Fovant has been particularly rich in its organisations concerned with the performing arts. Amongst them are:
- The Band
- FAME – Fovant Arts and Musical Entertainers
- Dancing & Keep Fit clases
The Band of 1829
Although the Salisbury and Winchester Journal of 1st June 1829 reports that the Fovant Club, a sick benefit club, ‘met and proceeded to Church, accompanied by their honorary members and an excellent band of music’ on the occasion of their anniversary, very little else is known of the early history of the band.
However, we do have some early photographs of the band. The one shown here (click on it to enlarge) is particularly interesting for a variety of reasons. Firstly, the bandsmen can be distinguished not only by their instruments but also by the fact that they are all wearing a ‘uniform’ cap the first recorded example of a uniform. Secondly, mixed in with the bandsmen are assorted other individuals, some of whom are holding staves/wands, two who have some sort of scarf tied round their hats and another who has a sash across his chest. Lastly, there is a group of young boys who are also holding staves/wands.
An educated guess is that is the occasion of the Fovant Club’s annual walk to the church after their celebratory breakfast at the Cross Keys. Of this occasion Dr Clay states that ‘each member carried a staff with a pinnacle-shaped head. The stewards had a small flag on their staves … At the end of the day members gave their staves to the boys of the village to keep until next year. The boys were paid one penny each for this service’. All these elements are in the photograph, which was taken in front of The Old Rectory.
Other postcards and photographs fill in some of the gaps between then and 1939, but largely speaking the documentary evidence for the period is lost to us. However, records of the band from the mid-1950s onwards are now in our possession so this research is ongoing.
The Bell Ringers
The village church has also been the home of various teams of bell-ringer whose make-up, often incorporating several members of the same family, has changed frequently over time. Although regular bell-ringing was part of village life
for many years, like so many other community activities, changes to working and leisure patterns in the 1960s and 1970s saw the bells fall silent owing to an absence of ringers. However, in 1980 Miss Hanham, the retired head teacher of the village school, who lived at Sunnydale on the Church Lane cross-roads, decided that she wanted to hear the sound of bells once again. She offered to pay for a new bell to take the complement up to six and this proved to be the impetus for other villagers to rally round and fund the cleaning and re-tuning of the original five bells. This was carried out at a foundry in Whitechapel, where the new bell was also cast, and in the meantime the access to the tower was also made safe.
Eighteen volunteers of all ages came forward to learn how to play and were taught at Barford St. Martin, Dinton and Compton Chamberlayne churches. The process involved learning the techniques and changes, but with the bells padded to make them silent, which made it very difficult to judge progress, since the ringers could not hear the results of their efforts.
The tower captain was Roy Simper, whose father had been tower captain some years earlier before the bells were silenced. His team of six was supplemented by an additional two teams, headed respectively by Ted Mahoney and Tony Wells. This meant that the ringing duties could be rotated between them and this system thrived for around nine years until ill-health and age reduced the numbers available. Only around half a dozen trained ringers now remain, who are called upon to ring at family services and weddings, while also ringing a muted peal every Remembrance Sunday
On Wednesday 1st August 2001, visiting bell-ringers rang a full peal in anticipation of the late Queen Mother’s birthday on 4th August. This was only the third time that a full peal had been rung on the bells, according to the records kept by the Salisbury Guild of Bell ringers. Click here for more details of the peal and the participants.
Dancing and Keep Fit
Jenny Berwyn-Jones moved to Fovant in 1983, and after talking to other mothers at the school gates, decided to start a dancing school in the village, using her professional surname of Paule on the basis that it would be easier for the children to pronounce. As with so many village organisations, the Village Hall was the venue for lessons in ballet, modern, tap and national dancing, once mirrors and barres had been fitted. There was a considerable amount of crossover between the dancing school and F.A.M.E. as both groups made improvements to the hall for the purposes of performances.
Classes were held on weekdays after school, for all levels and for ages from toddlers upwards, but pupils were not entered for examinations. Instead, attention was focused on putting on shows once a year. Four shows had to be held over two successive weekends in order to ensure that as many admiring relatives and friends as possible could attend. When the village school closed and the Rainbow Centre took over its premises and set up a nursery school, Jenny ran classes there, and every year these pupils would put on a small show at the Village Fête.
Also in the 1980s, owing to the popularity of fitness videos, such as the ‘Jane Fonda Workout’, Jenny responded to demand by starting keep fit classes for adults and subsequently line dancing was introduced as well. The dancing school officially ceased operating in 1992, because the younger pupils had grown into teenagers with other interests and schoolwork to occupy them. However, adult tap lessons plus a range of keep fit classes, some of which incorporate seated exercise for those with limited mobility, are still well attended in 2004.