Simon Pearce in "Woolverstone Notes & Queries"   - 30 Sept. 2023  

Well. What an achievement. We now have 501 members in "Woolverstone: Notes and Queries." That's a real milestone.

Knowing how important harvest time is in a rural community, here is an account of how Woolverstone celebrated Harvest Home in 1887 while Capt. Hugh Berners was Squire.

Harvest Home Celebrations at Woolverstone - 7th September 1887

"The Samford has long been known as the aristocrat Hundred of Suffolk. There are many charming country seats in this favoured part of the county. For extent and for beauty and variety Woolverstone Park probably takes the foremost place. Its mansion stands upon high ground, and from the windows of the chief apartments delightful views of the beautiful Orwell, with its densely-wooded banks, are to be obtained, extending on the right beyond Butterman's Bay, where large full-rigged ships from all parts of the world discharge their valuable cargoes; and to the left to the town of Ipswich itself, the extent of the river view being some six or eight miles.

The gardens, too, of Woolverstone Hall have a great name in the local horticultural world. The surroundings of the mansion are as beautiful as science and art can make them. Notwithstanding an exceptionally dry season, the many curiously and artistically formed flower beds in the river front of the mansion are brilliant and delightful to look upon, and as for the fernery, which is approached from the conservatory, there is perhaps hardly its like in England; it is unique in its arrangement, and the thousand-and-one specimens of this favourite plant are deliciously fresh and green.

As to the parish itself, so far as we are aware, every acre of it belongs to the Berners family. The present owner of the soil is Capt. Hugh Berners, R.N., a fine old English gentleman who has the esteem and confidence of all his neighbours, rich and poor alike. Out of the kindness of his heart he has just had erected at considerable cost, a range of substantial buildings, which are to serve as a home for the aged and infirm. Close by, on the other side of the road, and just within the precincts of the park, is a handsome and convenient building, which is set apart as a clergyman's rest. The cottages in the parish are without exception well-built, roomy and comfortable, and attached to each is a large garden, which the occupiers take a special pride in cultivating to the best of their ability, the front gardens being for the most part brilliant with flowers all summer long.

Capt. Berners - who never does things by halves - invited the tenantry, all their workpeople and their wives to Woolverstone Park on Wednesday to join with him in celebrating the safe ingathering of a bountiful harvest. All the children of the parish were to have been invited to participate in the festivities, but owing to the prevalence of whooping cough in the district it was deemed prudent to confine the invitation to adults. "The children must come another time" was the gallant Captain's promise, which is sure to be fulfilled. The large handsome marquee belonging to Messrs. J. Bands and Jeckell, which has done duty at many a flower show in this neighbourhood, was erected near the mansion, and most effectively adorned with ropes of evergreen, banners, and flags. The guests numbered about 700. The proceedings suitably commenced with Divine Service at 12 o'clock in the pretty well-preserved parish church, which nestles so pleasantly amongst trees of vigorous growth in the park itself. The interior was suitably adorned with fruit and corn. There was a large congregation. The sermon was preached by the rector, the Rev. F. Wood, and was specially appropriate to the joyous occasion.

After the service the workpeople, to the number of 630, sat down to a substantial dinner of good old English fare admirably served in the large marquee by Mr. Benjamin Last, of Ipswich. There was, of course, no stint of beef, pudding and beer, several of the tenants and other gentlemen lending willing aid in keeping the plates going. At the conclusion of the dinner Mr. John A. Hempson said he was sure they would not like to separate without expressing their gratitude to the giver of the feast. It afforded them all the greatest possible pleasure to find that Capt. Berners was in such an excellent state of health as to be able to join them upon that happy occasion, and it was the wish of one and all present that that gentleman might live many years to enjoy the position which he adorned so much. (prolonged applause.)

The harvest which has just been gathered in was a most bountiful one, and all that was wanted in the interest alike of employers and employed was better prices. They had not, however, assembled that day to grumble. The toast, which he had the greatest possible pleasure in giving, was "The health of Capt. Berners, with long life and much happiness." The toast was received with ringing cheers, which were taken up again and again. Hearty cheers were also given for Mrs. Berners, and for the family. 'The tenantry and a number of friends whom Captain Berners had invited to join them then partook of an excellent luncheon in the mansion, and before separating. Col. R. H. Lloyd-Anstruther M.P., gave the health of Captain Berners, which it is needless to say was received with the utmost enthusiasm. Captain Berners, in response, expressed the great pleasure which it afforded him to see so many of his friends and neighbours around him on that occasion, and he said he hoped that if he was spared he might meet them again another year in connection with a similar celebration.

The afternoon was spent in rural sports of all kinds. Quoits, cricket, racing, jumping, swinging were some of the sports which were indulged in, the arrangements for the entertainment of the guests being most complete, while the popular and respected agent to the estate; Mr. Thos. Dodd, spared no effort-by initiating the sports and in various other ways - to enhance the pleasure of all present, and his exertions and the efforts of various friends who lent a helping hand were crowned with complete success. Captain Berners and Mrs. Berners were present at the various "starting points," and had a kind and encouraging word for everybody. The gardens were thrown open unreservedly, and not a few of the visitors were favoured by being permitted to inspect the valuable old paintings which adorn the walls of the principal apartments, while a cabinet of ancient plate, which has such an interesting history, was examined with peculiar interest.

At five o’clock the large marquee was again filled, and the guests partook of substantial tea, after which there were more sports, which were kept up with zest until the shades of evening had unmistakably set in, and three cheers having been given for Captain and Mrs. Berners, the large company departed to their homes, having spent a long and happy day in Woolverstone Park. The fine band of the Suffolk Artillery Militia was present during the afternoon and evening, and played a choice selection of music, under the able directorship of Mr. F. Harris."