The galloping vicar, roast duck for Sunday lunch and catching a pig (mostly greased) - memories from Soham Feast of 100 years ago
- Credit: Archant
In the early years of the twentieth century before the coming of the welfare state, one of the biggest social events of the year in Ely and Soham was the hospital parade raising money for Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge and its convalescent home at Hunstanton.
The local friendly societies with their colourful banners were on parade, with the band and a float depicting a hospital scene.
The ladies tried to have a new bonnet or dress up an old one with some ribbon and everyone made it a date in their calendar which was not before June 18 or later than June 24.
Both Blanche Looker (1899-1983) and Lily Howe (1912-1983) recalled the Soham Feast.
Blanche Looker left a memory of Soham Feast Sunday Parade:
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‘What a day! Everyone out in their best clothes and the mounting excitement as the time for the Parade drew near, When I could hear the sound of the bands and they marched into view, my cup of joy was full’.
Soham has a proud band tradition. In the early years of the century Soham had two bands – Excelsior and Town. In 1921 they merged to form the Soham Comrades under legendary conductor Frederick Talbot. Such was the fame of the Comrades Band that in 1938 they made two national broadcasts from Broadcasting House in London.
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‘Then came the glorious colours in the banners of the various clubs being held aloft and the shining brass helmets of the Fire Brigade. There was a decorated farm waggon representing a ward of Addenbrooke’s complete with a little bed and its patient and nurses.
After that there was the feast and the sports to look forward to. There was the music from the organ on the galloping horses and all the excitement of seeing so many people enjoying themselves. In the evening the band played for dancing on an improvised platform. It was magic!’
The late Jack Boyce, well known as a nurseryman and seedsman in Soham, wrote about his recollections of the Feast for the Soham parish magazine in 1974: ‘The feast jollifications lasted for a whole week. The grand parade on the Sunday was led by the parade marshall.
‘For many years this privilege was held by Mr Harry Townsend, a fine figure dressed in the full-dress uniform of the captain of the parish fire brigade.
His massive ‘gold’ helmet catching the rays of the summer sun and making a focal point at the head of the procession.
Others recall with pleasure the Revd Kingdom, for many years vicar of Prickwillow. He galloped across the fens on horseback, no carriage and pair for him, joined the marchers at the Shade School and led them to the parish church where he preached some powerful sermons for several successive years.
There are still many of the older Soham residents who take great pains to keep up the old tradition of new potatoes and fresh green peas from their own gardens for mid-day meal on Soham Feast Sunday. They are usually eaten with duck.’
Lily Howe recalled: This was the one time of the year when housewives went mad spring cleaning and lace curtains were all freshly washed and starched.
Men white washed the outside of cottages, spruced up the flower beds and no gardener worth his salt would fail to produce new potatoes and green peas, a bait of each for Soham Feast Sunday dinner, plus the luxury of the year – strawberries for tea.
In fact, there was a general tidy up all in time for Feast Sunday, when friends and relatives arrived by horse drawn vehicle or bicycle from miles around to stay for tea after the parade.
Lastly, but most important as far as the females were concerned, this was the time of year when if at all, new clothes were made or bought. A new hat was a must, big brim, roses and veiling, ribbons in profusion. Children were decked out likewise with new shoes, embroidered dresses, sashes and the like.
After the hospital Sunday parade there followed two or three days of sports, one included a special band sports day. All manner of games were played: there was a game of big ‘push ball’,
cycle races, walking and running races and children’s races. There were pillow fights on a greasy pole, tug-of-war matches and carrying a brick in
one hand the longest distance.
There were donkey races, catching a pig (mostly greased), bowling for a pig, potato picking – this is where the land women scored, they could fill their basket in a jiffy – and stalls of every kind.
Thurston’s roundabouts were there with swing boats and the like. The highlight was dancing to the band in an enclosure of hurdles. This is where some young folks met their fate!