Introduction - "The Whoame Harras"
With many thanks to those individuals and organisations who gave kind permissions to reproduce excerpts or share their stories. “Lots of the villages had Harvest Homes, but Chew Stoke’s was known to be the ‘Best in the West’!”
The first known recorded mention of the Harvest Home celebrations in Chew Stoke appeared in the (Primary) School records of September 1897, but the event most probably dates back centuries.
As the village and the surrounding areas were almost exclusively farming communities in those early days (and at least until the mid or even the late 1900’s), the annual Harvest Home festival was THE community event of the year and took place in the middle of the week, so the children would get a half day off school to mark the occasion.
The first known media report of the ‘Whoame Harras’ celebrations was by Eldred Walker in the Western Daily Press in 1910, and gave a colourful account of the deliberations of that year’s self appointed members as they attempt to organise the events of the day. None expected much from it, it seems, except ‘work and enjoyment’ and there were so many entries, ‘hundreds’ according to the account, that the Committee worried as to how they were going to display them all!o
Traditionally of course a ‘Harvest Home’ is the annual celebration of the successful harvesting and safe storage of an ample supply of crops to feed the community throughout the winter. Its other equally important roles are to give hardworking villagers the rare opportunity to get together as a community, to have a ‘knees up’, eat, drink and make merry, to enjoy local attractions (stalls and fair rides) and most importantly, to indulge in the serious business of rivalry in the vegetable, flower, jam and cake making competitions and in the sporting events (the team tug-o-war was a favourite).
Nowadays, in the 21st Century, when a large number of Chew Stoke villagers commute to work and back in nearby cities and towns, rather than in the nearby fields, many have felt it an enjoyable tradition to maintain as an important focus for bringing villagers of all ages together at least once a year, to have a go at ‘growing their own’, to get ‘back in touch with their roots’ perhaps and to provide, as before, an opportunity for local competition and celebration.
Originally a pagan festival, the event is now marked and observed in the Church calendar, which these days usually takes the form of a Sunday morning Harvest Home Church service and Thanksgiving, followed by a celebratory lunch.