Seven special trains were despatched from Oxford, and as some of them contained as many as six or seven hundred people each, the number of Oxonians who reached the Park by this means must have been very large, and no doubt was much increased by the closing of most of the business establishments in the city at noon, in response to a recommendation of the Mayor to that effect. From within a radius of twenty miles, and in some instances from longer distances, many hundreds of people made their way to the Park by road in vehicles of all descriptions, and as the day wore on, the scene in the approaches to Woodstock presented a lively appearance, the roads being dangerously crowded with conveyances. The unusual increase in the traffic, and the continued rain, had the effect of converting most of the roads into quagmires, and at night the surface was covered with a slimy mixture several inches deep, the mud from the wheels of vehicles flying in all directions, and bespattering the unlucky pedestrians literally from head to foot. From an early hour Oxonians began to make their way to the fête, each after his own fashion, but the manner in which one small party drove over really deserves to be particularised. The team was a pair of donkeys driven tandem, and the vehicle, a small trap, in which were seated five young men wearing caps and gowns much the worse for wear, one of their number being seated in the back and blowing vigorously a small horn as they galloped along Cornmarket Street. The appearance of the grotesque "turn out" caused much amusement.
The demand for stable accommodation in Woodstock much exceeded the supply, so that many of those who arrived late were unable to find room for their horses at the hostelries. The resources of purveyors of refreshments were also taxed to their utmost extent, as owing to the wet many of the excursionists did not enter the Park at all, but remained in the town, where they spent most of their time in the hotels and public houses, which throughout the day were inconveniently crowded.
Notwithstanding the drizzling rain, the amusements were carried out, with one or two exceptions, according to the programme, the spot selected for the festivities, which were under the direction of Mr. William Bailey, manager of the Metropolitan Music Hall, being near the column. Among the artistes were Mr. Fred Albert, the popular topical vocalist; Mr. Sam Redfern, the negro orator; the Cawthorn Boys, Anglo Dutch entertainers; Miss Jenny Hill, described as "The vital spark;” the sisters Maria, duettists and dancers; Miss Lenato, comic vocalist, and the wonderful De Castro troupe, five in number, who style themselves the premier acrobatic artistes of the world. "Old aunt Sally,” as usual, provided capital amusement, while knock 'em downs, a magic post office, roundabouts, swings, &c., were largely patronised. Archery was under the direction of Mr. Dunston, of Cheltenham. Although dancing was carried on under difficulties, the numerous votaries of Terpsichore could not refrain from indulging in their favourite pastime, to the inspiriting strains of the band of the 13th Middlesex Rifles, under the direction of Mr. Heath; Eaton's celebrated quadrille band; and the 3rd Gloucester Artillery Volunteers' band, Messrs. Gellion and Kibler being efficient masters of the ceremonies. The principal points noticed in the Park were the high lodge, Rosamond's well, the grand bridge, the lake, and the column, while the gardens, deservedly reckoned among the principal attractions of Blenheim, were thrown open to ticket holders, and were crowded all the afternoon. Here were to be seen the Italian garden, the rustic temple, the Esquimaux hut, the American garden, the grand cascade, the new found well, the grand fountain, the rock garden, the noble Portugal laurel, three hundred and twenty feet in circumference, the temple of Dianna, the Aboretum, the aviary, and the temple of health. In the northern part of the private gardens were a profusion of choice roses, abut fifteen hundred varieties of this favourite tree being grown here.
To reduce the debt on the restored church of Woodstock, the enterprising Vicar (Rev. A. Majendie) held another of his popular bazaars, which appealed to be fairly patronised by those who wished to take back with them a souvenir of Woodstock, consisting of the noted gloves, and other articles, and flowers from Blenheim. The amount realised must have considerably reduced the £7OO still owing to the contractor, for which Mr. Majendie has made himself responsible.
In the Park, the inner man was attended to by Messrs. Browning and Wesley, of the Royal Refeshment Rooms, Paddington, who were quite equal to the occasion, and supplied the wants of their numerous customers with as little delay as possible. The return trains were sent off on their homeward journey in capital time, thanks to the exertions of Mr. Gibbs and his assistants, although owing to the heavy number some delay was inevitable.
The following is the Committee, who must be congratulated on their excellent arrangements for carrying out the fête, and thus adding largely to the Widows and Orphans' fund: - Paddington - Messrs. Adkins, Bradley, Craig, Durdle, Gellion, Powers, Kibler, Noble; Reading - Messrs. Grimes and Watson; Oxford - Mr. Derrick; Swindon - Mr. Weston; Gloucester - Mr. Kirk.
Transcribed by Colin and Daniel Taylor, 2019