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 However, by then, the fair was so much part of our tradition that this ruling was later rescinded.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


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


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


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


Heyford’s Historical Heritage  |  How the books were created

Index  |  Covers

The Story of Heyford: The changing character of the village during the 1950’s V1C10

Until the second world war, the village was largely a rural community and the population had been slowly declining. The school had been rebuilt in 1880 to accommodate 170 children at a time when the population was about 800. By the early 1950’s the population had fallen to 700 and the average attendance at school was only 70. This reflected not only the smaller population, but also the reduction in the proportion of younger people. The post war baby boom hadn’t yet hit us. Therefore Heyford in the 1940’s and 1950’s was taking on the profile of an ‘elderly’ village. An article in the Mercury and Herald in November of 1969 recorded that there were 24 residents in the village over the age of 80.

With the end of the war, young people were finding it increasingly difficult to get work in the village or to afford housing. The farms were becoming more mechanised, and the small cottage trades were being replaced by large new businesses such as British Timken which enticed the young men away with modern working conditions and good wages. The young people were therefore beginning to find work and homes outside the village.

Some of the older buildings were becoming derelict and uninhabitable. Many of the old stone and thatch buildings were demolished and replaced by modern homes. These included three cottages on the far side of the green where Pound is now situated, four cottages at the bottom of Furnace Lane, Mrs Lilleys cottage between the Post Office and Methodist Chapel, and Brook Farm. On reflection it seems sad that we weren’t able to preserve these buildings. However some of the older residents recall how they didn’t always live up to their chocolate box image. They were often dark, damp, and infested with mice. Houses like this were expensive to maintain but the families that occupied them didn’t necessarily have the funds to do it. It was therefore quite understandable that people wanted to swap them for the modern comfortable housing which was becoming readily available. During the 1960’s the village began to change dramatically.

Seems unbelievable, but could be true, and wouldn’t it be a pity;
In fifty years our little village could become just like a city!

Written in 1983 by Gordon Hayes of Close Road

Mary Warr’s ‘Diary of Change’
The following notes were made by Mary Warr while she lived in the village. She was the wife of George Warr who was headmaster from 1953 until 1975. Mary also taught at the school. Although they were ‘outsiders’ they spent many happy years in the village and became well respected members of the community. They took a leading role in a number of activities in the village including the Scouts, the WEA, the Library Service and the Theatre Club. During their time in Heyford the village changed enormously, and Mary kept hand-written notes of the changes as they occurred in a school exercise book which she later donated to the record office at Wootton Hall. The following notes are taken largely from that notebook.

‘We came to the village in 1953. The council houses in Furnace Lane and Church Lane, originally built in the 1930’s, were being modernised. Rayburn cookers were put in, along with bathrooms and deep drainage. In those days a cart called at many houses to collect the toilet contents.

In December 1953 Mrs Hazel left the school after many years service. In January 1954 the school children helped to plant trees in Coronation Avenue.

The council began to plan and build houses up Hillside Road and Hillside Avenue, and afterwards the cottages at the corner of Close Road were demolished. In the same year water sanitation was put in the school. 

In 1956 the school was rewired for electricity and repainted – bright colours this time. Also the senior children were removed and the school became a primary and infants school. All the classrooms had new floors, and the hall was built during this time.

In 1962 plans began to ‘make haste’ for the change from village street gas lighting to electric lighting. Electric lighting became a fact in September 1963.

In 1964 the village began to grow quickly. We had watched Mr and Mrs Cowling ’s dormer type house grow next to Mrs Smith’s farm.

Old cottages on the site of The Pound around 1900.


Photo lent by Charlie Copson

Mr Harwin at the Manor House began to build in the Manor field – Church Close. Now we can only dream of the buttercup field across which we brought the children back from church every other Ascension Day. The first people to move in were Mr and Mrs Buck and their son William whose bungalow is next door to Mr and Mrs Denny (the builder and his wife). 

In Manor Lane there are now houses too. At the end of 1964 houses up Furnace Lane next to Mr and Mrs Buck were built and inhabited.

In 1965 building work started on the field between Mr and Mrs Lilley and Mrs Jones. Two houses originally thatched next door to Mr Watson’s shop and the jitty were pulled down and rebuilt by the council.

Work is contemplated by Adkins and Shaw for houses in the Brook Farm Field, now owned by Mr Frank Hodgkiss and originally belonging to Mr Whitton.

In 1964 / 1965 houses were also erected along Bugbrooke Road, the first built for Mr Watson and his family next to Mrs Smith’s mushroom field.

Mrs Potter’s field was for sale in Church Lane in 1965 and it still remains to be seen what happens there. Two council houses built in 1965 to replace four thatched cottages on the green next to Mr Watson’s.

In May 1966 the village has changed its character. The field in front of Brook Farm is being built on by Adkins and Shaw. Houses are going up opposite too along the Bugbrooke Road. By the Rectory in Mrs Potter’s field are standing two bungalows built by Adkins and Shaw. There is to be a new Rectory in the Rectory gardens.

Mr C. Denny has built a new bungalow for his own occupation between Sunnyside and Miss Eales’ house. Furnace Lane has its quota of new houses on both sides now, and Middle Street has new houses from Mrs Buck’s down to the corner of the field. Only one space is left and the road has yet to be built in this area.

In the far corner of the field by the manor one house is inhabited and there is a right of way across the field from that corner to Middle Street. How we miss the freedom of that buttercup field.

The four thatched cottages in Furnace Lane pulled down in 1965


Photo lent by ]udy Armitage

It is rumoured that Mr R Adams is going to sell yet another field and 100 houses are to be built. Ben’s Orchard is for sale – three plots – and three houses or bungalows are to be built in the Manor garden.

Middle Street is to be a one way street to Upper Heyford, and Watery Lane is to be widened to take the the traffic from Upper Heyford.

The Youth Club is now quite at home in the old Methodist chapel which was formally opened in the Autumn of 1965. Adjoining it, Mrs Lilley’s old thatched cottage, now belonging to Mr and Mrs Blaney is derelict. The thatch is falling off, the chimneys look very dangerous, and it looks as though all might collapse like a pack of cards.

The Post Office was moved from the corner to a cottage nearby just before Christmas, also the letter box, and the name of the village from January 1st became Nether Heyford.

A factory – light engineering – is to be opened at the furnaces and local labour will be used. At the parish meeting early this year it was proposed that seats should be erected on the green. Now, May 25th, they are still not there.

People have been turning out at night to hear the nightingale in the Furnace Lane direction. We are getting much more traffic in the village. It is hardly safe for dogs to be loose. People are getting used to seeing roads up – pipes, gas and electric cables have to be laid.

Mrs Potters field in Church Lane before the houses were built


Photo lent by ]udy Armitage

The small Heyford family is definitely having to get used to living with strangers in its midst. Meanwhile one can only conjecture on what will be the effect. It is quite true that nobody now seems to know everybody else. The intimate feeling of knowing our village is disappearing.

May 1967. Houses have been built in Church Lane, Wakefield Way (Mr Hodgkiss’s), Winston Close, Furnace Lane, Middle Street, Manor Walk and Weedon Road. And now building operations commence at the end of Close Road (Wilsons estate). I have lost count, and without walking round or consulting records I cannot estimate how many.

The A45 dual carriageway from Upton Mill to the Heyford flyover has been built this year. It is 3 miles long and cost £520,000

We ourselves, March 1967, have formed a Theatre Club and have 34 members. We are all set to visit the Shakespeare Royal Theatre on June 22nd to see “All’s Well that Ends Well”.

July 1968. Bugbrooke secondary school is now open. For the first time in 16 years a Parish Council election was held. All the members are Old Heyfordians. This I think is a pointer to the resistance the newcomer must meet.

A view of Watery Lane before its development in the 1960’s.


Photograph lent by Mrs Searle

February 1969. It has been impossible to keep pace with all the buildings in the village and do my job as infants teacher. In Middle Street all the lovely trees were cut down in 1968. The school extensions started last year in March and we are now using our new hall. The Wilsons estate grows apace and so does Hillside Crescent and Winston Close.

People come and go. There is a flourishing play group for pre-school children. The WEA group is strong, and my own Theatre Club is now affiliated to the Arts Council.

The shop changed hands from Mrs Blaney to Mrs Eales. Mrs Blaney still has the post office, helped by Miss Humphrey. Mrs Lilley’s old cottage has been partly demolished to make it safe. Middle Street is being widened as far as the bridge and we now have a pavement opposite the School House.

1969. The new Rectory is being built. The school dining hall and kitchen were completed in January. Five Georgian houses have been built in Manor field . Mrs Lilley’s old thatched cottage has been razed to the ground. There is a building site at Brook Farm. There are buildings now on both sides of Middle Street and in the river field near the Manor. Mrs Highfield sold her shop. There is now a Green Shield Stamp shop to compete with the VG stores. John Haynes and his wife live at the post office and his wife helps Mrs Blaney. The Monday Club has been formed – it seems for young newcomers and their friends. The Youth Club is to be revived.

1970. A children’s playground committee has been formed. The brook has been dredged. The river has been dredged. Brook: Farm has been demolished in Watery Lane, and Middle Street has been provided with pavements.’

Mary Warr

The Memorial Green.

Photo lent by ]udy Armitage

The photograph above, lent by ]udy Armitage, was taken in the 1940’s. Towards the right behind the telegraph pole is the old thatched post office, demolished in the early 1950’s and replaced by the modern stores. In the centre behind the tree is the original Methodist chapel built in 1838. To the left of this is the thatched house occupied by Mrs Anne Clarke, Heyford’s midwife in the early 1900’s, and later by her daughter Mrs Lilley. This house was demolished in 1969.

Of bureaucratic interference, no one is deserving,
But certain things in Heyford are truly worth preserving.
John Smith’s lovely farmyard, the school, the village green.
If developers ever get them, they’ll be no longer seen!
So the word ‘conservation’ should never cause a frown,
Let’s keep those lovely treasures so there’s something to hand down.

Gordon Hayes, 27th October 1983


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

Volume 1 of 4 | Chapter 10 of 13 | Pages 24 to 29


Heyford’s Historical Heritage  |  How the books were created

Index  |  Covers