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1851: Gala festivities at Ockenden Manor

Updated: Dec 5, 2023

Brighton Gazette - Thursday 18 September 1851


CUCKFIELD

A Gala Day

Tuesday the 9th instant, J. P. Fearon, Esq., of Ockenden House, gave a fete on extensive scale in his grounds. We have before spoken of the romantic and picturesque appearance of these grounds, but the scene on Tuesday enhanced their picturesque beauties. The fete was ostensibly designed for the children, but the elite of the neighbourhood for miles round, as well as the families of the tradesmen and farmers, were present.


In the afternoon the children of the National and Dissenting schools assembled to the number of 400, and after enjoying themselves by romping and playing about the grounds until four o'clock, they partook of a repast in a booth, where they were amply supplied and kindly waited on by Mr Fearon’s amiable family and their female guests.


Ockenden Manor c1914

After this the children from the Union House were brought down by special invitation, and after partaking of the same cheer they joined the others in the games and sports of the day. Nor did the worthy host forget the aged, for as soon as the children had cleared the booth a host of old men from the Union House, “relics of a former day,” assembled, and were as bountifully treated; and it was gratifying to note the cordiality with which they were greeted by their ancient comrades who were lucky enough to keep ‘‘out of the house.”


In the meantime a match of cricket was going on among the tradesmen, &c., and an excellent German band from Brighton delighted the auditors with their performances, while the ringers now and then sent forth a merry peal from the church and hand bells. As soon as the children's repast was over, a racecourse, ready prepared, was cleared, and various prizes were contested for in racing, jumping in sacks, and other rustic sports, amid the cheers of the assembly. Several small balloons were let off, amid the shouts of the delighted urchins, and the grounds at this time presented a truly animated appearance, not less than 1000 persons being congregated.


The sports continued until dusk, when the children separated, and at half past five o’clock, 120 of the gentry, including most of the principal families in the county, sat down to dinner in a marquee on the lawn, erected by Edgington, of London, and tastefully set out, especially at the entrance, where an orchestra was prepared beneath the boughs of a drooping ash covered with striped canvass. Under the superintendence of Mr Fearon’s gardener, Mr Squires, the lawn was beautifully decorated with flags, vases, and pedestals of flowers, and when lighted in the evening by lamps, presented, as well as the ivied walls of the old mansion, a most imposing appearance.


Even during the day the scene from it was charming, embracing the grounds covered with flags and banners and interspersed with groups of fashionables, folks in their holiday clothes, and their poorer neighbours neatly and cleanly clad, all aiming at the same end, harmony and pleasure, while the richly wooded scenery of Cuckfield Park, Ainsworth's “Rookwood Hall,” added to the fine appearance of the scene.


At eight o’clock the gentry returned to the grounds from the marquee, and a splendid display of fireworks took place, conducted byMr Randell, from Mr Darby’s, of Vauxhall. The splendid asteroid rockets, first used by Sir William Congreve, and lately introduced into fireworks by Mr Darby, were much admired, as were the floating lights, and the farewell display of illuminated pyrotechnic letters, forming the words, “Good night.” After the fireworks the gentry retired to the marquee, which was now fitted up for a ball, and dancing was kept up with spirit for some hours.

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