Aldbourne Feast, Revels & Rural Sports

Formula for the Aldbourne Feast Fair – the first Monday after the first Sunday after Mary Magdalene Day

Since the Olympics should have started this week, and George Scarrott & Sons Family Fun Fair are here in the village, it seems appropriate to dip into how Aldbourne has celebrated Feast. This is by no means an exhaustive study, so if anyone has any questions or information to add I’d be delighted to hear from you.

Maurice Crane’s ‘”Aldbourne Chronicle” (1974). “The Council of Oxford ordered all parishes to keep Feast on their Saint’s Day (in 1222).” Mr Crane’s time-line gives 1460 as the date when the present tower was built by Richard Goddard, the church remodelled and dedicated to St Michael.

22 July is the Feast Day of St Mary Magdalene. A quick dip into ‘Heart of a Village’ by Ida Gandy (1975) tells us that “Aldbourne Feast has always been held within the octave of Mary Magdalen.” In these interesting times, George Scarrott and the Aldbourne Parish Council have worked together to bring a fair for Feast on the 27 and 28 July 2020.

Mrs Miriam Orchard (nee Barrett) was born in February 1836 at Stock Lane, Aldbourne. An article appeared in the Evening Advertiser to celebrate the occasion of her 100th birthday.

About the only opportunity of organised amusement when she was a young girl, was Aldbourne Feast, and she spoke of seeing men ‘backswording’; which meant that they fought with sticks, and the one who first drew blood was declared the winner. This sanguinary spectacle used to be presented on a stage against the Town Pond.

Evening Advertiser 27 November 1936 – British Newspaper Archive

The next snippet of news I’ve gathered that mentions Feast (and backswording), is from 1853; whilst the writer appears to deplore the blood thirsty ‘relic’ of single stick, the conclusion of the article does seem to show a regard for the participants inferred ‘indomitable pluck and fearless courage’.

We observe that one of the relics of, if not the middle, certainly of the dark ages, is still kept alive at Aldbourn, where a revel was held on Monday and Tuesday last, at which, according to the published handbill, single stick was to be played.

Berkshire Chronicle 30 July 1853 – Find My Past

It looks as though by 1895 the ‘Aldbourne Revel’ was a much more gentle occasion; with family re-unions on the Sunday and ‘on Monday the village bore the aspect of a large fancy fair. There were two large steam roundabouts, swingboats, coconut alley and stalls, and shooting galleries in abundance.’ Athletic endeavours seem to have replaced single stick, with foot races for boys and men held at Liddington Warren ‘an open and healthy spot’. There was also horse racing, betting and prizes (which I think also may have been the main attraction of the single stick fighting!). In the Reading Mercury 3 August 1895, there is mention of the ‘Aldbourne Cup, value 8 guineas, for horses of any height’.

1906, Feast on the Square, APC 12 – Aldbourne Civic Society

It may well be that the Fairground in this photo was George Scarrott’s established in 1894.

In 1919, having lapsed during the war, the Aldbourne Feast was revived with much success on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday at the end of July. Sports, fete, a fancy dress Whist Drive alongside ‘the usual fairground amusements’. There was a fleeting, almost wistful, reference to the old tradition of backswording. I think the press missed the opportunity to recount such a blood thirsty story line, even after the carnage of war. Otherwise, the exciting character of the sports for villagers and the surrounding hamlets received much praise, including tug-of war (which in 1919 was won by a team from Upham).


An interesting survey of the history of Aldbourne Feast, and of the spirit underlying the movement for the erection of a Memorial Hall, was given by Mrs Currie in opening the garden fete and Bazaar

The proceeds of all the efforts go to swell the purpose of building a Village Hall, in memory of the men of Aldbourne who gave their lives in the war. About £720 had been raised for this purpose prior to the Feast.

North Wilts Herald 1 August 1919 – Find My Past

It was interesting to see that Scarrott’s traditional fairground organ (built in the early 1920s) was in attendance at the 2020 Feast; I wonder when it was last in the village to accompany the chair-planes prior to 1940.

Miss Muriel Foster used to treat the village children to a ride on the chair planes; an annual arrangement with George Scarrott. Very fondly remembered by many, many Dabchicks. You only have to ask the question ‘who remembers Miss Foster’ at a Heritage Group meeting and half the hands in the room go up – happy days!

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