A FACE from Houghton Feast’s past made his first appearance in 500 years during its colourful parade.
Dressed as Bernard Gilpin, rector of Houghton parish from 1558 to his death in 1583, Forster Turnbull received a cheerful reception during the parade on Saturday.
Gilpin, who roasted a hog or ox for the poor every Sunday between Michaelmas – Houghton Feast – and Easter to feed the poor, is the inspiration behind the now legendary festival, organised by Houghton Feast Steering Committee.
“This is the first year we have had someone dress up as Gilpin,” said Joan Lambton, secretary of Houghton-le-Spring Heritage Society.
“We have never been able to find someone who looks suitably like him before, so I’m thrilled we had him this year.
“He got a good reception from the crowd and everyone recognised him, which is great.”
Forster, also a member of the Heritage Society, was joined in the parade from Newbottle Street, along the Broadway to Dairy Lane, by members of community groups including Rainbows, Brownies, Houghton Rugby and Archery clubs, and a number of schools and nurseries.
About 8,000 people lined the streets to watch the Houghton and Morpeth Pipe Bands lead the carnival parade, which proudly displayed the Houghton Lodge miners banner.
More on foot than float this year, the procession was also flanked by a number of vintage steam vehicles, including a Puffing Billy engine, a tanker, lorry, and transporter engine, as well as classic cars.
The crowds also enjoyed a music by the Houghton Area Youth Band, which played two pieces around the theme of All The Fun at the Fair.
Members also worked with the pipe band to perform Amazing Grace and Highland Cathedral.
Chairman of the heritage society, Paul Lanagan, who dressed up once again as Victorian clown Billy Purvis, said the parade is going from strength to strength.
“Considering the cuts there have been, we’ve had a great crowd,” he said.
“It’s a lot more community-led now, and we have had involvement from every single community group in the area, which is fantastic.
“It’s been well organised, and perfect weather for it. I’m really pleased.
“And it was funny to watch Forster parade around as Bernard Gilpin – he was blessing people in the crowd.”
Scores of people spilled from the streets into the Rectory Field Fairground following the parade, as well as into the grounds of Kepier Academy, to take a closer look at the vintage cars.
Zazz Dance School also put on a performance of Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals at Zazz Theatre.
The parade was held following the launch of the event on Friday, which featured entertainment including music performed by Houghton Area Youth Band.
The famous roasting of the ox will take place today on the Rectory Field, prepared by Houghton Rotary Club, at 4pm, followed by a firework display at 7.30pm.