A History of the revived Newburgh Fair – from the Fair Programme 2017
1977. Forty years ago. The average house price in England was £13,650. A litre of petrol cost 17 pence, although we bought it by the gallon. It was the year Elvis Presley died. Red Rum won the Grand National for the third time. Liverpool won the Champions’ League for the tenth time. Disco dancing was beginning to catch on. Hotpants, ABBA and platform shoes were popular. Star Wars had just been released and Jim Callaghan was Prime Minister.
The Queen’s Silver Jubilee year. All over England preparations were in place to celebrate. Newburgh was no different. Rev Douglas Bell, the Vicar, had the vision which revived the ancient village Fair for the Jubilee. The Newburgh Fair Committee was a cross-section of the whole community and started fundraising. 28 May, a scorching hot day, saw the whole village turn out at 10.45 am for a procession which included floats from every street, road and lane. Geoff Cowap was the first Chair of the Committee, Karen Buckle was the first Rose Queen and the Fair was opened by Paul Ridgeway, a local entertainer. A Ploughman’s Lunch was served on the field and the afternoon’s events included a children’s pet competition, maypole dancing and a Tug of War.
Geoff recalled the tension. ‘I sat in a caravan (the office) on the school field counting the pennies as they came in and jumping for joy when we finally totalled enough to cover the cost of the marquee and the live 5-piece dance band’ (Tickets £1.50 or £1 if you paid in advance).
And of course it was too great a success to be forgotten. The tradition had been revived. The Committee were on a high and couldn’t resist doing it again. And again! And again!
For the next few years a number of celebrities opened the Fair including Keith Chegwin, Ken Dodd and rugby star Mike Sleman. The themes were varied – Newburgh 1678, Children of the World, the Olympic Games, English Literature, the World of Television.in 1991. Later on the celebrities were more local.
Dancing became part of the Fair at an early stage, with Gillian Wood training the girls’ Morris team and Maypole Dancers. Newburgh Morris first appeared in the procession in 1991 and there have been Ceilidhs and dances over the years.
In 1983 the Fair Committee took a well earned rest and for the next few years Douglas Valley Lions Club took over the running of the Fair. Mervyn Saunders and Bernie Smith were described as ‘the voice and the spark’ of the Fair for many years, as Mervyn compered the crowning of the Queen and Bernie ensured everything ran smoothly.
In 1992 the Lions handed back the running of the Fair to the village and Sue Vickers took over as Chair. In 1994 the Fair was opened by Mr and Mrs Aurand, representing our twin town Newburgh, Indiana, and the Fair raised money towards a much needed new school roof.
1996 saw the first Craft and Flower Show, enlarged later to include photography and cookery …. and the Fair was opened by Doris Vickers, the lollipop lady, representing the theme ‘Our Village’.
2002 marked a Silver Jubilee for the Fair and a Golden Jubilee for the Queen. Kim Dean led a Committee that organised events over 6 days, for the first time. They included a Ladies’ Evening, Sportsman’s Evening, Children’s Disco, Ceilidh, Family Talent Show, Summer Ball, Songs of Praise and a Newburgh WI Evening with guest speaker Mr Walton, father of the then famous sextuplets!
In 2004 the village commemorated the 700th anniversary of its foundation and the medieval theme for the Fair was highlighted in the procession, the Medieval Banquet and Ball with minstrels and dancing. The events during the week included a Celebration of the Life of Newburgh Village in words and music with a specially commissioned piece for an instrumental group.
Tansi Hunt took over from Kim as Chair and Hazel Flight followed Carolyn Hall in 2006. In 2009 the new village playground was opened as part of the Fair celebrations and in 2012 the village marked the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the Olympic Games with a ‘Best of British’ theme.
2016 was a year of change. Hazel Flight handed over to Fiona Casey and a new Chair ensured that the Fair continued. Village organisations came together as they had in 1977 to share the responsibilities and enjoyment of preparing for the week’s entertainments.
Fair programmes and photographs from past years show a continuity that reflects village life. Newburgh’s Got Talent evening featured local performers of all ages and was hugely popular. Ladies’ Night still attracts a full house every year. The evening dance at £1.50 has become a Grand Ball but is still a main event. We have a procession with floats, bands and the opportunity for all to dress up. We still crown the Rose Queen – and there is still the serious question of dresses and accessories to be decided. We still watch arena events, from the Prison Dogs display of 1980, to the Grand Tug of War, to the local School of Dance. Village and local notables have been called on to open the Fair, and the school field is still surrounded by stalls, although we haven’t had the Village Stocks for some time. Sideshows, hospital radio, hot dogs, face painting, ice cream …….
For forty years so many individuals and organisations have been involved. It’s not possible to name them all but they have contributed so much to the continuation of events which have brought so much pleasure to young and old.