Bishop's Waltham Festival
'Bishop's Waltham Festival, entirely run by volunteers, brings professional performers to the town and showcases local talent'
Founded in 1995, Bishop’s Waltham Festival has been presenting exciting and creative performances in Bishop’s Waltham for 20 years. Managed and run entirely by volunteers from the community, past festivals have included music performances by household names such as The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, George Melly, Show of Hands, The Albion Band, Kenny Ball, Humphrey Littleton and many many more. Outdoor classic productions have always proved a popular feature, with audiences of over 300 on occasions enjoying a picnic and excellent professional plays by the best national touring companies. Festivals have also featured plays for children, workshops, story telling, stand-up comedy, poetry, restaurant concerts, and vibrant Battle of the Bands events.
In addition to professional productions the Festival features drama, arts and music created within the village through schools work in arts and music, community choirs, drama nights and community art projects. Whenever possible much of the community work has come together on “A Festival Day” either in Bishop’s Waltham Palace or latterly in The High Street.
Throughout its life, the Festival has evolved to meet new circumstances. Plans for the next 3 – 5 years will see the Festival focussing on the village heritage interpreted through a wide range of creative projects. In 2015 we worked in partnership with The Town Team to commemorate the role of the village in the build up to Henry V’s Agincourt campaign. Festival events within this medieval extravaganza include a professional production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest and an outdoor film showing of Henry V, Both in the stunning setting of the Bishop’s Waltham Palace. Other 2015 projects included a drama collaboration with Now Heritage Theatre Company featuring exciting new writing, a community choir concert, Music Festival, a community art project and a literature and short story project. All festival events complemented and fed into the wider Road to Agincourt project which attracted an audience from across the south. In future years the festival intends to focus on different aspects of the village’s rich and exciting history and heritage.
Bishop's Waltham Festival have been presenting events for our town for over 20 years, during those years we have seen art installations, choral productions, professional theatre performances, music competitions, outdoor cinema, music festivals, story telling and more in many locations throughout the town.
Bishop's Waltham Festival 1996 – 2023
Our Festival was started by John Cochrane and his late wife Helga. He came, looked at the village with the Palace, and thought every Irish village has an arts festival, why not here? This is ideal! He told us this with great glee when he came to our our hugely successful Music festival.
There have been many ups and downs in the last twenty years but we are still thriving and entirely run by volunteers, with grant help when we can get it.
Regulars of the early years were the Bournemouth Sinfonietta and one year the Black Dyke Mills Band attracted 1000 with their picnics. Ah, the picnics.. who will forget The Tempest? We even offer thunder and lightning. Rain or Shine Theatre Company have brought us Shakespeare every year for twelve years now.
Other famous performers have included Humphrey Littleton (on a lovely summer's evening), Kenny Ball, the Albion Band, Show of Hands, The Tremeloes (very wet) and George Melly (had to be pushed up on stage....). Joe Whetham's son's student company gave us a magical Midsummer's Night's Dream, roving the grounds with the Court by the Brewhouse wall, the fairies in the Dell and Titania waking to a glorious sunset.
Showcasing local talent is a huge part of the festival. The excellent Festival Singers, begun with Sammy Cross and then with Fleur Wainwright, are in concert annually in St Peter's Church and today's Music Festival grew from the battles of the bands. The early Art exhibitions arranged by the Parret family have grown into community art creations, think of the Agincourt photo figures and the 1914 commemorative poppies.
Festival Day has always been about children, performing and making., creative activities and workshops. When we had to leave the Palace (one of the downs ) we relocated Festival Day to the High Street setting a new trend. New spaces led to new ventures, comedy nights, concerts in restaurants, pavement art and storytelling and, now back in the Palace since in 2015 thousands of people come each year to our performances.