A young member of Foxearth Church, Michael Heathcote, found this delightful piece of past history amongst a bundle of old papers found stuffed in between the joists of a ceiling and floor in an old house in Sudbury where he was working. Mr Pat Hodder decyphered the faded newsprint and painstakingly penned the whole in long hand. The paper itself is dated 1867 - September 19th -and is the "Suffolk and Essex Free Press - price 2d -printed in the country-side news. Although in places the prose is florid, and one might question the wisdom of reprinting the sermon as part of the account, it is nonetheless a wonderful evocation of those distant times. Any tendency to romanticise the harvest of the 1860s will be brought up sharp by the apparently innocuous phrase
'Those who had been employed in (the fields and who had endured the heat and burden of harvest time had special cause of gratitude to Him who had spared them and blessed the labours of their hands. They might not forget how, during a portion of this harvest time, not a few were stricken down by the excessive heat and unable to pursue their work, while others were called away from their harvest toil, in the midst of their employment, and from among their companions in labour, to their final account.'
The harvest was brought home at a cost in human lives and great suffering.
The harvest of 1867 is nearly past. But a little while ago and numberless acres throughout wide England were glowing and radiant with the yellow lustre of autumn. Wherever the eye wandered there were fields on fields clothed in the golden livery of the "perfected year". In some districts the sight, which presented itself, was only comparable to a sea of corn, tossing in mimic billows as the wind passed among the full and drooping ears.
For several weeks past the reaper's sickle and the mower's scythe have been busy amongst the ripe and nodding grain, and thanks to the good Providence of Him who sent the sunshine and the rain, quickening the buried seed nourishing the tender plant, and developing it into a rich and golden harvest, there has been an abundant in-gathering of the precious fruits of the earth. In many places harvest operations are over. The cumbrous wain, bearing the last load, has been seen rocking across the furrowed field and to joyous shouts of "Harvest Home" it has been safely borne to the now overflowing barn or swelling stack-yard.
Charming rural picture this. No wonder that the poet should have found it a source of inspiration, and that the painter. sallying forth with palette and canvas, should have been arrested by its simple and suggestive beauty. Autumn has always been regarded as a time of rejoicing and festivity. We were reminded the other day that it was the only season when, in the days of thanksgiving, the Church calls upon her members specially to own and praise the goodness of God. Harvest home celebrations have on their side the sanction of many centuries of usage, as is testified by both sacred and profane history.
Time was when the festival had sadly degenerated from its primitive simplicity, and when it was divested entirely of that devotional character which should always form a prominent feature in connection with it. For the most part the day was set apart to unrestrained rioting and excess, and, as the custom then was, it would certainly have been better honoured in the breach than in observance. But of late years an improved order of things has been established and it is gratifying to notice how rapidly the new regime is gaining ground in the Country. In many parishes the festival has been taken in hand by the clergyman and the leading inhabitants and the farmers of the district, who make all the needful arrangements and see that they are carried properly into effect.
Taking Foxearth as a sample of the places in which this improved rule obtains, the following may be stated as the general order of proceeding. The festivities of the day are always preceded by an act of worship, the parishioners attending Church, where the whole of the service has a special reference to the season. After leaving the Church the labourers and their wives are entertained at a substantial repast of roast beef and plum pudding, the quality of which is unexceptionable and the supply unstinted. Suitable amusements are afterwards provided for them; in some places is a tea in the evening free to all; and under the watchful eye of the clergyman and other friends, the villagers spend a very happy day, which, be it added, is rendered all the more pleasant because it is characterised throughout by the strictest order and sobriety. But we must pass from generalities and proceed to notice the doings of the good people of Foxearth on the occasion of their harvest home festival, which took place on Tuesday last.
Foxearth with its beautiful Church, its clean whitewashed cottages, with trim gardens, and its generally neat and peaceful aspect, struck us as being indeed a model village. An air of comfort and contentment seems to pervade it, we could fancy that Goldsmith had such a place in view when he drew that charming picture of -"Sweet Amburn loveliest village of the plain, where health and plenty cheered the labouring swain".
On Tuesday the people, aroused by joyous peals from the old Church bells, were all astir at an early hour, putting up decorations and preparing for the event of the day. The Church, which possesses many beautiful architectural features and on which much elaborate ornamentation has been spent, was decorated with the utmost elegance and taste. On the Communion Table were vases of flowers, and over it was the motto, in illuminated letters," Not unto us, Oh Lord, but unto Thy name give the praise". Surrounding this was a floral border, and it was surmounted in the centre by a miniature sheaf of corn. The elegantly carved screen was ornamented with Dahlias, Asters, Ferns and evergreens -arranged with exquisite taste. Pulpit and lectern were similarly decorated. The capitals of the pillars were encircled with floral wreaths, and the Gas standards were festooned with flowers, Oats, and the leaves of the graceful Ferns. Round the top of the font was a coronal of pure white Asters, each in a ring of scarlet Geraniums, and the entablatures were surrounded by chaplets of ever -greens and flowers. The stone ledges of the windows were laid out with holly leaves and berries, and on them were vases of Wheat, Oats, and Barley. The whole of the decorations were superintended by Mrs Foster, of the Rectory, assisted by many other willing hands. They were devised and carried out with the perfection of judgement and taste, and their appearance was strikingly pretty.
The Revd.J.Foster, the esteemed Rector of the Parish, who had already done so much to renovate and adorn the Church, in having still further improvements carried out, and when these are completed the building, though small, will be one of the most beautiful Parish Churches in the Kingdom. Foremost amongst the works now in process of execution is the Gilding and ornamenting of the Chancel roof, which when finished will have an extremely rich and elegant effect.
The Service in Church commenced at 1.30pm. At that time the Villagers, who had assembled in an adjoining field to the stirring strains of the Sudbury Volunteer Band, walked in procession up the long Church-yard path, headed by clergy and the choir, and entered the sacred edifice by the South porch, singing the while the appropriate and well-known processional hymns commencing;- "Come ye thankful people come" raise the song of Harvest -Home."
The Church was crowded, and amongst the congregation were many of the leading inhabitants of the district. The service throughout was choral. Prayers were intoned by the Revd.R.G.Green, of Ampthill, the 1st lesson was read by the Revd.F.A. Hammond, Curate of Foxearth, and the 2nd by the Revd.J. Gaselee R.Dt Rector of Little Yeldham. Special psalms were sung, namely the 65th,the 147th,and 148th. The hymns and. Anthems had also a special reference to the feelings of rejoicing and thanks-giving called for by the season of harvest. The sermon was preached by the Revd. Charles Burley, Canon of Rochester, and Rector of Wickham Bishop, who selected for his text the 11th verse of the 16th Chapter of Deuteronomy -"And thou shalt rejoice before the lord thy God, and thy Son, and thy Daughter, and thy manservant ,and thy maidservant, and the Levite that is in thy gates, and the Stranger, and the fatherless and the Widow, that are among you, in the place where The Lord thy God hath chosen to place his name there".
We subjoin an outline of the discourse.
Thus, said the preacher, were the people of Israel enjoined to keep the Feast of .Tabernacles - one of the great festivals instituted by God for their observance.
It fell in the time when the chief fruits of the country were gathered in; Hence it was called the feast of ingathering, and although all the Jewish festivals were times of joy ,this Feast of Tabernacles was celebrated with greater mirth than all the rest.
It would seem that the festival partook of a patriarchal character "Thou shalt rejoice, thou, and thy Son, and thy Daughter, and thy manservant, and thy maidservant. "A like law, we were told was enacted in a heathen state of old, where it was directed that every master should, after harvest, make a feast for his servants, so that he might eat together with those who had taken pains with him in tilling the ground.
Thus we had the sanction of Holy Scripture and the practice of enlightened heathen for making the close of harvest a season of rejoicing. and surely we might be thankful that in our day
The Feeling generally prevailed that our harvest homes should be sanctified by the service of God's house, and there could be no more fitting way of acting up to God's command than by all who had been engaged in harvest work, whether as masters or servants, meeting together to pour forth their thanksgivings to the giver of all good in that place where all in the parish, rich and poor, had a common and equal right to come.
Time was, and that but a few years ago, when harvest festivities, if not made the occasion for riot and excess, were entirely without that religious element which could not fail in keeping in . check undue indulgence.
He believed that such a service as they were engaged in that day would have a direct, benefit in reminding them, how the religion of Christ and the Worship, of this Church were to hallow every season and to give a tone to all that they did, to chasten their joy as well as to soothe sorrow. And when they reflected what an influence the harvest had upon the well-being and prosperity of the country at large "how all classes of the community were interested in it - how the springs of the National industry were affected by it -now scarcity impeded our trade and caused distress and a lose of employment to many - they must feel that their rejoicing and thankfulness embraced more than their own mare local or individual interests.
To the thoughtful mind, no season in the natural year was more rich in subjects for devout and holy meditation than that of harvest.
Both in the old and the new Testament it was employed to teach many a spiritual lesson, and he could not but think that those whose lot it was to live in the country and to be engaged in the occupations of a country life had no small advantage over those who lived in towns, as they were constantly reminded by what they saw around them and much that might be spiritually employed to teach many a lesson of vital moment.
If we would but heed them, all the most familiar objects of daily life - the tree, whether it was putting forth its tender leaves in spring or shedding them in sere and yellow Autumn - every field in which we saw wheat and weeds growing together - every bird taking care of its young - these and many other every-day sights and occurrences in the country might be properly heeded, impress some spiritual truth.
How many were the lessons that might have been learnt by those who had already or recently been engaged in the harvest field!
What reliance upon God's goodness and trust in his providential ordering of things!
However much the patience of the husbandman was tried by unfavourable weather - however much his hopes were disappointed - still the promise was sure -"While the earth remaineth, seed time and harvest shall not cease".
Here was another lesson they might learn. As in harvest time all must be activity and diligence and as constant advantage must be taken of every favourable opportunity. or there would be a danger of the crops being spoiled and the labours of the preceding months ending in disappointment, so must the Christian, if he would reap the rich reward promised to the faithful, be ever watchful and earnest, living a life of holy obedience, and maintaining, by ever renewed supplies of grace and strength through the means ordained in Christ's Church, his union, with his Lord and Saviour.
Those who had been employed in (the fields and who had endured the heat and burden of harvest time had special cause of gratitude to Him who had spared them and blessed the labours of their hands. They might not forget how during a portion of this harvest time not a few were stricken down by the excessive heat and unable to pursue their work, while others were called away from their harvest toil, in the midst of their employment, and from among their companions in labour, to their final account.
What good reason had they for heartfelt gratitude who had health and strength granted them, and who were permitted to be there that day in the courts of God's house to praise and to magnify the Lord of the harvest.
The Preacher then proceeded to notice the direct tendency of such gatherings as the present, which was to promote brotherly love and unite all classes together in a bond of mutual dependence and good-will, They were calculated he said, to teach us that while in the present world God had ordained that there should be different degrees and orders of men - that should be masters and servants, employers and employed, high and low, rich and poor - still in their fellowship with Christ there was a tie that bound them all together and which pointed to a future condition of being when all distinctions of earth should be done away, when many that were last here should be first in the Kingdom of Heaven, and when many that were exalted now should be then brought low. He trusted that their service that day would lead them to value more highly and to use more diligently the means of grace so abundantly provided for them in Christ's Church.
Let them be sure that the more closely they walked with God, the more constant they were in their attendance on His worship, the more regular in their observance of His holy ordinances, the more faithful would they become in their several conditions of life, whether as parents, as masters, or as servants.
Then whatever troubles and-disappointments, whatever losses and afflictions, God in his loving wisdom might see fit to appoint their position, all would be lightened and made to work together for good, and though sowed in tears they should reap in joy.
In their thanksgiving that day for earthly gifts which God had been pleased to bestow on the labour of their hands, let there not be wanting a devout sense of His higher and more enduring gifts, even of the bread of life eternal, of which if a man eat he should never hunger again. Let them look onward beyond the seasons of this passing time -onward to that final gathering when should be fulfilled the beautiful vision of St.John in the Revelations-
"and I looked and behold, a white cloud, and upon the cloud one sat like unto the Son of Man, having on his head a golden crown, and in his hand a sharp sickle. And another angel came out of the temple, crying, with a loud voice to him that sat upon the cloud, thrust in the sickle and reap? for the time has come for thee to reap; for the harvest of the earth is ripe. And he that sat on the cloud thrust in his sickle on the earth and the earth was reaped." Then, if they were faithful unto death, should the song of joy and thanks-giving that once more the fruits of the earth were safely stored, be exchanged for the Hosannahs of adoring praise unto Him who hath loved ua and redeemed us with His blood.
The hymn commencing -"Now thank we all our God, with heart, and hands and voices," was then sung and the benediction having been pronounced by the Revd.J.Foster, the service was brought to a close.
Mr.J.Byford of Foxearth, ably presided at the organ ,and the Anthem, hymns and responses were well sung by the choir After leaving the Church, the visitors proceeded to the School-room, where there was a show of Vegetables by the cottagers.
There were some capital entries of most kind of garden produce. The potatoes were remarkably fine, and the show altogether was an improvement on that of last year, good as that was generally admitted to be. The offering of prizes for the best entries at this yearly exhibition , has a very beneficial influence upon the labours, and its effect is seen in the neat and well-kept gardens and in the really excellent vegetables, evidencing careful culture and constant attention, which the cottagers are able to send in for competition.
The following were the awards made:-
The next point of attraction was the dinner tent -a spacious booth nearly 150 feet long - erected in a field adjoining the rectory. It was gay with a profusion of decorations, the poles festooned with Garlands of evergreens and flowers and the roof and sides hung with wreathes, bannerets and appropriate mottoes, such as "seed time and harvest shall not cease", "God speed the plough" "Thou crownest the year with thy goodness and thy clouds drop fatness" - "God giveth the increase" etc,
Floral arches were erected over the various entrances leading to the grounds, and these were in each case surmounted by a small sheaf of corn. At one end of the tent an Orchestra was erected for the band, over which the Royal Coat of Arms and the motto "Vivat Regina" was placed. Ranged along the whole length of the booth were two tables which literally groaned beneath the weight of good things placed upon them.
There were smoking joints of well cooked meat, and plum puddings whose name was legion. There were fowls, and Game, and Pies of all kinds, and Blancmanges, and Jellies, and Custards, and a host of other delicacies, added to which was an unstinted supply of the best homebrewed beer, and the frequent popping of corks told that there was something else on the way. At the tables thus substantially "Decorated" rich and poor, employer and employed, sat down together. An equally hearty welcome given to all, and the spectacle was in itself a happy realisation of the sentiment expressed in one of the festival songs - "High and low! with one another, young and old! come join us, come! each to each, in God a brother; To our village high-day, come, Well it is that harvest labours, Richly crowned, should bind all neighbours In a thankful Harvest Home."
Amongst the company present were the Revd.J.Foster, Mrs Foster, Mr J.F.Foster, Lady Florence Barnardiston, and party the Revd 0.Raymond and party, the Misses Burke, of the Auberries, L.Majendie esq., and party, Captain and the Misses Palmer of Liston Hall, The Revd.O.B.Raymond, and party; The Revd.F.A.Hammond, the Revd. R.G.Green, the Revd. ,J.Gaslee, Rural Dean, The Rev H. & Mrs Wilkinson & party, Castle Hedingham, the Revd J.M.Croker & party, Lavenham; Revd.C.Barney, G.Coldham esq., and Miss Coldhams Glemsford, The Revd.H & Mrs Bull, Borley, G.D.Badham esq..,and Mr Badham, H. Green esq. ,Mrs Green & Miss Hilton, Mr and Mrs Thurburn, Mrs & Miss Wright, the Misses Firman, the Revd Duncan & Mrs & Miss Fraser, Halstead, Rev.C.Wallace, Monks Eleigh, the Revd.R. & Miss Peter, Cavendiah, Revd.M.Lowe, Melford, the Revd.H.Algar,Stanstead, R.Jones esq.., and Mrs Jones ,Miss Aiselabie, Melford, H Westropp esq. Melford Place Mr J.Molyneux, Mr W.Chickall. Foxearth., Mrs Ewer, Miss Coker, Mr & Mrs Goodchild, Mr Chickall ,8t.Paul's Belchamp, and many of the principal residents and Agriculturists of the district.
An efficient staff of waiters ,each wearing a badge with the initials "F.H.H." tastefully worked in the centre, were very active in attending to the wants of the visitors, and the labours were waited upon most assiduously by the Revd. Foster, the Revd.F.A.Hammond,and other clergymen present.
The meat, which was of. excellent quality, was supplied by Mr S. Brown of Sudbury; The Beer by Mr Ward of Foxearth, and the Bread by Mr Macro, of the same place.
At the close of the repast, Grace was sung by the Choir, Mrs Foster presiding at the Harmonium. The Revd.J.Foster then mounted a form in the centre of the tent and addressed a few happy and well-timed remarks to the company. He first of all asked them to drink to health of "Church and Queen". Without the Church, and what the Church represented, the Queen would not reign so happily as she did nor have the loyal and grateful people that she had. Might the Queen be long and sincerely Blest, and might the Churoh and the Temporal power, whose union had been of so much good to the country,ever go hand in hand (cheers).
The National Anthem was then sung, after which the Revd.J.Foster proposed the health of the Revd. Canon Burney, with thanks to him for the very excellent discourse which he had preached to them that day. He had told them what their duty was not only at harvest time but at every other season of the year and he hoped they would all profit by his valuable teachings. (cheers) Hymn by the Choirs- "To the Lord of Harvest Join we all and sing, Make the vale and woodland, Field and garden ring".
The Revd.Canon Burney, after expressing his acknowledgments for the compliment, said he could assure them that it was with very great pleasure that he had come amongst them that day to witness the good work now going on at Foxearth. He did not know how many harvest homes they had held there, but he believed they were mainly indebted to them in that neighbourhood for having inaugurated the good practice of rich and poor meeting together to thank God for the blessings of Harvest, to acknowledge His goodness, and to pray that they might be worthy of the mercies he bestowed. He thanked them very much for their kindness and. he hoped that God might bless and prosper them all. Applause)
The Choir- "Men of sinew! hale and hearty, Brave at scythe- and sickle come, Come and swell our gleesome party, Reapers, sturdy reapers, come " The Revd.J.Foster said there was one toast more which he always gave, and which he had much pleasure in giving -It was "The united health of masters and their men" (cheers)
They had been told how much masters and men depended on one another,and it was a very true saying, if taken in a right sense, that a "good master makes a good labourer" and vice versa. Although he was of the opinion that it was right for a man to take his labour to the best market and get the best return for it, it was equally true in many cases - he had witnessed it there - that "a rolling stone gathered no moss". To masters he would say - make it worth your men's while to stop with you,and to the men, by your conduct make it worth your master's while to keep you.
Speaking of the show of Vegetables, Mr Foster remarked that he was very pleased with it, but there was one point in connection with it to which he wished to direct particular attention. The Potatoes were decidedly better than they were last year, but one thing to be careful about was to keep the sorts separate and the stocks true. The judge told him that in one or two instances he should have given prizes, but he found the potatoes were rather mixed. That was a point to be remembered.
There was another thing about their gardens to which he would like to refer He would not mention names, as it implied a certain amount of blame, but it was a fact that while some of the vegetables were very good, the gardens from which they came were very untidy. This he did not like to see, and he hoped there would be an improvement in this respect by another year.
In conclusion he assured them that he was right glad to see such a large gathering of masters and labourers, and he trusted the day would be one of complete enjoyment to all present. He would not have the labourers go away with the idea that this was "Mr Foster's harvest home". It was no such thing. Everyone of their employers joined together with him to give them that feast. He then gave the toast - "The men and their masters; might they be good labourers and good employers, and might God give them all health from now to next Harvest Home",(Loud cheers)
He coupled with the toast the health of the Churchwarden Mr W.Chickall, Mr Foster then called for three cheers for masters and servants, which were enthusiastically given, followed by three equally hearty ones for the Rector and his lady. The company then left the tent. Many visitors wandered about the beautiful and splendidly kept gardens of the Rectory, others inspected the fine old mansion occupied by Mr Foster, while the villagers turned their attention to Cricket, Football, Drop-handkerchief, and other pastimes, into which they entered with great spirit.
At 5 o'clock tea was provided for all the labourers, the school children also being permitted to participate in this part of the days festivities. At 9 o'clock a substantial supper was laid in the tent, which was lighted by lamps and Chinese lanterns, suspended from the roof. Dancing was afterwards commenced and spiritedly maintained for several hours to the strain of the Sudbury band, whose performances throughout the day were greatly appreciated and admired. An effective display of fireworks brought to a close one of the most thoroughly happy days whereof mention is made in the local annals of Foxearth or which find a place in the memory of its oldest inhabitant.