Sunday, 21 April 2019

Wargrave local history society

THE society’s annual meeting was held on Tuesday, March 12 when the past year was reviewed, a new committee elected and details of the 2019-20 programme were given.

Following the formal part of the evening, society secretary Peter Delaney gave an illustrated presentation on the history of the Wargrave Village Festival.

Wargrave as a community has long held events for villagers to enjoy and take part in but it was in January 1974 that the then vicar, John Ratings, suggested the idea of a village festival in the parish magazine.

A meeting was called to: “Explore the possibility of a village festival for 1975 centred on the church and Mill Green.

“It will be a useful exercise to do something for village unity in the days when our country desperately needs a common aim and purpose.”

Rev Canon Ratings’ idea was to unite the community and have fun together, whether from the “big houses” or Highfield Park, or anywhere in between.

All would be encouraged to take part, although many villagers thought he was “crazy” and that it would not work.

At about the same time the Wargrave Theatre Workshop was being formed and it was arranged that their presentation of Oliver! be part of the festival, along with a flower festival on the Saturday called Stalls on the Green followed by a ball in the evening and a concert in the church on the Sunday evening.

The subsequent issues of the magazine reported on the festival and even the weather picked up for those few days in early June.

The event showed a moderate profit, shared between the Theatre Workshop, the scouts, the flower arrangers, the guides, the Woodclyffe Hall, Woodclyffe Hostel, Crazies Hill village hall, Hare Hatch village hall and the church.

By July 1976 it was planned that there should be another village festival in June 1977 to mark the Queen’s silver jubilee.

A special newspaper, the Wargrave Times, was produced which included the festival programme and carried a message from the Queen that she hoped it would be a “great success”.

The range of events was greater, with the event lasting over two weeks. It was also judged a financial success and by October that year the question was being asked, “When is the next festival?” It was set to become a regular biennial event.

In 1979, new ideas included a best-dressed shop window competition, a horse show and gymkhana and a Miss Wargrave competition, although that year there was a disappointing response to the latter.

Veteran actor Robert Morley headed the parade in a horse-drawn carriage, then opened the festival fete.

The basic pattern was now set for future festivals — a Wargrave Theatre Workshop production over several evenings, a flower festival, concerts, sporting activities, an event for teenagers, a grand ball on the Friday of the last weekend and village fete on the following Saturday afternoon.

The festival queen event was run again in 1981 with much more success. It was won by Lizzie French who rode in the parade with Morley.

In 1983 there was lawn mower racing as well as another gymkhana and the festival parade was again led by Morley.

Various well-known local personalities have been involved at various times — Paul Daniels opened the fete, Mary Hopkin judged a “knobbly knees” contest and Peter Davison, then performing the part of veterinary surgeon Tristan Farnon in the BBC’s All Creatures Great and Small, was one of the judges at a pet show.

In more recent times, each village festival has had a theme, reflected in the programme design, and many of the events are adapted to suit.

The Wargrave Local History Society has not only recorded the village festival but has also been actively involved with it.

Past events have included displays of historic photographs, historic village walks and antiques valuations.

For 2019, the theme is “That’s Magic!”, and the society is, of course, taking part again.

As Rev Canon Ratings said some years ago, the festival has gone from strength to strength and continues to bring all parts of the village together.

Our evening concluded with some film of the 1981 village festival and the audience recognised many familiar faces from 38 years ago.

The next meeting will be on Tuesday, April 9, when members will visit Leander Club in Henley for a tour and to hear about its 200-year history.

On Tuesday, May 14, the subject will be Wargrave churchyard excavations, when the archaeologists who carried out the exploration in early 2018 will talk about what they found and what that shows about Wargrave and its inhabitants in centuries past.

Meetings are held in the meeting room at the Old Pavilion on the recreation ground off Recreation Road, starting at 8pm.

For more information, call Mr Delaney on 0118 940 3121 or visit www.wargrave

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