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Join quirky musical fun at Oxford’s ‘magical’ Binsey Fete


Sep 10, 2022

A PICTURE-perfect hamlet perched beside the Thames surrounded by open meadows, little Binsey has a touch of magic.

Enveloped by Oxford, and just a brisk walk from the traffic of Botley Road, the cluster of cottages with its poplars, excellent pub and Alice in Wonderland connections (its St Margaret’s Well is the inspiration for the Treacle Well) manages to feel miles – and years – away from the modern city just beyond.

Binsey does things differently, and that extends to that staple of village life – the fete.

While most villages content themselves with teas, tombolas and produce shows, Binsey throws what can only be described as a micro music festival – with some seriously good bands performing in the fresh air.

And while there is still tea, there is also real ale, tractor rides, giant hay bales to climb, stocks, a Luddites Corner where you can throw stuff at a pile of computers, and the marvel which calls itself the Binsey Museum of Curiosities.

After a gap of three years, for obvious reasons, the Binsey Fete returns today in all its quirky glory.

One of the volunteers behind it is musician Olly Wills – frontman of one of Oxford’s best-loved bands, The Epstein.

Oxford Mail: 19.7.2009. Binsey..For: Chris Walker. RR..Catchline: binsey fete.Length: O/N PICCAP.Binsey Fete on the village green and the procession to St. Margaret's Church. Pictured is local band Epstein.. Pic by Jon Lewis...Copyright Newsquest (Oxfordshire)

Olly Wills and The Epstein at a previous Binsey Fete. Pic by Jon Lewis

“It all began way back in 2007 and started the way every village fete should start – in order to raise money to fix the church roof,” he smiles.

“It has always been run by the small community down here in the village and we have tried to keep it as old school, fun and quaintly odd as possible. We have had chicken beauty contests, ‘kiss the farmer’ and the Binsey Museum Of Curiosities – an incredible creation of the endlessly inventive Giles Shearing – one of the fete organisers. Go and see what is on display this year… there is some talk of dinosaur bones, a piece of the Apollo 13 space craft and some dancing fish.”

And there will be music, of course, with tunes from The Kirals, Weekend Warriors, Papa Nui and The Gees.

“We have had some serious musical talent pass through over the years,” says the ever-cheery singer-songwriter and landscape gardener.

“One year we had three acts who had played Glastonbury that year – all playing at our £2 entry fete! That was the year when both The Epstein and Ralfe Band were living in the village so we had a few underemployed musicians passing through… and they did not need a second invitation.”

Oxford Mail: Binsey Fete.Papa Nui on stage. Picture by Richard Cave 16.09.17.

Papa Nui on stage

He goes on: “The stage these days is quite impressive, but for the first few years it was just a tiny PA under a tiny gazebo with bands spilling into the field beyond.

“One year we had Greg from Guillemots playing drums with us and he turned up expecting a kit to be provided. This was not the case so he simply went a grabbed bins from around the village and played a full set using them! It was seriously entertaining to watch.”

How does a tiny place like Binsey manage to put on such an ambitious bash? “Many of us have been in and around the village for years and all feel that it is important to keep such a fun event going as we know how important it has become for the local community,” says Olly.

“It is a lot of work for a few people but we enjoy it immensely and have a lot of fun putting it on each year.

Oxford Mail: 19.7.2009. Binsey..For: Chris Walker. RR..Catchline: binsey fete.Length: O/N PICCAP.Binsey Fete on the village green and the procession to St. Margaret's Church.. Pic by Jon Lewis...Copyright Newsquest (Oxfordshire) Ltd 2009..

“It is about gathering as many teams of people together in a common cause for the local good and having a blast at the same time!”

And he admits Binsey is a very special spot. “It is a village unchanged in hundreds of years nestled in the heart of Oxford. It is an amazing place to live and made even more so by the people who live in and around the village,” he says.

“I think all of us who live here feel privileged to do so and we all make a huge effort to keep it a special place for visitors and villagers alike.”

And while it still raises money for the church, it also brings in funds for West Oxford Community Primary School, local community projects and food banks.

“It’s a last blast of the summer,” says Olly. “It is one last day of golden sunshine before the autumn gets too settled in. And it’s a last fun day for the kids and family before we get buried in school runs and weekend play dates and sports events. Try and get a look at the fete from the meadow and the river approach this weekend. It looks incredible with the tents up and flags blowing in the wind – like a magical kingdom surrounded by water, meadows and trees.

“Free parking is provided in the field next to The Perch but it is far better to walk or cycle and enjoy the view as the fete comes into view like the set up for Bilbo’s birthday in The Hobbit.
"Have a wonderful adventure!”