Jane Austen 'Fayre'
20th & 21st August, 2005
by Charlotte Bailey
Reproduced from an article in West Gallery no.35, Autumn 2005.
"Silly things do cease to be silly if they are done by sensible people in an impudent way."
The Madding Crowd is not generally renowned for being sensible but some certainly thought we were being silly to agree to do our longest performance yet, of six hours on each day. Set within the walled garden once attached to Down Grange House near Basingstoke where Jane Austen visited friends, the 'Fayre' included Military displays, an army encampment, duelling, Regency music, dance and equestrian displays, Punch versus Napoleon, and of course the rustic delights of The Madding Crowd. In an attempt to reach at least some level of authenticity, a calico workshop was convened to cover files and make bags; baskets, tankards and stone flagons were unearthed; and obvious zips were hidden.
"Miss Langley is like any other short girl, with a broad nose and wide mouth, fashionable dress and exposed bosom. Admiral Stanhope is a gentleman-like man, but then his legs are too short and his tail too long.
The Madding Crowd's collective bosom was not on display. In fact it was remarked that those performers in fashionable dress should also learn to walk in a less modern, free and easy way - which makes the bosom like 'the sea with rolling waves aloft to swell and rise' (Scottish Psalm 107 v25). Jane would have enjoyed commenting on our motley crew.
Each day in the Arena we were programmed to do three sets and in between we retreated to our base (a Regency tent) to carry on singing or to eat our 'authentic' lunch of bread, cheese, love apples and - for some - good strong beer.
Singing less formally back at our base. Photo: Kate Martin
"The navy, I think, who have done so much for us, have at least an equal claim with any other set of men, for all the comforts and all the privileges which any home can give."
" ... The profession has its utility, but I should be sorry to see any friend of mine belonging to it."
The first set was Music of Nelson and the Fleet, a rousing start to the day with patriotic favourites like 'Hearts of Oak', 'Britons Strike Home' and 'Rule Britannia' interspersed with Psalm 69 and Psalm 107. John Davy's 'On Admiral Nelson's Victory' (last heard sung by The West Gallery Quire at Budleigh Salterton in August), Thomas Attwood's 'Dirge to the Memory of Lord Viscount Nelson' and Braham's 'Death of Nelson' were certainly challenging in the open air but went off without a hitch. The band played good old standbys such as 'Nelson's March', but of particular note was 'The Battle of Prague', transcribed from Jane Austen's piano book in Chawton House. This was all the rage in 1788, written by Franz Kotzwara who came to an unseemly end in a London brothel! The exuberant 'Stand to your Guns' by Thomas Carter, with the drums recreating the firing, was given added authenticity on the second day with the firing of the rifles at (nearly) the right place in the battle.
"she bounded higher than ever, flew farther down the middle, and was in a continual course of smiles."
For a change of mood, the second set was Dances and Games. This was an opportunity for everyone to join in and as the dances were taught we managed quite long sets, although there didn't seem much of the customary flirting going on. It was a little hard for our older members to see how easily our youngest soprano found willing partners. With the band of fiddles, flute, flageolet, cello, serpent and drum, the music went with a swing and was enjoyed by those having tea nearby. As usual, the children happily joined in with sack races and a tug of war, always popular with parents as it gives them chance to relax while the children expend some surplus energy.
An eclectic set of dancers at the 'fayre'.
Spot the Regency tent in the background and the band. Photo: Kate Martin
"What dreadful hot weather we have! It keeps me in a continual state of inelegance."
By the afternoon each day we were all rather dishevelled as the walls surrounding the garden kept the heat in and the breeze out but, true professionals all, we kept singing! Back at our tent we set up chairs for the weary to come and rest and listen to us. Here we sang a variety of our favourites; anything from 'I Sowed the Seeds of Love' to 'Giberalter' (sic) to 'Anthem for Thanksgiving After Victory' to 'God Save the King'.
"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife."
The third set in the Arena was our Country Wedding. Our bride and groom to my knowledge have now been married four times and only one of those was for real. They still exhibited all the freshness and excitement as if it were the first time. We set up a 'church' in the Arena with altar, pews and the band at the back as if in a gallery.
The happy couple take their vows - again! Photo: Kate Martin
There were extra chairs so that the public could join us and people also sat around on the grass. The procession to church was led by the band, which served to gather up the public, and the ladies handed out posies of flowers. To enter the church we sang a Round on Psalm 128 which has the advantage that you can keep going until everyone is in place. The service itself is from an 1804 Book of Common Prayer and is seriously and reverently performed. There are some interruptions but only such as you might generally encounter - the Parson arrives late in the middle of the 'Old Hundredth'; the Squire and his wife halt the service by entering during the prayers (at the point in the bidding prayer where we come to 'like brute beasts that have no understanding'); there is an objector but when he finds out he must pay the costs of the wedding, he withdraws; there is a dispute over which tune to use for Psalm 128 ('Burton Bradstock' is chosen); the ring is mislaid but then found in a shoe; the hour glass is brought out for the Sermon; the Clerk is obliged to awaken the sleepers with his staff and the Squire is asked to sing the solo in the 'Anthem on Psalm 67', to the dismay of all as he hasn't practised (he acquits himself well). Otherwise all goes smoothly and the couple leave the church under an arch of rifles. A rumour was started that this honour was because the soldiers had a particular fondness for the lady in question but I do not believe it.
The arch of rifles. Photo: Kate Martin
"It was a delightful visit - perfect, in being much too short."
We all thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, even though exhausted at the end. Initial reports from the evaluation forms given to the public show that we were much appreciated. In all we sang 30 different items and many of those more than once. The band also played about 10 numbers. We would like to thank our four guests who shared the weekend with us and contributed greatly. Now we have all recovered, here's to the next one!
"You have delighted us long enough."