|Rushden Feast 50 years ago. Those were the days! Young people brought up in the hard-baked, casual atmosphere of these sophisticated times may find it difficult to picture Rushden housewives preparing for the Feast days or weeks in advance – going over the whole house in readiness for the reception of guests, hanging clean curtains and making new clothes. These preparations were wonderful indeed, for the Feast was a real holiday and the cause of commotion for miles around. People thought nothing of walking in from villages several miles distant. Many came by trap or brake, and a multitude swarmed the road from Irchester Station, the ladies, more often than not, tripping with skirts uplifted from the heavy mud. You could hardly move in High-street on Feast Sunday. It was the day of all the year for the parading of new feminine finery – and finery it was, in a positive riot of colour and design. There were none of your two-pieces and half-length print frocks, but really dressy and elaborate creations all frilled, and beribboned, with wonderful waists, bunches of this and that, flowers, fruit, capes, epaulettes and goodness knows what more. Drunk or sober, one had to be out and about. It was a great day for the few churches, a great day for the pubs, and a great day at the family table, where the fare displayed represented a great deal of trouble and forethought, seeing that the Yorkshire pudding, the cakes and the pastries had all to be cooked at the baker’s, few houses having anything better than a tiny side-oven against the fireplace in the living room. I can’t tell you exactly when the pleasure fair moved from site to site – the Pightles, the Green, and the North End – but I’ll swear it was a real to-do in 1893, merrier, noisier and smellier than anything the youngsters of the last 25 years have seen.
Feast or no Feast, the Green was always an important place in those times, especially on Saturday evenings. I can remember the “stalls on the Green” in later years, but it seems that the real old-time Saturday evenings were even more exciting. Stewed pears, served by one of the famous and portly Rushden characters of those days, were a very popular line. Dished up on saucers, with spoons provided, they looked and smelled delicious. A man from Irchester sold a slice of bread and a sausage for a copper or so – a real sausage, you understand – and another tradesman dispensed roast potatoes fresh from a travelling oven. All this took place, on the autumn and winter evenings, beneath the wavering glare of naphtha lamps, in the waning daylight against the rich background of trees through which peeped the stone cottages across Skinner’s Hill. There was a little Methodist place to the right of the Green, on the site of one of the shops now lining Church Parade, and everything else was more or less rustic and mellow. I don’t think the Sanitary Inspector or Medical Officer would advocate a return to those days, however picturesque they may have been, but many of the older Rushdenites are very happy to return to them in fancy. The Feast of 1943 will be three-parts imagination, and I should say that young men and women in many lands will think more dearly of it than will the folks at home. Perhaps they will be thinking that when they get back to the old town they will do something towards recapturing the holiday spirit which has been so coldly shouldered out in recent times.