All the Victorian fun of the fayre
Nick Churchill on the day every two years when the population of Sutton Poyntz swells nearly twenty-fold
Published in June ’14
Time passes at a leisurely pace in the pretty village of Sutton Poyntz –which nestles beneath the chalk carving of the White Horse that’s more commonly associated with nearby Osmington. The village is noted for its picturesque millpond, overarched by cascading branches of weeping willow.
A safe distance from the urban sprawl of Weymouth and resisting the advances of its near neighbour Preston, with which it was bought by Dorset County Council from the Weld Estate in 1925, life in Sutton Poyntz – the Overcombe of Thomas Hardy’s The Trumpet Major – revolves largely around the Mission Hall and the pub, The Springhead.
But this month the village is a hive of activity as locals build up to the biennial Victorian Street Fayre on 29 June, the last Sunday of the month. A regular feature of village life at least until the 1920s, the event was revived in 1994 and became an instant focal point for the community. In recent years, thousands of visitors have descended on Sutton Poyntz, drawn by the Victorian fancy dress, carnival atmosphere and traffic-free streets.
‘For a village of around about 250 chimney pots, putting on an event that attracts upwards of 5000 people takes a bit of doing, but it brings everyone together, the whole village turns out and everyone has a great day – whatever the weather,’ says Guy Bridge, a Sutton Poyntz resident for 25 years and chairman of the organising committee since 2006.
‘We had a very wet one in 2006, but even last year – I keep saying last year and I mean two years ago of course – we had so much rain we couldn’t use the field to park cars in and people had to walk up to a mile to get here. We thought it would hit us hard but it didn’t. In fact, people were saying how much they enjoyed the camaraderie of the walk down here from Fisherbridge. It was a great atmosphere – things like that always bring people together.’
The modern fayre was conceived as a charitable event from the moment of its revival 20 years ago. To date some £98,000 has been donated to good causes, all of which have links to the village, but by far the largest beneficiary has been WaterAid, the global charity working to bring safe water and sanitation to everyone and the chosen charity of Wessex Water.
The support is in recognition of the company’s continuing co-operation in allowing the street fayre to use land around the Victorian water pumping station on the outskirts of Sutton Poyntz. The adjacent water supply museum also doubles as exhibition space for work by local artists on the day of the street fayre.
‘Wessex Water have always been very good with us, but we’ve also raised money for our village hall, the Mission Hall, as well as other charities and we’re always open to approaches from new charities. We can reasonably expect to break the £100,000 mark with this year’s event, which is quite an achievement.’
Guy and his fellow committee member David Langridge have both previously organised Weymouth Carnival as members of the town’s Round Table.
‘After that I think the village thought this would be a piece of cake, but I’m not so sure!’ laughs Guy.
‘The street fayre is a bit more than your typical village fete and it attracts a lot of people from Weymouth and Portland as well as Dorchester and further afield,’ adds David. ‘I was born and grew up in Weymouth and have lived around here all my life. I moved to the village three years ago in search of the sense of community associated with village life and that’s exactly what we found here.’
As well as charity stalls and commercial stalls, there is a grand auction, home made refreshments in the Mission Hall, a barbecue, farmers’ market, Pimms and strawberries, two stages of live music and entertainment. Several stalls staffed by villagers will be raising money from the sale of crafts, books, jewellery, antiques and a popular selection of shabby chic furniture.
‘It was quite an attraction last time, one of the village ladies’ houses had been crammed full of furniture in various stages of restoration for weeks before,’ says David. ‘It’s great to see the village transformed with handmade Victorian bunting, everyone in fancy dress and being able to cut off the Station Road and make it traffic-free is lovely.’
Meanwhile, Guy is keen to pay tribute to the volunteers who help keep the street fayre ticking along on the day: ‘We get 200 or more volunteers every time we do it, as well as the core of people that make up the various committees. It takes 20 people just to man the car park for the day in two-hour shifts. Then the wives take care of the refreshments in the village hall, they can be there all day long, as are those of us who get there about half six in the morning to let the stall holders in with their vehicles to unload and set up before their cars and vans have to be cleared out in time for us to open.
‘I took over the chairmanship from Dave Caddy and people like him and Judy Backwell from the original committee are still very much involved, without them there wouldn’t be a street fayre so we continue to be very glad of their work. There’s always something that needs doing even though we’re only on every other year.
‘Do I enjoy it? Of course I do. On the day, I love it!’
In an age of superfast digital communication, immediate reporting consigns every action to instant history. We often think our forebears would struggle to recognise the world we live in today, but would they? Today’s street fayre is probably not so very much different from the village fairs of yesteryear. There was fancy dress, plenty of tea and cakes, stalls, music and dancing, just like there is today. The photographic evidence of the early 1920s suggests the villagers couldn’t decide if it was the Preston and Sutton-Pointz (sic) or Sutton-Pointz and Preston Fair, but the modern Sutton Poyntz Victorian Street Fayre serves to remind us that in many ways the more things change the more they stay the same.
‘Well, our programme from twenty years ago is much the same as this year’s one,’ says Guy. ‘It works. We’ve even brought back the Victorian photography attraction. Funnily enough, I was looking at the Sutton Poyntz Society newsletter from February 1994 which mentioned the Victorian Street Fayre and the very first item in the letter was to express sympathy to the locals who had suffered loss or damage – some more than once – in the recent floods. Not much change there either.’ ◗
❱ Sutton Poyntz Victorian Street Fayre runs from 11.00 to 5.00 on Sunday 29 June.
Before the pumping station was built at Sutton Poyntz, a 1797 Act of Parliament permitted a gravity-fed water supply for the Melcombe Regis area to be taken from the spring known as Boiling Rock at the end of Coombe Valley Road in Preston and routed via Lodmoor.
Championed by King George III, the increasing popularity of Weymouth as a resort saw the town expand and the demand for water increase. In 1856 Weymouth Waterworks Company acquired Upper Mill, which dated from around 1780, together with the nearby spring source of the River Jordan, in order to develop it into a new water supply for Weymouth.
Within a couple of years the water was being filtered through a section of funnel from Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s steam ship the SS Great Eastern, the largest ship ever built when launched in 1858.
The following year she suffered a huge explosion on her maiden voyage to Weymouth that damaged her number one funnel, which was subsequently bought by Weymouth Waterworks Company and pressed into service at Sutton Poyntz.
In 1860 the miller’s dwelling in the remaining portion of Upper Mill, widely thought to have been the inspiration for Overcombe Mill in Thomas Hardy’s The Trumpet Major, was renovated in order to provide accommodation for the pump attendant.
The station still supplies water to the area, it even has its own mischievous ghost – a former chief engineer who reputedly locks doors and moves objects late at night!
The water supply museum is open to the public by appointment and traces the history of the provision of clean water in Weymouth and the surrounding area. It also offers a range of educational and tourist facilities.
❱ Details at www.wessexwater.co.uk/education