‘It was a hugely enjoyable and successful festival,’ one Art Workshop participant, Diana Mitchener, said. ‘I totally understand why Binsted should remain untouched - it is a very special place.’
What is it about Binsted that attracts artists?
Binsted is little known. Or rather, its secret, isolated quality is what it is known for. Health workers tend to react to seeing my address, like this:
‘Binsted! The village the world forgot!’ said the radiology assistant.
‘Binsted! Isn’t it haunted?’ said the blood test nurse.
Binsted is certainly haunted by its artistic and literary past, even if not by the ghosts which are often mentioned as having been seen here. The biographer Valerie Grove, author of The Life and Loves of Laurie Lee, came to Binsted on July 10 to speak about Lee in the Festival’s first evening event, ‘Writers and Binsted’s Past’. The evening included a talk by Luke Jennings, author of the family and angling memoir Blood Knots, who spoke about ‘Growing up in Binsted’. Valerie summed up the charm of this tiny village and its setting, between the hidden Binsted valley and the mass of untouched Binsted Woods:
‘Binsted is a wonderful, mystical place, ‘a little gem held in the past’ as one of your competition poems put it, vitally important in the life story of Laurie Lee, many of whose poems were inspired here, and an extraordinary example of a parish unblemished by the modern world, with woodlands and wildflower meadows and the exquisite little Norman church, whose timeless quietness and beauty must surely be left undisturbed in the 21st century.’
How a modest Festival idea became a Feast
Plans for the Festival began in August last year. So unsure were the Committee about the Festival concept that they called Binsted’s first Festival by the more unassuming title, Binsted Arts Weekend. Over that weekend (10-12 June 2016) the Weekend became a Festival, with 4 of the 7 events fully booked and good audiences for the others. It was small, local, celebratory, and great fun.
An important part of the Festival was the link with Walberton, the neighbouring larger village. Forge Gallery in Walberton re-opened to show an exhibition on the theme ‘A Way through the Woods’, which was also the theme for the Poetry Competition. The first event in the festival was a pottery workshop at Forge Gallery, led by Mike Copley.
Local artists with work for sale (Priscilla Ritchie, Mark Weston, and Tim Slatter) showed in the exhibition, and it also included four paintings of more historic interest, by members of the artistic dynasty stemming from that great Binsted personality, Lorna Wishart. Her daughter Yasmin David, and grandson Francis Wishart, were represented, as well as Lorna herself, with her ‘mystical’ portrait of herself and Binsted.
The art theme continued on the Saturday with the guided walk ‘The Art and Literature of Binsted Woods’.
I led 40 people on a round walk from the Church to the southern part of the woods, through Binsted Park (the mediaeval-style ‘pocket park’ within the woods made by the Read family of Binsted House), and on to Binsted Lane East and the Madonna Pond, then in a round route back to the church.
A printed booklet for each person contained art of or about Binsted by Michael Wishart, Laurie Lee, Ralph Ellis, Lorna Wishart and W.S.Rogers – a little known local artist many of whose 1940s drawing of Binsted are in the Record Office. Readings included excerpts from Michael Wishart’s memoir, High Diver, Laurie Lee’s diaries, and the fishing and family memoir Blood Knots by Luke Jennings, shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson prize in 2010. He had read his account of losing an enormous carp at the Madonna Pond in his talk in Binsted church on the Friday. We read more of it at the Pond itself.
Two of the poems from the Poetry Competition were read on the walk. The other events on the Saturday continued the poetry theme, with Janet Pressley’s talk ‘Poets and the Sussex Landscape’ in the afternoon, and the Poetry Evening and Prize-giving in the evening, with readings from the prize-winning poets and runners-up, and more of her own poems from the judge, Maggie Sawkins.
Sunday morning was the Art Workshop at Stable Cottage led by Matilda Tristram. Each participant made a ‘mini-book’, out of paper they had coloured themselves with ink, then drawn on as they moved about the surroundings.
The festival finished with a much enjoyed appearance by the folk group ‘Cotillion’, Alan Wheeler with Annie, Bonnie and Linda, who performed their anthology show ‘The Last Trip Home’, about the working horse and ox.
Many appreciative comments came our way after the Festival:
Rose Bray, the poet whose poem ‘Raising the Bowman’ won the £100 Sims Williams poetry first prize, said: ‘You all worked so hard to make it a memorable weekend and a successful one. It was lovely to have the poetry evening in the old church which added to the atmosphere.’
Isabel Thurston, a Committee Member and an Art Workshop participant, said: ‘Proud to have been helping out at this lovely event celebrating Binsted and surroundings in lots of creative ways.’
Patricia Hope Scanlan, who lent the pictures by members of the Wishart family to the Exhibition, said: ‘Congratulations on a great weekend of Arts for and about Binsted.’
It was all the brighter for dark clouds in the offing - the road scheme threat
Binsted is threatened by another scheme for a new Arundel Bypass – these have occurred regularly since 1987. It is a worse threat this time than any before, as it bisects the village and its beautiful countryside. We deliberately played down this aspect during the Festival, since we felt it important that Binsted was enjoyed by and for itself, without making it a campaigning event.
A number of people coming to the weekend were aware of the possibility of Binsted being destroyed by the bypass and were keen to express their view after experiencing the kind of place it is and learning about its cultural past and present.
Valerie Grove added ‘It is utterly appalling to think of Binsted being despoiled in this way.’
See www.arundelbypass.co.uk for more on the road threat. Sign our petition there to save this wonderful village.