Friday, 06 August 2021

Crowds descend to celebrate the festive season

THOUSANDS of people packed the streets of Henley for the 24th annual Christmas Festival

THOUSANDS of people packed the streets of Henley for the 24th annual Christmas Festival.

Revellers enjoyed fairground rides, stalls, musical performances, the official switch on of the Christmas tree lights and carols on the town hall steps on Friday evening.

Many shops stayed open late to make the most of the extra footfall as roads in the town centre were closed to traffic.

Click here to see more photographs from the evening.

Town crier Ian Beyts officially opened the festival at the town hall along with Father Christmas.

The duo then led a lantern parade of about 100 children from Hotel du Vin in New Street to the town hall.

Pupils from Sacred Heart, Badgemore, Valley Road and Rupert House Schools took part in the parade, carrying home-made lanterns.

They were joined by cast members from Jack and the Beanstalk, this year?s pantomime at the Kenton Theatre, in costume.

At the town hall Henley Mayor Lorraine Hillier, who was dressed in her robes, thanked the children and said their lanterns looked ?stunning?.

Father Christmas rushed off to his grotto at King?s Arms Barn, where scores of families were waiting for him, while the crowd watched a performance by members of dance group Stagecoach.

The lights on the Christmas tree in Market Place were switched on by a boy plucked from the crowd.

Joshua Brown, four, from Maidenhead, was selected by the Mayor and and MC Martin Unsworth.

He was joined by Mark Armour, chief exective of Invesco Perpetual, which paid for the 40ft Sitka tree.

Mr Unsworth told the crowd that Joshua wasn?t nervous and was up to ?the big job? of pressing the button.

He also pulled the Mayor?s leg when introducing her, saying ?no car parking jokes? ? a reference to Cllr Hillier being photographed parking in a Bell Street loading bay in October.

Mr Unsworth also joked that there wouldn?t be a ?practice switch-on? ? a reference to the Henley Round Table fireworks display at Swiss Farm last month which was cancelled at the last minute because of a problem with the computer-controlled firing system.

After a 10-second countdown, Joshua switched on the gold and whiite lights on the tree without a hitch and the crowd cheered.

The Gillotts School choir and headteacher Catharine Darnton, then led the audience through Christmas carols, accompanied by Tim Valentine on the piano. The songs included Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, The 12 Days of Christmas and Oh Little Town of Bethlehem.

After the carol singing, Cllr Hillier addressed the crowd and thanked Mr Unsworth and Invesco Perpetual to the applause of the spectators.

There were stands sellings traditional food and drink as well as craft stalls and games. Many local charities and community groups had stalls too.

In Hart Street there was a helter skelter and a ferris wheel as well as smaller rides for younger children including teacups and a fairground train on a track.

The Mayor said: ?Walking around, I felt there was so much more for young children, which is what we wanted this year. It should be a family event.

?The festival is a very good event for the town. It?s good for the local economy and it kickstarts Christmas in Henley. November has been quiet for traders so this will boost sales.?

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