Warwick Words History Festival is a successful local festival, born out of a previous literature festival when a closer inspection of its most popular events identified the link to history was the greatest incentive to participate. The town itself has a long history of interesting connections with royalty, major events, political intrigue, a variety of architecture and historical buildings. Founded by Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians, daughter of the Anglo-Saxon king, Alfred the Great in 914, Warwick has evolved as the County Town proud of its history. The Festival has the majority of its events in the Lord Leycester Hospital. Founded by Robert Dudley Earl of Leycester in 1571, it was essential to look after those who fought for you to ensure loyalty, and the building is still home to retired service personnel known as the Brethren today, led by the first ever woman Master of the House Dr Heidi L Meyer. I should explain Hospital in the mode of hospitality rather than a medical establishment, the Brothers offer tours to the public and a warm welcome to the Festival events. When formally dressed in their beautiful elizabethan uniforms they look spectacular. Their home is in need of repair and renovation and will be closed for a year to carry out the work, so next year’s WWHF will be seeking other premises. With a couple of events still in the programme please see the Warwick Words History Festival website.
The Festival started with a study day by historians Aaron Manning and Adam Busiakiewicz. The day was spent looking at 15 Women Who Shaped Warwick Castle the event was honoured to have a display of artefacts from the castle archive held in the County Records Office, and an entertaining chronology of influential Countesses and women in the castle, such as the renowned Daisy, Countess of Warwick whose image was used in the WWHF brochure. A visit to the Collegiate Church of St Mary and the Beauchamp Chapel where Adam performed the music found on the stained glass windows on his lute, was a beautiful setting for this lovely moment. Lunch in the Court House ballroom, provided by Oken’s Kitchen was delicious and fortified us for the short walk to the Warwick Castle itself. Adam and Aaron’s double act taking us through the castle rooms, explaining the context of what we had seen in the County Records Office, brilliantly illustrating the points of interest and influence of the women of the castle. A wonderful start to the Festival.
My involvement came in three guises. As a Director of Warwick Words History Festival, involved in the management, and as the Volunteer Coordinator marshalling the many dedicated volunteers who steward and provide refreshments to our guests. This year was particularly tricky covering all events with the unknown aspect of the covid-19 restrictions adding to the complications. It was with sadness the Festival was unable to supply refreshments in some venues this year. However, everyone rose to the occasion and the Festival was a success. I take this opportunity to thank the volunteers, without whom the Festival would not take place.
As intersilient I was pleased to provide the Terry Frost Walk as my personal contribution to the festival and to launch the walk for future bookings on the website. Sir Terry Frost RA, a well regarded abstract artist, was born in Leamington Spa and the walk takes in parts of the town with connections and stories of Terry in a circular route around the Old Town starting and finishing at Leamington Spa Art Gallery & Museum. As a special incentive the Gallery very kindly provided a Festival extra by selecting a few Terry Frost works and items they held in store for the guests on the tour to view privately. This was a treat as the Terry Frost collection they have is large and not always available in the gallery.
I am also Chair of Unlocking Warwick, a group of enthusiastic volunteers which supports the Court House in Jury Street and the Town Council. This group was formed as part of a Heritage Lottery Fund bid to improve the building and to ensure its use by the local community. Unlocking Warwick contributes to the Festival every year and this time the event was a Memorial Musical Tea with the vintage trio My Favourite Things and an afternoon tea held in the wonderful ballroom, organised and provided by Unlocking Warwick for the Festival. This event was to celebrate the centenary of the memorial in the town to all those from both WWI and WWII. With its erection in 1921 for WWI, names added in 1951 for WWII and updated in 2021 with missing names discovered through research undertaken by Unlocking Warwick. A link to the ceremony can be found here and a link to My Favourite Things here and the Warwick War Memorial Project here
As Directors of WWHF we share out the meet and greet duties, the management of events and any introductions required of our speakers. Helen Meeke who heads up the team as the only member of staff is fantastic at being everywhere all at the same time, but occasionally we step in to ease her burden. I was to introduce Ben Collins and to my shame had not heard his name before, but imagine my surprise when I discovered he was The Stig of TV’s Top Gear fame! How interesting to hear him speak so knowledgeably of the history of Aston Martin and his experience racing, and of stunt driving for four James Bond movies. I have to say that my amazement of the stunts in the current No Time To Die Bond film was heightened knowing the insights Ben gave us in his talk, the meticulous planning beforehand, the creativity of the stunts performed by Ben, and the motorbike stunt driver scrambling up the almost perpendicular wall in one scene.
The Friends Meeting House is another venue set in the most beautiful tranquil garden in the town. Celebrating the local gallery Compton Verney, and as part of the collaboration with the University of Warwick Teatime Talks, Prof Anne Gerritsen and Dr Anke Hein considered the importance of the collection Compton Verney have of Chinese bronzes. One of the largest and most comprehensive collections outside China and dating back 3000 years, the discussion focussed on how the collection was created, its relevance and the question of colonial repatriation. An exquisite collection, but slightly at odds to the Compton Verney Art Collection as a whole, Anne and Helen asked how best to inform and display such wonderful items? Unsurprisingly no conclusion was reached, but broader discussion around such artefacts require consideration for all museums and galleries.
Leaping from ancient history to the future was an event with RiVR a photogrammetry, Reality in Virtual Reality, linking the ancient and modern by bringing “long lost histories back to life in infinite detail through the brilliance of technology, and learn how we aim to preserve history for generations to come”. Discovering Warwick’s tunnel system, scanning and mapping in 3D artefacts and statues, such as Randolph Turpin in Warwick Market Square, Alex Harvey explained the process and possibilities for the future. This proved very popular and was sold out as many events were. Sales of many events were encouraging with the uncertainty of covid and its consequences providing some trepidation.
An earlier book review for intersilient was with Rick Thompson who gave a talk for the Festival on his book Park Life – A Year in the Wildlife of an Urban Park link here? The weather was beautifully sunny which gave the covid edict to keep rooms well ventilated easier as both French doors and windows were open in the Friends Meeting House, the delightful addition to Rick’s talk was the birds calling and chirping loudly in the garden outside giving the whole event a natural quality! Occasionally competition laughing from those enjoying a coffee from the Friends cafe outside added to the relaxed, informal atmosphere.
Warwick Words History Festival is supported by an independent bookshop Warwick Books. Mog and Pauline Harris arrange to purchase the books for signing and before each event you will see one of them wheeling the trolley to the venue, where they set up and sell their wares with broad smiles. Book signing followed all the covid protection possible, with queue management, perspex screens for the authors to sit behind, sanitisers at the ready and it was great to see the Festival punters chatting to our guest speakers. Many authors generously signed all the books Mog and Pauline had brought, if any were left, and at many events the books were sold out. If you missed any of them Warwick Books in the Market Square are happy to order books on request, via online, telephone, email and social media, however I would recommend a visit to the shop, it is always a delight.