40 years in Fifield

Wall HangingFor a village as old as Fifield, 40 years feels like a short period although it would be called a settlement rather than a village before the 14th century. Having been under Forest Law, although never in the Wychwood Forest, Fifield has always been a little remote and consequently very self-reliant. It has through the years sheltered its villagers, maintained its church and mostly made its own amusements so outwardly little has changed. Many former inhabitants sleep in the churchyard where grave stones as well as the church windows and walls give us some names and many tributes.

The year 1980 started sadly with the death of Keith Cameron who lived at Fifield House which he bought in 1938, farming the land. He was churchwarden of Fifield Church, Chairman of the Parish Meeting and effectively Squire; he was also universally popular as the memorial plaque in Fifield Church testifies. Fifield Church was packed for his funeral service, taken by the Archdeacon of Oxford. Later that decade there were celebrations for weddings, royal and otherwise, annual summer fetes with stalls and attractions – organised for many years by Anne Cameron (widow of Keith) and Ruth Griffin from The Patches – harvest suppers and Christmas celebrations

Royal events are a key part of celebrations in Fifield and as well as marriages these have included births and jubilees, all marked enthusiastically with lunch parties and tea parties and more lasting memorials like the unique china plates in Fifield Parish Hall, each carrying the finger print and initials of everyone at the party, and the Diamond Jubilee needlepoint wall hanging in the village hall with scenes of Fifield through the centuries and small illustrations of the wildlife, the farming season, and the people. Contributors enjoyed this so much that another has been made, this time the life of St John the Baptist, now ready to go on the Church’s West Wall, except that in 2019 the church gave up a long-held secret as falling plaster displayed a large ‘window’, high up, whose existence had been previously forgotten. Now it has been established as far as possible as not being a window but a hole cut to help hoisting the bells into the small belfry. The bells themselves were probably cast on land very near the church.

The parish has annual litter picks and regular tidyings of the bus shelter. The fit turn out en masse when needed to refill the grit salt bins and there are always volunteers to help wherever help is needed.

Fifield is justly proud of its Parish Hall, given to the parish by the Matthews family who rented Fifield House for a few years in the 19th century and then moved to Manor Farmhouse (now called The Manor), employing many villagers on their farm and at their mill. The sale of their farm in the 20th century gave tenants the chance to buy their own homes, something most had thought would never be possible. By 2000 the Hall needed modernising and after raising some £70,000 the village saw Robin Perry’s workmen spend the summer of 2009 stripping it right down to the main walls and roof and, thanks to a clever design by Kevin Field, son of long respected residents, it was restored and refurbished and is now a beautiful setting for many activities from Art Group sessions with an annual exhibition, Pilates classes, harvest suppers and many other events.

Farming continues in Fifield, although now it is mainly arable and the huge cattle housing which once stood near The Old Farmhouse has gone (removed to the Fifield and Idbury border and still on Cameron Land). Houses are changed and enlarged as occupants change and grow, new residents arrive, others leave. The Parish Hall continues to evolve and now hosts the weekly post office, a permanent Art Group display, a small free library, coffee mornings, sales, supper clubs and many other events.

FifieldGroupFifield plays it part on the world stage. David Cameron, in the year he became Prime Minister, re-opened the Parish Hall following refurbishment. Roger Entwhistle, bass guitarist with The Who, played for the delight of Fifield at the Silver Jubilee Celebrations in 1977, and at the Diamond Jubilee Big Lunch at Fifield House, Samantha Cameron (wife of the Prime Minister) and 2-year old Florence were amongst the guest, escaping tiring London celebrations for a day. I see I have forgotten to note the menu at the Big Lunch – it was, of course, Coronation Chicken.

Fifield Church has been the setting for interesting talks and fund-raising events. William Shawcross came in the year his authorised biography of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother was published; Richard Owen enthralled when he talked about life as Foreign Correspondent on The Times in Moscow through the 1980s – the height of the Cold War, spying and including the fall of the Berlin Wall. In 2013 there was a nativity play, 2016 saw standing-room only for the funeral of Anne Cameron in her 98th year, and in 2019 Jane and Robert McWilliam and Anabel Scott-Smith (joined for a short distance by Tabitha on her Shetland pony Jampot) took part in the annual Ride and Stride, organised by The Oxfordshire Historic Churches Trust, raising a substantial sum by donation and sponsorship.

Fifield does sleep sometimes, but its heart beats steadily on and will continue to do so.

Catherine Hitchens

April – May 2020