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Incidents from Tilebury's History

Dr Harriet Longstepp

1 October

The Village Fete

All villages have fetes don't they? Ours has been at the end of summer for years. But for a long time I couldn't find any records of past fetes beyond the early sixties. That, of course, had to be wrong but there was absolutely nothing in the archives. So I went to see some of our older ladies, who had lived in the village all their lives and they told me that the fete used to be called the Cornsheaf Fayre and was held on what was called the Goat Field.

Once I had that information there was a tonne of material available. Cornsheaf Fayres were held biannually (I mean every two years) for at least a couple of centuries. They were initially held on an uncertain or varying date at midnight and only those who were specifically invited would know when it was to be held. However, they quickly moved to daytime and the whole village, and others from local villages attended.

Initially they featured speeches during the day at which the villagers claimed the right to speak freely without fear of legal repercussions. There was no defamation, no obligation to respect the king, no religious niceties and nothing to prevent any man or woman making any complaint about any thing including each other.

Obviously this was regarded as intolerably seditious and the minister and local squires were reluctant to allow it to stand. However, any effort to shut down the fayre was met with aggressive resistance. The villagers regarded this as their one annual opportunity for true freedom and defended it with everything including their own lives.

So over time, the powers-that-be changed their tactics. They started supporting the fayre. They funded entertainments and called on local peddlers and circuses to attend. Over time the fayre changed its purpose and the speeches we increasingly replaced with games and competitions.

The fayre we have today is so far from the original that it is right that it changed its name. When I attended this year and saw the candy-floss stall and the man with the ice cream bucket it seemed to me that something historic had been lost in the interests of a form of innocent fun.

That however is the nature of progress and I'm sure we all had a wonderful time.

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