All the fun of the Fayre
Updated: May 6, 2020
For the first time in very many years (perhaps a reader can tell us exactly) there will be no Denham Village Fayre in May 2020. The rules against large assemblies designed to slow or prevent the spread of the Coronavirus mean it can’t take place. But we do have some great memories of Fayres past and surely there will be many more to come even if we have to wait until 2021 for the next one.
Meanwhile huge thanks to all our contributors for their memories and permission to publish them here.
Bringing the whole community together, the annual Denham Village Fayre is an important event in the life of the residents as well as those living elsewhere who flock here on the May Bank Holiday.
This popular annual event dates back to the early 1200’s, but in medieval times the word ‘fayre’ simply meant market serving commercial needs and not for pleasure as it is today. It was formally ended in 1873 “for the convenience and advantage of the public”, perhaps suggesting that it had become a focal point for pickpockets and vagabonds. It was revived in 1925 and was more for pleasure than business. Here we record some of the special memories afforded the Fayre by our contributors.
Stanley Hoffman has figured in several of our stories and this is no exception. Stanley has the modern Fayre starting in 1924, but the village consensus is that it was 1925, so we’ve taken licence to change Stanley Hoffman’s date. He wrote:
“One village event stands out in my mind above all others - the Old English fair -
“I do not know who organised it, or how many there were on the committee. I do not know if all the preparations went smoothly, though I doubt it. My mother played the piano in the village hall for all the rehearsals of the dancing. Every child in the village was dressed in an old fashioned smock. Every woman in the village wore an early Victorian dress with a large poke bonnet mostly in blue and white check gingham. All the men were dressed as country yokels of the same period and behaved accordingly.
“All along the high street were set up the booths and stalls at which everything under the sun could be bought. The children gathered outside the church gate and following a village band (largely imported from Uxbridge, I suspect); we danced along the streets to the tune of The Floral Dance. Two characters particularly impressed me - the town crier with his many caped overcoat and wide three-cornered hat swinging his handbell at intervals throughout the day to make announcements on behalf of the committee - no amplifiers to ruin the day in 1925; and no doubt his thirst was slaked many times during the day by his friends in the Green Man; and the ancient character Jack o’ the Green or more accurately Jack in the Green.
“It was a lovely day - fine and warm, and the crowds had come in their hundreds from the neighbouring villages and towns, by bus and train, by horse carriage and motor car. The day seemed to go on forever. True happiness is always timeless.
“On this day too I had my first penknife. I bought it for a shilling at one of the booths. It did not cut very well, but it was my very own knife, bought with my very own pocket money. . .
‘There was a man on a hobby horse too, I recall, and a court jester complete with cap and bells, but they did not impress me half as much as the magnificently dressed town crier and the rather awesome figure all covered in green leaves. When bedtime came for me I was reluctant to obey, but with many protestations I was put to bed, only to lie awake for what seemed hours to listen to the revellers across the road at the two inns, enjoying their last pints and ending their several ways home, some of them doubtless in need of the support of their less unsteady friends.
“On these occasions my father was always the “coconut shy” man. He would exchange his bowler hat for a soft felt one and stand by his box of wooden balls calling “Roll up, roll up”, while I rescued the spent balls from the base of the large tarpaulin backcloth. His calls were interspersed with sharp imprecations called upon my own head for getting in the way of the throwers. When I was nine or so I was thought to be old enough to take charge of the side-show and after a brief spell my father would go off to the beer tent with one of his cronies, leaving me to lose most of what he had taken by my softness. I could not bear to see anybody pay sixpence for three balls and not win a coconut, so I would always let them have three more balls and not win a coconut, so I would always let them have three more balls for nothing.”
Our thanks to Terry Skelton, passionate about the history of Denham, who has allowed us to use the following extract from his forthcoming book. In this passage he describes the origin of the Fayre as we know it today. This is the same event described by Stanley Hoffman above.
“The forerunner of today’s fair was a very special event held over two sunny days, Friday and Saturday, in May 1925. St Mary’s Church Roof was in urgent need of repair to beetle damage, and Lady Braithwaite of the White House, formed a special committee of more than 20 members to organise a fund-raising fair to end all fairs. Practically every member of the Parish helped, including the children who made some 43,000 paper roses and garlands to festoon the village, which were later sold on to an organiser of a fete in local Southall. There were also many contributions of services and goods from outside of the area, such as a team of Royal Air Force Servicemen from Northolt, scouts from Uxbridge and West Drayton, many gifts from local businesses and large companies like Horlicks and Huntley & Palmers, and catering by Harrods.
The fair was formally opened on Friday afternoon with a peal of bells from ringers under captaincy of Mr.A.F.Bronsdon, whose son-in-law Bernard Collins filled this post until his death in 2008. There followed a procession from the church through the village, headed by Mr.A.E.Wiggins the village crier complete with mace, to parade the King and Queen for the year, Bruce Cherry and Miss Ruth Holloway respectively. They were attended by a Jack-in-the-Green in a most elaborate costume, musicians, and the village children all dressed in costumes made specially for the day, who danced to the Cornish Floral Dance and other country dances.
“Today’s fair is traditionally held on the last Monday in the month of May, a Bank Holiday, and appeared to start in the early 50’s following World War II. From film of one of those early events, the simplicity of the dress, and the wares on the various stalls gave evidence of a nation recovering from this disastrous war. Its purpose was, and still is, to raise money for the upkeep of the Parish Church, St. Mary’s, fittingly sited in a central position in the main village street. Life has moved on, and how different the fair is today – much more is available now – perhaps much more is expected. Whilst buying and selling is still an essential part of the day in order to raise funds, it is very much aimed at giving entertainment to its visitors, and the opportunity for neighbours and friends to meet in the beautiful surroundings of this ancient village whose origins go back to Anglo-Saxon times.”
Christine kindly sent us photographs of her mother helping out on one of the stalls and another of herself, as a child, winning the prize for the best decorated bicycle. She added, “Apparently, at one Fete many years ago my mother won the 'best ankle' competition. People stood behind a tall screen to be judged with just their ankles and feet showing. My mother told me that one judge said 'I would know those ankles anywhere'. How naughty was that all those years ago?
We also received some great photos from Kate, who sent us these special memories to accompany them:
“In 1965, as a ten-year-old, I wanted to provide donkey rides. George James, the roadsweeper who kept donkeys, had one called Arabella. He told me a couple of days before the Fayre that she was unrideable. I didn’t believe him and decided that we should find out. With the help of Trottie Stewart from Winton House I established that she was perfectly docile, and so we offered rides at the fayre (no health and safety worries then).
“In 1967 I helped Sally Forster run the lucky dip from panniers on the sides of her little donkey Chica. The same day I won first prize in the 9+ section of the carnival for my costume (another Sally inspiration) of Gypsy Moth, half gypsy and half moth. Francis Chichester had returned the day before from his circumnavigation of the globe in his ketch Gypsy Moth IV.
“In 1971 I was doing lucky dips again, this time with another of Mr. James’s donkeys and Veronica Weeks from Court Farm.
“And in 1981 I entered the carnival with Hugh Stewart, in a sort of Tudor costume. I wore my old tartan nightie and school jelly-bag and cloak. In the afternoon we ran a stall for people to throw sponges at a man in stocks. My diary proudly records that we made £9. It poured with rain all day.
“Meanwhile for many years my parents helped with the plant and produce stall outside Wrango’s gate and our diligent gardeners over the years reared many of the plants for sale. Here are Mr and Mrs Ball behind the stall; the most recent contributors from Wrango were Ted and Lily Howard.”
Since the late 1990s Penny and her cousin, who lives in America have been corresponding weekly and used their emails in a family book describing life in their two countries across the Atlantic. Each May there would be an account of that year’s Fayre day. Here is one describing a sunny occasion and another when it was a wash-out. The emails are from the late 1990s and early 2000s.
“There’s no better day for that same feeling as the annual May Fayre day and this year was no exception. I really appreciate the role we have made our own which is of welcoming the stallholders and managing the car park. The site was at the back of the old church in the village and as each car drove in there was a wonderful feeling of expectancy of a good day to come. Everyone was in good spirits as the sun was shining for the first time in ages and each driver stopped to have a chat at the back of the church. As the Fayre is an event which dates back so many years and I was positioned close to some very old stonework of the church and the entrance to the manor house, I had this incredible feeling of being part of something ongoing. We start at 7.30am, which does feel a little early to be up but when the weather is good, there’s nothing like it, and this year it was glorious. Everyone was in such a good mood and felt compelled to stop by for a chat as they left with their cars laden with all manner of things such as trays of cakes, bags of paintings, bundles of knick-knacks and cheap and cheerful prizes, visitors would prefer not to win.
I heard all sorts of tales from stall holders: the elderly lady whose father had once run a campsite on the fields in which we stood; the woman who waxed lyrical about her kitchen smelling of a bakery with so many cakes being prepared; the mother who felt I really should know all about the incident in which her child lost the top of his finger; the man who boasted about how much he had already sold even though it was a couple of hours before the event was due to start and then there was the elderly chap who proudly displayed the pair of dancing shoes he was wearing because his girlfriend loved dancing.
One rather frail senior citizen hoped I would visit his stall, Trash and Treasure. I declared this was very likely and explained about my little tradition of jug purchasing. His face lit up as he told me he would put one by for me. I felt obliged to stop by his stall whereupon he leapt out at me and excitedly showed me a little china jug he had hidden in his bag under the table. It was rather grubby and had a couple of crack lines in the base but how could I refuse? Already the jug had a story to tell so I paid him and took it home for a good scrub. It’s actually quite pretty and looking around I couldn’t see a better one this year.”
And now for the wet one.
“The annual village fayre was a disaster. Graham and I donned our Disney cagoules and set off at 7.30am to welcome the stallholders and park their cars. We finished at 10.00 and were wet through and very cold in spite of sitting in the car when we could and drinking hot tea from our flasks. The stallholders arrived in various moods. One sweet elderly lady remarked how glad she was that it wasn’t as cold as last year!!! We had to admire their pluck and resilience as they humped boxes of cakes, old china, plants and other assorted goods off to their stalls. They would have had to take them all home again because hardly anyone came along. Even Graham and I didn’t go, so no little jug this year.”
Sara and Laura reminded us that this was always a community event for everyone. They said: “There were a few celebrities around. Most of those whoactually livedin Denham would take part in village events such as the annual Fayre. John Mills allowed the bottle stall tombola to be outside his house and the inside was for counting the money afterwards. Others would take a turn on the stall to help drum up support.”
In last month’s blog the focus was on children growing up in Denham. For the community’s children, the Fayre was always an exciting event. Al told us: “The spring bank holiday Fayre was always a favourite. Those who have never lived in Denham don’t seem to understand why it’s so important. Even when you move away there is a pull back to the place on Fayre Day. It was a time we really felt we belonged to the village and felt proud that so many outsiders flocked here. Our family was very involved, helping in lots of ways from putting up the bunting a few days before to helping sweep up the straw from the slippery pole at the end of the event. One of the helpers rode around on a milk float transporting items here and there and it was fun holding onto the back while riding my skateboard.”
Now it’s your turn. What are your earliest or special memories of our village Fayre? Send us an email letting us know to firstname.lastname@example.org. We never publish without checking with you first.
There will be more about the fayres and markets prior to 1925 in the long read in a few weeks time.