The annual Henley May Fayre brought a festival of family fun this Bank Holiday weekend when the circus rolled into town. On Monday, Market Place was transformed into a bazaar of fairground games and circus spectacles, with pop-up performances from local community groups and the traditional Tug of War competition.
The Fayre was opened at midday by Mayor Glen Lambert and fellow town councillor Stefan Gawrysiak, followed by a maypole performance from the Divas & Dudes Dance Academy. Led by Anne Garrison, the young dancers weaved their ribbons around the pole to cheers and claps from the heaving crowd. Their performance was particularly impressive given the short amount of time they had to practice. Steph Maxwell, who runs the Academy, revealed, “We practiced in 45 minutes. We had a little rehearsal at the Christchurch Centre with Ann, who is the maypole expert, and she got stuck in traffic so they literally had 45 minutes. Some of the children are only young, our youngest was 7, so they did really well because it is actually quite complicated. The children nowadays don’t know what maypole dancing is. I used to do it at school many years ago but they don’t, it’s a new thing to them now, so they had to concentrate. But if you get tangled up you can always style it out!”
There were plenty more performances from local people and groups throughout the afternoon, including the Ellington Morris dancers, the Rupert House School Choir, singer/songwriter Daisy Willow, and Henley’s Busker, D’Rael. Ten children from the Trinity School Drama Group (run by Enchanted Players) performed Enid Blyton’s ‘The Wishing Bean’, whilst the combined harmonies of Henley and High Wycombe Rock Choirs entertained the audience with toe-tapping chart hits such as ‘Can’t Stop the Feeling’ by Justin Timberlake and Katy Perry’s ‘Roar’. A lucky little audience of children got to hear author Caroline H Green read her story ‘Oscar and the Suitcase’ in the Council Chamber. Amongst the listeners was Caroline’s grandson, Sid, whom she wrote and dedicated the book to.
In keeping with this year’s circus theme, children aged up to 11 were invited to enter the annual costume contest as their favourite circus characters. The Town Hall stage was flocked by a gymnast, a strongman, a ringmaster, a circus parrot, and more creative circus stars, making the task of judging a difficult one for councillor David Eggleton. In the end, it was Delphi and Ethan who were crowned for their colourful costumes, winning tickets to the Little Welly obstacle course for their efforts. The victory was particularly significant for nine year old Ethan, dressed as a strongman, who has won the competition for three years in a row. He said, “I’m really happy. It took ages to think of. I came up with it really last minute. I chose a strongman because we had a look at some costumes and the tattoos are really cool.”
A circus skills workshop taught youngsters the tricks of the trade, whilst the myriad of traditional fairground stalls provided ample entertainment for all the family. A number of local businesses had stalls in the square, alongside stands representing charities and community groups such as the Royal British Legion, RNLI and Henley Women’s Institute. Local climate activist group Henley In Transition were handing out flyers suggesting small actions to take to reduce our carbon footprint, including eating less meat and switching to a green energy supplier.
The afternoon’s events concluded with the hotly anticipated Tug of War, where teams from The Saracen’s Head, The Argyll, and Henley Fire Service tried to overthrow last year’s champions, The Rowbarge pub. Initial rounds saw The Rowbarge beat The Argyll, whilst Henley Fire Service triumphed over The Saracen’s Head. The Argyll claimed 3rd place in a match with The Saracen’s Head before the final battle. The tightly fought contest between The Rowbarge and the Fire Service saw each team win one pull, but in third deciding round, it was Henley Fire Service who heaved the victory. They won £50 voucher to spend in a Brakspear pub. Michael Saunders, of the Fire Service, said afterwards, “That was epic, it was really good and we really loved it. We had one training session but only 4 of use turned up. Tactics were to wait for them to make a move and make a counter attack!” This was not Michael’s only performance of the day; a member of the Rock Choir, Michael’s singing performance came as a surprise to his fellow Fire Station crew, whom were unaware of his musical talents!
The May Fayre was organised by councillor Sarah Miller, with the support of Henley Town Council, Hot Gossip cafe, and the event sponsors: Penny & Sinclair, Wilkins, and Soha Housing. Money raised from the event will go towards the Henley Stroke Club. Reflecting on yet another successful Fayre, Sarah commented, “I had a ball and I do hope everybody enjoyed the event. It’s always difficult to get the right mix of entertainment and stalls in the Market Place. Gone are the days where we can have ferret racing and yard of ale drinking competition – but I felt we got it right.” She continued, “We had a solid programme of dance and singing throughout the day. I thought everybody who took part was fantastic, but Cameron Burne the Irish Dancer really attracted the crowd with his phenomenal dancing. The Rock Choir and Rupert House School Choir sang their hearts out to huge applause. And Trinity Drama Club gave the sweetest little performance – thank you Victoria Grace Ruskin for managing to put this together in such a short time. But for me, the best part of the day was the Tug of War.”
Expressing her gratitude to everyone involved, she said, “I would just like to thank everybody who supported us again this year, in particular our sponsors, Penny + Sinclair, Wilkins, Soha and Henley Town Council. If it wasn’t for them, we could not stage this community event. I would also like to thank David Eggleton – one of Henley’s troopers and somebody who helped me enormously and Maggie Atkinson for the use of her stage. And of course Stefan Gawrysiak our MC, whose bellowing voice could be heard in Caversham.”