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Flower festival fêtes, fancy bazaars and bowling for a pig!

In our latest blog, Great Wigborough resident Ann Coates looks back fondly at St Stephen’s flower festival fêtes in the 1980s and 90s. We share fascinating snippets about a Victorian Fancy Bazaar in the rectory meadow, and explore the long-standing tradition of bowling for a pig.

Flower festival fêtes by Ann Coates

In the 1980s and 90s the village came together for flower festival fêtes, which included colourful stalls selling homemade cakes and jams, arts and crafts, tombola and plenty of games for the children including bowling for a joint of pig donated by a local farmer.

Items for flower festival fêtes were collected door to door by an enthusiastic team of volunteers. Buckets of water were on hand in the church porch for donations of flowers.

Bernard Ratcliffe would bring his vintage Triumph motorbike for everyone to see and his old Mini to guess the mileage.

Scones and ice-cream were popular elements of the afternoon tea.

Teas were served with homemade cakes, sandwiches, scones with jam and cream and ice-cream for the children.

These popular events were held at The Old Rectory, St Stephen’s House and Moulsham’s Manor and in earlier years at the old village hall. People would look round the stalls and garden first before strolling over to the church to view the flowers.

The flower-arrangements were themed from passages in the bible, and seemed to occupy every conceivable space - from the font and pulpit to the rood screen and altar as well as each window.

The flowers were gathered as much as possible from local gardens and some bought where necessary. The main organisers and talented arrangers at the time were Sue Sergeant and Marion Holding with help from many others.

It was hard work, taking several days to complete not to mention the clearing up, watering and keeping the displays fresh throughout the weekend.

Flower festival fêtes attracted a wide audience and raised much needed funds for the church.

Receipts for the 1986 Flower Festival Fete totalled over £600, the cake stall being the biggest contributor. Bowling for a Pig was also one of the attractions.

At that time the font was located at the west end of the church, in a small recess at the base of the tower. This is now the location of the accessible toilet, with the font now repositioned in the south east corner of the nave.

Bowling for a pig was a popular attraction at village fêtes including Great Wigborough. At first the prize was a real live pig, later substituted for a joint of pork!

It is to be noted that bowling for a pig (a variant on the game of skittles) was a longstanding village tradition. On 5 Aug 1938, the Chelmsford Chronicle reported that…

A garden fête, organised by the Rector and Mrs Yates in aid of new heating for the church was held in the Rectory grounds on Saturday. Numerous side-shows included bowling for a live pig, which was won by eleven years old Dorothy Taylor with a score of over 300.

The garden of St Stephen’s Rectory, venue for many church and village fêtes. Photo taken c1940s, during the incumbency of the Rev Yates. Copyright Mersea Museum.

Village Fair by John Leech. Copyright Victoria and Albert Museum. The 1869 Great Wigborough Fancy Bazaar would have presented a busy scene like this, with fairground games, food and drink and numerous stalls. Instead of a fiddler, music was supplied by the band of the 3rd (Prince of Wales) Dragoon Guards.

A Victorian Fancy Bazaar

A fancy bazaar in aid of the cottage hospital fund was held in the meadow in front of the Rectory on 21 September 1869 and reported in the Chelmsford Chronicle…

In a long marquee the numerous contributions were arranged to the best advantage, and comprised specimens of every article in the manufacture of which the fair sex are known to excel. In another… was an abundance of refreshments contributed from the larders and cellars of friends. In a smaller tent was a stand for tea, coffee, cake etc.

A flower stall (attended by the Misses Turners and Miss Williams) was much admired for its elegant arrangement and the excellent variety it contained, notwithstanding the lateness of the season.

In the space around which the marquees and booths were grouped was stationed the band of the 3rd (Prince of Wales) Dragoon Guards, who by permission of Colonel Tower, rendered their services gratuitously.

A friend of Mr Salter’s had charge of a couple of ‘knock ‘em downs’, a dramatic entertainment and a post office all of which were productive of plenty of fun and pecuniary profit.

Mr C. Winterbon was on the ground with his photographic apparatus, and under extreme difficulties, due to the ever-moving nature of the scene, took several views of the bazaar.

The stallholders were aided in their task by corps of ladies and gentlemen, who exerted themselves to the utmost in effecting sales or getting up raffles. The Mr C Winterbon mentioned above, was Charles Winterbon, a Colchester photographer with premises in Abbeygate Terrace. It’s not known if any of his photographs of the 1869 fancy bazaar survive.

We look forward to continuing the tradition of fun village events and inviting you to join us, when the new community space at St Stephen’s Church opens later this year.

A coffee morning at St Stephen’s Church, circa 2019. These will be a regular event in the newly refurbished community space.

If anyone can remember, or has their own memories or photos of St Stephen’s Church and Great Wigborough village events please share them with the A Meeting Place for the Community project by contacting Heritage Officer Martin Crowther at



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