Shows, Fairs & Festivities
Pucklechurch Local History Society 1978, 1980
It is 30 years since Pucklechurch Revel was revived for the 1951 Festival of Britain. However Revels and similar festivities have a much longer recorded history, extending back to early mediaeval times
Do you have any photographs of previous Revels? We would like to scan them and include them on this website. Even if they are in poor condition, we can usually restore them. All photographs will be returned in the condition they were recieved, plus you will get a digital version and extra prints. Please contact Martin Smith firstname.lastname@example.org
An indication of the ancient and enduring character of these annual festivities may be gained from two old records: in AD 1450 “… 448 ladyes and maydens carolinge and daunsings, the moste revelle and disport that might be made…”, and in AD 1500 “… eat we and drink we… with revell without measure as long as we may.”
It may be that our Revel has very ancient origins. In AD1284 the Calendar of Charter Rolls, referring to Pucklechurch, records the grant of an annual fair and market to the Bishop of Bath and Wells, then Lord of the Manor of Pucklechurch. One of the more interesting and significant aspects of Revel from the historical point of view must be the way the festivities have changed in nature, in form and, no doubt, in inspiration over the centuries, as different social and political circumstances have permitted and, perhaps, even dictated. Another possible origin of the Revel is given in the early 18th century by Sir Robert Atkyns, in reference to Pucklechurch in his monumental “Ancient and Present State of Gloucestershire” says, “the wake is kept the Sunday after the feast of St Thomas Beckett.” In 1825 “Observations in Dialect in Western England” notes that “nearly every village has its annual revel – a kind of feast which is evidently the survival of the festival held on the day of the patron saint and the sports and pastimes of old times. At this time (1825), it is still usual to keep up the annual festivity; children and servants go home to visit parents. In all cases drinking was and is the chief attraction.
Why Revel? Though the reasons for such festivities in earlier times are not recorded, one may fairly speculate that they were a vital relief from the daily round and common task in harsher days than ours.
Depending therefore on speculation it is not too difficult to imagine how in the very olden times when conditions were frequently insecure “the very cascade of the church bell or doleful courtyard chime; the abiding presence of tower or steeple, even the gentler shade cast by the village oak or elm, quiet, sentinel, helped sustain and regulate lives otherwise submissive to season and harvest.”
Annual festivities very likely provided meaning and direction to our ancestors’ routine as much as religious faith itself – jollification, merriment, integral, fundamental at the time; fleeting and unrecorded for the historian. To speculate further, one may suggest ironically that the nearest modern equivalent to Revel of days gone by may be less its modern observation in June but more an annual holiday at beach, mountain or other resort.
It is interesting to note that our words “revel” and “rebel” have the same Latin origin. The former word, denoting annual parish fairs kept in most villages on the feast day of dedication, is a specifically West Country term. The later may exemplify the spirit common to most societies throughout a good deal of history and the present time, as some notable celebrations in distant lands testify; for example, the West Indian and South American Carnivals or the Chinese New Year.
Closer to home, the Parkfield Board School Log Book records girls staying at home on the Friday of the second week in July to help their mothers prepare for Revel. “No School on Monday owing to Pucklechurch Revel” was a frequent entry in most years from 1877 to 1892, and attendance was often low for the rest of the week. Oral records show that at this time the festivities were held in the field by “Little Green” (see map) with sporting events including wrestling matches. Peddlers and market stalls lined the neighbouring lower end of Shortwood road. The shepherds’ parade through the village was a major feature at this time.
A custom at that time, and which could have quite ancient origins, was the provision at Revel of White Pot, the traditional delicacy served from certain public houses. People, it is said, would tend to desert their particular favourite and visit whichever pub was providing it, usually as a free gift from the publican. It was a thick white mixture resembling blancmange - very rich and not suitable for children. Last provided, it is believed, about 30 years ago (c 1951), The recipe was:
4 quarts milk
1 lb flour
1 lb Golden Syrup
Mixed spice to taste
Usually baked in an earthenware pan.
Beat up in the pan, the flour, eggs, syrup and spice.
Boil the milk and stir it, boiling into the other ingredients forming a paste.
Dot the butter in pieces on the top, and at the last moment pour ¾ pint of cold water into the middle of the pan and put into the oven without stirring.
Bake in a fairly hot oven for the first hour, let the oven go down gradually, and bake for 7 or 8 hours.
Characteristic of Revel in the last century, as in our own times, was the reunion of family and friends. Such an occasion for reunion was perhaps even more important in the last (19th) century and before, when “the great ferment of industry and empire was changing village life, dispersing people around the country and the globe as never before; the extended and sometimes painful birth of the modern age with village life as it is known today – the hesitant and sometimes uneasy grafting of neat cream brick upon weathered ivy covered stone. Such is the power of an old mellowed photograph or picture post card depicting departure for the annual fishing trip in a shiny brougham or stately lime trees, hazy, in the churchyard beneath which and in the street a dog may wander listlessly, several chickens scratching amongst the evidence of recent equine passage and besmocked children, demure, huddle in a doorway” – visual sustenance for modern life as much in need of Revel as ever.
From 1893 to 1951 we find no record of the term Revel being used for summer festivities in the Parish. There is occasional record of the local Friendly Societies parading the village during the years up to 1907 and of the children being given a holiday from school on those occasions. In the Parish magazine of August 1899, such a parade is described “On Saturday July 29 the Members of the various Benefit Clubs (chiefly the Ancient Shepherds and the Patriots) parade the parish. They began by attending Service in the Parish Church, and then proceeded to various houses with banners flying and band playing, and having given some music to each, later in the day had something of a festival with merry-go-round, swings, etc. The object of the parade is to collect money for the Bristol Royal Infirmary, which we hope will receive substantial aid from the labour of the clubs.”
From 1908 the main village event was Pucklechurch Fete which continued annually for about 20 years. It was held on a field where the Remand Centre and Industrial Estate are now situated, was attended by the Duke of Beaufort and included competitive shows of cattle, sheep, pigs and other livestock, fruit, flowers and vegetables, horse jumping and trotting and a children’s wildflower display and essay competition. In 1910 the vicar wrote, “We hope that these shows will continue to prosper and to be maintained on a high level, and above all, free from the evils that sometimes gather round such things.”
Teas have undoubtedly been a very traditional way of celebrating national and village events up to and including the present time. It is recorded by the Society of Friends in 1861 that Mr. Handel Cossham gave his annual treat to Sunday School children in his residence in Shortwood; it was attended by 400 people headed by bands with arrangements on a liberal scale, including a cake of (no less than) 850 lbs. “The children much enjoyed themselves”.
This tradition of celebratory teas has continued until Revel 1980, when the children voted for free entertainment instead.
The modern series of Revels was initiated at a public meeting held in the Miners’ Institute in the Spring of 1951 to discuss how the parish would celebrate the Festival of Britain year. It was agreed that the most appropriate way would be to revive the local custom or entertainment and teas for the children. Parkfield and Shortwood were included for the first time, and it was decided by the Revel Committee that the profits should be spent on amenities for the children of the three villages. Children used to be seated in the village hall for their free teas, quite an occasion for some who never had fancy cakes.
In 1953 there were coronation celebrations instead of Revel, but since then there has been an almost unbroken record of Revel. Up to 1970 it was a one day event, but in 1971 Revel Week began in order to produce more funds for the much needed new Village Hall. Up to 1967 some money had been spent on such items as trees for the three villages, the Scout Hut Fund, the Swimming Pool Fund and in 1958 £5 was placed in Premium Bonds. Since 1967 funds have been devoted exclusively to the Village Hall Rebuilding fund. We now have the Village Hall which will continue to require the bulk of Revel Funds for its completion. However, from this year other parish organisations may apply for grants.
Profits rose steadily from £131 in 1971 to a bank balance of £1000 in 1975. The twenty-fifth anniversary of Revel in 1976 saw the first ever beer festival when 360 people were expected and over a thousand attended. That year £1,600 went into the new building. Since then a total of £6,500 has gone to the same fund plus the 1979 profit of £3,000.
Revel has developed from a one-day children’s event to a week-long big business proposition with bank accounts and auditor; but it is still the village people who benefit in the main, bringing young and old together, as well as people from different parts of the village, indeed, different parts of the parish. And it is still very much a social occasion for all the family.
Published by Pucklechurch Local History Society, June 1980