The 1906 Pewsey Feast and Carnival

on Monday, 12 September 2016. Posted in Archives, Wiltshire Places

4051/3BW Carnival group, c1920. WJ Selfe, Pewsey, photographer

Whilst looking into the history of Pewsey during the First World War, I wanted to investigate whether the time honoured tradition of the Pewsey Feast and Carnival took place during the war years. As it turns out, it didn’t, though I have heard rumours that there may still have been some sort of collection for Savernake Hospital – If anyone has any information regarding this, it would be greatly received!

During my search for information I became intrigued by the feast and carnival, how they came to be and overlap with each other, and the traditions involved. There is some speculation and contention over exactly how the first Pewsey Feast came to be, but the one that seems to win the fight is the story of King Alfred in the 9th Century coming back safely from war and declaring that from then on the inhabitants of Pewsey had the right to an annual feast day. The various traditions have then sprung up over time, with a tea for older people, concerts and dances, various sporting events both the 'serious' and the comparatively frivolous, a large carnival procession, and most importantly of all, the raising of funds for charity, and in particular for Savernake Hospital. The main Feast Day Sunday has traditionally fallen on the closest Sunday to 14th September (Holy Cross Day), with the rest of the festivities following afterwards. The first carnival was held in 1898 and consisted merely of a group of people riding around on ornately decorated bicycles, collecting money for Savernake Hospital, and the events and procession grew from there. Originally taking place in one week, it is now spread across two weeks, with the occasional associated event taking place outside of those two weeks.

F8/500/220/2/2 - School log book, Pewsey County 1899-1913

Clearly in 1906 the village viewed the festivities with great importance, in the school log book we can see it was closed to allow the children to join in. It's interesting to note in the log book that attendance was high in the last day before the festivities began, and rather bad the day after the carnival procession, one can only speculate as to why!

For this blog I have decided to give you a glimpse of the 1906 Feast and Carnival (16th-19th September) using an article written in the Marlborough Times and Wilts and Berks County Paper on the 22nd September.

1225/215 – Sheet of the Marlborough Times and Wilts & Berks County Paper September 22nd 1906


As you can tell from the title the author was clearly rather impressed with the feast and carnival, they go on to describe all the components of said feast and carnival in varying degrees of detail, but write so much that it fills a whole page of the broadsheet. I will do my best to summarise, trying to pick out the important and amusing parts.

The first section gives a general overview of Feast week and emphasises how warmly the author regards the celebrations as a Pewsey tradition. They take note and admire that the "predominant feature of the Pewsey festivities is their association with the church from the earliest times", stating that as long as people keep this in mind, "no one can conceive any aspersion upon the character of the festivities". The author believes this is why the festivities had been so successful up until that year, noting that the church was always full on Feast day (Sunday). I wonder if that is the same in this day and age. The festivities are then briefly listed in order to give the reader an idea of what is about to be described, beginning on Sunday with the church services, moving onto Monday for the cricket match, "old folk's tea", and evening concert, then Tuesday for the sports day. Then on to the carnival, the committee had wanted to raise £100 on the Wednesday, and due to the success of previous years, the "proprietor of this journal felt that they deserved every encouragement, and accordingly offered a silver cup to be competed for in the afternoon." The cup was donated to encourage people in the surrounding villages to also take part in the competitions, as a way to bring people together, and raise more funds. This was obviously successful, as they had already made £100 by the time the article was written and there were still more collection boxes to come in. The carnival procession on the Wednesday night was apparently one the county could be proud of, "one of imposing magnitude, and one not likely to be forgotten by those who saw it." The last sentence of the introductory section, a stand alone sentence, made me chuckle, as a sentence so very British in nature: "The weather throughout was of a very propitious character."

Now begins the day by day description of the 1906 Feast Week.

493/79 – Hymn Sheet for Pewsey Feast church services 1906

Sunday 16th was Feast Day, Harvest Festival and the Festival of the Dedication. The church congregations were large throughout the day, and 'the special services were of an exceptionally interesting character. The writer once again comments on the weather, noting that for 25 years there hadn't been a wet Festival Sunday, except for perhaps a few spots of rain. I won't cover the whole detail, but the article goes to some lengths to describe all the different decorations adorning the inside of the church, painting a wonderful scene, they were clearly impressed and took care to name those responsible. One description that stands out is that of the pulpit decorated with "mauve coloured chrysanthemums, interspersed among a number of miniature sheaves of corn...from which streamers of ivy were picturesquely suspended." The services consisted of an 8am Holy Communion, Mattins at 11am, a children's flower service in the afternoon and an evensong. The total of all the collections, (to be donated to the Diocesan House of Mercy, Savernake Hospital, Salisbury Infirmary and Great Ormond Street Hospital), was £13 17s. 7d.

Monday 17th's proceedings started with a cricket match, now I know absolutely nothing about cricket, so I won't attempt to summarise the details of the match for fear of missing a vital piece of information, nor will I transcribe the full description and scores given in the article. I will say however that Pewsey Vale were playing a team from the 2nd Lincolnshire Regiment, in what was apparently a "most exciting game...quite worthy of the Feast", despite the visitors winning! Later on was the Old Folk's Tea, served in the infant's schoolroom, with great attendance (86), meaning that a couple of people, including the Rector (Canon Bouverie) were without a seat! The author describes something that would never happen in this day and age: "The pleasant proceedings were brought to a close by the distribution of tobacco and snuff to each of the guests...there was only one case where the 'bit of baccy' was refused." Monday evening brought the concert held in Bouverie Hall, something which the article covers in very great detail, far too much for me to go into here. People from Pewsey and the surrounding areas gave performances; there was piano, cello, and violin playing, along with classical, contemporary, and comedic singing. Needless to say it was a great success, with a full house and many acts asked to give encores.

Tuesday 18th was athletics day. The author seems to find the inclusion of this event in the festivities a little odd, but goes with it anyway:  "Why this perpetuated zeal and earnestness and fervent interest in a programme which, after all, is but an athletic exhibition of a very ordinary character? ... There is something so profoundly deep in the simple ardour which characterises the sports that one turns from moralising and accepts the instinctively felt that here was history, and did not attempt to analyse the feeling further." A philosophy that I'm sure has been applied by many to countless different occasions. Most of the sports took place in the Rectory Grove, while the bicycle races took place on the cricket field. "There were three local events, the others being open, and a feature was the excellence of the prizes of offered. The events consisted of lots of different lengths of running and cycling races, a sack race, a high jump, as well as the slightly more unusual:

• Bicycle Obstacle Race (involving ginger beer!) • Bicycle Musical Race (Musical Chairs on bikes!) • Obstacle Race (including apple bobbing!) • Tilting at the Ring on Bicycles (a very popular event.)

Immediately after the events had finished, everyone moved to the cricket pavilion where the prizes were distributed, and a programme of music from the Marlborough Town Silver Band was enjoyed. Tuesday evening saw a dance in Bouverie Hall, from 7pm-11pm with music from the Marlborough String Band.

Wednesday 19th September was Carnival Day. The festivities started of with a Pushball Tournament as the competition for the "Marlborough Times Cup". Pushball is something I had never come across before reading this article, and I must admit I think it would be rather fun to watch. Two opposing teams are either side of a very large ball, and they must move said ball to the opposing team's end and score goals. The author of the article is clearly a fan, and they proclaim that: "Interesting as had been previous attractions on the Wednesday afternoon, the pushball tournament eclipsed everything, and the crowd was greater than ever." The tournament took place on the Rectory Grove, and 12 teams competed from villages within a 5 mile radius; there were thousands of people present and £18 14s. 4d. was raised. The teams were: Burbage, Easton Royal, Everley, Manningford, Milton, Oare, Pewsey A, Pewsey B, Rushall, Wilcott, Woodborough, and Wootton Rivers. There were 3 rounds, with Pewsey A winning the cup. The author enjoyed it so much they believed each team deserved a cup.  After the traditional pushball tournament was a match that caused much amusement to the author – Pushball on donkeys! Needless to say chaos ruled and the crowd were "convulsed with laughter". There was also Tilting the Ring on donkeys, and a fancy-dress donkey race, both of which continued to amuse the author.

The carnival proper took place on the Wednesday evening, and the author was clearly blown away by it, stating that it "eclipsed all previous efforts by a considerable margin and the carnival of 1906 stands unique in the history of the effort." They go on to describe not only the floats and costumes of the procession, but also the decorations hung up outside people's houses. A wonderful picture is created in the article, and I do encourage anyone who is interested to come in to the searchroom and read the article for yourself, as I cannot possibly begin to properly summarise it all here. Due to all the illumination the village is described as a fairyland, with the whole place decorated with fairy-lights and lanterns, flags, streamers, bunting, paperchains and evergreens. A couple of places had signs up reading "For the Hospital." The procession itself was so long "that it took nearly half-an-hour to pass a given point...Grecian girls, flower girls, rose girls, girls of the old Elizabethan age, and girls attired in masquerades of a future and ethereal period, all jostled together with their collecting boxes." There were many carnival characters on foot, on decorated bicycles, in cars, as well as on horseback, all adding to the excitement. One car that stood out to me was described as being "in the form of an immense shoe", filled of course with an 'old woman' and many 'children'. Later in the evening a fancy-dress ball was held in Bouverie Hall, which brought the carnival to a close. The last part of the article briefly describes a 'Weight-Judging Competition' which was used as a means to increase the money raised for Savernake Hospital. Then the article seems to end quite abruptly, as if the author ran out of space to write a concluding paragraph, as there isn't one! On the back of the page is a small article obviously written after the first, which gives a summary and an update of all the funds raised by the Feast and Carnival, the total came to over £130 with still one last collecting box to come in.

I'd like to wrap-up this blog with a pick of a few of the adverts and notices on the back of the page that amused or intrigued me, which show a snapshot of what life was like at the time. One that immediately caught my eye was an advert from the Great Temperance Mission about a Public Temperance Conference taking place at Marlborough Town Hall on 24 September. The temperance movement in the UK was still going relatively strong in early 1900s. According to a BBC article, by 1900 it is estimated that a tenth of the adult population was abstaining from alcohol. It makes me wonder how sober the Pewsey Carnival of 1906 was...something makes me think not much of it. Four more notices caught my eye - Trespassing must have been an issue at the time, as there are two notices on the subject threatening prosecution if it continues. The first is by order of the Marquis of Ailesbury, for the Savernake Forest Estate, and this also included 'gathering nuts and damaging the underwood' as well as general trespassing. The second is from Henry Lyne, for Barton Copice, and covered 'trespassing under any pretext whatever'. I found a notice for 'Salisbury Plain Artillery Practice' (on the 1st and 27th October) interesting as it explained that "Before Firing commences a RED FLAG will be hoisted at the following places:- (1) KNIGHTON DOWN TUMULUS (2) WILSFORD DOWN (3) RUSHALL DOWN." The notice explained that you were not allowed to go in the danger area when the flags were raised and warned that anyone who did would be "liable on conviction under existing bye-laws to a fine not exceeding Five Pounds." My favourite notice however is an official public apology for slander from a George Mildenhall of Lambourn, Berks (builder), to a Mr William Brain of Lambourn (also a builder)! Apparently Mr Mildenhall "publicly made statements reflecting upon [Mr Brain's] financial position", which he then admits were untrue. The apology was witnessed by Mr Brain's solicitor Charles Lucas of Newbury. I wonder what it was he said exactly!

If you'd like to view the full article, along with some other news articles about the Feast and Carnival from the 19th and 20th Century you can come to our searchroom and request the reference code 1225/215. Alternatively there are also copies of Wiltshire newspapers on microfilm available to view in our searchroom.

If you'd like to go and experience what a modern day Pewsey Feast and Carnival is like, they will be taking place this year starting 17th September 2016.

Jessica Smith, Transforming Archives Trainee


Accredited Archive Service