Six Years of the School Fair



ST. NICHOLAS Grammar School opened seven years ago, resplendently new-bricked and white-cemented, with burgundy-painted corrugated iron as its main feature. As with many new school buildings the first impression was of good planning, fine fittings and every essential for a well-run Grammar School. Closer examination and usage revealed a number of omissions for which the Authorities were unable to make provision. The main hall was inadequately equipped for any function other than morning assembly. Despite a generous initial allowance the library had many splendid shelves but insufficient books to fill them. Games equipment, musical instruments and other items were also needed by a young and enthusiastic staff.

But St. Nicholas opened with one asset which was only to manifest itself some months later, namely the enthusiasm of many parents for assisting the school in every possible way. It was the need for extra fittings, books and equipment which really started what is now known throughout North-West Middlesex as the St. Nicholas Fair.

Its first three years of existence were very much in accord with the tradition of garden parties and fêtes which are familiar in English town and village life. A "Bring and Buy" sale organised by the late Mr. Stoddart produced over £150 - a fine achievement when one considers the small size and newness of the school community. It was Mr. Stoddart, backed up by an enthusiastic and hard-working committee, who really inaugurated the St. Nicholas Fair. The second year produced a total of £110 profit and the third year the amount given to the school rose to £220.

At this point a change in approach and presentation came over the Fair with the school itself taking a more active part in what had up to now been almost entirely a parents' activity.

In 1959 an attempt was made for the first time to make the decorations an attraction in themselves. A long, architecturally grim corridor was converted into a dark and cobwebby fantasy which allowed the imagination to run riot. The main hall was transformed into a vast Arabian Nights Bazaar where people jostled in their hundreds to reach the quaint treasures of the White Elephant stall. The mundane dining hall became a fashionable and much-appreciated tea room. Exhibitions, sideshows and displays crowded together under a canopy of flags and bunting such as the school had not seen before.

This was the first time the Fair was opened with the firing of a salva of large rockets. At 2.30 p.m. the biggest single reason for the Noise Abatement Society announced to the local inhabitants that the Fair had begun. When parents, staff and boys ceased work late the same night the school, and in particular the library, was £700 better off.

The following year, 1960, the project was launched to provide the school with a building to serve as a Junior Common Room and as a refreshment centre, and proceeds from the Fair were to help finance the scheme. To advertise the 1960 Fair a large wooden horse was obtained from Ealing Art School's Rag. Mounted on a lorry, it toured the district and created a sensation wherever it went, not least when it parked outside a public house in Ickenham. More than one customer emerging from the saloon was observed to gasp, stare and return hastily to the bar! Among the features of the 1960 Fair was an Eastern Corridor, complete with burning incense. As a boy wrote later:

"The East has come to play its part,
Located near the works of Art,
With writhing snake and clanging bell.
They've even got an Eastern smell!
As sounds of temple bells arise
You're in the East - without the flies!"

With the aid of decorations supplied by the French Embassy the dining hall became a Parisian Cafe for the afternoon.

With a record sale of over 10,000 programmes and the benefit of a fine sunny afternoon, the profits soared to £1,040 -- the highest figure ever reached by the St. Nicholas Fair.

The 1961 Fair was dogged by a series of misfortunes. Mishaps to the lorries in the advertising procession, the non-arrival of decorations for the Japanese Tea House, and a spell of heavy rain on the afternoon of the Fair itself were disappointing to the hopes and plans of the organisers. Nevertheless a profit of £900 was made, and among the novel attractions of the Fair were the Infernal Corridor, a whimsical reflection of some of the moving and frustrating aspects of modern life, and a genuine illuminated water fountain on the school stage!

And so to 1962. This year's Fair was presented in what has now become a traditional pattern. The centrepiece was the newly erected Junior Common Room, where afternoon teas were being served to the accompaniment of tea-time music supplied by Mr. Spurgeon's orchestra. Fifteen hundred square feet of silver paper converted the school hall into a Great Ice Age Hall filled with stalls selling all manner of things — the only place in England on July 21st where one could buy a white elephant in a snowstorm!

The Fair had been advertised by a procession of "old crocks" led by a modern Ford van "dressed overall" with balloons and escorted by motor-cycle outsiders in cricket flannels. The colourful stalls of the fun-fair stood ready, not in the playground this year, but grouped about the new Common Room on the surrounding grass plots. The rockets were primed, and everything seemed ready for a record success, when the weather intervened, and for the rest of the afternoon intermittent heavy showers periodically drove visitors to seek diversion among the indoor attractions of the Fair, leaving the bedraggled stalls to their fate.

All that remains for me to do is to express try thanks to those loyal and devoted friends of the school who have worked so hard and so patiently in the interest of the pupils and who have established the tradition of the Fair. To those parents, staff and boys (dare I mention this year's 4c?) the school should be extremely grateful. St. Nicholas would be poorer indeed without the efforts of its Parents' Association, and North-West Middlesex a duller place without the St. Nicholas Fair.


1961-62 School Magazine


School Calendars


Lincoln Boulevard (1969)


Brian Tilbrook's Recollections


Gardening (1957)


The School Library


Training With The Forestry Commission (1966)