In the weeks prior to the event, meetings were arranged in the Methodist Schoolroom to discuss the village plans for the celebration, with all interested parties invited to attend.
The first item on the agenda was to agree on a venue, as the Reading Room, a virtual village hall, had gone into private ownership when the Duke of Bedford's Oakley Estate was sold by auction in 1918. My grandfather, Edward Newell, offered the use of his paddock which bordered the High Street, and his two sons, my uncles Ted the farmer and John the engineer, agreed to construct a shelter large enough to seat the local population, and the offer was accepted.
At the next meeting my grandfather proposed that a 36 gallon barrel of beer should be purchased from Charles Wells Brewery in order to drink the King's health, but this proposal was defeated when it came to a vote, by a number of Methodists present, who felt sincerely and understandably, that in the days when wages for the working man were pitifully low, anything spent on alcohol meant that much less for his wife and children. Thus grandfather came home with a feeling of great disappointment, and expressed his views to the family.
As a result, uncles Ted and John consulted various friends, had a whip round and raised enough between them to place an order with Charles Wells for 36 gallons of their best. They did not tell their father, thinking to give him a pleasurable surprise on the day.
However grandfather had other ideas. He too canvassed a number of like minded characters and took them all to the next meeting where he proposed that the previous veto on alcohol should be rescinded, and that his original proposition for the purchase of a 36 gallon barrel should be put to the vote. As he had brought a strong band of supporters with him, he won the decision and lost no time in placing an order with the Brewery.
In the days before the Official Celebration, my uncles cut willow poles for the basic structure and thatched it with brushwood and straw. In essentials it resembled a Dutch barn, with open sides and a roof good enough to keep out the wet, should it rain, (but in the event it stayed fine).
On the day itself, trestle tables and benches were provided and a substantial meal produced for all. As regards liquid refreshment, the two barrels produced 72 gallons of beer and as there were not many more than 72 drinkers there was enough to keep them going until the early hours of the next day.
A memorable event in village history, but which pales into insignificance when compared with a similar occasion in the scriptures. The second chapter of St John's Gospel gives details of Christ's first miracle. in Cana of Galilee, when at a wedding party the supply of wine ran out.: 'Six water pots of stone . . . of two or three firkins apiece' were filled with water which was changed into wine of the highest quality. Now a firkin, a measure no longer in use, was a small barrel containing nine gallons. So the supply of wine at that celebration would not be less than 6x2x9 or 108 gallons, although not more than 6 x 3 x 9 or 162 gallons, and that was after the guests had consumed all that was originally provided.
It must have been some party, but I have yet to find a member of the clergy who could give me a satisfactory explanation of this apparently excessive quantity. I wondered if perhaps there might be some error in translation, but could find none.
Note: FIRKIN: The fourth part of a 36 gallon barrel (brewing) ie: 9 gallons. Derivation; old Dutch vierde a fourth, kin, a diminutive suffix – Chambers 20th Century Dictionary.
Translated from the Latin Vulgate
METRETA: A measure containing approximately 9 English gallons – Cassell's Latin/English Dictionary.
Derived from the Greek New Testament.
METRETES: A liquid measure of about 9 or 10 gallons – Greek/English Dictionary of the New Testament.