40 Years of the Bedford Park Festival
The Bedford Park Festival was set up by St Michael & All Angels in 1967 to foster a sense of community, celebrate the arts, and raise money for the urgent repainting of the church. 40 years later, this year's Festival is raising money for the Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths, the Upper Room and the repair and repainting of St Michael & All Angels.
The Festival involves local professional artists, musicians, actors and directors, as well as highly accomplished amateurs, who give their services freely. The venues are the Church, its adjacent Parish Hall, and private homes and gardens in Bedford Park.
Inevitably, there have been casualties over the years. The first Festival featured a Grand Fashion Contest, judged by Cynthia Figg, the fashion editor of Woman magazine. There were two categories - 'The best dressed lady (under 25)' and 'The best dressed lady (over 25)'. Even in those days, this was asking for trouble and according to one of the organisers of the first Festival - now a sprightly 80-year-old - it led to a good deal of unpleasantness! The Brentford & Chiswick Times reported that three of the winners were connected with newly-opened Chiswick boutiques, called 'Way In' and 'Nina'.
The following year, to make it less exclusive, the event was renamed the 'Fashion For All Contest'. A third category - Home Dressmaking - was introduced, with no age discrimination, but a year or two later the event was abandoned. The Maypole and the donkey rides have gone too - as has the 'Teenage Dance and Barbecue' ('Admission 1/-only - the scene's the Green'). A bonny baby competition ran for a year or two in the early Seventies, as did a dog obedience display, and for a while there was Folk Dancing and an end-of-Festival Ceilidh.
The Bedford Park Festival has had a profound effect on its community - it saved the area from developers. In 1967, Victorian buildings were out of fashion, the area was run down, and some of the largest and finest houses had been demolished to make way for modern blocks of flats. Despite strong lobbying from local residents - who pointed out the historic and architectural importance of Bedford Park, as the world's first garden suburb - the Ministry of Housing and Local Government had turned a deaf ear, even though later developments such as Hampstead Garden Suburb had been listed.
So the residents - led by the vicar and appeal committee of St Michael & All Angels church, supported by the Bedford Park Society - launched a Festival, reviving an event that had last been held in the 1890s, with the aim of restoring the community spirit and raising money for the repair of the church. In the Vicarage, they held an exhibition drawing attention to Bedford Park's heritage and plight, and showing the damage done by developers.
The result was almost instantaneous. Within a month, 356 of the houses had received provisional listing and before long a dozen or more roads had been declared conservation areas by the boroughs of Ealing and Hounslow, ensuring that important architectural features cannot be altered. Since then the Festival has helped raise many thousands of pounds for local projects, most recently the refurbishment of St Michael's historic Parish Hall, which re-opened in January 2001 as a spectacular new centre for the whole community.