Friday, 8 July 2016

Grahamstown Gazette: a Grand Ball

Every month I write a local heritage-themed column, on behalf of The Treasury, for the Grahamstown Gazette. Here's my piece for the July edition.

From The Treasury:

It’s May, 1917; Thames, like the rest of the dominion, is doing its best to carry on as usual while war rages elsewhere in the Empire. Times on the home front have been tough, and not just because of the war. A devastating flood has recently ravaged the town, causing thousands of pounds worth of damage around Karaka and Waiotahi Creek. Grahamstown’s footpaths have been obliterated in places by the water; thick layers of silt wrecked houses and shops. The Borough Council is struggling to find money to pay for the damage.

There are, however, bright sparks on the horizon. On the Thames Star’s front page, halfway down the column marked Local and General News, is an invite to the attraction of the season. Thames is about to host its first ever Grand Regimental Ball, a fundraiser for the 6th Hauraki Wounded Soldiers’ Fund. Held at the King’s Theatre, the ball was billed as ‘the talk of the town, and the attraction of the season.’ With the Regimental Band supplying the music, and a dedicated committee in charge of tickets and decorations, the ball is set to be one of the biggest events on the town’s social calendar.

Being war time, the committee have decided that ‘dress is to be optional.’ But where in Thames would one go if they wanted to dress to impress? Fortunately, J. Bates’ Elite Dress House is right new door to the King’s Theatre. With new dresses, suits and coat frocks made to measure, as well as perfectly-fitting corsets, there’s sure to be something to take your fancy. Ben Hardy’s Up-To-Date Corner is also advertising a new shipment of dress materials and winter wear in the morning paper; while Robert Wood, Draper, promises high-grade lingerie and dress-making at moderate charges.

And so to the night of the ball: did it live up to expectations? A breathless Thames Star reports the Theatre was decorated with flags and bunting, and the dancing carried on until the early hours of the morning. Private Herbert Burrett was presented with a handsome wristlet watch after supper, as a token of the band’s esteem. A group of nurses attended in uniform, and a large group of onlookers watched the dancing from the dress circle. The ball was considered one of the most successful ever held in Thames.

Of course, the ball wasn’t the biggest social occasion in Thames in 1917. That honour belongs to a very special anniversary celebration...


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