A Letter from Nantwich

February 2010 (2)                                                                               More pictures

Now the Winter Big Battle

A crowd pleaser . . . The jester calls on the help of a young lad (partially hidden) as he entertains a receptive crowd with some juggling.

NANTWICH'S popular annual winter event, Holly Holy Day, was a bigger affair this year. Not in the sense of the 2007 event held at Reaseheath College as a summer muster when it grew to two days and introduced horse-riding combatants, but with extra attractions to draw the crowds.

   The bigger event was highlighted with the addition of the words "and Winter Fayre" to the title.

   The seven members of the Holly Holy Day committee must have put in a great deal of work to bring the day to fruition and deserve much praise. They brought in people from far and wide, which was their intention, with a reported 4,000 more people than usual in town. 

   There was a jester (above) holding centre stage in The Square in his traditional red and yellow costume. A favourite in the court life of Queen Elizabeth I, the jester suffered a decline after the English Civil War when Oliver Cromwell's Puritans abolished such entertainment. But there was a revival in later years.

   So the court fool perfectly fitted the period of Holly Holy Day, which commemorated the Battle of Nantwich in the King-versus-Parliament conflict of 1644. The same applied to the coach and horse (left) that gave tours of the town to a succession of passengers - given that highwaymen were recorded in the 17th century. I didn't hear of such a fate befalling the Holly Holy Day tours.

 

HOWEVER, I am not so sure about another of the day's attractions. It was a very popular part of the programme, let's make no mistake about that, but I didn't think that show songs in modern dress fitted in with the theme of the day. The children and adults from X Academy - the school for the performing arts now based in the former Kiltearn Medical Centre - were popular with the crowds.

   True, back at base in Hospital Street, the programme of events included 17th Century music and dancing - and if, as I roamed the town looking for things to photograph, I misses similar entertainment on The Square my apologies.

   It was good entertainment, but of the wrong era.

   In case it seems that I am singling out the X-Academy for criticism, I also noted that there were "balloonists" (to use the word used by the Chairman of the Holly Holy Day Society, Shaun Cafferty). From the 17th century . . . ? Not hot-air balloons (the usual activity described as balloonists, but people making animals by twisting balloons.)  

   The day didn't get off to a good start when the Town Crier booked to announce the official opening wasn't able to be present. As a result some people were not aware of what was going on. One visitor was heard to ask: "Can you tell me what is happening and where?" This was when there was just the Living History tent by the church and the people on the Museum's first history tour were elsewhere in the town.    

   Perhaps I am being fussy, but I would have preferred all the day's entertainment to have been with the Civil War theme. Or of that era, at least.

   Shaun is the son of Nantwich Town Councillor, Keith Cafferty, the man behind the town's move to mark St George's Day and the Nantwich Fun Day (successor to Nantwich Carnival). For both the latter events, songs from the shows would have been fitting.

 

THERE was much for which to commend the HHD Society. As Shaun said in a Press release afterwards: "The biggest Holly Holy Day event so far went with a bang – literally in the case of the cannon demonstration enthusiastically performed by the Sealed Knot artillery!

   "This was just one of the many new attractions added to the event to give it a wider appeal and make it a whole day of fun and celebration – and lots of people have been saying what a fantastic time they had. The whole town was buzzing and colourful. It has been estimated that 4,000 more people were in Nantwich than on a regular Saturday.

   "Publicans and retailers, even on the fringes of the town centre, estimated that trade was up by 25% on the day, which is great for the local economy at this time of year," said Shaun.

    The Chairman also reported that . . .

    l "in the Children’s Corner (at X-Academy), youngsters were treated to Punch and Judy and magic shows, plus balloon modelling and the chance to try some 17th Century dancing under the expert guidance of Mo Waddington and the Forlorn Hope band with their authentic period instruments. . .

   l "(St Mary's Parish) Church were involved by hosting a hog roast, church tours and supplying huge holly button holes which certainly added to the occasion". . . [Proceeds from these events were for the recently-launched Restoration Appeal.]  

   l "The Museum also experienced one of their most successful days with over 500 visitors through their doors. The Town History tours they ran were also very well subscribed. . . [Shaun added that the Museum "do a lot to promote and support Holly Holy Day, involving and educating local schools as well as lots of practical help throughout the year, so we are delighted that they were also able to benefit."]

   l "The Indoor Market also did their bit by promoting a festive air, and their mulled wine proved very popular! . . .

   l "The Living History demonstration of 17th Century Nantwich life [by the Sealed Knot] drew good crowds . . .

  l ". . . as did the stage events supplied by X-Academy and the Nantwich Players, the latter closing with an enthusiastic use of cabbages at the Pillory! . . . [The Players staged another of their short plays featuring a 17th century court drama which, as usual, ended with the guilty person being sentenced to a short time in the replica pillory opposite the Museum.]

   l "All the performances were very well received by a large and appreciative audience, and the strolling street entertainers of balloonists, jester and juggler were equally popular and did a smashing job. . . .

   l "Around the town, Poole’s horse and carriage trips added to the atmosphere." [In the official programme of the day, that attraction was described as "a horse and cart"!

 

ONE feature of the expanded Holly Holy Day event which might have backfired on the HHD Society a little was the gesture of giving free admission to Mill Island for closer views of the battle re-enactment, A move prompted by the Recession affecting the UK. It WAS free - to anyone who had bought one of the official programmes of the day, at £2.50.

   One reader of The Nantwich Chronicle stressed this point in a letter to the Editor. 

   To be fair, one programme would admit up to a family of four - hard luck if you had three or more children - and the booklet was packed with articles giving the history of the Battle of Nantwich and 17th century Nantwich, written by Allison Kirk, Community Learning Officer of Nantwich Museum. So it was value for money for the contents alone - making the admission to Mill Island a free extra!  

   For Health and Safety reasons, entry to the Mill Island was limited, any way. But it is possible to a certain extent to watch the battle re-enactment from the Waterlode (inner ring road) across the River Weaver.    

 

WITH the arrival of the members of the Sealed Knot from their billet at Malbank School, the day took on its established theme in earnest. This was the 38th re-enactment of the Battle of Nantwich - the first was at the Barony Park in January 1973. That was the year after the Holly Holy Day tradition of wearing sprigs of holly to mark the lifting of the six-week siege of the town in 1644 was revived by Nantwich historian, the late Percy Corry. Otherwise, a wreath-laying ceremony was the main feature of that year's commemoration.

   In his Press release, Shaun spoke of the "usual impressive colourful and disciplined display, with the soldiers taking advantage of better ground conditions this year to put on a terrific and exciting spectacle."  He spoke of the "poignant moment" after the battle re-enactment in which there was a minute’s silence "to give thought to today’s soldiers risking and sometimes losing their lives, which was exquisitely observed by a very large crowd of spectators and the troops."

   New to the annual event were Crewe and Nantwich Weaver Rotary Club members who did an excellent job with stewarding the event. And special visitor packages were put on by places like Alvaston Hall Hotel and the Residence (restaurant) to celebrate the event, said Shaun.

   Another tradition took place away from Nantwich. One mile away, in fact, at Acton where the Battlefield Trust led a walk from the church there to the battle site itself.  

   After referring to "many of Nantwich’s institutions who pulled together to deliver this fantastic day" and the supportive local councils, Shaun said the Holly Holy Day Society was "heavily dependent on sponsorships, and financial and practical support from businesses (plus, of course, public support on the day) to keep on delivering this long-standing Nantwich tradition."

   The event is "planned, organised and run by a small group of just seven unpaid individuals who volunteer their time to make sure it goes ahead." Shaun added: "We do need more volunteers to either help plan the event or help out with practicalities on the day itself." Visit www.hollyholyday.org.uk if you're interested.

   You can also see galleries of pictures of the battle on that website.

The X-Academy perform on the stage in The Square.

2007 Summer Big Battle | event damages battlefield | the next HHD event | Holly Holy Day website

The Sealed Knot | Nantwich Museum website | St Mary's Church website 

 

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