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Feast of fun as Witney celebration marks 770th year
THE fun fair rides will be back but this year’s Witney Feast aims to focus on tradition as the annual event celebrates its 770th year.
Festivities will take place in St Mary’s Church between Saturday, September 14, and Tuesday, September 17, while the fun fair will be open on The Leys on Monday, September 16, and Tuesday, September 17.
The Bishop of Oxford, the Rt Rev John Pritchard, will lead a Sunday evening service on – as has become tradition – the gallopers in the fairground.
There will also be singing, dancing, exhibitions and food and drink at the 13th century church, in Church Green, throughout the festivities.
St Mary’s Church warden James Mills said: “Many people will know Witney Feast just as a fun fair that takes place on the Monday and Tuesday evenings.
“But the feast has a much longer history and this year seems an appropriate time, what with it being the 770th anniversary, to make people aware of the historic connections between St Mary’s Church and Witney Feast.”
Witney Feast started in 1243 when King Henry III granted two deer from the Royal Forest of Wychwood to celebrate the rededication of the church.
The parish feast is recorded in the 1640s as having “dancing, singing and much drinking” and by the 1790s there was a fair selling livestock and merchandise.
In the 19th century there were horse races on Curbridge Down and, by the 1870s, there was a large pleasure fair and people were shipped in on special trains.
In 1902 legendary cricketer WG Grace attended the feast and two years later, as it expanded, festivities moved from Church Green to The Leys.
Mr Mills, a former mayor of Witney, added: “Witney Feast is a fantastic opportunity for people from the Witney area to enjoy themselves and come together.”
The church events will begin with a vintage tea party on Saturday, September 14, from 2.30pm to 5pm, before the Bishop of Oxford takes the service at The Leys on Sunday evening after a procession from the church.
Witney secondary school children will sing on Monday evening at 5.30pm and 6.15pm, and will then be joined at the same times on Tuesday by choir Voicebox.
On Monday there will also be dancing as The Psalm Drummers bring their music to the church.
From Saturday to Tuesday, the church will host a cafe and there will be a bar on Monday and Tuesday from 7pm. St Mary’s will also host an art exhibition and a model steam fair on Monday and Tuesday.
Activities will raise money for the church's £2m restoration appeal.
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