Actor opens Bitton church’s record-breaking fete

Joe Sims meets fans

After a year’s absence, St Mary’s Church Fete returned to Bitton on Saturday with actor Joe Sims performing the official opening.

Due to the pandemic it was not possible to stage the event last year although a small number of garden parties were held to raise funds for the church, as well as a raffle and photography competition.

Saturday’s fete, held on the Glebe Field, at the church and in the garden of neighbouring Church Farm, drew hundreds of visitors. The event was blessed with good weather and raised more than £10,000 – a record amount.

The afternoon began with the now traditional pageant re-enacting the local ancient ceremony of the crowning of the king or queen of the meadows. It is based on a custom that used to take place in August every year on the meadows close to the River Avon.

Joe, whose first steps in acting began as a pupil at Sir Bernard Lovell School in Oldland Common, and who is best known for his role as Nigel Carter in ITV’s Broadchurch, then officially opened the fete before chatting at length with fans who queued to meet him.

Visitors were entertained on the field by Oldland Brass Band, Somerset Morris, one of the very few female Morris dancing groups in the country, and Professor Hudd’s Punch & Judy show, while St Mary’s music group performed in the church and the Jazzbeanz entertained visitors enjoying cream teas at Church Farm.

Highcroft Veterinary Centre ran a dog show with prizes in classes including waggiest tail, best trick and prettiest eyes.

There were plenty of stalls, including books and food and drink, traditional games and the chance to try archery. Teddies were launched on a zip wire from the top of the church and there was a display of classic cars.

The organisers thank everyone who came along to enjoy themselves and to spend, and to the 100+ volunteers whose work made the day possible.

The figure of £10,118 raised beats 2019’s figure by £800, although organisers say the £4,567 raised at last year’s virtual fete is equally remarkable.

The fete is part of year-round activities to maintain the historic Grade I church, which received international attention in June when the 200th anniversary of the invention of the Ellacombe Chimes in Bitton was celebrated. 

St Mary’s recently launched its own Development Appeal with the ambition of modernising facilities so that it can become a thriving and welcoming community hub all year round, as well as celebrating and protecting its long history and heritage, and there was a display in the church on Saturday for people to find out more.

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