A Nineteenth Century Bazaar by Owen Thompson
Blythburgh church was closed as unsafe at the end of 1881 and between then and 1884 the fabric underwent major restoration work. Finding the £1,000 or so required to pay for it was a major problem. Funds were raised by an appeal for public subscriptions, which generated substantial sums from the great and the good, and the widow’s mite. Another means was the holding of a concert in London. As well as these methods, at a committee meeting on 21 January 1882, ‘a bazaar in aid of the restoration fund was determined upon’ in the village for the summer. The incumbent, Henry Sykes, was responsible for initiating work on the church, but it was Lady Blois who undertook to organise this event.
By July plans for the bazaar were going smoothly, apart from ‘a protest by the Vicar against raffling’. At least he did not face the dilemma of whether to accept National Lottery funds! On the Friday before the event the East Anglian Daily Times reported that at the ‘Fancy Fair’ there were to be ‘shows, boating, music, lawn tennis, a performing hen and the magic well, which recently [had] created so much sensation at the Lilliputian Fair in London’. Special return tickets would be issued by the Great Eastern Railway Company at the price of a single fare, from Ipswich, Lowestoft, Yarmouth and all stations in the neighbourhood on both days. The bazaar was held over two days, Wednesday 9th and Thursday 10th August 1882. To us the idea of a mid-week event may seem strange, but on the first day £25 was taken at the entrance: at 1s per person this represents an attendance of 500 people. The weather was good and the day's receipts amounted to £170 19s. 3d. The second day was not so well attended, and the receipts were £57 0s. 2d. At the next committee meeting Lady Blois reported that the net proceeds were £211 14s. 2d.
Reports of the bazaar appeared in the East Anglian Daily Times, the Ipswich Journal, and also the Halesworth Times. There were long descriptions of how Mr Mills, the landlord of the White Hart, had come forward and kindly offered the use of the meadow at the back of the inn as the venue, of the marquee and three other tents, of the stalls, the concert, the sale of work done by various ladies, and of the other attractions on offer, amongst which was Masters Eardley and Ralph Blois's menagerie which included a three-legged duckling of which they were extremely proud! Whilst lamenting the poor condition of the church, the paper was pleased to see that ‘at last there is the best prospect of some practical attention being paid to it, for with an amount of energy and zeal worthy of the warmest commendation, Lady Blois and a number of other ladies ... have taken the subject up ... ’.
Once the first campaign of work had been completed and the church reopened at Easter in 1884, the enthusiasm for restoration appears to have waned, in some quarters at least. The building committee met to consider how to proceed with fund raising for the work that still needed to be done. The minutes simply record that there was ‘A desultory conversation on the propriety of applying to the London Incorporated Church Building Society for a grant, and the holding of a bazaar, both of which were declined’.
Sources: Suffolk County Record Office FC 198/E2/1 and HD 80/4/2
Owen Thompson, Hopton, January 1998
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