What is the fate of the fête?
PUBLISHED: 10:24 29 November 2010 | UPDATED: 16:03 20 February 2013
Does the traditional English fête have a future in Essex? Katie Waring certainly thinks so, and she finds the villages in the county with evidence to prove it
THINK of an English summer and scenes from a quintessential English fête are sure to flash across your mind. From the coconut shy to the flower show and from the beer tent to the treats baked by the WI, the traditions of an English summer fête are engrained in our psyche and something we all treasure. And nowhere is this more the case than in Essex, where the celebrations of a truly English fête are still most commonly practiced - although perhaps in increasingly uncommon ways.
Throughout the summer months villages up and down the county will see scenes of bustling village greens lined with stalls laden with homemade cakes, local produce, plants and games. But at today's fêtes it is striking how even these most ancient aspects of village life are mixing with the ways of the 21st century to create a great family day out.
Great Bentley's Village Show naturally takes place on the village's renowned green, purportedly the largest in England. Dating back to 1882, the firm foundations of the traditional village fête still remain. Discover here plant stalls and local produce, including the fiercely-contested baking competitions - a winning recipe from which Essex Life has gained exclusive access too (see right). But alongside Great Bentley's neatly-pressed Union Jack bunting, the Village Show is also home to craft demonstrations and photography stalls with more competitions to
entice visitors from the whole family.
East Hanningfield's fête also invites the family pet, with the fun dog show proving ever-popular. Demonstrating that dogs have talent too, prizes are awarded for all kinds of achievements including the dog with the waggiest tail. But fête purists will be pleased to see all the conventional stands remain at the East Hanningfield event. This year Morris dancers will
grace the grassy Grand Ring, while macho matadors can step up to
the mark for the welly throwing competition.
Clerk to the parish council, Karen Plumridge, offers her insider's advice to make the most of this fête. 'I suggest that visitors hot foot it to the cake stalls as early as possible,' says Karen. 'It's always a bit of a race to get to the cakes before they've sold out.'
It is also a good idea to mark down the date in advance and dig out your best summer outfit - East Hanningfield's fête has a talent for falling on one of the hottest days of the summer.
Weathering the storms
The village of Shalford is more cautious about the British summer, erecting a marquee beside the village hall for fear of fighting with the showers. And there is also fighting talk in the main arena as villagers take sides for the annual tug of war. Fête organiser Anna Harvey explains: 'The first tug of war was our male residents against non residents - anyone could jump on the rope wherever there was space. I'm afraid our men lost, but Shalford ladies restored pride, winning 3-0. We finished up with girls versus boys and girl power prevailed once again. One year we also had a gladiator jousting tournament, which my husband, Richard, won. Boy will we never be allowed to forget it! He's already talking about defending his title this year.'
Expect an altogether more sophisticated occasion at the historic Countess of Warwick's Country Show. Based in the grounds of Little Easton Manor, the show includes car and art exhibitions, a ploughing match and even an animal corner featuring some local alpacas. This year they're also including a scarecrow competition, with separate entries for children and adults.
On an equally grand scale, The Four Colnes Show compiles the village fêtes for the four Colnes into one event. Joining together at the recreation club grounds in Earls Colne, the show has indoor and outdoor areas. Inside the marquee, stands are filled with entries which range from photography to the freakiest vegetables. While you wander through the stalls outside, organiser Richard Curtis is sure you will appreciate the music from Bella the Keyless Dean Organ.
Little Chesterford's villege fête has changed a lot over the years. It was at one time held in the manor house garden, but it now takes place in the Meadows. 'Years ago the tug-o-war was held over the river, but due to health and safety, the event is now located in the more stable meadow,' explains Annie Roberts, chairman of the village hall committee.
The villagers have managed to retain their treasured bowling for a pig event, although the winning of an actual pig has been replaced by a more conventional prize.
Little Maplestead's historic round church is the focal point for the events of its annual fête. Organiser Mrs Sunnucks is particularly excited, as the fête will be opened by the award-winning saxophonist Tim Garland. Also look out for a chocolate fountain and putting green.
For more than 100 years the Old Rectory has been host to the Great Holland fête. This idyllic spot is filled with many stalls including 50 game stands, horse riding and a silent auction. Visitors will also enjoy the intriguingly-named games such as Roll the Pig and Hole in the Church Roof. As a proud organiser, Nickie Stack explains: 'People come from a long distance to experience a fête that's really kept its old character.'
Radwinter also tries to uphold the traditions of a quaint fête. But do take care as you are grabbing a cuddly toy after winning the raffle, you might have strayed to the unusual pet stall and be lining up a dragon lizard or picking up a real python.
At Hadstock it will be the teddy bears that are in for a fright when they are launched from a great height for the the teddy bear parachute. But don't worry, visitors can stick to tasting the best Victoria sponge.
Fête dates for 2009
• Hadstock June 20, from 2pm
• Little Maplestead July 25, from 2pm
• Great Holland August 1, from 2pm
• Four Colnes Show August 15, 1pm
• Countess of Warwick Show August 30 to 31, from 12.30pm
• Radwinter August 31, from 2pm
• Great Bentley September 5, 1.30pm
• Shalford September 5, from noon
• East Hanningfield September 12, 1pm
Great Bentley winning recipe
7 tbsp of milk
8oz (225g) plain flour
5oz (150g) of caster sugar
½ a teaspoon of mixed spice
8oz (225g) of mixed dry fruit
2 leveltsp of baking powder 5oz (150g) soft margarine/butter
1. Pre-heat the oven to 160°C
2. Prepare a 7-inch cake tin
3. Sieve the flour, baking powder and mixed spice together
4. Cream the margarine/butter and sugar until it is light and fluffy
5. Beat in the eggs, one at a time,adding a little flour with the
6. Fold in half the remaining flour and prepared mixed fruit ently until
well mixed. Then fold in half the milk. Repeat with the remaining dry
ingredients and finally fold in the remaining milk
7. Put in the prepared cake tin and smooth the top
8. Bake in the pre-heated oven for 1 ¾ to 2 hours.
9. Test before removing the cake from the oven. Leave in the tin
for 5 minutes. Turn out, remove paper and cool on a wire tray.