The Village Feast
Shortly after the Second World War, a local newspaper bemoaned the disappearance of ‘feast days:’
The age-old custom of the ‘club’ or ‘feast day’ in village life is fast becoming extinct and there are now few villages which observe these occasions. Older people can remember when such annual celebrations were held in almost every village in the neighbourhood, but one by one in the last half-century they have disappeared. (Bicester Advertiser, 6 June 1947)
A hundred years earlier, every village in the neighbourhood held an annual feast. Most were held after the harvest, though some were held in the summer months. Many feasts had their origins in village ‘friendly societies,’ which supported members in times of hardship or illness; these societies, or ‘clubs,’ would periodically share out any surpluses and sponsor an annual feast or club day. (It is not known whether Finmere Feast was sponsored by a Friendly Society.) In Tingewick, the Crown Union Friendly Society, founded in 1845, and White Hart Union Friendly Society, founded in 1874, sponsored the club days; both were named after the public houses at which they were based. Finmere school children were given full or half-day holidays to attend Tingewick Club in June and the more commercial Tingewick Feast in August.
Finmere Feast was initially held on the second Monday and Tuesday of October. School pupils were given two days holiday for the Feast until 1898, and a single or a half-day holiday was given until 1915.
Finmere. The Annual Feast was held on Monday last and the attendance of holidayists surpassed that of previous years. There was an abundance of stalls, etc., and the dancing booths especially appeared to do a good trade. The weather was fine, thereby considerably enhancing the enjoyment of the villagers. (Buckingham Advertiser, 18 October 1879)
In 1893, the Cricket Club provided the impetus for the event.
The Annual Feast of this village was celebrated on Monday October 16, and thanks chiefly to the Committee of the Cricket Club, the day was of a very enjoyable description. Though somewhat late in the season, it was decided to play the closing game on the Feast Day, which took the form of Eleven v. Twenty-two… After a very pleasant game, which was witnessed by a large number of spectators, the twenty two scored an easy victory… At the conclusion of the game, the players retired to a large granary kindly let by Mr Keen, where a capital spread was provided by Mr and Mrs J. Shaw [of the Kings Head]. Nearly 40 sat down…
Later in the evening, a successful smoking concert was held in the same room…There was a large attendance, and a plentiful supply of good songs and singers… The following evening, Tuesday, a dance was held on behalf of the club… It is mainly owing to [the energy of Mr Keen] that the match, concert and dance proved so successful in all ways. The usual feast accompaniments were present in large numbers, and the feast was one of the best held for some years. (Buckingham Advertiser, 21 October 1893)
Sometimes, the villagers enjoyed themselves too much. In 1899, Finmere labourer William Venstone was fined 1 shilling with 8 shillings costs for being drunk and disorderly outside the Kings Head on the night of the Feast.
Finmere Village Feast continued until 1915, when the pressures and shortages of the First World War led to it being suspended. It was not resumed after the war.
Alf Lepper recalled Finmere Feast for a 1971 radio broadcast:
We used to have a good do… Finmere Feast, the first Sunday after the 11th of October, when there was a fair [that] used to call and we had all sorts of celebrations like the greasy pole and the leg of mutton on the top… At the [Kings Head] pub now, when they dig the garden, they still dig up… some of the old coins that were lost during the fair. (Hello Finmere, BBC, 13 June 1971)
In 1857, the Buckingham Advertiser moaned:
On the occasion of those annual affairs called ‘Feasts’ but are in reality times when drunkenness and all the sensual passions are allowed unlimited scope, there is almost invariably something for the magistrates to do…