AN INFORMAL chat between friends led to the formation of Bicester Round Table – which celebrates its 50th birthday this year.

Cecil Rhodes had been thinking about joining Bicester Rotary Club but John Evans, who ran the family department store in Sheep Street, suggested he might be more suited to the Round Table organisation, as its members were aged up to 40.

So Cecil discussed the idea with his neighbour, John Hudson, a wholesale tobacconist in the town, and they agreed, along with four others to meet Round Tablers from Oxford to find out what Round Table was all about.

The meeting was held at the Crown Hotel, which stood in Sheep Street where Crown Walk shopping mall now trades, in the late months of 1959.

Cecil and John were joined by Cyril Willet, Tony Earle, Mike Hall and Maurice Liddington.

All agreed to form a Bicester Round Table and an inaugural meeting was held at the Crown Hotel on April 25, 1960, The original half dozen had recruited others and there were 17 founder members, with Cecil as founder chairman. To get the local branch off the ground they held some fundraising events, including a barn dance at Woodley’s barn, off Middleton Stoney road. The Hudson family provided the music and a barbecue chicken van called round with the food.

A dance was also staged at the Crown.

In the meantime more members signed up and the first charter dinner was held at the Randolph Hotel, Oxford, on February 1, 1961 – the date from which the 50th anniversary is calculated.

At around the same time, wives of the members decided to form a sister organisation, Bicester Ladies Circle.

So what has the Round Table been doing in Bicester for the past five decades?

Members have staged several money-raising annual events in aid of local charities and also donated fuel to the needy at Christmas.

Over the years Tablers have also run a Father Christmas float, which toured the town.

Mike Hall was the first Father Christmas in December, 1961.

Pram races, attracting thousands of spectators, along with fancy dress cycle rides, were staged for several years too. In addition, Tablers have run the town's annual bonfire and firework display at various locations, initially in conjunction with the Friends of Longfields primary school.

The float and fireworks display are a regular annual sight.

Cecil Rhodes went on to become the founder chairman of Bicester 41 Club, as membership of Round Table cuts off at 40 years of age.

However, Cecil recalled his time with the Round Table with affection.

“It is a wonderful organisation and we had fantastic times. We worked well and played hard,” he said.