In 1891 the parish of St Andrew’s in Hertford was in need of a hall for holding meetings, entertainments and social gatherings. To help raise the £1,000 needed, a 3-day grand bazaar took place in July, at Christ’s Hospital’s cricket-ground and gymnasium.
The event was opened by the Marchioness of Salisbury. Georgina Gascoyne-Cecil was married to the then Prime Minister, Robert Cecil, and able to bring with her a distinguished house guest, the American Ambassador, Robert Todd Lincoln (grandson of the past President). Anxious to raise enough funds for the hall, the bazaar committee had the idea of requesting the assistance of the citizens of Hartford, Connecticut. This was prompted by the fact that Samuel Stone (born in Hertford) co-founded the city of Hartford in 1635, in honour of his home town. The committee’s request produced a generous response of many goods made in the city for sale at the bazaar and no doubt, prompted the appearance of the Ambassador.
The Marchioness was welcomed by the Mayor, John Cooper, members of the Corporation and a group of children dressed in various national costumes. Once the opening ceremony was over, the band struck up and the sale began. There were many stalls offering a variety of goods. The Hartford stall had items ranging from textiles, tools and, rather alarmingly firearms. Other stalls sold the more usual dolls, perfumes, basketry and flowers.
Besides the bazaar, the fete committee had lined up a variety of entertainments to please the crowd. Outside music was provided by the Hertford Town Band. A large marquee was the venue for entertainments including a conjuror with trained doves, musical recitals, as well as cat and dog shows. There were fairground attractions too in the form of a Wheel of Fortune, a shooting gallery and a stall promising to calm the nerves by giving electric shocks. A more traditional method was also available in the form of refreshments, provided by the Hertford Coffee Tavern Company.
The big attraction of the fete on Thursday was the sight of ‘Professor’ Lythgoe taking to the sky in a hot air balloon. Thomas Lythgoe, a resident of Hertford, was a professional balloonist, making more than 200 flights in his lifetime. Over 3 hours the crowd waited. The suspense was heightened by the prolonged inflation of the 17,000 cubic foot balloon. Late in the afternoon the balloon rose “slowly but quietly and gracefully” to the cheers of the crowd of thousands (according to the newspaper reporter) and was carried north-east into the Essex countryside.
The fete suffered from mixed weather over the 3 days but ended by raising several hundred pounds, going towards the £1000 needed to build the hall. Work started the following year, on land next to St Andrew’s Church and was called St Nicholas Hall.