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Letter to the Northants Advertiser, July 1960

Feasts meant fun, not fights -
in the days gone by

Although this letter to the local free paper was prompted by a previous article on Kettering Feast and is fcised on Kettering, it is reproduced here because it mentions a number of Burton people who were 'show-folk', and also gives an insight into fairs and feasts in a bygone age

Your report on Mr. John Mills’ twenty third wedding anniversary (“Advertiser”, July 8) and Mr. John Thurston’s 65th anniversary at Kettering Feast, reminds me that Kettering has played a big part in the annals of the show-folk.

Not only were Mr. Mills and Mr.Thurston born on the Northampton Road Feast Ground, but Mr. Norman and others were.

Mr. John W. Harris, who was a well-known business man in Kettering and is now a councillor at Hunstanton was also born here.  He is a past chairman of the Showmen’s Guild.

Then there was Tommie Essam – a favourite showman all over the district and a committee member of the Showmen’s Guild.

Hr. Harry Wright of Stamford Road was treasurer to the Guild and Mr. Bill Rabbitt, one time secretary, was also a native of Kettering.  “Bazza” Bates was another.  He lived in Catesby Street.

And at nearby Burton Latimer there were (and still are) the Strudwick family, pioneers of the old fashioned dobby horses and family fairs.

There was also Jack Woods a great favourite in his day with his skittle board and his popular shout:” One for seven and three for nine, my lads”. (One measure of nuts for seven skittles down and three measures for a “stack up”). He also had swings and stalls.

Jack had three sons: “Georgey”, killed in World War One; Johnny, died at Burton Latimer; and Henry, still living at Burton Latimer.

Then there were the Hoods also of Burton.

In addition a number of famous showmen and showwomen are buried in the quiet churchyard at Burton – many of whom lived in various locations in the town during the last war.

All these good people were pioneers in the success of Rothwell fair, Desborough Feast, Cranford, Finedon, Irthlingborough, Rockingham Flower Show and a host of village feasts all round.

They were happy, carefree affairs – family affairs almost – where everybody was friendly and there the smell of sawdust and naptha flares, the clang of balls against iron plates, the shrieks of girls as their “gallant Swains” took the swing boats higher and higher and the tons of confetti, water squirts and teasers, all meant good fun.

And who remembers “Sausage Hannah” the dear old lady with her “sausage and bread a penny, my dears”; all steaming hot and really good to eat?

And those big sweet stalls with their “gilt” gingerbreads, fair rock and brandy snap presented by Mrs. Suett of Wigston and Bromwicks of Leicester; the “penalty kicks” the “French Nougat” man and the sarsaparilla bar just inside the gate.

Joe Lowe’s Nonpariel horses from Paris – drawn by a pony whose journeyings round and round as it pulled the roundabout on its endless journeys were all favourites at Kettering Feast.

Then, above all, those two massive cinema shows, Charles Thurston’s and William Taylor’s both a delight to behold with their mighty, magnificent organs and wonderfully carved fronts and staircase.

Each had troupes of dancing girls and clowns on the outside “parade” and there were great rows of electric arc lamps and thousand of smaller lights on the organs – all for “adults 2d. children 1d”  Alongside were those massive steam engineers.

We of the older generation could tell the young ‘uns a good deal about the joy of the old feast.

In those days there was no cause for the newspapers to headline, “Fairs and Fights” as was the case with the “Advertiser”.

There were, of course, always a few who would like to have started something, but it did not get far.

It is not the fault of the showmen – they have enough to do to look after earning their living. I think it can be summed up in one of the late Tommy Essam’s big notices: “My best advertisement is a satisfied customer”.

But it isn’t quite the same today, is it?

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