The Reverend Kenneth McLeod was the much loved and respected vicar of Kirkby Fleetham Parish and was President of the Society for many years. He researched and produced a short history which is reproduced here. Reading through there are many interesting anecdotes which reflect both our changing society and aspects of life which remain the same over the years...
"The earliest recorded history of this region comes from the 7th Century chronicler Bede who tells us that St Paulinus baptized some of his very first converts in the River Swale 'halfway between Catterick and Northallerton' which is, of course, just where our parishes lie. St Mary's Church itself dates from the 12th Century and its famous effigy of Sir Nicholas Stapleton, a Knight's Templar and Lord of the Manor of Kirkby Fleetham, is still perfectly preserved in the Choir, quite unlike those effigies , now virtually destroyed, in the Temple Church in London.
In the 17th Century the Smelt family owned Kirkby Fleetham and gave 21 acres of the estate to the poor of the Parish thus founding a charity still functioning today.
Perhaps the most fascinating period of recent history was during the 18th Century when the estate was purchased by John Aislabie of Studley Royal in the name of his son William. John was the disgraced Chancellor at the time of the South Sea Bubble who, following his impeachment, short imprisonment in the Tower and payment of a heavy fine of £45,000, paid in the region of £20,000 for the 3000 acre estate at Kirkby Fleetham. There then follows in the the 1720s a record of tremendous expenditure here at Kirkby Fleetham, including the replanting of the terrace and the refurbishing of the drive with his wonderful gazebos, all we think sadly sold off at the end of the 19th Century. Many skilled workmen were sent in the early 18th Century from Studley Royal to work here and William Aislabie even appointed the Vicar as his factor!
When William inherited Studley, his sister, Mrs William Lawrence and her family came to Kirkby Fleetham Hall and the two wings of the present mansion were added in 1780. Their son and heir William Lawrence very sadly died in 1785 aged 21 (in whose memory our famous Flaxman Monument was erected) and so Studley and its vast estates in Yorkshire passed to his sister Elizabeth Sophia Lawrence. She eventually moved to Studley and on her death in 1845 she willed Kirkby Fleetham Hall to Edmund Waller who also had an estate at Farmington in Gloucester. It was during his ownership that Kirkby Fleetham Floral and Horticultural Society Committee was formed.
The very first Kirkby Fleetham Floral and Horticultural Society Show was in fact held in August 1876 but the earliest newspaper report still in existence is from a copy of the Darlington and Stockton Times dated 16th August 1879 which reads 'on Tuesday, the 4th Annual Show of the Kirkby Fleetham Flower Society was held in a field kindly lent for the occasion by Mr J Fryer'. As well as recording the list of prizewinnners it mentions 'magnificent Bloom's of cut roses' and 'a good show of raspberries, currants and strawberries' whilst 'plums, apples, pears and apricots were only meagre on account of the cold weather'. Even this early account expresses concern about inadequate Prize Money! 'Three prizes were offered' it says, 'for a bouquet of wild flowers collected and arranged by children'. 'In this class there was a large show and the judges remarked that the Committee had not carried out the suggestion of the Judges last year and offered a greater number of prizes for each collection and they trusted that next year a more extensive prize list will appear for wild flowers'. The report went on to say that the vegetable class was good and 'the turnips exhibited in the agricultural class were large and firm considering the wet state of the season'. It concludes by adding, 'the Band of the 14th (Catterick) North Yorkshire Rifle Volunteers played a selection of music on the grounds throughout the day'.
by Rev Kenneth McLeod 1997
So began in that latter half of the 19th Century the Event that became affectionately known as 'Fleetham Feast' and which has given such pleasure to so many people in our village for over a Century. There were years, of course, when the Feast could not be held, for example during the two world wars, but even then, horticulture was not forgotten and the Kirkby Fleetham Parish Magazine for 1915 reminds parishioners that fresh vegetables are urgently needed to supply the British Fleet in the North Sea and that 'as we are joining in with 250 Country Branches already formed, the Government will allow 'their consignments to the Naval Bases 'carriage free' by passenger trains'. It adds, 'it ought to be known that the Committee does not ask for potatoes'! Apart form these sad years when the Feast could not be held, its 100 shows during the past Century and quarter will have been occasions of delight and joy in the Parish.
In 1887 the Scottish National Rose Trophy was the centre of attention here and that same year we are told 'the Northallerton Temperance Brass Band played a splendid selection of music during the day, whils at night they played for dancing in the marquee'. Presumably dancers were at all times both sober and upright! The Judges that year was certainly of good standing. They were Mr Sunly, gardener to Mr George W Elliot, MP, Mr Nichol, gardener to the Duke of Leeds at Hornby, Mr John Clarkson, gardener to Sir H Beresford Peirse Bart of Bedale and Mr Wm Boston of Carthorpe.
In 1905 we are told, 'The annual Village Feast held on August 14th and 15th was very numerously attended by the villagers and their friends, and the Village Green presented a more than usually animated and busy scene'. 'The Horticultural Show' it goes on to say 'was one of the best and most successful the Committee has ever held. Additional attractions were held in a class for foals and one for cottager's pigs'! These two classes were well featured in a Darlington and Stockton Times advert published on August 12th 1905.
In 1931 we are told the weather was 'moderately fine for the Feast, and the sports in the evening were much enjoyed' whilst the following year (in 1932) the Reverend G Milner writes 'happily for once we had ideal weather for the Feast and a number of caravans turned up. In the afternoon there was a Cricket Match between Kirkby Fleetham and Richmond Barracks while in the evening there were sports with events open and local and, at night a Dance in the Marquee'. He continues 'On Tuesday there was sports for the children and a quoit match followed by an open air dance'.
A Kirkby Fleetham Cricket Week was held at the Feast in 1935 which proved a great success and in 1936 Mr Milner writes 'Kirkby Fleetham Feast was celebrated with much enthusiasm last month on the 10th and 11th August and the weather, a surprising circumstance this year, was favourable'. 'There were more showmen than ever on the Village Green', he says and adds 'Kirkby Fleetham Flower Show is establishing itself as a recognises and successful institution. There were many outside exhibits. The quality of flowers, vegetables and produce from both the Parish and outside was high'. 'We were particularly struck' he continues 'with the gladioli and sweet peas'. An entirely new feature was what he describes as 'a competition of Women's Institutes' which has, of course, continued to the present day. Finally, he writes, 'we have the authority of Mr Jackson Dent for saying that never in the course of the last 50 years has there been such a crowd at the sports which were thoroughly well organised and went with a swing'. There was also apparently another successful dance in the marquee that evening and Mr Milner concludes, 'As usual we had the pleasure of meeting many old parishioners who had come over for the Feast. The Cricket Matches, which are a traditional part of each day's entertainment were this year agains the Green Howards and Mr Hildreth's team from Catterick. They were both wins for the home team'! This local triumph was, of course, greatly applauded but so strong was the local team that in 1938 we are told, 'The two Cricket Matches ended in victories for our side' and in 1939 the brief Parish Magazine report for September written just at the outbreak of World War Two and the six year suspension of Fleetham Feast, reported 'We have had wonderful weather for the Feast and the Flower Show had many fine exhibits. The sports drew large crowds on both nights and Kirkby Fleetham won the Cricket Match on Tuesday'.
Kirkby Fleetham, of course, survived World War Two and has gone from strength to strength through the years. It has been a constant source of delight to many thousands of people in North Yorkshire and it is most fitting that we should celebrate our Centenary with joy and with thanksgiving for this thoroughly English Rural Institution."
Catterick Band at Fleetham Feast
'with my Dad and Uncle Jack and friends'
Possible relatives of a Pauline Walker from Prospect House, Great Fencote.