Burford: The small town with a big festival

PUBLISHED: 14:04 20 May 2019 | UPDATED: 14:04 20 May 2019

Burford with festival bunting (c) Anthony Paul

Burford with festival bunting (c) Anthony Paul

Anthony Paul Ltd

For ten days during June, people will be making a bee-line for beautiful Burford to experience a festival like no other

Most towns have a festival but few encompass the full spectrum of music, art, literature, history and horticultural interests in one go. Burford may be one of the smallest towns in the Cotswolds, yet it's about to host one of the biggest events in its social history. Indeed for its size, it knows how to punch more than its weight when it comes to organising what will be the 10th Burford Festival.

What started out as just three events over one weekend, has quietly grown into some 50 events over a 10-day period. Organisers claim it has been one of the Cotswolds' best kept secrets, but looking at the calibre of speakers and diversity of subjects covered, understandably the word is getting out and visitors all over will no doubt flock to this beautiful unspoilt town in the coming weeks to see what this festival is all about.

Organised by a small committee of just six people and backed by an army of up to 140 local volunteers, this biennial festival is now firmly etched on the community calendar. In fact many Burfordians have booked their holidays around June 6-16 to ensure they don't miss out.

"At Festival time there is a noticeable buzz around town, and it is a great pleasure to see the catchment of our audience expand, drawing in our neighbouring villages and towns as well as many people from further afield to fill the hotels and pubs," says Burford Festival chairman Hugo Ashton.

Tracy interviewing Peter Martin from the Burford Festival committeeTracy interviewing Peter Martin from the Burford Festival committee

Open gardens

Traditionally the first weekend (Saturday, June 8 and Sunday, June 9) starts with Open Gardens. This attracted 1,500 people at the 2017 Burford Festival and proves a highly successful fundraiser due to the dedication of both gardeners and tea providers. Around 20 rarely seen private gardens of all sizes and styles - from the country house garden to intimate town courtyards, from the formal to the cottage garden - will be open across town. Those visiting are encouraged to follow the signs and obtain tickets and maps at the first garden they enter. Plant stalls will be available for those wishing to take something away. The Open Garden weekend also features two talks on the theme of the English garden abroad. George Schoellkopf, from Connecticut in the US, will present his talk, An English Garden in New England: Hollister House, about the wonderful English garden-inspired landscape he has created in a handsome 18th Century farmhouse. Gardening correspondent for The Independent over 30 years and author of a number of books on plants and gardening, Anna Pavord will tell the story of the 'Flowering of Tuscany' under the influence of an extraordinary collection of English ex-patriates in the early 20th Century. An associate editor of Gardens Illustrated magazine, Anna now writes for the Sunday Times and contributes to Country Life, Country Living and Elle Decoration.

Burford open gardensBurford open gardens

History and vision

Launched in 2001, Burford Festival was set up to help promote knowledge and understanding of the town's arts by establishing and supporting festivals but not exclusively of culture, fine arts, music, drama, dance, literature, science, heritage, horticulture and handicrafts. The vision was - and continues to be - to highlight Burford's historic heritage; to help conserve, preserve and improve the physical environment; promote good citizenship and civic responsibility and to set up grants and supportive provision for youth, educational and community entertainments.

"We aim to create a festival which brings new interesting and attractive experiences. Unlike many festivals, which focus on one area of interest such as literature, music or theatre, we try and provide as wide a range of events as possible covering classical and contemporary music, talks on a wide range of subjects, theatrical performance and film, as well as community events," explains Hugh Ashton.

Any surplus finance is donated to local projects and charities in line with these objectives. As a result of the Burford Festival in 2017, money was given to Burford Pre-School and Burford Primary School, Burford Chamber of Trade Christmas Lights and the 5th November fireworks display, Burford Scout Group, the local Bridge Magazine, Burford Traffic Calming Group and Windrush Against Sewage Pollution (WASP).

Burford Festival volunteers, 2017Burford Festival volunteers, 2017

Line-up for 2019

As final preparations are made for the 10th biennial Festival, there is an exciting programme which seeks to encompass the 'something for everyone' ethic.

"Our aim is to offer an affordable range of ticket prices to not only enable everyone to enjoy the Festival but also to buy a range of events - without breaking the bank. There are a range of free events, many at £5 and the dearest ticket is £13," explains Peter Martin from the Festival committee.

The grand launch takes place on Thursday, June 6 with drinks and canapes at the Mayor's Reception hosted by Mayor Cllr John White and Burford Town Council. On Friday, June 7, starting with a reception at the Burford Priory, generously hosted by Matthew Freud, a banquet is set in St John the Baptist Church and will include musical entertainment and an auction by Philip Taubernheim from the Antiques Roadshow.

For those looking to discover more about their town's history dating back to medieval times, the Burford Tour, is a 90-minute walking tour led by experienced local guides which takes in the 12th century church, ancient buildings lining the High Street and will reveal how Burford developed from the wool trade, through the Civil War, to its heyday during the coaching era. The tour takes place from Tolsey Museum on Saturday, June 8 at 10.30am and Saturday, June 15 at 2.30pm. A further town-related history event takes place on Monday, June 10. Ray Moody's talk, A Scandalous Burford is at 10.30am in the Methodist Church and unravels delightfully shocking incidents through the centuries.

Burford Historic TourBurford Historic Tour

Meanwhile at the Warwick Hall at 6pm is All in Good Time - Letters from Broadway, a fascinating theatrical account of how, in 1965, the British actress Hazel Douglas appeared on Broadway in Bill Naughton's hit of the same title. With a dry sense of humour and wit, Hazel describes her experiences of both show and fellow actors, in letters to her husband back home. These have been dramatised by Brian Taylor, former theatrical agent and local resident with well-known actress Maev Alexander vividly recreating Hazel. Following this performance at 8pm at The Club House, is the comedy-drama film, The Family Way, starring John and Hayley Mills, which was inspired by Naughton's All in Good Time.

Thespian enthusiasts will also enjoy The Three Inch Fools, a five-strong troupe of actors with all manner of musical instruments, who will perform a highly imaginative and vibrantly musical take on Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing.

The Three Inch FoolsThe Three Inch Fools

Other highlights of the 10-day programme include HRH The Duke of Gloucester who draws on his architectural knowledge and special interest in architectural preservation to deliver his talk Baroque Architecture - a fashion or a belief; master storyteller Michael Morpurgo gives an insight into his writing life as he discusses his latest novel, Flamingo Boy and Prue Leith serves up some culinary tips in her naturally witty style. Tweedy the clown will add some cheer with his fun-packed show tricks and side-splitting jokes, while local author Anne Youngson talks about the journey of her novel Meet Me at The Museum from publication to reaching the reader. Deborah Warner provides a director's perspective on the design process of her celebrated production of Benjamin Britten's dramatic opera, Billy Budd and Rosamund Young, from Kites Nest Farm, near Burford, will talk about her extraordinary Sunday Times Top Ten Best Seller book, The Secret Life of Cows.

One event not to be missed is Dr. Chadden Hunter, who is a producer/director at the BBC Natural History Unit where he has worked with Sir David Attenborough on wildlife programmes for over 15 years. At Warwick Hall on Monday, June 10, Chadden will be revealing secrets of making Planet Earth II and the forthcoming series Seven Continents and sharing never-before-seen footage from the series.

Chadden HunterChadden Hunter

The Festival programme has a strong environmental theme with Rick and John Stein's From farming to fish via Oxford, Discos, Omega 3s & Dyslexia; Jo Ruxton's thought-provoking film A Plastic Ocean and insightful talk about its production and key environmental issues and developments over the last 10 years while Lysander Ashton, Director of 59 Productions will introduce Deep Field. This is a 20-minute film combining Hubble Space Telescope's stunning imagery with bespoke animations, taking the viewer on an unforgettable journey from planet Earth to the edges of our universe, accompanied by Eric Whitacre's ethereal musical score including an 8,000-strong Virtual Choir.

Those who appreciate music can enjoy The Songbird Trio's Incurable Romantics encompassing a wide and surprising variety of genres from opera to folk. Jazz aficionados will enjoy Roger Beaujolais on the vibraphone and pianist David Newton in their celebration of Milt Jackson of MJQ. As well as a concert by the internationally-acclaimed, 80-strong Pendyrus Male Voice Choir; London-based world-renowned, award-winning a cappella group All the King's Men will be performing innovative arrangements, flair and sensational choreography at St John the Baptist Church after delivering a workshop for those interesting in learning about a cappella.

Swing From Paris brings the sounds of a chic Parisian café and the French jazz of Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli and the finale gala concert on Sunday, June 16 brings a glittering climax to Burford Festival 2019. This will feature The Burford Singers, the Cotswold Chamber Orchestra and superstar pianist Maria Marchant, who is warmly welcomed back following her great success at the 2017 Festival.

Burford SingersBurford Singers


To celebrate its 10th bi-annual celebration, organisers have re-introduced an Art exhibition, a feature of early festivals. This will take place throughout the Festival period at the newly opened state of the art New Warwick Hall which won the RIBA South Award 2017 and the RIBA South Conservation Award 2017.

"We think it is great that the brand new Warwick Hall, seating up to 200, will become the hub for many of the speakers, and its garden used for the outdoor Shakespearean production and the popular Jazz in the Garden," admits Ben Turner, Operations Manager, Warwick Hall.

Other key venues in Burford hosting festival events include the Friends' Meeting House which dates back to the 1709, the Methodist Church, Baptist Church and the Club House.

Business boost

It not only benefits local people thanks to events such as a community lunch and Family Fun Day on Saturday, June 15 but chair of Burford Chamber of Trade, Gemma Finch, says the Festival has an incredibly positive impact on local businesses.

"Over the years, it has grown, and increased footfall and trade for our businesses. Visitors during the festival will find a lot of our businesses are supporting the event by offering special discounts and offers to them."

As the body representing the businesses in the town and working hard to maintain Burford as a vibrant destination, the Chamber of Trade welcomes any initiative which introduces more people to the area," adds Gemma.

Family fun dayFamily fun day

David Hawes from Jesse Smith & WJ Castle, nestled at the top of the steep High Street and currently being refurbished and transformed from a traditional butchers shop into an impressive food emporium complete with a butchers, deli & take away food and coffee; echoes her sentiments. David believes Burford Festival will play a big part in the relaunch of what will in future be referred to as an 'urban farm shop.'

"Burford Festival attracts so many new visitors to the town giving us the opportunity to showcase our new investment which is designed to make butchery and shopping locally fashionable again by creating a shop to inspire people," he says.

As the town looks forward to marking the 10th biennial Burford Festival, it's hoped what has been a well-kept secret will be shared with the rest of the Cotswolds and beyond.

"Tourist income is Burford's life blood," says John White, Mayor of Burford. "We have no other significant sources of income. The festival is a major attraction and draws visitors from all over the country who stay in our hotels, shop in our shops and eat and drink in our restaurants and pubs."

With some 50 events encompassing a colourful mix of music, literature, theatre, open gardens, speakers and performances, the town will no doubt come alive with a tangible buzz of excitement and activity. It will certainly be a festival to remember.

Find out more at burfordfestival.org.

Local artist Katie B Morgan designed this beautiful illustrated map of Burford for May's issue of Cotswold Life. See below the map for points of interest...

Burford map by Katie B MorganBurford map by Katie B Morgan

- Charles II and Nell Gywnn had an affair while at The Old Priory. Their son was named The Earl of Burford

- Almshouses founded in 1457

- The Levellers: Leveller mutineers from Cromwell's army were held prisoners in the Parish Church

- Easter egg: The Celtic church and Early Church couldn't decide when Easter should be celebrated. A synod took place in Burford to try and decide

- Clarinet: Box wood clarinets were once made here

- The Warwick Hall: Café and multi-use venue

- Chemist: Reavley's is the oldest in England, dating from 1734

- Bear Court, originally The Bear Inn

- Other pubs: The Highway, The Lamb, The Mermaid, The Angel, The Bay Tree, The Royal Oak, The Bull

- Grave stones: Bale tombs, shaped to represent bales of wool

- Cycling: There was a cycling tourism boom in the early 1900s

- Brewery: Garne and Sons Ltd, founded in 1798. Taken over by Wadworth and Co., and ceased trading in 1991

- Tannery: Once known as having the best saddle makers in Europe

- Bell Foundry: 17th-century bell foundry run by the Neale Family, then the Bond family in the 19th and 20th centuries.

- Battle Edge: Battle between Mercians and West Saxons in AD 752

- Golden dragon: The Mercian standard bearers' flags had a Golden Dragon on them

- Fairy: Katharine Mary Briggs lived in Burford. She was a folklorist and wrote lots of books

- Wysdom Hall: In the 16th century, Burford's wealthiest men lived here. It's an important medieval property with a Georgian façade

- Coach: There's legend of a fiery coach driving around the town with Sir Laurence Tanfield and his wife on board

- Animals: Cotswold Wildlife Park

- Blue Cross: The national animal charity is based in Burford (it's also where Katie got her dog, Jet)

- Cheese: Oxford Blue, made in Burford

- Bottle in the river: A local clergyman is said to have captured Lady Tanfield's ghost in a bottle and threw it into the River Windrush

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