Celebrating Huntington Fete
PUBLISHED: 14:24 24 June 2011 | UPDATED: 19:33 20 February 2013
Jane Moyle looks back with affection on a village tradition facing an uncertain future
The yearwas 1954. HRH Queen Elizabeth II had been on the throne for a year, Sir Winston Churchill was Prime Minister. Sugar and butter rationing had just ended.Stalin was dead.
And in the tiny North West Herefordshire sheep farming village of Huntington, high up in the hills above Kington, a young doctor and his family of five children were preparing the first Huntington Fete. They had just moved into Huntington Court, a beautiful Georgian house, with large lawns and flowerbeds overflowing with roses, hollyhocks and delphiniums.
Dr William Logan Jack was the GP of Kington, taking up his post in 1933. He was a strong character; everyone knew that he could operate on the kitchen table if necessary. The family knew that with the Court, came the responsibility of looking after the fine 14th century church of Sir Thomas Beckett and the ruins of old Huntington Castle. Money was scarce, so a fundraising, community event Huntington Fete was born.
The Jack family rallied the local community to help. Yet the village with a population of only 85 had the United Reform Church to support as well. The two communities decided to get together and share the proceeds. Thus, old Herefordshire families who have passed their farms from father to son for up to five generations rallied and worked as a team to raise as much money as possible. Nearly six decades of fetes followed. People like Lady Derek Bailey and Lady Barbara Bossom were asked to open the fete in those days. In the 1950s and 1960s, the ladies wore hats, the gentlemen wore suits and flat caps. It was a time of deference and good manners.
The beautiful garden of Huntington Court was, and is, the ideal place for the event. An old pub skittles alley laid out with hay bales, splat the rat providing endless fun for the children and their parents, quoits the task of ringing photos of familiar characters always causing merriment. The plants stall, run by the Williamss for years, where bargains abound. Nothing fancy, nothing new. No entrance fees, no car parking problems. A ewe brought in for people to guess its weight, duly weighed on Bob Powells sheep scales at the end of the afternoon, which is always the third Sunday of July and always sunny, so that other fetes have copied the date. Wonderful cakes made by the WI selling out in the first 15 minutes. Bric-a-brac, nearly new Nothing has ever changed. We bring in our things for the fete then we end up by buying them back again, laughed one resident. Huntington Fete is full of bargains, exclaimed a visitor. A tablecloth and six napkins for 3, for example.
Word spread fast and year after year, the numbers increased. Today a free bus brings visitors from Kington. They travel from Llandrindod, from Hay, from Knighton, from Rhayader, from Presteigne even from Hereford. People who have not been seen for years are suddenly there. They seem to come down from the mountains, they come out of their cottages, they sit in their scores as they eat the delicious teas and strawberries and ice cream, the locals have produced.
One can see reunions going on, children playing on the lawns, old men with long beards and whiskers tucking into their cakes, their wives gossiping and laughing.
It is such a happy day. Yet by the end of the day, often up to a staggering 3,500 is raised. This is where the real Herefordshire is.
Dr Jack died some years ago, but his widow, Dorothy, has been devoted to the fete. She is now 96 years of age and, at her great age, has decided to live in Kington Court. Thus at the end of 57 glorious years, 2011 will be the last fete under the guidance of the Jack family.
The Court is for sale. Is this the end of an era? Will we ever experience garden parties in the grounds of such a beautiful home again? Will we have to resort to the village hall in future? Will the modernisers get their dog shows, car rallies, sports days, stunt motorcyclists in the future? Will there ever be a lovely old-fashioned fete like this again?
I fear we may have come to the end of an era, but at least generations of us will always have our memories.
The last Huntington Fete is due to take place at Huntington Court on Saturday, July 16 from 3pm to 5pm.