The Modern Church Fete

In 1945, a far more optimistic view was taken by the Vicar and PCC when on the 2 February it was recorded:

"In view of the fact that Beeston Castle always attracted Holiday makers especially from Crewe on August Bank Holiday the vicar thought it was a pity that we did not have seize the opportunity to make a little more money for the Church by having a few stalls, etc."

In similar vein, and mindful of the austerity of life in wartime, the vicar remarked in the March Magazine:

"I trust all interested and prepared to help will get in touch with me. Even a Produce Stall with a few home-grown vegetables and some rabbits should appeal to the townspeople from Crewe."

These sentiments had the intended positive reaction and the theme continued at a PCC Meeting on 29 May:

"The vicar pointed out the desirability of reviving this Fete in support of church funds by catering for those who are annual visitors to the Beeston Castle grounds, and asked for the support of those present. Mr A Stockton [later Churchwarden from 1970 to 1985] who is a keen supporter of the project had been asked to attend as a guest. Mr Stockton volunteered to run two side shows such as darts and Corinthian bagatelle and to hold himself responsible for the prizes. Mrs Parker and Miss Woodward offered to run a fancy-work stall. It was agreed that Mrs H H Major Mrs S Richardson Mrs N Dutton and Mrs Fearnall should be asked to run a produce stall. The vicar reported that Mr Shore had already promised to take charge of the well and that Mrs G Brooks would attend with her ‘Spinning Jenny.’"

By June 1945, with the end of hostilities in Europe, the vicar was able to announce that additional Fete attractions including a Fancy Dress Stall, Children’s' Pony Rides, Draw (including pig), Darts and Hoop-La, were promised.

Thus the present-day type of Beeston Castle Fete was conceived and the Bank Holiday Fete in August 1945 yielded proceeds of over £292. The Parish Magazine of September duly reported:

"The results of the Fete exceeded our most sanguine expectations. .... The crowds that day came from all parts of the country, evidently the attractions of Beeston Castle Fete have in no way diminished. On more than one occasion extra hands had to be employed to cope with the queues that sought admission. .... I have always felt we ought to find someone of note, to open this Fete, any public spirited person that would prove himself or herself an attraction. Our bleat could be The Restoration of one of the most beautiful and historic churches in all Cheshire, and I feel confident it would be possible to secure services for the occasion of some outstanding person."

The piece concluded with grateful thanks to Mr C Ryder for the use of the field for the car-park and for permission to lay a cable from his house to the grounds and use his electric power for the radiogram.

In February 1946, the vicar high-lighted the good relationship between the Peckforton Estate and Bunbury Church, as follows:

"We do not fully realise our good fortune in being able to make use, for the benefit of church funds, of the historic ruins of Beeston Castle year after year on August Bank Holiday.. Our indebtedness to the Peckforton estate for granting us this privilege is great. .... This year again, I have secured permission to hold this fete in the grounds."

The article finished by stating that Mrs A Camm (Chair), Mr H Bourne (Secretary) and Mr T Aston (Treasurer) had been unanimously appointed to organise the 1946 Fete.

But more exciting things were to come. In a period when post-war austerity prevailed and private transport was thereby at a low ebb, much excitement was provided by Motor-Cyclists from the Nantwich Motor Club who organised a hill-climb as one of the new attractions for Beeston Castle Fete. From Fete programmes and other sources it was recorded that

"30 competitors from various clubs faced the ordeal of climbing the hill opposite Mr Winward's Farm up to the rocks above. The hill was attacked with a will hut only one man actually managed to reach the top and it was indeed a performance to make one's hair stand on end."

The piece concludes with something of an anti-climax by stating:

"The crowning of the Fete Queen was followed by those young and charming Polish dancers."

Presumably though these two genteel events took place before the Motor Cycle Hill Climb, The motor-cycle hill climb proved to be the most popular event until 1971. The period of the hill climb paralleled the post-war period of young men’s love-affairs with their motor-cycles. The coming of inherently dry conditions afforded by driving so-called cheap motor cars, such as Mini-Minors, soon saw the demise of popular motor-cycling and the end of the Beeston Fete hill-climbs. Doubtless in 1996 the conservationists would not be over keen on motor-cycle hill climbs.

In 1947 Mrs Wilson of the Beeston Castle Lodge requested the removal of the coconut mats used on the chute. As there is no mention of a chute in the two immediate post-war fetes it must be concluded that the mats dated back to before the war when the chute was a children’s attraction. Whether the chute was a helter-skelter or merely a simple slide appears to be unrecorded.

The Fete Committee in 1949 negotiated with the then Tarvin RDC for a mains water supply to he installed at the Beeston Castle fete site. This was done with the PCC paying the annual costs. Imagine the reaction of the latter-day fete organisers when this supply was out off without prior notice by the English Heritage custodians of Beeston Castle presumably with the say-so of North West Water.

The Chairman of the 1950 Fete Committee was Mr T W Steventon, with Mr L N Bulger as Secretary assisted by Mr A L Stockton and Mrs E Shore and the Treasurer was again Mr T Aston. Rather curiously Leslie Bulger held this high office for just one year, though he was to be very actively associated with the Beeston Fete for nearly 50 years.

By 1951 the Beeston Fete had become a regular event and permission was sought on an annual basis from Lord Tollemache, usually through the Agent of the Peckforton Estate. For reasons of planning and continuity, the fete committee sought to obtain the Beeston Castle facilities for future years. This was agreed to by Lord Tollemache and later written into the legal agreement with the Ministry of Works, who with their successor, English Heritage, became the custodians of the ancient castle.

The post-war fetes went from strength to strength and the proceeds increased yearly. By 1952 the profit on the day was almost £947, and the Fete Committee expressed the hope that £1,000 of their assets be devoted to the then on going Restoration of Bunbury Church, to repair the extensive bomb-damage sustained in 1940. Similarly 1953 showed a profit of £972, though the effects of continuing inflation were soon to be felt. Following very heavy rain during the morning of the 1954 fete day, the PCC were very pleased to record a days taking of £713. It was in this decade that it became necessary for the PCC to use fete proceeds merely to keep the church running as the effects of inflation on church running costs was taking its toll. This unsatisfactory state of affairs became the norm and lasted until 1989 when the traditional use of ‘extra’ fete money has been used for major projects such as church lighting, heating and fabric restoration.

In recent years the Fete has been run by an ad hoc committee and continues from strength to strength ably supported by local people and friends old and new who make Beeston Castle Fete "Their day out".

John Elsworth

 Beeston Castle 1996 (Nigel Bruce)

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