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 However, by then, the fair was so much part of our tradition that this ruling was later rescinded.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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The Story of Heyford: The Bricklayers Arms V2C9

Although we can’t be sure exactly when the house was built, the deeds date back to 1827. The earliest reference we have found to the name ‘Bricklayers Arms’ is in the census return of 1871. This shows that it was occupied at that time by John Dunkley. He was aged twenty-nine and his occupation was shown as beer seller and ironworks labourer. The Census returns of 1881 and 1891 both refer to John Dunkley, beer seller, although neither specifically mention the name ‘Bricklayers Arms’.

The earliest recorded memory of the pub was from Bob Browning (1892-1997). Bob recalled that it was run in the early 1900s by Tom Dunkley. He told me that Tom Dunkley was the son of William Dunkley who ran ‘The Boat’ opposite. Tom Dunkley apparently died by drowning in the canal.

The Bricklayers Arms in the 1930s

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The Bricklayers Arms stood in Furnace Lane beside the canal. Like many buildings alongside the canal it had two floors at the front and three at the back. The building still exists as a private dwelling and is called Bridge Cottage. When it was modernised it was completely gutted and is now hardly recognisable as the same building because it had its top floor removed.

A small pub for local needs

Between the wars the pub was run by George Faulkner who continued to run it until the late 1930s. In the photo you can see the board above the door with the words:

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George Faulkner was grandfather to Ada Smith and Charlie Masters. Charlie remembers the pub from when it was in use. As with many buildings alongside the canal, it had two stories at the front and three at the back. The bar or tap room had bare Wooden boards with two or three tables and a handful of chairs. One of the tables was marked out for shove-halfpenny. There was no bar as such. When you wanted a beer the landlord had to go down the narrow steps to the cellar and fetch it in a jug directly from the barrel. The beer barrels were delivered by motor lorry and came from Phipps brewery in Northampton.

The pub had no water, but there was a tap at the railway cottages just down the road from where water could be fetched by bucket. There was no real toilet, just a little shelter with a drain, but no door. There was however a traditional oven heated by faggots. Some of the local people brought their Sunday roasts and Yorkshire puddings to be cooked in it.

Fishing Expedition around 1928

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The man on the far right is George Faulkner.
The small boy beside him is his grandson Charlie Masters who lent this photograph.

Brickworkers, and fishing trips

At that time the pub catered mainly for the brickyard workers. The brickyard with its coal-fired kilns was warm work and so the pub was often opened for a short time at around 6.30 in the morning for the workers to buy beer to take to work. They would also go there at lunchtime and after work to quench their thirsts. Bill Nickolls who worked at the brickworks recalls that the beer was 4d per pint and that they sometimes played skittles. There was also fun in the evenings. Charlie remembers how Bill Nickolls’ mother used to carry a gramophone up to the pub to play music on Saturday nights.

Sometimes during the summer months a group of people from St James End in Northampton came by bus for a day’s fishing on the canal. The men would fish while the women sat on the grass and chatted. They brought picnics and drank beer from the pub. There was a piano which would be man- handled out of the building so that they could have a sing-song in the sunshine. The photograph here shows the group from one of these trips. On the far left is George Faulkner, and the small boy beside him is his grandson Charlie Masters who provided much of the information in this article.

Hay barn, stables, weddings and coal

To the left of the main building was a hay barn. Underneath this at the back of the house was stabling for six or eight horses. The horses were stabled overnight by the boat people for which George Faulkner charged about 6d. In the hay barn above were three holes at either end through which the hay could be dropped through to the horses below. Sometimes the hay was cleared out and the barn was used as a function room. Charlie’s sister Ada and John Smith had their wedding reception in this room. To the left of the barn was a wall which was built of clinker from the Furnaces. This wall is still there.

George Faulkner also ran a coal business. The coal came by railway to Weedon and then on the siding in the brickyard. He stored the coal beside the pub in the yard where Tarrys now operate and delivered it around the village by horse and cart. There was a small weighbridge, just large enough for a small cart which was used to weigh the coal, and sometimes also sand which came from a sandpit in a field behind the yard.

Little Tommy

One of the visitors to the Bricklayers Arms was Little Tommy (Harris?). He was a shoemaker. If you wanted some shoes or boots he took all the measurements and two or three weeks later he returned with the finished article. He sometimes came to the village on Sundays. He took the bus from Northampton to Weedon and did some business there. He then walked along the A5 to the Bricklayers Arms where he bought eggs from Mrs Faulkner. He wrapped them up individually in paper and put them in his gladstone bag. On one occasion he dropped one on the ground and it broke. He asked Mrs Faulkner for a spoon and ate it from the ground so as not to waste it. He then walked on into the village and did some business there before taking the last bus back to Northampton.

The sale of the pub

Since the opening of the two furnaces in the 1860s the Furnace Lane area had been a hive of industry. Both the furnaces and the Brickworks were hot, thirsty work and the pub had for many years serviced the needs of the workers. There was also during this period much canal traffic. However by the time the Brickworks closed in the late 1930s there was little work left in that part of the village. So after sixty years or more the pub finally closed. Phipps offered to sell the house and land to George Faulkner for £100 but he didn’t take up the offer because he couldn’t afford it. And in any case it was time for him to retire.

Conversion to coal business

In 1950 Phipps Brewery sold the house to Fred Tarry. Fred Tarry, who lived in Bugbrooke, had returned from the First World War, but couldn’t find employment, so in 1922 he set up a coal business in his home village of Bugbrooke. George Faulkner had already run a small coal business from the Bricklayers Arms, so when Phipps sold the building in 1950 it gave Fred Tarry a chance to expand his business to Heyford.

In 1980 the house, which is now called Bridge Cottage, was converted to its present structure. It had originally had two roofs which met in a gulley in the centre. It was almost as though the back half had been added later because the brickwork of the front and back halves was not bonded together. The supporting wall between the two halves was damp from where the gulley couldn’t cope with the volume of water in heavy rainfall. So in 1979/ 80 some serious repair work had to take place. The house was totally gutted, with only the four outside walls left standing. The top storey was removed, a new roof was built, and the cellars below, which had been almost windowless (like the black hole of Calcutta) were converted to living accommodation.

Even today the coal business continues to be run from this house by Frank Higginbottom, his wife Thelma (Fred Tarry’s daughter) and their son Richard.

Stephen Ferneyhough

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

Volume 2 of 4 | Chapter 9 of 11 | Pages 22 to 25

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Heyford’s Historical Heritage  |  How the books were created

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