Custom survived: Hythe Venetian Festival

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Fete worse than….

There can be nothing more pleasant than sitting on the bank of a river and watch a carnival parade especially if it’s on the water! Every two years, the town of Hythe celebrates the fact that it never needed its military canal with a Venetian Fete, made up of a tableaux of 40 decorated floats in various themes, which gently drift pass to one’s amusement.
That’s not cricket!

I believe a local legend associates the original fete back in the early 1800s to not needing their Royal Military canal, a great engineering feat constructed to fight Napoleon. Although there is tradition that a carnival of sorts was enacted in the mid 1800s it was not until 1860s or 1890 according to some accounts, that a parade of illuminated boats was organised by a local worthy Edward Palmer. The name Venetian was what he used to report the event and despite it being quite unlike a real Venetian festival, the name stuck and even more bizarrely being connected with the town’s cricket week! This odd idea was a good one, because although three fetes were held in 1891, local people were reluctant to so after a small interregnum, it was established in 1894 as a way to raise funds for the first Hythe Cricket Week.

Not really a 100 years?

I’ve been a bit cheeky here, because there is not a complete custom from 1890 until today, however as the two main gaps were WW1 and WW2, I think they are respectable times to have had a break. Furthermore, the years over which the custom has been kept up add up to 100 years anyhow!

Nearly met its fete?

Soon after the First World War, the lack of labour and overgrown nature of the canal meant it did not restart until 1927 despite the Cricket week starting in 1919 and then even then its survival was ropey! However, despite being a colourful activity in times of blandness perhaps, local opposition to the fete was great in the late 1920s…the canal being closed for eight hours was not popular with local people! Yet it came back with vigour in 1934 and gained considerable support and continued with a gap in WW2 until today.

The effort made today is considerable especially as it is all done for charity and by volunteers. Local organisations, schools and groups make great efforts to produce a colourful and amusing display. In late 1990s when I visited some of the highlights were a floating castle with knights, two spitfires, a Viking longboat, a submarine, some rock and rollers dancing on the water and a sinking Titanic…remarkably all based around a simple raft at the most and yet all looked different! Recent tableaux have been even more remarkable with a Noah’s ark, street on water and robots. Many of these displays are charming and quaint during the day…but come to life at night dazzling brightly in the balmy summer evening with their flashing and glowing lights, as well as the potential unsafe nature of some of their dancing in the dark on the water. It may not be anything like what they do in Venice and with local charm of the amateur that’s a good thing, Kent does it much better.

Hythe Venetian Fete5

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