Village Traditions

Many villages have long standing traditions going back many years from cheese rolling, intervillage football matches (across the intervening fields with a goal in each village), well dressing and even street dancing.

At risk of missing one I would suggest Woodford has four historic traditions.

The youngest or newest is Remembrance Sunday which is a national or even international event, in which almost every settlement large or small participates, from the Cenotaph in Whitehall, London to the summit of Great Gable in Cumbria.

The others are much older events, none of which have a recorded formal start date. These three traditions are the feast and flower festival, which has evolved over many years, Mayday celebrations, and lastly the Christmas gifts for widows and pensioners from the village charity which many villages have in one form or another. Each of these are examined in detail below.

Remembrance Sunday

On Tuesday, November 11th, 1919 the village schools were closed, this being the first anniversary of the signing of the armistice, and on 11th November 1921 a two minute silence was observed in the schools. The children then sang "O God, our help in ages past". Mr Reed, the headmaster at the time, recorded that 200 handmade poppies had been sold by the older girls around the village (towards the Earl Haig Fund). 1921 was the first year there was a memorial on the village green. In 1924 on Friday 7th November poppies were given to the children in preparation for Poppy Day to be held on the following day.

Woodford Feast and Flower Festival

The origins of Woodford Feast are lost in the mists of time, however, many if not all towns and villages had a "Feast". This was usually linked to the Patronal festival of the Parish Church. Woodford Feast has always been held on the Sunday following Kettering Feast which is held on the Sunday following the Feast of St Peter and St Paul (29th June), so is usually held on the second Sunday following that date. This coincides with a visit from the "Fair" whose season is fixed by the midsummer fair at Cambridge. Usually the two events coincide.

In Victorian times the Feast was seen as a village wide celebration, and whilst the workers "kept holiday" for jus the Sunday, the school, which was closely linked to the Church closed for the whole week following "Feast Sunday", a tradition which continued until the First World War. (Summer holidays from school did not exist in this era, however, schools often closed for a period from early August until September so children could help with the harvest, finishing with the potato harvest in September. The exact dates were often weather dependent.) After the First World War the School Feast holiday was reduced to the Monday and Tuesday of Feast Week and this continued until 1965.

For the working man there were many events held at the weekend and then evenings of Feast week. In the 1870s and 1880s the late Wilf Bunning records in his memoirs that even the furnaces operated a skeleton staff for furnace men and pit men had the Monday and Tuesday off work. In the 1800's a cricket match was often held in "The Leys" field or the field on the right as one leaves the far end of the shrubbery where refreshment and beer tents would be erected and afterwards there would be dancing into the evening. Brass Band Concerts were held on the village green, a flower show was held at least once in the Rectory Gardens in 1861, public sports events and public teas. The Church would be decorated and extra services held. A fair visited the village and setup on the village green.

Pre First World War the Fair was provided by William Taylor, who in the early 1900s had one of the first Bioscope shows in the Country. This was a tented auditorium fronted by a Fairground Organ, and lit by electric light, a new invention powered by a Showman's Steam Engine. The Bioscope featured mechanical displays, live action shows, music, dancing, variety and novelty acts. William Taylor's children frequently lodged in Woodford, attended the village schools for long periods of time and even participated in the Church choir. John Taylor (son of William) joined the Essex Regiment in the First World War and was an early casualty, who is remembered on the Woodford War Memorial. William Taylor, in 1913 purchased premises in Calne (Wilts) which he fitted out as an early Cinema to which he retired and opened in 1914, coincidentally just prior to the First World War. Taylor's Show, as it was known would leave Kettering to come to Woodford and would halt in Mill Road. The fair was not allowed onto the village green until after Evensong at the Church, when a large procession headed by a brass band would lead the fair to the High Street Village Green location.Once the horse drawn caravans were in place on the green , all the horses would be put in a field at Alledge Brook for a couple of days. The Fair would open on Monday and Tuesday before leaving mid week.

On Sunday Evening Rev Davidson would open the Rectory Gardens for visitors to walk around after the Church Service. The gardens of what is now known as the old rectory reached along to the end of Church Street, and there was also a part of the garden which stretched down to the River Nene.

On the Thursday in Feast Week would be held the Sunday School Treat and Sports; a tea was provided for children in the Rectory Gardens with children seated on the lawn. Afterwards sports would be held in Days Close (The field between Church Street and Addington Road

Another well supported event was a wheelbarrow race. The race would start at the village green, head off down Thrapston Road, turning left after the ford, following the old (turnpike) road up to Mill Road and from there back to the Green. Not only was a wheelbarrow being pushed all this way but the wheelbarrow also had a man in it too, frequently in fancy dress!

Following the First World War Thurston's provided the Fair and the tradition of arriving on Sunday continued although now arriving earlier in the day. The Fair continued to open on Monday and Tuesday evenings until the mid 1960s, from when part of the fair would leave midweek, but many sideshows and the main ride would stay on until the following Sunday opening again on the Friday and Saturday evenings. Even in the 1970's the Fair caravans would park on the small green near the Dukes Arms with side shows adjacent to the living quarters. The large Ride and other sideshows would be on the main green together with a large generator wagon. The small green near the telephone box would host more living vans, the children's ride and a couple of side shows (This was the green which generally cleared mid week) Further caravans and wagons parked along the High Street, right up to the school entrance. Side shows even as late as the 1970s included Roll-a-ball, hoopla, darts games, coconut shy, hook-a-duck, goldfish stall, shooting gallery, slot machines, one arm bandits / coin machines, candy floss, donuts and ice cream stall. During the latter 20th century the caravans got larger and most of the the side stalls failed to come.

In the early 21st century despite still arriving on Feast Sunday the tradition of a Monday and Tuesday Fair was dropped with opening nights changing to Wednesday to Saturday. Various branches of the family continued attend but at the end of June 2019 the fair despite having booked the site gave notice that they would not be attending. Woodford was the last village in Northamptonshire to host a fair, and one of only half a dozen or so in the whole country and it is hoped the tradition will be resurrected in 2020.

Other smaller fairs would also visit Woodford for a day or two at other times of the year including Strudwicks and Charles Billing.  

The Flower Festival in the Church is a comparatively recent addition to the calendar, first being held in 1964. I have no date for start of the Church Fete however in 1964 the Scouts held their own Fete in mid july and there is no mention of the Church Fete. Even as late as 1967 there is no mention of a fete in the Church newsletter. Initially, the Church Fetes were held on Back Green (between Rectory Lane and Church Green). In the late 1980's the location became somewhat nomadic being held in the Churchyard, Manor House Farm, before moving to the present location on the main village greens.

Woodford Diarist

A local resident detailed some of the Feasts over his lifetime and a transcription of some of those events can be found using this link. Feasts of the past


Some sayings relating to Woodford Feast

"Feast Sunday is Second Sunday after 29th June"

As explained above Woodford Feast follows Kettering which is linked to the Feast of St Peter and Paul - 29th June

"Wet Denford - Dry Woodford"

Denford Feast was held earlier in the year and it was claimed that a wet celebration in Denford meant a dry celebration in Woodford. nb Denford Feast is a moveable Feast according to an old rhyme (Northampton Mercury 21 June 1879. - The Sunday after Trinity, come Denford Feast and dine with me". Trinity is 8 weeks afer Easter, so Denford Feast should be nine weeks after Easter)

"You can shut your doors and windows after Woodford Feast"

Following the Feast which in Victorian times ended in mid July the day length reduces by over two minutes a day so the start of darker evenings becomes more evident. Any chance of prolonged warm weather has also now past.


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Charity Gifts

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