In May I was lucky enough to be a part of the fantastic Vintage and Steam Weekend at Fawley Hill in Henley on Thames. This is definitely one of my favourite events that I’ve attended with Daisy.
Fawley Hill just outside the town of Henley on Thames is the home of Sir William and Lady McAlpine, who are inspirational in their fundraising and support for numerous charities, they have also been incredibly supportive to me as my business has grown over the past couple of years.
This year they opened their amazing grounds to a celebration of all things vintage, steam and fun to celebrate Lady McAlpine’s 70th Birthday and also to celebrate British Engineering and Transport in all its forms. With all funds going to charities and conservation groups this was an event of great importance. They do not hire a big fancy event company everything is organised in house, this is an event that attracts a footfall of almost 20,000 people over the weekend and somehow Lady McAlpine and her fabulous assistants put together an event that is far better organised than many of those with an event company behind them.
The weekend kicked off on the Friday evening with Rock on the Hill, a VIP evening that attracted the great and the good from the Henley on Thames area. There was beautiful highly polished traction engines, a superb Elvis, skydivers and a wonderful buffet by Paul Clerehugh of the Crooked Billet Pub. Lady McAlpine was throwing some shapes and belting out backing vocals for Elvis at Midnight and by 7am on Saturday morning was zooming around the grounds in a golf buggy organising the coal and water supplies for the traction engines. And still maintaining an air of calm and a sense of humour.
The grounds at Fawley Hill, Henley on Thames are not your usual garden, for a start Sir William bought and installed a working Steam train and a complete station, No 31 was bought by the McAlpine family in 1913. When the time came for the engine to be scrapped Sir William paid the scrap value and had her shipped to Fawley Hill where she huffs and puffs her way around the grounds giving great pleasure to young and old from all walks of life. There is also a museum within the railway station with all sorts of wonderful things connected to British Heritage from original fun fair rides and memorabilia to flagstones rescued from original railway stations and even a 100 year old Invalid Carriage. A wonderful team of volunteers and enthusiasts keep everything in tip top working order and clearly love their time at Fawley Hill.
But that’s not all, oh no, Fawley Hill is also an animal sanctuary, rehoming animals from zoos across the UK and letting them live out their lives in a peaceful, tranquil habitiat. The Vintage and Steam weekend had camel racing, the camels were stabled at Ironhenge. Ironhenge is made up of iron pillars set in a giant circle, they are actually the columns from the undercroft at St.Pancras. Rescued from the scrappers.
My ultimate dream is to restore a set of Steam Gallopers, time, space and money mean this is highly unlikely to ever happen, the McAlpines have a set of exquisite Victorian Steam Gallopers bought by Lady McAlpine for Sir Williams 70th Birthday from Jimmy Williams who was one of the most incredible fairground artists of his generation. I could see them from Daisy during the weekend the first time they started up was breathtaking with the sunlight lighting the artwork, every mirror, every piece of gilt every perfect horse glistened in the sunshine it really was mesmerising. A truly stunning piece of heritage restoration.
I had the best time over this weekend, the atmosphere amongst exhibitors and visitors was just wonderful, the sun shone and shone and I scooped for all I was worth. When I did get a chance to look up from scooping there was always something incredible passing by from bikes, planes, lorries, a steam bus and even a tank.
I love Sir William and lady McAlpines energy, interest and passion for all things vintage, the collection amassed by the McAlpines is a very important part of our heritage, long may they continue to collect and rescue.
One of my beautiful couples from 2013 came along and enjoyed an ice cream.
The McAlpines have renewed the Wedding Licence for Fawley Hill, Henley on Thames so this year, just as they did, you can get married at this amazing, special place. I’m looking forward to a wedding booking I have there in August. You can book a stay in their enchanting woodland clearing with several gypsy caravans, a shepherds hut, a ‘caboose’ and a huge tipi, or hire the station and museum for parties and events. Details are here on their website.
The Fawley Hill Vintage and Steam Weekend will be back in 2016 we will definitely be there!