Wednesday, 1 April 2009

The Whitley Great Ox Festival 28 March 2009.

The Natural History Society of Northumbria and the Bewick Society were delighted to support and officially open the first Whitley Great Ox Festival hosted by the Whitley Bay Chamber of Trade on Saturday 28 March. The Festival was created not only to honour the 18th century Quadruped immortalised by Bewick in his copperplate engraving of The Whitley Large Ox but to involve as many local schools as possible.

The Ox, owned by farmer Mr Edward Hall, became a beast of folklore in the 1780s due to its immense size, growing to a height of over 5ft 9ins and weighing a massive 216 stones. It was said to have grazed on ‘the Links’ at Whitley Bay before it was taken on its last journey in 1789, a slow seven day walk to Newcastle Cattle Market. Festival organisers had searched the North East for an image of the original Ox engraving to illustrate their celebrations; luckily the Natural History Society, who has a copy in their extensive Bewick Archive, saw their plea in a local newspaper and immediately offered to help.

For the festivities, local school children had been invited to submit a piece of art work about the seven day journey of the Ox. This closely contested competition was won by 12 year old Habib Ahmed for his imaginative version of the Ox. June Holmes on behalf of the Bewick Society presented him with the Art Competition shield for his school, Monkseaton Middle School.

There was also a poetry competition which had been judged by Michael Rosen, the Children’s Poet Laureate. The winning entry submitted by 12 year old Rosa Garland from Valley Gardens Middle School beat over 200 other entries. At the awards ceremony, attended by over 150 children and parents, Rosa was presented with a poetry competition shield for her school again by June Holmes on behalf of the Natural History Society of Northumbria, where she is the Archivist

June and Jane Brown, the marketing manager of the Natural History Society, attended the festival throughout the day and enjoyed seeing the children’s art works, reading the poems and watching a children’s performance of the Ox’s journey. There was also ‘Fat Ox’ ice creams in the local cafĂ© to enjoy and Keith Armstrong gave a reading of his latest Bewick poem. With over 600 children taking part in the Festival this proved to be a fantastic day and a rare opportunity to promote the Bewick Society and Thomas Bewick in Whitley Bay.

Well done Whitley Bay Chamber of Trade!

Here is the prize winning poem:

The Great Ox Poem

When the doors open,
Now to be seen,
The most unlikely star
There has ever been.

He lumbers along slowly
“On!” the master cries,
And slaps him hard
Upon his thighs.

Through the streets,
Nobody spies,
The sadness buried deep
In the Ox’s drooping eyes.

Fingers are poking him,
Voices are loud,
People catching glimpses
Through the pushing crowd.

His size is great,
That is why,
Everyone’s pointing
As he goes by.

What a long journey
The Ox must tread,
And all the time
He’s filled with dread.

Everything is
Far too bright,
Too fast and worrying,
He longs for the safety of the night.

Past the excitement,
Through the fun,
The Ox’s story
Is a terrible one;

For nobody cares
For the Ox’s life
As he sees his journey’s end,
A man with a waiting knife.

Rosa Garland – aged 12- Valley Gardens Middle School

Click on the Ox to go to the Flickr page with more photos from the day.

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