Prior to the advent of television, country people especially, had to create their own amusement and in this chapter I would like to recall a few memories concerning Feltwell activities during the first forty years of this century.
First, let me put you "in the picture"; because Feltwell has since been denuded of many of its trees, it is no longer as pretty as it was then. It can be made more attractive for the future if those who have the space, particularly in their front gardens and along the roadside, would plant a tree or two occasionally.
Some villagers will remember the avenues along Lodge Road, The Beck and Short Lane, the trees along one side of the Western Close and Wilton Road, the elms in the yard of the "big" school and the glory of the Rectory Woods before they were thinned out. It was a sad day for me when the elms along the West wall of St. Nicholas' churchyard were felled and both to fill the gap and to commemorate the birth of our daughter (in 1964) my wife and I planted three silver birches and a copper beech in their place.
Mains electricity did not reach the village until 1935 and the daily chores included trimming, cleaning and filling of oil lamps, stoves and ovens. Despite this Feltwell was not behind the times in street lighting for in 1895 27 new oil lamps of 45 candle-power were ordered. Mr. Greenfield Cock, one of our wheelwrights, was instructed to provide some of the oak posts and the iron frames and ladder-rests were made by Mr. R. W. Johnson, one of the blacksmiths. By 1901 there were 36 street lamps, in Feltwell and if you search carefully you will still be able to find at least 10 of the lamp-brackets and some of the posts. One bracket disappeared in September 1970 when the high wall of South Hall was demolished. Mr. Harry Pryer was the last lamp-lighter.
Now, to the amusements - we had no Bingo but there were plenty of regular Whist Drives, Dances and Social Evenings - now and again there were Village Concerts in either the Y.M.C.A. Hut in Fair Close or the Coronation (1911) Hall. This hall also served as the Rex Cinema for many years but before that time I remember many a pleasant evening when a travelling cinema visited the same building once weekly. Every time the film broke a salvo of torches flashed on the screen and the operator was urged from all over the hall to get a move on. Ten public houses kept busy - the number has gradually dwindled to three - and many a "sing-song" was enjoyed in the pubs or, as I recall, in the comfort of one's own home. Until about 1912 the Annual Club Feast provided a whole day of festivity and sports.
The Nursing Association, the British Legion and the Church all ran their Annual Garden Fetes. The British Legion fetes were held on the Naked Close or "Starnacre", then in the park of South Hall while the Church Fetes, before they were held at Beck House, were always held in the lovely grounds of the (Old) Rectory.
There were Bowling Greens at the Cock Inn, Roseneath (later taken over by the Oak Hotel) and a large one at Lawn House. There were tennis courts at Lawn House, The (Old) Rectory, Manor Farm, Short Lane and Commerce House. (Short Beck - destroyed by fire c. 1935)
Once the harvest had been gathered in there were, in the old days, Harvest Suppers, or "Horkeys", followed by Harvest Festivals in the Church and the two Chapels. I well remember the sales of the harvest gifts where the Churchwardens, J. H. Fassnidge (headmaster) and Francis E. Rudland (farmer), acted as auctioneers. We children were allowed to attend and invariably suffered the next day through eating a surfeit of fruit.
Extra police had to be drafted in every Saturday night to keep the peace when the "weekly hop" took place at the rear of the Bell Inn (The licence was withdrawn prior to 27/4/1914 when the property was purchased by Mr. William Wing. ). Feltwell Enterprise Band and choirs from both Chapels and the Church used to tour the streets at Christmas playing and singing carols beneath their swinging lanterns.
On Valentine's Day, the local bakers used to heat up coppers in their ovens to throw them into the street when the children sang "Good Morning Valentine". Perhaps the busiest month, certainly the noisiest, was November. It got off to a good start with the explosions of fireworks and on the night of the Fifth the whole village was ablaze with bonfires. Armistice Day was always the 11th, when the massive Church of St. Mary's was packed for the evening Service of Remembrance. Major Swann usually called the Roll of Honour and my father played the Last Post from the gallery.
A week or so later, children would gaze with gathering excitement as great lorries with trailers and caravans converged on Fair Close. During the evenings of the 20th and 21st, the eardrums would suffer as the raucous music of the roundabouts, Wall of Death, cakewalks, dodgems, etc., suddenly rent the peaceful country air.
Mr. Walter Beamis once told me of a wedding which took place at fair-time about 1900, between two young people from well-known families of showmen. Walter was in the Bell Inn, where the reception took place, when the father of the bride or groom placed on the table a pint pot-full to the brim with sovereigns-as a wedding present.
So far, I have been able to trace Feltwell Fair back to 1287 by which time it had become an established custom-as had the weekly market, held on Mondays. In 1287, Robert de Kokefield claimed to hold a three-day fair "on the Vigil, the day and the day after the Feast of St. Nicholas" but the Bishop of Ely and one of Robert's forebears both claimed to hold a weekly market as early as 1204.
In front of the West Door of St. Mary's Church is a (now enclosed) plot of land on which fairs were held and it has been said that during the incumbency of Rev. Sparke (1831-1879) he had the venue changed to Fair Close. Fairs and markets were often held close to the churches and it is more than likely that in the dim past they were held on the Village Green near St. Nicholas' Church. During the reign of Henry III (1216-1272) the holding of Fairs in churchyards (and on Sundays) was prohibited and in any case Fair Close meadow bore this name on a map in my possession dated 1771
For several years, there has been no Feltwell Fair on the proper dates (20th and 21st November) but there have been occasional fairs, albeit small ones, on odd occasions. I remember one several years ago on Barretts Close at the rear of the Almshouses and one, in 1969, on the Playing Field.
Alas, these modern fairs are but a shadow of their predecessors. One thing which has gone out of fashion (perhaps fortunately!) is the water squirt - like a tooth-paste tube, which, when squeezed, ejected a stream of ice-cold water into the face or neck of the recipient, who, in mid-November, was not amused.
In an area abounding with game, there are many tales told in Feltwell concerning poachers who used to wait in the pubs, all night if necessary, until "the moon was right". Until the onslaught of myxamatosis, the rabbits around Feltwell were reckoned to be the best in the land and it grieves me to have to include that delicious country dish - a rabbit pie - in a chapter headed "Reminiscences".
One country pursuit which seems to be on its way out is the Coursing Match. The Feltwell Coursing Matches were held on the Heath every year on the two days following Christmas. As the last of these took place over twenty years ago and we may never see another, I will explain briefly what was involved. On each of these mornings a line of beaters was strung out along Wilton Road and these men, armed with sticks, then walked slowly over the land, driving hares eastwards up to the Heath where the hares were guided into a wire-netting enclosure.
Once the match started a hare was released and simultaneously two dogs were "slipped". The hare was chased by the dogs until it either got away or was caught, while the judges in their colourful "pinks" rode horse-back. This was a very popular sport, lots of money changed hands and large crowds were drawn from a very wide area.
The beaters were paid 7/6 - 10/- each for about two hours work, whereas, when beating or "brushing" for a shoot, they received for a whole tiring day's work, 5/-, half a loaf of bread, half a pound of cheese and a bottle of beer.
I well remember in the 1920's and 1930's the Town Crier, John W. Willett, touring the village with his large hand-bell and shouting " OYEZ! OYEZ! before announcing forthcoming events of any importance. We lads were always pleased to hear the announcement of a Pot Auction.
During the afternoon of the event, one John Lee and family would arrive on the green outside the (old) Chequers Inn and attractively arrange their wares masses of china, pottery, etc. ornaments, dinner and tea services, wash-stand sets and even chamber-pots. The crowd would begin to assemble at dusk while John's family were preparing their lamps. Metal stakes were driven into the ground round the piles of crockery and from the stakes were hung the naphthalene flares. These were tapering canisters with an up-turned tube at the base. The tube ended in a nozzle from which, under pressure, belched forth bright roaring flames whose light flickered on, perhaps two hundred shining faces.
By about 10 p.m. families, loaded with their bargains, would begin straggling homewards - sometimes one would hear - a father's reprimand as, perhaps, a plate slipped with a crash from a tired little hand. Occasionally during the auction, there was a commotion - running feet, shouting and swearing - as the odd stone was lobbed over the heads of the crowd into the middle of John's wares.
The late Mr. Samuel Lambert once told the story of another, less pleasant, event which used to take place around the end of the 19th Century. At infrequent intervals a covered wagon, no doubt suitably heralded by the Town Crier, used to crunch its way through the gritted village streets to the Chequers Hill. While the horses were left to graze nearby, the tailboard was lowered into a horizontal position and on this sat a gentleman, remembered only as "The Drummer". Behind him, the canvas flaps were unfurled and steps were placed against the. tail-board to permit shaky access to the interior of the wagon. Inside, the travelling dentist attended to all-comers and it was the duty of the drummer to listen carefully, then, at the crucial moment, to beat a loud tattoo on his drum and so discourage potential patients from returning home without his master's attention.
I remember shire horses being bred at the rear of the (old) Chequers Inn. and Katie Crapp and her brother Freddie of Hill House taking their mules out for a morning gallop. Mr. Arthur Heading (born 1887) remembers a family named Wade (living at "The Woodlands", Bell Street and at Shrub Hill) who kept hunters. One of these horses had had a tracheotomy and had a tube, plated with either silver or chromium, in its throat, fixed to a plate on its chest. He remembers the awful noise this tube made when the horse was galloping.
My mother has often mentioned the German Bands, sometimes accompanied by a dancing bear, parading the streets before World War 1. When I was a lad, all sorts of games were played in the streets marbles, hop-scotch, rounders, cricket, etc. There is too much traffic for this today but where are the whipping-tops and the metal hoops with which we used to race? If the children of the 1970's play with such things I have not seen them. Where are the home-made kites, catapults and slings? Scissor-grinders, hurdy-gurdies (with a monkey collecting coppers in a tin) and the rag-and-bone man who, in exchange for a pile of old clothes, would place a jam-jar containing a minute goldfish into eager little hands with as much benevolence as if it were a handful of sovereigns - all seem to have disappeared.
Gone, too, are the sounds and smells which emanated from the blacksmith's traverse, the steady clip-clop of horse's hoofs as they set off to work at crack of dawn, returning through the streets late in the afternoon - cattle and sheep being driven through the village to fresh pastures - long lines of hurdles with squeaking wheels being drawn along the road to make a new fold. Sometimes straw was strewn in the streets outside a certain house. This meant that inside the house someone was desperately ill and the straw deadened the sound of iron clad wheels crunching over the grit on the village street.
Now and again we had the pleasure of watching the horses and other animals at a travelling circus - the last one I remember in Feltwell was held on the meadow of the (now demolished) Cock Inn where we lads used to feast ourselves on the fruit of a 500 year old mulberry tree.
Many years ago a horseman who was considered to be "a bit light ", was returning home at dusk astride his horse. One of his mates decided to give him a fright and concealed himself on the grass verge outside St. Nicholas' Churchyard behind the wall of Glebe Farm. At the appropriate moment the "ghost" emerged, suitably shrouded and wailing softly. Unfortunately for him, the horseman was carrying over his shoulder a sack of horse-shoes and with a suitable oath, he swung this at the head of the "ghost" and almost sent him (back) to the grave.
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