The annual John Clare Society Festival in Helpston, near Peterborough



If you have not been to a festival before, you should consider it. They really are lots of fun, and we always seem to be blessed with good weather. Read more about past festivals below. You don't have to be a member of the Society in order to attend - and we are a very friendly bunch! 

The 2017 theme is 'Influences on John Clare'. We are using St Botolph's Church for the AGM, talks and the Saturday concert. The stalls will be mostly in Botolph's Barn, with a couple on the Green, near the Memorial. The field opposite the John Clare School will be used for parking. There is limited parking in the carpark at the Exeter Arms. Only disabled parking will be allowed outside the church.

Friday, 14 July, we begin with the Midsummer Cushions ceremony at the church at 1.30pm. As usual, Pete Shaw will be holding a folk music session in the Blue Bell pub at 8pm - a great evening!

Saturday 15 July, coffee and tea will be available at the Blue Bell pub from 9.30am and in the John Clare Cottage from 10am. Botolph's Barn will be open from 9.30am with various stalls, including 3 book stalls. Our sales stall will hopefully be in the courtyard of 1a West Street. Membership, Programme and Ticket stalls will be in the back of St Botolph's Church.

Carry Akroyd will give her Presidential Address; the afternoon lecture will be by John Goodridge, based on Robert Bloomfield (a poet much influenced by Clare); and the evening concert will be the folk group, Decent Scrapers.

For details of the Friends of Festival Scheme (and the freebies you get), click on the link on the right hand side of the screen.

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Digging and Delving - Unearthing Clare (15 - 17 July 2016)

This was again a wonderful weekend. It began on the Friday with the children parading down from the John Clare Primary School to St Botolph's Church, carrying their midsummer cushions. A special one was laid in commemoration of Peter Moyse. This was followed by the children's poetry awards and a reading by the Peterborough Poet Laureate.

On the Friday evening, the back room of the Blue Bell pub was packed for the folk evening. It is really a very popular event.

Saturday is always the main day of festival - with book stalls and exhibitions in Botolph's Barn, the AGM, Presidential Address, and guest speaker talk in the Church - along with poetry readings, and a church tour. We are now selling a commemorative booklet (containing articles and a map) on the three oak trees planted for us by Langdyke Trust at Swaddywell (£2 per copy plus p&p). These were planted as a tribute to John Clare, Edmund Blunden and Ronnie Blythe. The afternoon talk was by Margi Blunden, Edmund's daughter.

In the Saturday evening, we had the pleasure of seeing the Big Fiddle Band in concert. They are a community fiddle group from Northampton but were more like top class professional players. They really were excellent.

To conclude on the Sunday, there was the usual Clare-related service in the Church, this year led by Canon Haydn Smart.   

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The theme for 2015 was John Clare and the Seeds of Change. We were hoping to reflect on how change affected Clare in the early 19th century and how we cope with massive changes to our lives today.

Festival began, as always, with the Midsummer Cushions at the Church on Friday and the results of the children's poetry competition.

On Friday evening, Pete Shaw organised his folk evening, in the front bar of the Blue Bell in Helpston. This was absolutely packed out - a very popular event.

On the Saturday, there were books stalls and exhibitions, folk dancing, and the much anticipated President's talk.

The talk in the Saturday afternoon was given by Dr Robert Heyes, a long-standing member of the Society and the Committee. His talk focussed on our general theme. We also arranged a village trail and quiz, and our aim was to provide an interesting and informative festival, whilst also allowing time to relax and just meet and talk to fields old and new.

The evening concert was in the Church, given by Chris Harrison.

On the Sunday the Revd Dave Maylor, vicar of St Botolph's, presided over a Clare-related church service, followed by with light refreshments.

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In 2014, we brought the Saturday evening concert forward, and made it just an hour long.  This gave those travelling on public transport the opportunity to attend - and we had an excellent turnout - listening to the Greenwood Quire.  They could not fail to impress.

The Friday folk gig in the Blue Bell pub (newly reopened) was bulging at the seams.  We were packed in really tightly but it was such an enjoyable evening. 

On the Sunday, we held a dedication of the new headstone at Clare's grave.  This is a clearer version of the wording on the grave (which is so heavily covered with lichen that it can be difficult to read).
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In 2013, we had a bumper crop of book signings, including, hot from the press, the Society's latest production - a companion book to The Wood is Sweet (This Happy Spirit), edited by Kelsey Thornton, with wonderful illustrations by Carry Akroyd. 

The festival weekend opened with the Midsummer Cushion Ceremony at St Botolph's Church, at around 1pm, on the Friday. The children paraded down from the John Clare Primary School with their midsumer cushions to lay them around Clare's grave in the churchyard. This was followed by a short programme of music and the results of the children's poetry competition.




On Friday early evening (6 - 8 pm), there was the Torpel Summer Festival, taking place on Torpel Manor Field.  Events included:

- music from the fabulous folk duo, Pennyless
- open air drama from the Your in Control Theatre Company
- the annual John Clare Poetry Smackdown competition - live and competitive poetry reading
- an exhibition of art and photography by local people including Tony Nero, Shaun Pitchers, David Snodgrass and others
- displays from the John Clare Cottage and Langdyke Countryside Trust
- talks and walks from Stuart Orme of Vivacity
- displays from the Torpel history project.

Afterwards (at 8pm), there was John Clare's Birthday Music and occasional song session at Clare Cottage.  Free admission and licensed bar, including real ale. 
The Saturday events were split between the Church and the School. 
Early starters were able to get tea and toast in Botolph's Barn at 8.30 am. The School hall was then open with all the usual stalls (books, tourist board goods, Clare related items, membership renewals/event tickets) from around 9am. The AGM took place at around 10.30am in St Botolph's Church, followed by the Annual Address by Ronald Blythe (our President). 
Food was available around the village (in the Village Hall, the Blue Bell pub and Clare Cottage), and there was folk dancing in the village during the lunchtime period, from the Peterborough Morris Men and the Peterborough Dance Troupe. At 12 noon, the Chelsea Flower Show award winning Clare garden was unveiled at the Cottage. 
At 1.45pm, Dr Sara Lodge gave the annual lecture in St Botolph's Church - John Clare's Sonnets: Talking Back to Tradition. After the talk there was an opportunity to either take a (ticketed) coach trip around the local countryside (looking at Clare's flora, commentated by members of the Langdyke Trust), or listen to The Greenwood Quire singing in the Church from 3pm to 3.30pm, or visit Clare Cottage, or browse the bookstalls, or pop into Annakin's wonderful art gallery in West Street. There were also artists in Botolph's Barn, and the wildlife artist and illustrator John Davis was to be seen sketching around the village.  In place of the village walk, there was a wildflower and poetry trail - photos of this are dotted around this website. 

Afternoon tea was available in the village hall, and John Goodridge organised the traditional poetry readings in the Church at 5.15pm. 

The Saturday evening concert featured harpists Mark Harmer and John Dalton, with Stef Conner on vocals, in an original performance of songs and music from John Clare's songbook.  To watch part of the evening performance, see the YouTube video below.


  
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