The Big Slide     Walter Williamson

My earliest memories of helping at the fete go back to the late 1930’s when, under the guidance of Scoutmaster the late Mr. Arthur Shore, the Bunbury Boy Scouts were responsible for looking after the well at the top of the crag.

In those days the well was enclosed in a round building that was normally kept locked. It was unlocked on August Monday and a nominal charge - sixpence I think - was made for people to go inside the building and see the well. I recall the excitement with which we used to listen to the stories of a secret passage that was supposed to run from the bottom of the well to Beeston Hall. In reality, as far as I know, such a passage has never been discovered.

Those were the days too, of the "Big Slide"... a very long wooden chute that ( I believe ) was stored for the rest of the year at Castle Gates Farm. On August Monday the chute was set up, to run down the slope of the hill for several yards, with two ‘humps’ on it; both designed to tickle the tummies of those taking a ride, children and grown-ups alike!!

I came home from Army service at the end of 1947 and have helped in one way or another at every fete since 1948.

My first such duty ( arguably my favourite one! ) was to look after the children’s slide. Not the one I had known as a child; that was no longer in use. presumably worm eaten by then. But we borrowed another slide from somewhere in Waverton. It was constructed of a type of scaffolding and the customers climbed in a kind of ladder to reach the top. As the ‘Operator’ I sat at the top; settled each customer onto a mat; gave them a gentle push and waited for the shrieks of excitement as they made their descent. I have never reckoned myself to be a good "salesman" but that slide sold itself!! There was always a long queue of excited children, with their penny for the slide ( in "old" currency ).

Another side-show I ran for a few years was the "Win-a-car". This had been designed and constructed by the then Vicar, Canon Maurice Ridgway. The idea was to send a car from one end of the board to the other so that when it reached the far end, it went, hopefully, through one or the (very narrow!) spaces, into a "Garage". Most of them hit the bits between the Garage openings so it was not too easy to ‘garage’ your car. The prize for doing so was a toy car. ( A ‘Dinky’ toy I presume ).

I spent a few years helping on the Car Park. Originally a parking charge was made so that money had to be collected. However, with the passing of the years, as the Admission charges for the Castle rose and rose, the Fete Committee eventually decided as a "goodwill" gesture, to abolish Car Parking charges. We have always used fields belonging to Mr. Ryder of Castle Gates Farm. Without that facility, parking would be chaotic, since "No Parking" cones are usually placed by the Police all round the outside of the Castle walls on August Monday.

For many years Mary and I organised the Tombola Stall, by accumulating the necessary prizes; labelling them with ‘lucky numbers’ and setting up the stall. The running of the stall ‘on the day’ was undertaken by Mr. and Mrs. Hawes...they were not parishioners; they came from the Norley area...but they had been doing this since the days of Maurice Ridgway as Vicar, and continued until the early 1990’s.

Side by side with "Tombola", Mary and I have organised the Grand Prize Draw since 1981, as well as "Pick a Straw". The latter does not make a lot of money but is very popular with the youngsters, so we have always felt it was worthwhile.

For some years after World War II, the fete was associated with the "Beeston Castle Hill Climb". Perhaps in those days, that was the biggest attraction for some folks. It was organised by the Nantwich Motor Cycle Club and drew riders from far and wide. A swath of bracken, several yards wide, was cut away up the side of the hill which faces Mr. Geoffrey Winward’s farm

The rider who could make his way without stopping, right to the top of the course, was the winner. As I recall it the rider’s feet were not allowed to touch the ground once he had set off, otherwise that was counted as his "distance".

Derek ("Blaster") Bates, the well known demolition expert, gives a very amusing account (if somewhat Anglo-Saxon language) of his experiences of the "Hill Climb", for, to improve his chances, he reputedly fastened some home made rockets to his motor cycle. On taking off, his machine did exactly that!! - leaving him with some nasty leg burns.

Gone now, are the days of the "Greasy Pole"...gone too, are the days of pillow fighting on a pole...the ladies "ankle" competitions and the men’s "knobbly knees" competitions. Gone too, is the "Dancing Ground"...a flat piece of ground near the top of the castle. Years ago, the sports were held there, Today it is all overgrown.

In 1978 I made an audio tape of that year’s fete; talking with many of the helpers and visitors; getting their impressions. Sadly, some of those people are no longer with us, - notably Leslie Bulger ("Saint" Leslie as one of our Vicars affectionately referred to him).

Certainly, no account of Beeston Castle Fete would be complete without a mention of Leslie Bulger. For so many years, he (together with Timothy Atkins) was a real "Back Room Boy" as far as fete organisation went. If you needed a tool of any description, Leslie would go to his car and bring you one. If you wanted anything from string to tin tacks to plastic sheeting, Leslie would produce it for you. He spent days and days before each fete, cutting back bracken etc., and DIGGING OUT LATRINES! He was always the first to arrive and the last to leave ‘on the day’...and he would spend days after the fete, ensuring all was restored to a good state of tidiness. I don’t suppose many of our visitors would have seen much of Leslie, or indeed, would have been aware of his contribution; but that was the way he liked things to be! To work as he did, into his nineties, was a wonderful record and achievement!!

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