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Ravensden Feast

The origins of the annual village feast have been lost in time. However it seems likely that this goes back to the age of the hunter gatherers, when families who may have lived some distances apart, got together once a year to eat, drink and be merry and to give thanks for the end of another natural year, the completion of the harvest and the filling of the larder with meat, fruits etc., sufficient to see them survive through the long hard winter.

With the coming of Christianity this celebration eventually became attached to the village church patronal festival, or later another significant local event such as hiring fair (when agricultural labourers offered themselves for employment for the coming year), a wool fair or even the annual muster of the militia.

In some parts of Great Britain these feast days were adapted so as to commemorate local success in a battle against the enemy (especially so in the border area of Scotland and England).

Although the village feasts in England continued through the middle ages and even into the Victorian era, many of them had ceased before the outbreak of the Second World War. This may have been partly due to the tragic death of so many young men in the Great War, (before the days of internet dating the meeting of a possible future partner had always been an attraction of the feast especially for the young), the loss of a village identity, or the sheer economics of employers being no longer willing to grant an additional day off work.

In Ravensden there was also a distribution of bread (later coal, and more recently money) to the poor of the village in July and December each year under the Agnes Martin Charity founded 1565, but this was not part of the celebration of the feast.

The feast here appears to have been held for hundreds of years on 12th November each year, although from approx. 1885 for some undiscovered reason, the day appears to have become more flexible, occasionally being the Monday or Wednesday nearest to the 12th.

Why this date? According to the liturgical calendar 12th November was the end of the church period of Allhallowstide and as the village church is dedicated to All Saints, this was clearly considered a suitable date for the whole village celebration.

There was a special church service in the morning followed by the other festivities which undoubtedly consisted of much eating and drinking, dancing and general fun, (occasionally to excess if newspaper reports are to be believed). In medieval times there would have been archery and other competitions replaced subsequently by football, tug of war, tossing the sheaf and similar challenges.

The gathering was held firstly in the field adjacent to the Harper Cottages on Church Hill and later the Church or Glebe Field where now stands Vicarage Close. Local workers and school children were all granted a special holiday and residents of neighbouring villages would join in the fun after work for the day had been completed.

Until comparatively recently there were still people who had been born in the village who could remember Ravensden Feast, especially the small traditional fair that arrived in the field with its swingboats, helter skelter, steam engine powered roundabouts, bowling for a pig, hoopla etc., plus roast chestnuts and other delicacies, and the dancing that extended into the evening.

Ravensden Feast continued until 1915 but was postponed throughout the years of the First World War. It was resurrected in 1919 but sadly abandoned finally after the 1920 celebrations.

However in some other parts of the world, for example Spain and Malta, the village feast is still one of the most important days of the year.