The Story of Heyford: Heyford Feast – The Visiting Fair V4C4

Heyford Feast
The fair has been coming for Heyford Feast in October for as long as anyone can remember. Heyford Feast is the anniversary of the dedication of our Parish Church and takes place on the first Sunday after the 11th October. This is also the time of year when Harvest Festival activities took place – they continue to do so today — marking Heyford as one of the churches to celebrate Harvest late in the season.

The fair and the church’s celebrations were closely linked: together they formed the greatest village occasion of the year and would last one week. In the early 1900’s, the fair families attended Evensong at the church and contributed some of their takings to the collection. Today, there is no longer a link between the church and the fair but this still remains the time of year when the fair comes to Heyford.

When the Parish Council was originally set up in the late 1890’s, it stated that no fairs could use the main part of the Green. However, by then, the fair was so much part of our tradition that this ruling was later rescinded. It was a major event to be shared by all and men employed locally were often given the Monday off work to be able to enjoy the festival to the full. Likewise, pupils at Bliss School were allowed the Monday off in order to meet the fair at Upper Heyford and walk down with it into the village.

After Heyford, the fair went on to Daventry to become the centre for the ‘Mop Fair’ – so called because it used to be a time for hiring domestic staff This was at the turn of the century when fairs were still more business and trading occasions than anything else. Workers would advertise their availability for hire by standing with mops in their hands. It was a big occasion there too, and the fair would block the main roads in the middle of Daventry.

Swing-boats and roundabouts
Bob Browning recalled the fair in the village from the early 1900’s. There were swing-boats and roundabouts with wooden horses and most rides charged 1d. All along the road from the Post Office to the schools were stalls: coconut shies, hoopla and darts. Fred Browning remembered the game of Aunt Sally in which you had three balls for one penny and had to throw them through a hole in a door to release ‘Aunt Sally’. There was no prize in succeeding, just the thrill of seeing Aunt Sally appear. Fred even commemorated the fair in verse as part of a poem called “Heyford Green”:

Remember the fairs, wooden horses and wares
would collect to the joy of us all…

By contrast to such ethereal thinking, The Foresters pub was central to the fair’s activities because of its place on the Green and it wasn’t unusual for there to be fights there.

Great anticipation
Many villagers can still recall the fair from the 1930’s and 40’s. There was great anticipation for its arrival. The children would save up money for weeks beforehand and girls sometimes knit purses to hang around their necks with the three or four pence saved for the rides. They gathered rose hips which they could sell through the school for 3d. per lb. for making rose hip syrup. They would also collect acorns from ‘accern orchard’ which they could sell as pig fodder. Some people would collect eating apples which the fair folk would buy for making toffee apples.

On the day of the fair’s arrival there was great excitement. School children – now no longer allowed out to greet it – would often hear the fair setting up on the Green across the road. This caused them enormous frustration because they were all itching to get out and see it. If the fair happened to arrive out of school hours, the children would go to meet it along what is now the A45. They would put their ears to the ground to try to pick up the vibration from the rumble of the steam engines.

The Steam Engine

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This photo, taken in the 1930’s, possibly leaving Finedon, shows George Billing’s Burnell 2625 ‘Lady Pride of England’

Photo lent by Ted Garrett

George Billing
The fair was run at that time by George Billing. He wore a bowler hat and a navy blue suit and his wife collected the money in great heavy bags full of pennies. The fair would set up near the shops and The Foresters and the main attraction was the merry-go-round. It had horses on the outside, cockerels in the middle and smaller horses on the inside. It had its own steam engine to drive it and George Billing stoked up the fire to keep it going. However, sometimes the steam would give out and the children would push the merry—go—round around by hand.

The other main attractions were the big swing boats at 1d. a go. There were many battles to see who could take their boat the highest and the fair people got cross if anyone tried to swing their boat right over! There were stalls for the coconut shies, darts, roll—a—penny and skittles. The skittles were tall and white – four in a line – and the prize for knocking them all down was a packet of nuts or Players cigarettes.

The fair also made its own sticks of rock known as ‘Feast Rock’. It was humbug flavour and striped brown and yellow. The rock stall made it by hand by pulling the sweet mixture out into long strings. By all accounts it was delicious!

Horses and steam
Two traction engines were operated by the fair. The larger one stood up by the Baptist Chapel and generated electricity needed for the lights. As there were still only gas lights in Heyford at the time, the electric light display on the Green was rather a novelty. Hilda Collins remembers how the steam engine would stand on its own beside the chapel, chuffing away: “There were clouds of steam and it would be spitting scalding hot water – quite dangerous really!” She also recalls the organ on the roundabout and how, as children, they would ride round and watch the different instruments ‘play’ in turn in the centre of the ride. The roundabout organ used a pianola device of perforated cards that played the music and – being limited to the number of cards the ride had – the same tunes would start up over and over again.

All the caravans were horse drawn and were set up in a row. At first, water for the fair had to come from a private supply but then the fair people used a public tap that was set up on the Green opposite the Denny’s house. The tap was spring—loaded, i.e. it required you to hold the tap open all the time otherwise it shut itself off again. The fair’s horses were left to graze in a nearby field or in the hollow at the far end of the Green.

When The Foresters closed at 10:30 pm each night, some men came out rather the worse for wear and would head onto the fair site. On occasion, George Masters and Herbert Clarke – both big men — came out of The Foresters and climbed up on one of the horses waving their hats and shouting “giddy-up.” Albert Garrett recalled how once, so many men came out of the pub and clambered onto the merry-go-round that it wouldn’t start. George Billing is remembered for throwing his hat on the floor and pleading with some of the men to get off.

When the fair finally closed around midnight, the last tune played on the steam organ was ‘Christians awake, salute the happy morn’ – Mrs Billing’s favourite tune. When it was all over, the children walked around looking for halfpennies and pennies that had been dropped in the grass. It wasn’t unusual to find threepence or sixpence, which was a lot of money in those days.

The Abbotts and Thurstons
After the Second World War, the Abbots brought the fair and they continued coming for another thirty years. The fairground attractions essentially remained the same, but the Abbots introduced the dodgems. The steam engines were eventually replaced by diesel and by the 50’s, the horses were replaced by vehicles.

The fair continued to be very popular and is remembered for being very crowded during this time. Many families had relatives coming to stay with them for the duration of the fair and Heyford Feast. It was also an attraction to other villages in the locality, for although the fair moved on from Heyford to Bugbrooke for a time, the site in Bugbrooke (a field on the outskirts) was not considered very suitable. Hilda Collins remembers how, on the Green, you could hardly see the stalls for the crowds of people around them. If the fair is quieter today, it is probably to do with easier access to the larger towns and the development of Northampton’s own autumn funfair.

While the fair was at Heyford, the fair children would attend Bliss School. This included old Mr Abbot’s daughter, Norma. In 1971, she married William Thurston from another fairground family and in the following year, the fair began coming under the Thurston name — as it still does today.

Around that time there was debate about the positioning of the fair on the Green. Its site near the shops was considered disruptive because of the noise and there were also complaints about the state of the football pitch on the Green after it had gone. For a time the Thurstons alternated year by year from one end of the Green to the other. Eventually they settled on its present location opposite the school.

Mary Warr, who wrote about the fairground family in her short history of Heyford published in 1970, had a far rosier view of the impact that the fair made on the village. She said, “For as long as we have been here (1953-70) the fair has been in the family. Older villagers have seen the fair people growing up and there is much friendship. I can only speak of my own experiences. We have nearly always had the fair opposite the school and have always known them to be friendly, considerate and peace—loving visitors. At night when the fair closes down, all is quiet and nothing happens to disturb our rest. I hope this wonderful relationship continues. Our places of worship have been visited by them and they have given generously to us on occasions.”

The fair in 1998

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Photo lent by Stephen Ferneyhough

Nowadays the fair continues to be assembled on the middle section of the Green and it is always tidy and compact. The Thurstons bring only a selection of their total fairground equipment because they do not stay many days and space on the Green is limited. They bring the Waltzer, two or three ‘children’s rides including a helter-skelter, a range of gaming machines in an amusement arcade and a variety of side stalls. The Thurstons are based in Wellingborough with a season that runs from March to November, touring all over the East Midlands and East Anglia. Then during the winter months, they do all their rebuilding and maintenance work. William Thurston’s grandson is the seventh generation in his family to work the fairgrounds.

Sarah Croutear with contributions from Hilda Collins and Ted Garrett

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Extract from “The Story of Heyford” – Local book series published in the late 1990’s

Volume 4 of 4 | Chapter 4 of 8 | Page 18 to 21

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Heyford’s Historical Heritage  |  How the books were created

Index  |  Covers

Memories of Nether Heyford: Joan Collins

What I Know And Remember About Nether Heyford.

(The memories of Joan Collins, and life at Wharf Farm)

I was born in Bugbrooke and moved to Nether Heyford when l married Reg, nearly 70 years ago. Reg was born in Nether Heyford, and as well as being a farmer, he worked on the Parish Council for nearly 30 years, and also became a District Councillor. One of the main features of the village is the very large village green, said by some to be the largest in England. This Green was purchased, together with other land, and a Schoolhouse, using money left to the village in the will of William Bliss in 1674, for that purpose. He had been brought up in Heyford, before becoming a London wine merchant.

Trustees of the Charity that was set up to administer the proceeds used the rental income from the land to pay for a schoolmaster and for the upkeep of the school. This is why the school is known as the ‘Bliss Charity Aided School’. The trustees of this charity, along with another one set up using a legacy in the will of Edmund Arnold (died 1689) may use part of the income from the charities to help “the poor children of poor persons of the town of Nether Heyford” to help with their apprenticeships, for tools, etc. The gift of the green to the village was made with the conditions “that there should not be a spade put into it, and that it should not be fenced in’. This is taken to mean that there should be no building or allotments on it. The area of the green extends to the Memorial Green and the piece of land behind the butchers and patisserie.

At the side of the main green there is an area that is known as ‘The Pound”, which also belongs to the Green. This is called The Pound because in days gone by, the cattle that were allowed to roam and graze the green at daytime, were rounded up at night and closed in the pound.

The estate known as “Rolfe Crescent’ used to be open fields owned by Mr John Radbume Adams. A stream, which rises near to the A5 on the easterly side of Furnace Lane, and goes into a culvert under the railway and the canal before emerging into the field. used to flow across the land of Mr. Adams before running behind the houses alongside the green. This stream then ran uncovered across the village Green and under the road into Watery Lane and on to the river. That is where the name Watery Lane came from.

Watercress used to grow along this stream. Similarly, the estate of Brookside was named due to its proximity to the same stream, or brook. Mr Wakefield Whitton owned land here, so when another small estate was built there, it was naturally named ‘Wakefield Way’.

Water also ran down from Stowe in a full stream, again under the railway and then under the canal, and on down the rear of the houses on the westerly side of Furnace Lane. It used to flow under the Weedon Road and down Church Street into the Manor, and on to the river. I suppose this is why our village is called “Hayford” as water used to run over the road before it was routed through a culvert there.

Manor Park was an estate belonging to the owners of the Manor, but a road used to run from Manor Walk, passing by the Manor House. across the fields to the coach bridge and on to Heyford Mill. Farmers would drive their horses and carts laden with corn along this lane to the mill. More recently, the fields at the rear of the Manor House were all built on, providing the homes in which some of you now live.

Middle Street, behind Mr. Denny’s house, used to be all open fields, but is now the site of Parsons Close, and other houses on that side of the road were all built on farm land belonging to the Manor, in the 1970′s, a bit before those in Manor Park. There was a footpath from the end of Middle Street that crossed the field to the river bridge leading to Upper Heyford. On the opposite side of Middle Street was a farm just below the “Olde Sun” where houses are now built.

Up Furnace Lane towards the A5, near the railway bridge, were ironstone Furnaces. One was on the land between Wharf Farm, Furnace Lane and the railway (LNWR, then LMS) line, and was known as Heyford Ironworks. operating in 1857. The other was diagonally across the railway where the Wickes site is. This one was known as Stowe Ironworks and was operating in 1866. Iron-ore was brought in by boat or rail from Stowe and other villages around.

The iron-ore excavated at Stowe Lodge was brought by a tram railway to feed the ironworks at these sites.

In its original form it was a narrow-gauge tramway which ran under the Watling Street (A5) near to the turning to Church Stowe, and then over a couple of fields to cross under the main LNW railway at a point about 1/4 mile west of the Furnace Lane bridge. it then went across one more field to be loaded into barges at the Grand Junction Canal. This tram-line was working pre-1863 and was one of the earliest and longest of the ironstone quarry lines at that time. The narrow gauge tramway was upgraded to a standard gauge line and elevated to link up with the mainline beside the Stowe Ironworks, probably before 1870. Iron ore could now be brought directly to the Stowe Ironworks, and be shunted across the main line into the Heyford Ironwork sidings. Therefore iron ore supplied directly from the Stowe quarries and other local quarries, was smelted into “Pig iron ingots’ and loaded originally onto horse and carts or canal boats to be taken away for further processing.

Through the railway bridge. the Stowe Ironworks site on the right changed hands several times. at one time being the home of the brickyard known as “The Stowe Tile and Brick Works’, where some of the finest bricks in England were made. At one time it may have been ‘The Lion Works” because an application was made to run “a tramway under the railway bridge into the Lion Companys Works’ (Feb. 1855). Apparently, the applicant didn’t wait for approval because there was “Indictment by the Queen” to be heard at the Northampton Summer Assizes of 1855 against John Judkins ‘for the nuisance on a highway in Nether Heyford – for laying iron tramrails on the highway, with an endorsement that the nuisance be abated’!

At this time the canal was one of the main means of transport, busy carrying iron ore and bricks, with the boats being pulled along by horses.

The building next to the canal bridge near Wharf Farm, which we used to use for cow sheds, has now been converted into a house. However, it was originally used for stabling these horses, and as the adjacent land is where the loading and unloading took place, the area was called “Heyford Wharf’.

There were many Public Houses in Nether Heyford, eight in all. There was one at the canal bridge, opposite the old stables, which was called ‘The Bricklayers Arms‘ and the house that I live in at Wharf Farm was another pub, known as ‘The Boat‘.

There were gravel pits in Heyford, at the back of Wakefield Way and Brookside Close, which were shown on some maps to contain Roman remains.

Returning to the village green, there is a now a Village Hall on the south side. There once was an Ox hovel where this hall is now, which belonged to Mr. Adams of Whitehall. This was demolished and our Village Hall was built using the voluntary labour of village people, and it was completed in May 1960. We are all proud of our hall and the lovely green, and the village as a whole. The green isn’t used as much for sport these days. There used to be football matches played on it. when local people would all tum out to support our team, and cricket matches when villagers would sit around the green on the seats to watch the play in hand.

The annual fair would come to the green at Harvest and was always known as “Heyford Feast”, and all the old village families would come back to meet up at it. l can remember the galloping horse roundabout, ’1d a ride‘, the coconut shy, hoopla and swing boats, etc.

Families were poor, money-wise, but happy with what they had. They grew their own vegetables, and kept hens. They would go gleaning at harvest time for food for the chickens, and would also keep a pig in the sty which would feed the family for a long time. This would provide lard for cooking, etc. and bacon on the wall to use all year round. When a pig was killed, it would be shared with neighbours who in tum would share theirs, when that was killed.

This all helped to make this a very friendly village. They were happy days and people weren’t so greedy for money. There were more poor people than rich ones, but it didn’t worry them that someone else had more than they did.

Happy Days.

Compiled by Joan Collins