Sunday, July 08, 2012

The Fairlop Frigate

This, below, was what I spotted on my way out of the Fairlop Oak at 3pm last Friday. I was on my way home via a 169 Bus to collect my grand daughters for a trip to Fairlop Fair.

Here’s a report from Ron Jeffries, I knew he would and it saves me doing it. You can cut straight to Ron’s photo album here and to Redbridge Culture’s photo album here.

A report on the revived Fairlop Fair 2012

"Fairlop Fair was founded early in the 18th Century by Daniel Day (1683-1767), a block- and pump-maker of Wapping, who owned a small estate near Hainault Forest. When he went to receive his rents there, on the first Friday in July, he used to take a party of friends to eat bacon and beans in the shade of the Fairlop Oak. By about 1725 this private picnic had developed into a regular fair. The block- and pump-makers of Wapping used to go there in a large boat mounted on wheels, accompanied by others in wagons, on horseback and on foot. The roistering that accompanied the fair displeased the authorities, who made several attempts to suppress the fair, but it survived Day's death, the destruction of the Oak, and even the disafforestation of Hainault until 1900 or so." (extracted by permission of the author from Aldborough Hatch - The Village in the Suburbs - A History, available on Amazon and Waterstones websites or direct from the author/publisher.)

Late Friday afternoon was a quiet start to what promised to be a roistering all-day affair on Saturday, with music from Chris, Steve and friends of the Redbridge Music Lounge. I enjoyed the music, chatted to Jacqueline and other folk who were in a great state of preparedness, and photographed the Pirate from the Caribbean aboard the replica of Daniel’s boat which had made its way from Wapping over recent days. The Pirate was a hit with the children who flocked to be lifted aboard his boat and later sat enthralled at his story-telling.

On the way home I mused how very fortunate we are that Fairlop Waters is there to enjoy, photographing wild flowers as I went and recalling the fight we had to put a stop to the desecration of the Green Belt that the building of the London City All-weather Racecourse would have wrought.

Moving on to Saturday, Tony, who juggled with wooden batons with fire at the ends and swallowed a sword down to the very hilt, having first chopped a cucumber held by a volunteer into slices whilst blindfold, had his audience enthralled – and did not pass the hat a round following his performance – was just one of many specialist acts which ran all day on between bouts of warm sunshine and driving bitter rain.

I much enjoyed Janet and Chris Thorn, Strolling Players who offered music in costume from many ages, playing pipe and tabor, harp, hurdy-gurdies, bagpipes and shawms, having travelled cross-country from High Wycombe.

A man on a unicycle, who also climbed onto stilts when the going was not too slippery, vied for attention with the pirate hailing from Glamorgan – who told me that the Caribbean pirate I had met the evening before had been made to walk the plank (which was untrue for I saw him later in a red wig organising the tug-o-war!).

But the act that took the veritable biscuit was a very serious man in a top hat and tails, who rode a four wheeled cart on top of which stood an upright piano. Seated on a stool, the man peddled the contraption around the Fair whilst playing jolly music at the keyboard and singing at the same time, even finding time to blow a series of wind instruments from bugle to horn. All he needed to do to complete things was to crack nuts between his knees as he rode between the showers – and was soaked to the skin when he was caught far from shelter as a sudden downpour drenched the site.

The Arena staged a dog show with four dogs (one of whom was called Buster and ending with an Olympic style podium on which all four and their young handlers tried to pose, in spite of the fact that there were only three mini-stages), a tug-o-war between families (where one rotund fellow in a white T-shirt was the sort of anchor any team would give its right arm to recruit) and displays by contortionist bearded fellows and lasses (one of whom told me he came from as far away as Norwich).

But the piece de resistance had to be the forty or so ladies and gentlemen of advancing years who proclaimed that they were the Redbridge Golden Years Dance Troupe. Seated on chairs, they carried out what are known as gentle exercises without their often ample bottoms ever leaving their seats. Two men who would not see 80 again enjoyed a spirited fight complete with boxing gloves whilst the lads and lasses sang their way through a varied repertoire, ending with God save the Queen as they waved Union Flags above their grey or balding heads – and that was just the ladies.

I called to speak at their tent with Real Ale enthusiasts, Chris and Gavin, of The Ha’penny Brewing Company Limited, operating out of the Cuckoo Hall Brewery on Aldborough Hall Farm in nearby Aldborough Hatch, who offered me a glass of very fine dry cider.

Music from provided by Chris and Steve of the Redbridge Music Lounge filled the air from atop of a hillock, whilst tea was offered inside a white tent in China cups and saucers (part of Jacqueline’s personal collection, I would have you know) alongside Cup-Cakes of the mouthwatering kind from ladies who rejoice under the trade name of Fresh Kitchen (‘Quality food delivered to your door – orders in by 5pm for the following day’ being their proud boast).

Amongst the displays David Martin recalled the heady days of two World Wars when Fairlop had its own airfield whilst a lady herb enthusiast held her audience enthralled, if not totally bemused as she explained what you could do with St. John’s Wort if you were so minded. Dressed for the part, some folk encouraged passers-by to join in a series of games from the Middle Ages and Victorian England as story-tellers wove their tales to wide-eyed children of all ages who earlier had been chased around by a fellow with a rat on a stick or a pirate working under black smoke emitting from canon on board a replica pirate ship as he revealed the contents of his treasure chest.

All in all, a jolly romp if you were minded to do so, without the commercial pressure to buy that so often ruins a day out in the countryside for cash-strapped families – only slightly marred by the typical British summer-time mix of sunshine and showers, the former often hot enough to fry an egg, whilst the latter had raindrops as big as a half-crown and the ferocity of a fireman’s hose. If the crowds were thin at times, perhaps word will spread and larger numbers will make their way to Fairlop Waters in the next year or so – and the event might be graced by a few more local notables and worthies than were obvious this time round during the four hours of so that I was there (more’s the pity, for they were the losers on a good day out).

Ron Jeffries


  1. NeighbourhoodWatcher10:49 am, July 10, 2012

    I once interviewed a young lady for a job, who had on her CV the fact that her hobbies were "riding horses and playing the piano". I never got around to asking her how she got the piano up onto the horse. The top-hatted gentleman seems to have found the solution. It wasn't Ray, was it!!

    Seriously though - re: crowds attending or not - the weather being even more unpredictable than usual probably deterred a lot of people but does the event get the publicity it merits? It should have made BBC/ITV London news but did anyone think to notify them?

    1. Ray? Who he? Is he still in Barkingside?