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Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Festival days in Fotheringhay

Fotheringhay. Until a couple of months ago, I knew only two things about this Northamptonshire village . The first was that Mary Queen of Scots was incarcerated and later executed in the castle there in the 16th century, and secondly, it was where King Richard III was born in 1452.

During the last few months though I've visited Fotheringhay a number of times and am increasingly attracted by its charm, its church and some lovely people who live there.

It began with a phone call from a woman called Claire . " Would you be willing to take part in a garden quiz in a  local church for charity?"

 Well I've hosted quite a few of those for BBC Radio Leicester's gardening quiz called Down to Earth so I said Yes. The next thing was,  I found myself on a committee which is organising the very first Fotheringhay  Festival which is taking place from 4 July until 8 July.

There's events every day of the week, ranging from water colour painting classes during the day led by the oh so talented Norma Gregory , plus felt craft workshops  during the afternoons of the 4th and 6th.
There's three evening events too, all very different.

The first is "Quiz the  Gardeners" which takes place on Tuesday 5th July in Fotheringhay Church at 7pm.  It's very similar to Radio 4's Gardeners Question Time, and several of the experts from that  programme will be at this event. This is not the local church quiz type thing I was first expecting!

Mind you, Lady Victoria Leatham is the Chair of the Friends of Fotheringhay Church - she's assembled a wonderful panel, consisting of  garden designer and writer Bunny Guinness, writer and broadcaster Nigel Colborn , and Lady Ursula Cholmeley, who has transformed Easton Walled Gardens, across the border in Lincolnshire. The quizmaster is Lord de Ramsey, and I will be there too, introducing the panel and being in charge of the roving mike.
A drink and canapés are included in the ticket price of £12, plus you get the chance to ask the experts about anything gardening related. All are extremely knowledgeable and likeable, so it should be a really good evening.

The following night in the church, there's a music recital , costing £10, which features James Parsons, an internationally known church organist, and solo harpist Eleanor Turner.

And then on Thursday, there's Fizz and Jazz in the private grounds of Garden Farmhouse, with, yes you've guessed, fizz , canapes and a brass band, with the chance to look at the lovely gardens which are being opened to the general public for the first time. Tickets are £18 each ...oh, and there's s an auction too, including artwork such as this beautiful original painting by Norma Gregory

and featuring the vibrant artwork of Market Harborough based artist, Mikki Longley, which always cheers me up.

So why has the festival come into being? Firstly, it's being held to raise money for the beautiful and historic St Mary and All Saints Church in the village. Built in the 15th century, there's now serious issues with damp , and a major programme of general refurbishment is underway costing £1.5million
Even though that's a lot of money for such a small village to raise , well over a million has already been promised and donated. Hopefully , this festival will attract more money and interest in the church.

This is the most important Plantagenet church in the country. I first saw it one evening in March. the sun was about to go down, and I crossed the bridge towards the village, the church seemed to rise out of nowhere, bathed in a rosy glow. It was such a stunning sight, the hairs on the back of my neck stood up...

Simon Jenkins describes it as "the church seems to float on its hill above the River Nene, a galleon of perpendicular on a sea of corn"

There's only 105 people living in the village of Fotheringhay these days, yet the church looks so grand.  Why? Well, Fotheringhay was an important place strategically in mediaeval times,  inhabited by around 1,000 people. Kings of Scotland had owned the Castle there before the Plantagets. In fact the church of St Mary and All Saints was far larger when Richard III was alive, with a staff of 34, including 11 chaplains, and choristers who sang all of the services.

 Richard III would have known this church very well, as a young boy he would have come here often, and indeed this is where Richard III's mother, Cecily Neville and his father Richard, 3rd Duke of York are buried.

After the Reformation though,  the Duke of Northumberland removed the lead from the Quire Roof and several of the Collegiate buildings before dismantling them. Even so, what remains is an important church with impeccable Royal connections. 

 And that Richard III connection means that , like me,many visitors who love history are now making their way to the church from all over the world, to see where Richard was born.

Fotheringhay Church isn't just for tourists to come and look at though, it's a focal point of the community, a working church, and in former times, had a reputation as  a cradle of sacred music. It's hoped that what will be an annual festival , will not only raise money to keep the building in good working order, but celebrate its musical heritage and attract even more visitors to the church.

If you're interested in any of the events above, please email to book tickets or find out more.

I'm looking forward to this first festival in Fotheringhay, and I'd love to see some of you there, especially at the Quiz the Gardeners event!.

It's interesting where one phone call  and saying Yes can lead you. I've learnt more about Richard III's birth place, I've fallen in love with the special calmness and light of Fotheringhay Church, and I've also made some lovely new friends, namely Claire McFadden, Lady Victoria Leatham, Simon Leatham, Michelle Dalby and Tim Stimpson.

Here's to a manic week in July!


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