Throughout the centuries there have been many momentous occasions when the British populace has had reason to celebrate. The last occasion came in the June of this year (2016) when Britain voted to leave the European Union although there very few national celebrations and plenty of demonstrations. A couple of centuries ago Dartmoor was considered a remote area where very little happened apart from the daily drudge of work and church or chapel on a Sunday. Granted there would have been the weekly local markets, fairs, fetes and other similar events but very little where whole communities got together to ‘party’. Therefore when an occasion arose that was worth celebrating the folk really went to ‘town’ (not literally) and made it a grand event.
I have recently gained access to a national database of old newspapers and love to read about times long gone and what was newsworthy on and around Dartmoor. Bearing in mind what I have previously said above, I came across a couple of articles written in 1856 that concerned a national momentous occasion which prompted celebrations nationwide with Devon being no exception. On the 30th of March 1856 the Paris Peace Treaty was signed which effectively ended the war between Russia and the alliance of France, Great Britain, the Ottoman Empire and Sardinia. More commonly known as the Crimean War which had lasted from 1853 to 1856 it included the famous Battle of Balaclava and the ‘Charge of the Light Brigade’. To mark the end of the Crimean War many Dartmoor towns and villages held celebration parties and below are two articles describing one such party at Manaton. The first is just a brief description of the event and the second an account from a “casual visitor to the area,” who attended the celebration. As always I make no apology for quoting the entire articles as I think the rhetoric of the day adds a certain flavour to the accounts. These certainly provide a tiny snapshot into past times and what such celebrations consisted of some 160 years ago.
“REJOICE, rejoice from shore to shore,
Each countenance is brightening,
Peace is proclaimed, the war is o’er,
No more we will be fighting.
We have beat the foe so gloriously,
By land, and on the water,
We them did trick, we did them lick,
And made them cry for quarter.
“MANATON – On Thursday this village was the scene of a great festivity in celebration of peace. The project was set on foot only the week day previously, and carried out through the exertions of the Rev. G. Jenkins, E. Holloway, Esq. and Messers. Nosworthy and Pethybridge. The morning was ushered in by firing a salute of 21 guns and ringing the bells. The village wore a lively appearance; arches of evergreen were erected at all the entrances and gaily decorated with flags, appropriate mottoes, and flowers. One in the centre of the green just behind the presidents chair was erected under the superintendence of the worthy rector, with a beautiful motto; “Honour all Men, Love the Brotherhood, Fear God, Honour the Queen.” A splendid flag floated from the tower, and a pretty green and white one was suspended from a branch of one of the trees. Tables were erected in form of the letter ‘T’, at which were regaled with roast beef and plum pudding the whole of the poor population and tradesmen of the parish. Tea and cakes were liberally supplied in the evening to all applicants. Rural sports and dancing commenced shortly after dinner, and were kept up with spirit until dark when the whole was wound up with a country dance on the green. The proceedings were enlivened by the presence of the excellent Chagford brass band, who played during the day a variety of spirited and popular airs, concluding with “God Save the Queen.” – Woolmer’s Plymouth and Exeter Gazette, June 7th 1856.
It appears from other such reports regarding various other Dartmoor towns and villages that roast beef and plum pudding was the popular choice for dinner. I would also imagine that the 21 gun salute did not involve the traditional field guns but simply rifles or muskets. But what a simple and delightful affair full of patriotism and community spirit.
The second article was a letter submitted to the newspaper written by a visitor to the neighbourhood who attended the Manaton celebrations and who possibly came from the upper classes by the tone of it, see what you think:
“Will you allow me, as a casual visitor in this neighbourhood, and a traveller through most of the counties of England and Wales, to take a few observations in you paper respecting the peace demonstrations of the 29th of May, and offer my best thanks, as a private spectator, to the clergymen, gentlemen, and inhabitants of the village of Manaton, for the pleasure I received when I witnessed their justly celebrated village green so tastefully decorated for the occasion with arches of evergreen and flowers, and with hardy firs of their own Dartmoor, from which were suspended flags of various hues and patterns, worked by the hands of the ladies, bearing appropriate mottoes which were at once simple and striking. In the middle of this beautiful green was a large farm waggon, fitted up with great taste, with seats for an excellent band of musicians from Chagford, wisely chosen, in my opinion, for giving pleasure to, and elevating the minds of the people; in this vehicle, under a canopy of flowers, oak and laurel, was a rich white flag, with truly appropriate words “God Speed the Plough.” Numerous tables and ample settings were provided for the poor, the former groaned with the good old fare of roast beef and plum pudding; the worthy rector presided, and was most efficiently assisted by the ladies and gentlemen of the parish. After dinner, the health of our most gracious Queen was proposed, with the loud and hearty cheers of the peasantry, that made the welkin (sky or heavens) ring. Rural sports of all kinds were provided, and, with the healthy merry dance, were kept up till nine o’clock, when the National Anthem was played, and sung by the delighted villagers, and then all returned to their respective homes, made no doubt, many degrees wiser and better for what they had received and seen; for who Mr. Editor, could have read those apostoic commands on one of the banners, “Fear God, Honour the King, Love the Brotherhood,” without feeling a desire to obey those injunctions, given under the happiest circumstances which can fall to a nation to celebrate? Doubtless there were grander displays in larger cities but the writer of these observations contends that the beneficent effects of these temperate, and at the same time joyous demonstrations, cannot be so well understood and felt as in the villages and hamlets of our happy land; and it is but right, sir, that our watchful and enlightened governors, with our beloved and virtuous Queen at their head, should know that their paternal desires for the moral and physical well-being of the people, should not be disappointed. – Viator.” – Woolmer’s Plymouth and Exeter Gazette, June 7th 1856.
The pen-name ‘Viator’ under which the above was written is a Latin word which translates as ‘Traveller or Wanderer‘ which is quite appropriate given that he/she was “a traveller through most of the counties of England and Wales.” It seems fairly clear that they were a social commentator of the time with a pretty good eye for detail. If this account is accurate it seems a bit odd that a banner saying “Honour the King,” should be displayed during Queen Victoria’s reign? Maybe it was a remnant from a previous celebration some years before? Both of these reports allude to the fact that the dinner of roast beef and plum pudding were for the benefit of the ‘poor’. Granted roast beef probably would have been a luxury for such folk but I’m sure other people would have taken advantage of a free dinner as well. Should such an event take place today you certainly would not have read that ‘ample settings were provided for those on social benefits’ or any reference to the ‘peasantry’, just not PC. It also appears that the; “beneficent effects of these temperate, and at the same time joyous demonstrations,” meant that it was a t-total affair and that the; “moral and physical well-being of the people,” was upheld.