On 21 September, Bedales students had the opportunity to attend the Stand Up Free and Equal Conference, which due to COVID was held virtually in the SLT. It was not only an enriching experience, but one that provided us with transformative insight on how to not only not be racist, but to be actively anti-racist.
The conference included speakers such as Lee Lawrence, author of The Louder I Sing; artist and educator Linett Kamala; student activist Sophie Kabangu; retired headteacher and educational consultant Tom Wilson; and eight-year-old Nylah Abitimo-Jones.
Lee shared his tragic yet inspiring story on how he witnessed the almost fatal shooting of his mother in his own home by a white police officer. His moving speech stressed the importance of restorative justice, and how the road to fighting racism should include conversation and understanding rather than just objective punishment. He provided us with valuable insight on how to best communicate our unconscious biases, and how to work on re-configuring our perceptions and attitudes on race. He stated that “injustice perpetuates because there is a misunderstanding of what racism means…racism is not simply prejudice, racism is prejudice plus power”. The idea of racism being fundamentally rooted in a power imbalance is one that can be observed in his own, real life experience of having the police exploit their power over his family.
Nylah presented her powerful poem, Black, and her young age did not stop her from delivering a moving and inspiring performance. She celebrated the beauty of her own culture, as well as rejecting Eurocentric beauty standards and bringing to light the micro-aggressions of having people, for example, constantly touch her hair. It was an evocative speech that allowed us to realise that even at such a young age, she had been forced to mature to a level where she must be aware of people treating her differently for her race.
The speeches were both informative and empowering, and allowed for us as students to really immerse ourselves in the process of simply listening to the experiences of the speakers, and to learn and recognise our own privilege and biases.
Sunday 26 September marks the 20th European Day of Languages – a celebration of the linguistic and cultural diversity of Europe – and to mark the occasion, the @bedaleslanguages Instagram account will be running competitions for Bedales students.
Europe’s linguistic and cultural diversity is quite remarkable. I still remember the Eurostar opening its first service between Waterloo and Paris when I was in my teens, and it transformed everything. Whereas up until then France had been a faraway place requiring a flight, a lengthy ferry ride, or a hovercraft ride (cancelled at the whim of the weather), you could now get on a train and be surrounded by anothe rlanguage within a couple of hours. From Paris or Brussels you could be surrounded by other languages still, within another hour or two of a connecting train. On a three-day trip from London to Moscow by rail you are exposed to English, French, Flemish, German, Polish, Belorussian and Russian.
In the era of COVID, many of these opportunities for travel have diminished due to the headache-inducing formalities and costs of proving your freedom from infection. Nevertheless, foreign languages are so much closer to us islanders than they used to be. Gone are the days of bringing back VHS tapes from the continent that only played in grainy black and white. Through online streaming platforms to language apps, languages are now fully accessible. Language and culture are so heavily intertwined that to celebrate linguistic diversity is to celebrate cultural diversity. If the whole of Europe spoke English, what would the effect be on European culture? Would we get such visible cultural differences between France and Italy, say? With free movement, the greatest markers of national boundaries are languages.
Brexit, as well as French and German A Level uptake in freefall on a national level, reductions in the numbers of European language undergraduates, and a lack of recognition of the importance of languages all point to a crisis in language learning. Sadly languages are often seen purely as a bonus commodity, a pathway to business opportunities that can be circumnavigated with English – but languages are so much more than that. The Day of European Languages is an opportunity to celebrate the diversity of geographical Europe (not the political Europe), something which a lack of free and easy travel to Europe for pleasure could lead us to forget, were it not for the internet.
Over the past week, I have been joined by three other students in virtually attending the Round Square International Conference. This is an annual conference held with the goal of engaging students in prominent social issues that will effect the world they grow up in, with this year being focused on the topic of ‘Blue Skies and Brave Conversations’. Over the course of four days, we learnt about topics ranging from ethical leadership to the variety of identities that are attributed to people.
The conference was made up of three main sections. Each day, student delegates met with representatives of other school to discuss how our schools address the issues being discussed by each days topic. While this was happening, there were also cultural performance from schools or short documentaries to broaden the perspectives of students. From here, we went on to watch a discussion between keynote speakers, where they were questioned by students on how they view the various topics of discussion. Lastly, we joined other schools in smaller Zoom meetings so that individual students could voice their opinions on what was discussed and engage in a productive conversation on how we can improve the world we live in.
Ultimately, it has been an immensely enlightening experience as I personally have learned far more than I could ever have expected to. The goal of these conferences is to innovate how students learn, and I’m sure that the other delegates from Bedales can confirm that this year’s conference has succeeded. From learning about how other cultures operate to the way the world should run, we have all taken a lot from the past week and have gained an equal number of ideas to think about.
In Jaw this week, I spoke about the ethics of buying smartphones. Having recently broken my own phone, I described the dilemma I faced when I came to replacing it. I talked about an event I attended here at Bedales a few years ago, where former Head of BBC News James Harding explained that most of the cobalt found in lithium-ion batteries – the rechargeable batteries found in all smartphones – is mined in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where men, women and children endure dangerous and unhealthy conditions to source the element for mobile devices. This essentially means that quite a lot of us carry around with us in our pockets something that is the product of child labour.
All of this had left me wondering how I can work in a school, and care for some people’s children, whilst ignoring the plight of others. That, in turn, got me thinking about an excellent book I’ve read – The Life You Can Save by Peter Singer – which argues that although we can often feel helpless to solve global issues, we actually have a moral obligation to do something, and we should really be thinking of these global problems as our problems. If we wouldn’t think twice about rescuing a child drowning in a pond immediately in front of us, why are we reluctant to do our bit to help children in danger several thousand miles away? For me, it felt disingenuous to live a life based around caring for children, whilst ignoring other children, just because they’re far away.
I also touched upon other important issues to consider, such as the sustainability of resources used to produce smartphones, and widespread concerns about the working conditions and pay of those producing them. Use of smartphones has risen exponentially over the last few years, and as they become a staple of everyday life and use continues to rise, the ethical impact of what we do with smartphones will become more significant.
I asked students to consider the ethical weight of their smart phone. What are they carrying in their pocket? What is the moral dilemma they should face when they think about replacing their smartphone? What can they do? Addressing the advantages and disadvantages of each, I presented a range of options, from keeping a particular handset for longer than the original contract or buying a reconditioned, second-hand phone, to buying a phone from an ethical brand, such as Freephone or Teracube, who work to ensure fairer supply chains, use recycled materials, and pay fair wages.
We are a long way from a perfect solution, but I hope my talk has encouraged students to start thinking about these issues and, when they next come to replace their smartphone, consider the ethical weight of the phone they choose. As for me? For Christmas, I’m going to ask for my iPhone to be repaired.
By Greg Clarke, Teacher of Maths and Block 3 Tutor
This year’s intake of Block 3 – plus their form tutors and Head of Transition Clive Burch – spent last week at Cobnor Activities Centre on Chichester Harbour in West Sussex. The week is designed to assimilate the students as they settle into Bedales, with camping, an expedition, and a range of outdoor pursuits – plus plenty of card games, snacking and UNO – helping everybody enjoy the bracing coastal air, reacquaint with old friends after the summer and find lots of new friends with whom to enjoy the next few years at Bedales.
At various times in the week every group enjoyed kayaking, canoeing and sailing around the bay in a Hawk, working as a team to launch their craft from the little jetty. We also built rafts to race one another in, crafted from wooden posts and plastic barrels lashed together with ropes knotted into bowlines and half-hitches. I’ll leave you to imagine how sturdy one or two of those rafts were.
For landlubbers there was archery with the instructor who had a keen interest in history, aeroball (think of vertical basketball on a trampoline inside a cage, if you can), and practice at all the camping skills necessary for the expedition: pitching a tent; lighting a stove; cooking pasta in a mess tin; bending tent pegs; and packing a rucksack.
The expedition was a tough two days’ worth of hiking along the South Downs Way, in what turned out to be glorious sunshine that lifted spirits, drained sunscreen supplies and provided vital vitamin D for sustained walking. On my night at the campsite at Cocking, folk from the RAF entertained us all with several flypasts and stunts in their Chinook, and I feasted upon a gourmet pasta pesto (topped with parmesan) prepared by a team of Block 3 chefs.
After a lot of fun, by Friday afternoon there ensued a frantic all-hands-on-deck clean up and pack up to leave Cobnor looking miraculously even tidier than when we arrived. A big well done to everybody for surviving the rollercoaster up-and-South-Downs experience that was Cobnor 2021.
See photos from the Block 3 induction trip to Cobnor here.
Congratulations to this year’s Academic Dons, who were announced last week.
Dons are student leaders, associated with academic departments and other important areas of the school, such as the Library and Theatre. As student spokespeople for a department, Dons represent the student body’s views to the relevant Head of Department, as well as offer subject specific help and advice to younger students at the senior school.
It is a genuine delight for us to see so many students showing such energy and enthusiasm for the different areas of school life, and we thank them in advance for the work they will do with teachers in supporting the academic life of the school.
The full list of this year’s Dons is as follows:
Art – Georgie De Boulay
Biology – Nina Jones
Business Studies – Maria Timokhina
Chemistry – Isabella McGrath
Classics – Annie Lawes
Dance – Mathilda Douglas
Design (Product) – Oskar De Aragues
Digital Game Design/Maths – Raef McNaughten
Drama – Jessica Asamoa
Economics – Harry Hornsby
English – Maya Muller
Fashion Design – Phoebs Esdaile
French – Alisia Leach
Geography – Fleur Donovan
Global Awareness – Sacha Weisz Brassay
History – Taragh Melwani
Library – Anton Lucas
Maths – Annabelle Snell
Music – Tiger Braun-White
Music (Contemporary) – Monty Bland
Outdoor Work – Lila Levingston
Photography – Poppy Kingsley-Pallant
Physics – Hux Green
Politics – Thomas Figgins
Philosophy, Religion and Ethics – Amos Wollen
Psychology – Lily Brough
Round Square – Amelia Smith, Ben Bradberry, Nina Solovieva
Spanish – Anna Sukhikh
Sport – Shanklin MacKillop-Hall
Theatre (Crew and Wardrobe) – Caelan Edward and Aria Taheri Murphy
We have started the year with two exciting opportunities for the students and have been auditioning this week for the Whole School Show and the Sixth Form Show. The new Block 3 students were particularly brave and auditioned before they left for Cobnor!
We have started the year with two exciting opportunities for the students and have been auditioning this week for the Whole School Show and the Sixth Form Show. The new Block 3 students were particularly brave and auditioned before they left for Cobnor!
Jessica Asamoa, Drama Scholar and Drama Don, said of her experiences of auditioning for both productions: “On Tuesday evening, many students across the blocks auditioned for the Whole School Show, as well as some of the 6.1s and 6.2s who also auditioned for the Sixth Form Show. Auditioning is always a good experience to have and a fantastic skill to develop because it helps with confidence. It was also great to do an audition in a friendly and welcoming environment: everyone was very respectful and kind to each other so we were all able to present ourselves in the best light that we could.
In the sixth form audition, we worked on some drama exercises. We were looking at how we can become more aware of those around us. This was very useful and I think most of the sixth formers who auditioned were able to gain more insight into how they focus their attention while performing.
For the whole school audition, we worked on freeze frames and tableaux in groups. We were given a line of a poem as a stimulus and then had to create our freeze frames/ tableaux inspired by this. It was great to do some choral work and everyone had a lot of fun with it: there was a lot of laughter and smiles.
All in all, I think any audition that ends with people feeling excited, happy and comfortable is a successful one and I am looking forward to seeing how these projects develop.”
Over the summer holidays, I had the privilege of attending the John Locke Institute Summer School at Balliol College, Oxford, to study an academic course in Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE). Competition for a place on the summer schools is intense, and to be considered for a place, we had to write a resumé and attend an interview (via Zoom, of course), where we were asked to articulate our most controversial idea and defend it against the interviewer, who challenged us rigorously.
At the summer school, we were put into small groups and our day consisted of three kinds of lessons: seminars, which were lessons with professors, in our groups; lectures delivered by professors, which all groups attended together; and critical response precepts, where we discussed recent lectures in our groups.
We enjoyed the presence of some fascinating people – Bryan Caplan, Professor of Economics at George Mason University; David Schmidt and Cate Johnson, two world-renowned experimental economists; John Filling, Doctor of Philosophy at King’s College, Cambridge; and Jamie Whyte, a philosophy PhD and former leader of ACT New Zealand. We even got to meet the former Prime Minister of Australia, Tony Abbot!
The faculty never failed to give exciting and, often, provocative lectures. I really enjoyed discussing them with the intellectually vibrant student body.
At the end of the course, we went to the Oxford Union to be subjected to Bryan Caplan’s Ideological Turing Test – where we’d have to argue for or against a certain proposition, regardless of our actual position on it, and if the student body believed we were genuinely arguing our true position, we’d have shown we were able to accurately represent a view which we had not necessarily agreed with.
The summer school was a life-changing experience for me and I urge people to register next year.
This article was originally published in the Old Bedalian Newsletter 2021.
By Alastair Langlands, Staff 1973-2001
Roger Fry (later to become a Bedales parent) painted the backcloth for Macbeth, the first annual play. “From its earliest days, Bedales paid much attention to dramatic activities and the Chief’s productions of Shakespeare’s plays were memorable events for participants and audience alike. Though he had no theatrical experience he created and maintained an interest in plays and everyone became keen and fond of it.” (A Journey in My Head, Geoffrey Crump, staff, 1919-45).
Geoffrey came to Bedales in 1919, was appointed senior English master in 1922 becoming the first head of a fully-fledged English department in a school the size and status of Bedales. He insisted that if possible, at least one Shakespeare play should be acted by the older children every year, preferably with some of the staff acting with them. His enthusiasm led in the summer of 1923, with the permission of the Chief, to a production of Twelfth Night on the lower lawn of the garden at Steephurst; the cast consisted chiefly of local people, Bedales staff and Old Bedalians.
The triple arch of Steephurst porch, with a balcony facing south, appealed to Geoffrey as a suitable setting for Romeo and Juliet and there in 1926 he established Steep Shakespeare Players. He needed two years to prepare properly and to secure an adequate cast. He decided on Much Ado about Nothing for 1928.
“An incursion, however, in the month of June of a quantity of handsome young men in magnificent costumes was too much for some of the girls and the scale of the production as a whole caused an undue amount of disorganisation in the life of the school.” So, after Henry IVth, Part One in 1930, the Players moved a mile away, down to the gardens of Lord Horder’s Ashford Chace with his lordship as cordial president: Twelfth Night in 1932. These became monumental productions. The stage set was magnificent, the lavish costumes by Henriette Sturge Moore (1919-25) and a princely cast fitted neatly into Shakespeare’s roles which had been hallowed for centuries.
Players appeared from all over the land. Donald Beves, Vice-provost of King’s College, Cambridge (often spoken of as the finest amateur comedian in the country), lauded by George Rylands of The Marlowe Society, starred as Malvolio and Friar Lawrence and Geoffrey himself as Capulet and Falstaff. Starring was something Geoffrey promoted and here something conspicuous occurred: performances attracted The Times Theatre Critic with sometimes a half page photograph of the cast or a star, Tatler, Telegraph, Sketch, Sphere, Petersfield Post, Hampshire and Sussex News, Hampshire Chronicle and Portsmouth Evening News. There were players from OUDS in Oxford and ADC in Cambridge and the Royal Academy of Music. Joanna Dunham (1949-52) and Tessa Mayor (1929-34) were among pupils who starred. They were accompanied by Harold Gardiner (staff, 1952-68), Basil Gimson (1896-1904; staff, 1911-1947), John Slater (staff, 1952-67), Anthony Gillingham (staff, 1946-70), Robin Murray (1953-59), Christopher Weisselberg (1954-61), Bert Upton (estate staff), E L Grant Watson (1895-1904) and Roger Powell (1907-1915) with music by Harry Platts (staff, 1937-46) and Roland Biggs (staff at various times between 1923 and 1967).
An archive of large albums (12 x 16 inches), lovingly assembled to survive the Players, stylishly portrays spectacular scenes and actors. It would (of course) take Geoffrey two whole years to prepare such handsome shows (where interval tea was provided by the ‘Petersfield Tea Shop’, price 9d).
The ambition and success of Steep Shakespeare Players and the splendidly designed and extensive stage structures, by Gigi Meo (1923-40) and then Christopher Cash (1950-78), were swamped by post-war restrictions and finances.
They made an annual loss. Geoffrey had targeted Shakespeare and from 1923 managed 23 productions finishing in Ashford Chace with The Tempest in 1961. He saw the play as Shakespeare’s farewell to the stage and his own regretful farewell to Ashford Chace. He was no longer able to fund these sumptuous productions.
Local press headline ‘Find a home for them on the heath’ badgered the council to action but it was Mary More Gordon (Bedales parent) picking up the threads in 1964 who approached Arthur Gill, the owner of the beautiful Ecclesiastical Court House in East Meon. She inquired if he were willing for his 14th century hall to be used as a small theatre. He was content to have his vast hall filled with a massive structure of tiered seats. The Players had found a fine new interior site. Now called The Court Players they introduced variety. Geoffrey’s last show was Everyman and A Phoenix Too Frequent in 1965; then followed Bae Lubbock’s assistance in Anouilh’s Antigone, Peacock’s Nightmare Abbey, Strindberg’s Creditors, Shaw’s Armsand the Man and finally Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, Paul Townsend (staff, 1957-64) and Kate Slack (staff, 1962-74), wife of the headmaster appearing.
Bedales staff at this time put on frequent staff plays with Ruth Whiting (1963-2000), Geoffrey Robinson (1949-80), William Agnew (1967-78), Tim Slack (1962-74), George Smith (1959-81), Anne Archer (1971-77, 1986-2008), Philip Young (1971-74 and 1977-2007) and John Batstone (1968-93) and others involved.
But it was the extra mural playing which would not cease: active and valuable members of the company, Kate Slack and Mary More Gordon, assumed organisation in 1978. Still at the Court House, with Arthur Gill’s keen interest, they put on John O’Keeffe’s Wild Oats (1791) which had been revived by the RSC in 1976. Jane Bevan (staff, 1977-83), Nicholas Wood (1974-81), Jessica Cecil (1980-82) and Victoria Chester (1978-80) and players from the erstwhile Court Players’ productions, took part with local amateurs in East Meon. There followed George Colman’s Clandestine Marriage, Pirandello’s Henry lV, Ibsen’s Enemy of the People (with music by Philip Young) and Turgenev’s A Month in the Country.
After Arthur left the Court House, we left too to lodge in Mill Court, Binsted, a fine malmstone barn with a queen-strut roof which could be cold and audiences were encouraged to arrive with a blanket. Twelfth Night was first in 1988 with OBs Phyllida Hancock (1973-80) and Nick Tier (1982-86). To avoid royalties Kate put on a revue We’re Court on the Hop, followed by William Douglas Hume’s David and Jonathan, Stephen Poliakoff’s Breaking the Silence. Isobel Ballantine Dykes (staff, 1983-89), Paul Townsend and John Batstone, Victoria Chester, Will Rye (1987-89), Kate Day (née Fairweather, 1978-85), Polly Wreford (1973-80), Richard Quine (1981-86), Caroline Rye (1983-85), Christian Taylor (1981-86), Lucia Gahlin (1986-88) and Sarah Hulbert (1984-86) with musicians Hannah Rogers (1979-86), Alexandra Harwood (1970-84) and Kristina von der Becke (1978-85) appeared. On each occasion it was necessary to construct a stage and audience seating. It was clear to Kate that the Players were looking for a permanent playhouse.
Lord Bessborough had been a semi-professional actor during his time in Canada. He was chairman of the Chichester Festival Theatre which under the directorship of Laurence Olivier was to become the foundation of the National Theatre. In Stansted Park, Bessborough had recently installed a theatre in the stables replacing one of the 1920s destroyed during the war. Here, at Bessborough’s invitation, the Court Players performed three of Chekhov’s short plays. Chekhov was followed at Stansted by Simon Gray’s Quartermaine’s Terms.
Bessborough was extremely eager to have one of his own several plays performed in his new theatre (designed by Peter Rice, parent) which seated 100; he asked me to produce a dramatic reading of his King of Gods. I employed Bedales pupils Georgia Malden (1985-90), Esther Godfrey (1989-91), Helen Isaac (1986-91), Jossy Best (1989-91), Emma Jenkins (1986-90) and staff and the professional Tony Britten who was a friend of the Bessboroughs. This was in 1990 to an audience invited by the host. As a result, I was invited to take the name of the company The Stansted Players, founded by the ninth earl in 1929 but eclipsed by the outbreak of war.
The Stansted Players’ productions have differed from the reverent canon followed by predecessors: I have endeavoured to find plays which have never before been performed (The Noble Jilt, by Anthony Trollope) or have once been popular but fallen into desuetude (George Lillo’s The London Merchant: it was performed annually for 100 years until c1850). These plays cannot be desecrated by reducing the length to One Act of 90 minutes and including four-part songs. We meet at Sparrow’s Hanger in Selborne for 10 days of rehearsal in the theatre.
We played at Stansted Park until that theatre, following the death of Eric Bessborough, was converted into offices in 2000, our last choice being Shakespeare’s Hamlet the bad quarto.
A theatre group ETC, for OBs to meet at school and perform, managed two productions: in April Barney Powell’s (1991-96) The Cherry Orchard and then in September 1999 with Daisy Parente (1997-99) directing The Memory of Water with Lisa Jackson (1992-97), Lydia Leonard (1995-99) and Georgina Hutchinson (1994-99) and some 40 other former pupils. Support was not, however, forthcoming in the following year.
This collapse of ETC bereft the school of OBs returning to play and consequently the Stansted Players were invited to the newly erected theatre drawing an audience shortly before the start of the Autumn term. Since 2001 we have been made welcome and comfortable. When the theatre was under repair we were invited to use the Lupton Hall, before its recent refurbishment as a concert hall, with St John Hankin’s The Cassilis Engagement; the last of four performances was fully booked for a 60th wedding anniversary.
The Stansted Players have never sought stars but rather have given Bedalians opportunity to enjoy themselves for a fortnight during the summer. Staff took part in early plays: Geoffrey Robinson, Paul Townsend, Caroline Walmsley (1981 and 1990s), Graham Banks (1980-2013) and Jonathan Taylor (Deputy Head, 1996-2004) but it is pupils who have peopled the productions. The now familiar singing began with Amanda Boyd (1987-89) as soloist marking the intervals of Lady Audley’s Secret, a performance which began with the National Anthem in the days when an audience was perfectly tuned to stand respectfully. Thereafter the Players have been included for their singing qualities.
Over the three decades about 75 Bedalians have appeared on stage and some have proceeded to a professional career in music or drama: Johnny Flynn (1996-2001), Dan Wheeler (1995-2000), Jack Finch (2003-08), Esther Biddle (1994-99), Elizabeth Bichard (1996-98), Natasha Ruiz Barrero (1996-2001), Grace Banks (1998-2003), Gabriel Bruce (2002-07), Stephen Davidson (2000-05), Anna Dennis (1994-96), Dominic Floyd (1997-2002), Simon Gallear (1991-96), Jo Horsley (1994-99), Sofia Larsson (2001-06), Katie Manning (2000-05), Beth Murray (1986-89), Jo Tomlinson (1997-99), Bart Warshaw (1996-01), William Wollen (1987-92), Olivia Brett (2006-14). The plays have included more than 100 four-part songs dating from C14 to popular music of the present day and it is this playing-and-singing that attracts audiences. An essential part of every production has been the musical arrangements of Nicholas Gleed (staff, 1990-2017) and lighting by Janet Auty (staff, 1990-2015). Each year, towards the end of August, the Stansted Players return to the school, lying in the orchard and rehearsing in the theatre.
2020 p l a g u e
2019 The Watched Pot (or The Mistress of Briony) by Saki, 1911
2018 Green Stockings by A E W Mason, 1911
2017 Speed the Plough by Thomas Morton, 1798
2016 The Princess Zoubaroff by Ronald Firbank, 1920
2015 The Master of Mrs Chilvers by Jerome K Jerome, 1911
2014 The Good-natured Man by Oliver Goldsmith, 1750
2013 The Cassilis Engagement by St John Hankin, 1907
2012 Gretchen by W S Gilbert
2011 The Foresters by Lord Tennyson, 1881
2010 A Double Falsehood or the Distressed Lovers by William Shakespeare and John Fletcher, 1727
2009 The Bells by Leopold Lewis 1871 & (world première) Jack o’ the Cudgel by William McGonagall, 1870
2008 A Fair Quarrel by Middleton and Rowley, 1616
2007 World Première Barchester Revisited by Simon Raven, 2000
2006 (first staged production) A Noble Jilt by Anthony Trollope, 1850
2005 The West Indian by Richard Cumberland, 1730
2004 Two Noble Kinsmen by William Shakespeare and John Fletcher, 1612
2003 Vortigern and Rowena by W H Ireland, 1790
2002 The Princess Zoubaroff by Ronald Firbank, 1920
2001 The Tender Husband by Richard Steele, 1720
2000 Hamlet (the bad quarto), 1600
1999 Daisy Miller by Henry James, 1900
1998 Pygmalion and Galatea by W S Gilbert, 1885
1997 The Frozen Deep by Wilkie Collins and Charles Dickens, 1850
1996 Our American Cousin by Tom Taylor, 1860
1995 The Lady of Lyons by Lord Lytton, 1850
1994 The Frantic Stockjobbers by William Taverner, 1750
1993 Lovers’ Vows by Kotzbue, 1798
1992 The London Merchant by George Lillo, 1745
1991 Lady Audley’s Secret by CH Hazelwood, 1850
2023 will be the 100th anniversary of the Players descending directly from the Steep Shakespeare Players via the Court Players which Kate Slack bequeathed (with a cheque for £74) to the Stansted Players.
After spending most of my time in the Bedales Art Block, I left in 1999 to study Art History at the University of York followed by a Masters in Museum Studies at the University of Essex. I always knew I wanted to be around art but was realistic about my own abilities not to rely on making a living from it!
After graduating I worked at the British Museum and V&A in temporary exhibitions, then at the Science Museum on permanent galleries and capital projects. In 2015, my family and I left London and moved back to Steep in search of space and fresh air for our two young boys. At this point it felt inevitable that my career in museums would be put on hold while our family grew up.
Soon after, however, I heard that the local Petersfield Museum, which opened the year I left Bedales, had recently purchased the adjoining Police Station. It also received a grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund to renovate its existing building in the Old Courthouse, and design and build new galleries, collections facilities, exhibition and learning spaces and a courtyard café. I felt strongly that this project and I shared a destiny, and was delighted to be appointed as Project Manager in December 2016.
My job was to engage and lead a design team to deliver the museum’s vision of being at the heart of local life and also offer a compelling attraction for visitors from further afield. The historic Victorian buildings combined with striking architecture will create welcoming social areas and stimulating learning spaces. It will be a family friendly space that will inspire visitors of all ages to investigate the region’s many historic and cultural assets and to explore the surrounding countryside.
During the design development process, it was proposed that a map of the South Downs National Park be inlaid into the surface of the courtyard. This is made of granite slabs showing Petersfield and surrounding villages represented by brass and stainless steel icons. Some will be easily recognisable to those who know the area but some are more obscure so accompanying interpretation will be used as a guide to explore this striking artwork and the local area. This was all designed pre-COVID, but now offers a safe way to access the museum in an outdoor setting. Visitors can enter the cosy courtyard for a coffee and enjoy the wide-ranging, engaging collections and diverse educational and events programmes.
The new and improved Petersfield Museum will tell the story of this ancient market town and surrounding villages through objects, art, literature and dress produced or collected by its residents. The collection includes the work of local artist Flora Twort and archaeology from prehistoric barrows on Petersfield Heath. Forming a significant part of the collection is The Bedales Collection of Historic Dress donated to the museum in 2007. This includes over 1,000 items from the 18th century to modern day and was built up over a 50-year period by the school, and particularly by music and drama teacher Rachel Cary Field (staff, 1941 – 1975).
The collection mirrors 250 years of social and cultural change and includes rare and nationally significant pieces, including an item recently loaned to the Design Museum for the ‘Women Fashion Power’ exhibition. A number of garments have strong local provenance and the great majority of the collection formed part of the Bedales Wardrobe.
Of the dresses, an aesthetic, Liberty style, cream silk dress from the mid-1890s is particularly rare, as are comparable Arts and Crafts garments from the early 1900s. Such ‘countercultural garments’ survive in small numbers, with the V&A, Museum of London and Platt Hall, Manchester holding most of the few surviving examples.
The museum also holds a nationally important collection of some 2,000 books by and about the renowned poet, writer and Steep resident, Edward Thomas (1878-1917). Like so many others, and this is still so true today, the Thomas family were attracted to this area by three things: its direct rail link to London, its countryside and, of course, Bedales, which Edward’s wife Helen knew of before it relocated from Haywards Heath in the early 20th century.
The collection is held within a new Edward Thomas Study Centre which is open, by appointment, to students, readers, researchers and visitors, who can explore his work and then the wonderful landscape around us that inspired him, and many others, so much – and continues to do so. Edward Thomas is amongst the War Poets commemorated in Westminster Abbey. The Poet Laureate Ted Hughes considered Thomas to be “the Father of us all”, and his life and work is included in the National Curriculum. Thomas’ time living in Steep coincides with a critical phase in his life when he made the transition from literary critic to poet.
Thomas’ connections to Petersfield are important to understanding his life and work, which features and interprets the countryside of Hampshire, the South Downs and the south of England. Amongst items on display, or available to view, in the Edward Thomas Study Centre is a copy of one of his daughter’s Bedales exercise books, in which he has drafted three poems.
In the museum’s final gallery, visitors can see a film of original footage shot on location in Petersfield and the surrounding area, capturing the local diversity of architecture, history, landscape, wildlife and culture. This includes shots of both the Harrow Inn and views from the Poet’s Stone, which many of you will be familiar with. The stone is a memorial to Edward Thomas, which is still the subject of regular walks from both the main school and Dunhurst and Dunannie.
What makes this film so special, emotive and rooted in the area, is that it is overlaid with a recording of Daniel Day-Lewis (1970 – 1975) reading Thomas’ poetry, the use of which was permitted by the Poetry Archive.
Like so many things, the pandemic has delayed the opening of the museum, but we very much hope that doors will open to the public later this year. Working at the London national museums was infinitely inspiring, exciting and challenging, but having the chance to be part of the team to create a museum in my hometown, is a dream come true.
The new and improved Petersfield Museum opened to the public in June 2021. Tickets can be booked in advance online at the Petersfield Museum website, or at the Welcome Desk as you arrive at the museum. The museum is open Wednesday – Saturday, 10am – 5pm, and Sundays and August Bank Holiday, 11am – 4pm.