Catton Village Fair

The weather auguries are good, this year, for Catton Fair. As I recall, from happy memories of a delightful perambulation around the stalls scattered all around the green, the Fair is such a pleasant surprise.

It all felt quite informal, relaxed and unhurried, back in the day, villagers enjoying the sunshine and trying to make a bit of money for the village hall — I believe Catton’s hall is usually the prime beneficiary of any proceeds from the Fair. The thing about the Fair is this: it’s always just the same!

The bunting has been up for about a week, which is always the signal that the Fair is imminent. You can’t miss this, as you travel back and forth to Hexham, and so you know: ah ha, Catton Fair, next Saturday, eh? And that, apart from a few pertinent points in social media, is all the advertising required.

Bric-a-brac and cake stalls, recycled books and tombolas — doubtless a few plants on offer as well; there might be a bouncy castle for the kids or some sort of organised activity, like a series of races across the green. Tea and scones (and more cake!) are always available in the hall, where the strains of music might be emanating; the Lawrenson family on Northumbrian pipes have played cheerfully for all and sundry on past Fair days.

I asked Helen Lawrenson for some of her reminiscences of Catton Fair, over the years, and she responded fulsomely:

“Well – what are my memories of Catton Fair, over the years . . . We’ve been going to it with babies, toddlers, older kids, teenagers & visiting friends, for well over 30 years, I should think. Usually we’ve been lucky with the weather, but no-one has cared if it rained – we were always ready for it! It was always exciting to see the bunting going up, a day or two in advance of the Fair, and the Green was always immaculate – mown formerly by Howard, then by his son; and now I think Mel looks after it. 

Dorothy decided to make a garden in the early ’90s, so the Plant Stall at the Fair was a magnet . . . Dot looked like a young Vita Sackville-West in her huge gardening hat. I still make a bee-line for those plants, usually welcomed by Heather Doody from behind the geraniums. The kids always enjoyed the Bookstall (great work, Stewart Beaty!), & came away with a grand haul every time. When Dot was a kid, she noticed a volume on ‘Cannibalism’ which lay on the stall for 3 successive years. You’ve guessed it: the third year, she had to buy it! I don’t know if she read it all; but I think it found its way back to the stall the next year.

As you recall, various young Lawrensons have played at the Fair over the years; so regularly, at one stage, that Tom & Dorothy were invited to open the Fair one year! I think that would be in the early 2000s. The photograph below shows all 4 kids piping on the Green in about 1998 (judging by their apparent ages in the picture!) The next picture shows them still piping, this time at Wallington – in 2014.

The W.I. have always put on a splendid tea – as Tom recalled last year, when he brought his wife, Beth, & two babies along. William was over two by then, and able to appreciate tea in the Hall! Somewhere I have a picture (taken by someone in the village) of a very young Tom & Lizzie, smilingly tucking into salad sandwiches & sponge cake! One picture I took in the Hall last year, though, shows an interesting sign which hangs on the wall . .

Looking forward to more fun & games this week-end!”

The Catton Fair is one of those events on the calendar that are like jewels glistening in a rare necklace of contentment, a kind of special treasure of the rural firmament, that feels as if it spontaneously arises year by year for the edification of the village and those who visit. Yet nothing gets done without organisation, as we all know very well, and so the Fair Committee must put in the hours to make sure things run smoothly. By the end of the day, then, as the tables are collapsed, the stalls put away and the children are falling asleep after their exciting sugar rush and candy treats, everyone can sit comfortably and enjoy a quiet cuppa, cheerfully revelling in another tranche of sustenance to the hall funds, a friendly day all around, and a job well done for another year.

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