Thursday, 16 March 2017

At the vicar's jubilee in Eltham with Peter Wakeman in the field by the vicarage in the September of 1833

“in many of the homes of Eltham ..... so impressive were the demonstrations that took place [to commemorate his fifty years in office in 1833] that the children and grandchildren of those who witnessed them find to this day, a congenial theme for conversational purposes.”*

I still find it quite amazing that an event that took place in the September of 1833 could still be remembered so vividly over seventy years after it happened.

Of course it may well be that this has been exaggerated in the retelling, but I have no doubt that R.R.C Gregory who commented on the impact of the celebrations to mark the jubilee of the Reverend John Kenward Shaw Brooke’s tenure as vicar were accurate.

Mr Gregory was an excellent historian whose meticulous account of the history of Eltham is well researched and not apt to linger on the might have been.

John Kenward Shaw Brooke was vicar of St John’s in Eltham from the age of 24 in 1783 till his death in 1840.

Now that was indeed some record and that combined with his reputation resulted in John Fry’s newly built row of cottages taking on the name of Jubilee Cottages, a name they retained till their demolition in 1957.

And so to the celebrations which was held on the field by the vicarage behind the High Street.  Much of what we know of the event comes from a hand bill and a ticket of invitation which had sat behind a framed engraving of the vicar for seventy-five years.

One side was printed “1833. Eltham Jubilee, in commemoration of the 50th year the Rev. J.K. Shaw Brooke has resided within the parish as Vicar, universally beloved and respected” and invited “Peter Wakemean ... to partake on Thursday , the 5th day of September, of a dinner provided by public subscription in token of the respect and regard entertained the Vicar of the Parish Of Eltham, 1833
N.B. You are quested to wear this card with the other side in front, in a conspicuous manner, to attend on the day in the Court Yard and to bring with you a knife and fork.”

And that was what Peter Wakeman did for according to Mr Gregory “around the card are the needle marks to shew that it had been carefully sewn upon some conspicuous part of his attire.”

Along with the meal there was to be a host of activities including Gingling Matches, Scrambling for Penny Pieces, Eating Rolls and Treacle, with Dipping for Marbles, Dipping for Oranges, Climbing the Pole and Jumping in Sacks as well as  Hurdle Stakes and Flogging the Ball out of the Hole.

All of which was pretty straight forward apart from Gingling Matches which I discovered was  “an old English game in which blindfolded players try to catch one player not blindfolded who keeps jingling a bell”

And then as now the day was finished off with “A grand display of Fireworks.”

I suppose it might seem very tame but this was rural England at play, and these were the ways we would have entertained ourselves in the early 19th century.

Nor is this all, for the observant of you will have picked up on the fact that Peter had to provide his own knife and fork and that the meal had been provided by a subscription.

But in other ways our event looks forward for each guest had to bring proof of identity and wear it as both a way in to the event and as a means of securing their continued presence.

Our card may not be a smart device but it was nevertheless the way you proved who you were on the that September day.

I rather think I will now go off and search for Mr Wakeman for here I feel is yet another story.

Pictures;  from The story of Royal Eltham, R.R.C. Gregory, 1909 and published on The story of Royal Eltham, by Roy Ayers, http://www.gregory.elthamhistory.org.uk/bookpages/i001.htm

*The Story of Royal Eltham, R.R.RC. Gregory 1909


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