The Bollington Festival Movement
One evening in the early 1960s, Dr John Coope, a local medical practitioner and native of Bollington, and the Rev. Derek Smith, then the Curate of St. Oswald’s Church, Bollington Cross, were invited to be guests in a ‘Desert Island Discs’ ‘programme’ organised by a local society. The evening was a success and it occurred to Dr. Coope and the Rev. Smith that the community as a whole might benefit if further interest in leisure groups and societies could be generated, since at that time the village rather lacked ‘life’. They began to envisage an ambitious project, involving the entire community, which would last for a week or more and, it was hoped, attract a wide variety of amateur talent resulting, primarily, in a week’s enjoyment for all and perhaps, in the long term, the formation of new societies and further growth in the community.
The first Festival was held in 1964 and had, as its theme, ‘The Fostering of the Community Spirit’. The format of that first festival proved so successful that it has been retained ever since. Central to the festival was an exhibition based on the Festival Theme. In addition, various groups in the village made contributions in the fields of music, drama, sport and arts and crafts. A small number of professional artists were invited to perform at the festival, but first and foremost it was an occasion “for the ordinary people and ordinary organisations of Bollington” (Dr Coope).
The choir formed by Dr Coope for the 1964 Festival not only still exists but has gone from strength to strength, performing oratorios, cantatas and part-songs in Bollington and the surrounding district. In addition, it has, in recent years, made a concert tour each summer, visiting southern Ireland, Northumberland, Kent and Norfolk as well as competing in the International Eisteddfod at Llangollen. It keeps the title ‘The Bollington Festival Choir’ as a reminder of its origins, and last year made a long playing record in aid of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution including works by Dvorák, Vaughn Williams and Benjamin Britten.
The 1964 Festival also saw the formation of the Festival players, and in the sixteen years since then they have staged a variety of shows ranging from drama to musical and pantomime. They aim to produce plays in spring and autumn and a pantomime or Christmas play in conjunction with the Junior Festival Players (formed in 1968 for the second Festival). The Players are now members of both the Mid-Cheshire Theatre Guild and the Manchester & District Drama Federation. Two years ago , the Players and Junior Players were awarded a cup by the Manchester Drama Federation for their production of ‘The Wizard of Oz’.
Another society which began to flourish after the first festival was the Horticultural Society; it was reformed during the Festival after many years without meeting. Since then it has become a well-established society with almost two hundred members. Two public shows are held each year – the Spring Show on the first Saturday in March and the Annual Show on the first Saturday in September. The latter has gained a reputation as one of the best shows in the area for vegetables. The Bollington Flower Club was formed in the same year and is now a thriving part of the Horticultural Society. It has played a prominent part in all four Bollington Festivals, arranging beautiful lower Festivals to illustrate the various themes.
The second Festival, held four years later in 1968 had, as its theme, ‘Leisure’. Like the first festival, it proved a great success and encouraged the formation of the Bollington Art Group (now with a membership of about forty) and the Festival Photographic Group, as well as the Junior Festival Players.
The third Festival took place in 1974, a significant date for Bollington as it marked the transition of the town under the Local Government Reorganisation Scheme, from a separate local authority to an area in the new Macclesfield District Council. The Festival Committee regarded this particular year as an appropriate time for Bollingtonians to take stock of their village, considering what could be done to improve it and the type of environment they were creating for their grandchildren. The committee therefore chose as the Festival Theme ‘Towards the New Millennium’, and the exhibition included a section on life as it might be in the year 2000, as well as sections on Bollington Past and Present. Again, all the other organisations in the community were drawn in including the schools and youth organisations. The Historical Committee contributed a model of ‘Bollington in 1851’ and produced a booklet, especially for the festival, which described aspects of nineteenth century Bollington .
During this festival, a group of light opera enthusiasts joined together to present, in the new Civic Hall completed in 1971, the Gilbert & Sullivan favourite ‘The Gondoliers’. Calling themselves ‘The Bollington Musical Group’ they placed the following note in their printed programme:
“The group was formed for the express purpose of putting on an operetta for the 1974 Festival. We started with about forty playing members. Some fell by the wayside; others joined us and we go to press with thirty-five playing members and about a dozen others helping in various ways.
Some of our members are very experienced in the amateur theatrical world. Some of the Principals are taking leading roles for the first time. Finance dictated that we make most of our own costumes and scenery. So all in all the production has been a great challenge but tremendous enthusiasm has made it possible to overcome the problems. For example, we have sung our way through four Musical Directors. We don’t seem any the worse for it and hope they are not.
What of the future? We do not know. If you are interested in what we may develop, please contact our secretary.”
The ‘future’ turned out to be very successful indeed. The production of ‘Gondoliers’ was very well received and, under the new title ‘Bollington Light Opera Group’ (BLOG), the group has staged annual, and since 1978, twice-yearly shows which have been very much enjoyed by audience and participants alike.
The 1974 Festival also provided the inspiration for six local brass band enthusiasts to get together ‘for a blow’ on various instruments in the front room of a house in Shrigley Road. Eventually, seven more joined he original group and since then the band has become well known and is in considerable demand giving its services to many charitable organisations throughout the district. In 1977 it raised money for the Silver Jubilee Appeal receiving a certificate for its efforts. The wives and mothers of band members have provided much support, holding bring and buy sales and coffee evenings in order to raise funds for the purchase of several new instruments.
Following the success of the Senior Band, a Junior Section was started.
In 1979, when Bollington was twinned with Thurles, County Tipperary, the Brass Band accompanied the Bollington Twinning Committee to Ireland for the official twinning ceremony. As well as marching through the streets of Thurles with the local band for the twinning ceremony the Bollington Band also entertained about 12,000 spectators at the semi-final of the “All Ireland Hurling Championships” between Limerick and Tipperary and gave a concert to a packed and appreciative audience.
The Festival Movement has undoubtedly brought growth and vigour to a small town which, in the 60s, was trying to readjust to life without King Cotton and to kindle anew a sense of community spirit and local pride. At the time of the third Festival, Dr Coope observed:
“Bollington has two groups, the new residents and the old core of Bollingtonians, and one of my aims has been to get them to work together because there is great strength there.”
Through the Festival Movement, this aim has been admirably achieved; Bollingtonians old and new have joined together to make the Bollington Festival a much enjoyed occasion which has, in the sixteen years of its existence, led to the formation of many new clubs and societies representing all age groups and a wide variety of interests.