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Mock banquet in protest of alcohol-free event, tank party and pranks: Bizarre Bridgnorth events of yesteryear

By Toby Neal | Bridgnorth | Features | Published:

Bridgnorth has no doubt held some lavish banquets down the years, but has also held some more unusual ones, like the one held in a tank, and the banquet when the pie was made of sawdust.

A trio of characters at a Bridgnorth carnival around the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries – this picture is copied directly from a 1957 Wellington Journal and Shrewsbury News and shows Mr T. Onslow as a Scotsman, Billy Phillips as John Bull, and Mr F.E. Foxall as an Irishman.

To learn about them, this week we're dipping into a series of nostalgia features published in 1957, in which Bridgnorth folk took a trip down memory lane.

One of them was Mr H. Lionel Cunnington, of Church Street, who said the tank banquet was held beneath the road on the south side of the Town Hall in High Street, opposite Burton's, the grocers.

He recalled: "The tank was built to hold some 17,000 gallons of water and it is recorded that the aldermen, councillors and their friends entered through a manhole, 'dined in it, and indulged in general merrymaking.'

"The event was not without its tragic sequel, for I believe one of the party caught a cold there and later died."

The other famous banquet, he said, was when certain well-known local characters in the town under the late "Nacky" Foxall, a baker, who that year had not been invited to the mayor's banquet, held a mock banquet of their own in which the piece de resistance was a huge pie, which when opened was found to contain only sawdust.

Clearly "Nacky" could not have been as "late" as all that, because a few weeks later the paper was featuring his memories of that banquet. Retired baker and confectioner Frederick Edwin Foxall, aged 75, who by then was living in Dunstall, Wolverhampton, clarified the details in an interview.

The mock banquet was, he said, held at the Swan Hotel, Bridgnorth, during the mayoralty of a citizen who was a strict teetotaller.

The Swan Hotel, which was the venue of a mock banquet, and somewhere around here must also be the underground water tank which was used for another of Bridgnorth's unusual banquets of yesteryear

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"Many of the councillors and local people were against the annual banquet being a teetotal affair. So it was decided to hold a mock banquet. Two pies were made, one being a real rabbit pie and the other made of sawdust for a joke," he said.

"Between 50 and 60 people attended the mock banquet, and later calendars were issued commemorating the affair and showing a little white rabbit holding up a flag of truce with the imprint: 'I saw dust.'

"The mock banquet was also the subject of a long piece of amusing verse which had widespread publicity at the time. One of the verses, I recall, went something like this: 'This pie was made by Fox all sly. Said one this is too bad; A joke of this kind is enough to turn a bull quite mad.'"

Mr Foxall also told how the town used to have some great practical jokers.

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"My late father, Mr William Foxall, was a bit of a wag and I suppose I follow after him," he said.

"One such joke I remember him playing happened about the time of the 16-week frost when the River Severn was completely frozen over and because of the severity of the weather there was widespread unemployment.

"Soup kitchens were opened in the town with one at the Bandon Arms run by Mrs Meads. One day my father was paying a visit to the Bandon Arms and he wagered a certain gentleman a golden sovereign that he would not drink a can of this soup at midnight by a certain grave in the local cemetery where it was said that a ghost was frequently in the habit of appearing.

Prank

"The wager was accepted and the man set off to take up his appointed place in the cemetery. What he did not know was that my father had also gone to the cemetery by a different way via the Hermitage and had concealed himself.

"On the stroke of midnight by the chimes of the town church clock our friend lifted the lid of the can and commenced to drink. The contents, however, were very hot and as he blew to cool the liquid he murmured something about it being hot.

"Thereupon my father in the most weird voice he could muster said: 'Cool it, can't you, cool it!'

"Thinking it was the ghost our friend took to his heels. On returning to the Bandon Arms my father claimed the sovereign and they had drinks all round, his friends having been waiting to hear the outcome of the prank."

Among other recollections were of "old Hudson" of Hollybush Road, who kept a 47-year-old donkey, and used to collect cheese boxes and make them into coracles.

"They were so light that if it rained when people came from the river they could be placed over their heads making a perfect umbrella.

"He once made a long boat in the loft over the stables at the George Hotel in Hollybush Road, but when the boat was finished he found that it was too long to get out of the room and so it remained intact in the loft for many years."

Toby Neal

By Toby Neal
Feature Writer

A journalist in Shropshire for 40 years, mainly writes features and columns, especially about aspects of Shropshire history. Lives in Telford and is based at the Ketley headquarters.

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