FRIENDS' NEWS 2020
A very Happy New Year to all our members! Thank you for all your support over the past year: we have worked hard and achieved much and approach the new decade in good heart. The lighting project for Thaxted Church is still our main focus, but while we wait with bated breath to see if work can actually start this year - the wheels of the Church of England authorities grind exceeding slow - we are accumulating a fund that can accommodate any necessary changes to the original plan.
We are pleased to announce that we raised £17,682.47 from our events and activities in 2019. The purpose of The Friends of Thaxted Church is to raise money for the restoration of the fabric, furnishing and facilities of the church, and also to promote use of the church by the wider community. We have borne that very much in mind with our rich mixture of events ranging from Opera to a Queen Tribute Band Concert and lectures on Conrad Noel and the early recordings of Vaughan Williams to providing a Friends’ Bar throughout the Thaxted Festival. We could not have managed this without the cheerful and unfailing support of over 60 local volunteers. Not all are Friends but all love Thaxted Church and we thank them for their unstinting contribution to our activities.
We are also pleased to have a new patron: Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall, a former resident of Thaxted where she is fondly known as Jenny McIntosh. After a successful and varied career in the Arts, including acting as associate producer with the RSC and an eleven year term as executive director of the National Theatre, Jenny was made a Life Peer in 1999. She is an active member of the House of Lords and is Deputy Speaker in that House. We are proud and delighted that she has agreed to be our patron. Her letter of acceptance can be found in the ‘News’ section of the FOTC website. This is a new initiative for us and we use it to give a more in-depth view of some of our activities through the eyes of different Friends who have participated in an event.
How do you get people to come to an AGM? This year we thought we would try something different, so the AGM was followed by a talk and a curry lunch. We might have broken some kind of record for a small charity, with 70 members attending the AGM - and, of course, the events afterwards. The talk was a delight: Andrew Marsden, a barrister by profession, is also a collector of very early recordings of music, particularly the music of Vaughan Williams and Gustav Holst. He brought a selection of these recordings and played them on a series of very early ‘record players’, the like of which most of us had never seen. The sound quality was amazing and, where there were vocals, you could hear every word. It was quite magical to hear performances of music conducted by the great composers themselves, and Andrew’s enthusiasm infected us all. The curry lunch followed: a culinary triumph created by Nick and Hitesh, who generously gave their skills - and the lunch - free of charge. We’re not sure if we can repeat this in quite the same way this year, but we will try.
Our Opera Evening was so popular in 2018 that we decided to build on that for our ‘Night at the Opera’ in April 2019. Our aim was to increase the number of guests so that more people could enjoy the experience. The event sold out and we ended up with 101 guests, who enjoyed arias and scenes from popular operas performed by ‘Offstage Opera’, a company of extremely talented young singers. Flora Birkbeck, our soloist from the year before, has now joined with four other musicians, all graduates of the Royal Northern College of Music, to form Offstage Opera, which is committed to bringing opera to new audiences.They created a magical evening of glorious music, dramatically presented and professionally produced, using the medieval church as a backdrop, with pillars as ‘props’ to enhance the performance. The audience was also treated to a delicious Italian supper, imaginatively provided in the church, which has no kitchen, by Quintessential Catering. Money was raised by holding an auction in the interval with lots donated by generous Thaxted businesses and individuals.
The Friends of Thaxted Church were also delighted to arrange for Thaxted Primary School pupils to attend a special introduction to opera for children at a matinee performance in the church. The young musicians from Offstage Opera had a lively interaction with the children and engaged their attention by making them aware that opera was not an elite art form, but had been the equivalent of ‘Eastenders’ in the 18th century. “Anyone could enjoy opera” was the message.
Two summer activities are now staples of our calendar of events: the cream teas we lay on at the church for the Morris week-end and Open Gardens Sunday. The teas are always much appreciated by the public in the break from the dancing while the Morris men visit other villages. We have numerous fine bakers in Thaxted who provide a wonderful array of cakes and scones. The Open Gardens takes place every two years and is always popular. A good number of Thaxted residents are keen gardeners and proud to open their gardens to the public. The gardens, like the houses in Thaxted, are very different. Some are so tiny that the range and profusion of flowers and plants is astonishing. Others have unique views of the town or the church or enviable cottage gardens, rose arches or rows of dahlias and vegetables. Nearly all off some refreshment to visitors and one garden is particularly popular as the hostess offers home-made ice cream. Food, as ever, features large in Friends’ events.
Another summer activity that has become a tradition is the Friends’ Bar that we provide every week-end of the Thaxted Festival. This takes place on the green outside the church, and we have been lucky with the weather the last two summers; it is not much fun manning a tent when it is wet and windy. Last year we enjoyed the evening sun watching the concert-goers mill around on the grass and perch on the church wall sipping their wine - a quintessentially English scene. It is hard work, but rewarding as people are so pleased to see us!
2019 marked 150 years since the birth of Conrad Noel, the famous ‘Red Vicar’ of Thaxted. To celebrate this landmark in the church’s history, we were lucky to engage the services of Professor Arthur Burns to give a talk on this controversial figure. Prof. Burns is an historian with a particular interest in Thaxted Church and is currently writing a book on Noel. Father Philip Tarris has given an account of this fascinating talk in the News section of our website. And, talking of historians and our website, Richard Till, Trustee and historian, has also written in the News section about the first steps he and a group of enthusiasts have taken towards a new Thaxted Church Guidebook.
The summer was a busy one, but this is the time when Thaxted has many visitors so we have to take this opportunity to bring a wider group of people into our beautiful church and help us to support it. We have little mementos for them to take away - lovely book marks showing features from the stained glass windows and a post card picturing the church with instructions on how to download our video ‘I vow to thee’ (from our website, iTunes or Amazon)
The autumn brought a new venture. We knew that there was a lot going on in Thaxted apart from Morris dancing, but nowhere was there a comprehensive list of activities. We didn’t know what we were taking on. We unearthed 60 different clubs and societies and encountered no one who could name them all. The best way to publicise these to all Thaxted residents, we decided, was to hold a Clubs and Societies Fair. The response was fantastic. One September Saturday afternoon, the church was filled with 60 stalls set out to publicise their wares. There were flags, pictures, visual aids including a well-behaved cocker spaniel to promote dog training classes. There was a riot of colour and a real buzz of excitement - even a display of karate. And, of course, there was tea and cake. The clubs recruited new members and were tremendously supportive of the event, and it was decided that we would do it again in two years’ time. If that is successful, we may make it a bi-annual event.
We ended the year with music. There was a highly successful Queen Tribute Band Concert in November. Seemingly everyone, young and old, loves Queen: it was a sell-out. We had over 400 people in the audience. The band was terrific - Freddie Mercury would have been proud - and the stage and lighting effects were amazing. People were, literally, dancing in the aisles.
On a quieter note, December saw our annual Town Carol Service. This is a wonderful precursor to Christmas with people crowding into the church to sing popular carols and listen to familiar and much-loved readings. We are fortunate to have the Thaxted Singers to lead the music. The collection was for the Salvation Army (Saffron Walden Corps) and the congregation generously donated £720 towards their work with those struggling with poverty and homelessness. After the service, there was FOTC mulled wine (secret recipe) and home-made mince pies. It couldn’t have been a more fitting end to our year.
Events for 2020
March - Annual General Meeting (date to be advised)
Saturday, 30th May - Morris week-end cream teas
19th June - 12th July - Friends’ Bar at the Thaxted Festival
Saturday, 11th July - visit to P&A Wood (Rolls Royce & Bentley garage)
Friday, 17th July - Radio 4 Any Questions. FOTC has arranged for the programme to be
recorded live from Thaxted Church
Autumn - Opera event (to be arranged)
Saturday, 24th October - Saffron Walden Symphony Orchestra Concert (film music theme)
Sunday, 13th December - Town Carol Service
We do hope you will be able to come to some of these events. Thank you for becoming a Friend of Thaxted Church, and in our next newsletter we hope that, with your help, we are able to announce that Thaxted Church has amazing new lighting so that its beauty can be enjoyed by everyone in all seasons.