Honiton Round Table’s sleigh will continue to bring festive sparkle to residents
PUBLISHED: 07:00 29 December 2016
Since 1978, Father Christmas has found the time in his hectic, international schedule to visit the good children of Honiton – ably assisted by the equally good men of Honiton and District Round Table, writes Alistair Britchford.
This year is no exception to the rule and he has been spotted (and heard), patiently listening to wish lists, handing out sweets, raising funds for local charities and bringing much festive happiness and sparkle. Except something is different - he is proudly sporting a very smart and shiny new sleigh.
During the cool evenings of autumn, members of Honiton and District Round Table worked tirelessly to ensure this 38-year-old tradition could continue.
From a secret workshop hidden in the depths of Heathpark, sweat and tears have been shed by committed members Alistair Britchford, Kevin Hunt, James Clifford Davies, Steve Miller Ratcliffe, Steve Keane, Mark Richards, Warren Robinson and Julian Ohlsen to rebuild an iconic feature of the Honiton Christmas. And thanks to generous sponsorship by The Co-op Funeralcare, Proactive Mechanical and Electrical Maintenance Ltd, FTT Training, Fortnam Smith and Banwell (Lyme Regis), Denleys of Honiton and Fenny Signs – the new sleigh was finally launched at the Christmas carnival in early December and has been making its rounds ever since.
Parents and grandparents wax lyrical about this long-held, local tradition.
The original sleigh was built in the yard of Jacksons’ Nursery in Combe Raleigh during the summer of 1978.
The base was the chassis of a caravan originally used by Round Table to sell refreshments on the junction of the A30/A303, before an unfortunate accident saw its sad demise. The expressive, papier-mâché Rudolph was the brilliant creation of local vet, John Woodger, with assistance from Dr Jeremy Gibson. With such scientific input, Rudolph was originally ‘anatomically correct’, but somewhere in the mists of time, his undercarriage completely vanished, a mystery that remains the subject of much mirth and merriment to this day.
The routes of the sleigh would be publicised in the Midweek Herald as well as at the library - and the float became a much-loved highlight of Christmas for both adults and children alike.
It was certainly difficult to miss with its giant Rudolph perched high, its bright lights and those loudspeakers belting out seasonal music.
In the late ’70s, the sleigh traversed the streets of Honiton during December - and occasionally ventured further afield to the surrounding villages such as Feniton, Payhembury, Dunkeswell, Upottery, Stockland and Offwell.
On one cold and crisp evening, Northleigh and Farway were also on the itinerary, but when the sleigh got stuck halfway up a steep hill, it was reluctantly decided to abandon such trips to the wilds of East Devon. Legend also has it that on arrival in Feniton one year, villagers and Tablers were most confused by Father Christmas’s absence from his sleigh - it transpired that he had somehow been launched from the rear of the sleigh into a deep and dark ditch en-route. Strengthening repairs were put in hand shortly afterwards.
The original and much loved Rudolph of those early days remains in existence, but considerable debate now ensues as to how and where such an iconic figure should spend his well-earned retirement.
Any suggestions will be most gratefully received - answers on a postcard please to Alistair Britchford, chairman of Honiton Round Table!
Thanks to the ongoing efforts of Honiton Round Table and their sponsors, the sleigh is reborn and here to stay, bringing festive magic and goodwill to the town for many years to come.
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