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Monday, September 21, 2015

Garden Fêtes and Other Events

Returning to things I remember about living in Cardington as I grew up, one of the biggest events of the year had to possibly be the annual church garden fête. It was held in order to raise money to keep the village church St Mary's maintained. We lived at Malting Farm, the large red-brick Georgian house immediately opposite the church and owned by the Whitbread estate. So the church played a fairly major part in not only ours but the whole village life. The bells contained within the tower stuck regularly, every hour and quarter-hour as well as being rung on many a weekend for weddings and other events. You certainly knew it when they rung and living directly opposite you got the full force of their chiming. I'm of the opinion that bells are best heard rung from a distance of several miles and not within only a few yards.

The fête was usually held in the month of July in the garden of Howard House, owned and lived in at the time by Humphrey Whitbread. This is found immediately behind St Mary's church, and is a quite beautiful building which has extensive grounds and gardens, the ideal location for a garden fête. Virtually everyone in the village became involved in the fête in some way or other, running a stall, setting up a raffle, making cakes for either a stall or the catering tent, making posies to sell on the stall my mother ran, the fruit and vegetables stall or in any other way. There were donkey rides, ice creams, fizzy drinks, a tumble, bric-a-brac, white elephant (to this day I have no idea why that stall was referred to as the 'white elephant' stall. Having now Googled the team it means 'something which cost a lot of money but has no useful purpose' which may or may not be correct as most of the stuff sold on this particular stall was little more than junk. I suppose it gave people a reason to dispose of items that they had stored in either their loft or garage and wanted to give to the fête so that it would, hopefully, be sold and the money raised put to good use. Being a farm we must have provided quite a lot of the vegetables for my mother's stall. My father grew potatoes as well as Brussels sprouts on the farm and I imagine people around the village also provided other produce. One of the other things that were sold were button-holes made up of sweet william flowers grown in the garden of Malting Farm and sold on a tray around the gardens of Howard House.

Of course weather was vital to the success or otherwise of the  fête. Usually the weather would behave itself and be sunny and warm, but on one occasion I recall the weather was awful and rained incessantly so the entire fête was moved lock stock and barrel to the Howard Reading Room further up the village. I can't think how much effort would be used to move everything and whether this happened on the morning of the Saturday of the fête.

I remember a somewhat embarrassing happening when my grandmother had the honour of opening the event one year. She had entered the raffle and one of the prizes was a very elaborate, iced cake. My grandmother, having been the lady-opener that year was also tasked with drawing this raffle and she won the cake! Many mutterings no doubt amongst residents of the village that no doubt the fact that she had won was rigged. I know it seemed to cause a certain amount of embarrassment, the fact that she'd drawn her own winning ticket.

The Whitbreads, who were the owners of the Cardington Estate, and owners of Malting Farm, used to provide a rather lavish Christmas party for the children of some of the tenants of the village and this was held at Howard House. I believe this party was presided over by Humphrey Whitbread's mother, a very elderly lady. Humphrey was an avid collector of antique furniture and so the house was filled with much of this, presumably, priceless furniture and other amazing items, so how on earth they could allow a hoard of very young children to run amok in that beautiful house I cannot think. Humphrey was a director to the brewing family and was renowned for his very flamboyant checked bespoke suits. He seemed to keep very much to himself although he did come to services at St Mary's Church. He died in 2000 aged 88.

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