Residents of Chester’s Garden Quarter have celebrated together with a wartime festival.

The nine-day Garden Quarter Remembers included a street re-enactment, art installations, theatre and music workshops, the making of a new film, guided tours based on research and live performance.

 

It involved groups and organisations in the area including Chester Blue Coat Primary School, St Thomas of Canterbury Church and its choir, the Uniting Churches of Garden Lane, the Cambrian Community, Scouts and Brownies, Dee Sign Choir, Theatre in the Quarter and Jigsaw, Chester Giants, The Cambrian Queens, Bridge Foyer, Mustique Hair Salon, The Cake Fairy, Taylor’s Boatyard and the Bouverie pub, which played host to a trench singalong on the final night.

Video Loading
 

Festival organiser Matt Baker arranged the Hundred Years Concert, which brought more than 150 local performers to the stage at the Chester Blue Coat school, which was also the venue for the Centenary Fayre.

He said: “I have never experienced such a mixture of emotions in a festival; one moment a whole street of people were laughing and singing together, the next they were dancing in their hundreds.

“And then there were moments where real tears were being shed at some of the more poignant moments where, through music, art or just silence, we genuinely reflected on the plight of our predecessors who walked along the same streets.”

Another organiser Catherine Jones added: “People who live in these streets simply came together and talked. By the end of the street festival there were people sitting and talking and sharing stories, many of whom didn’t know each other at the start of the day. It was wonderful.”.

Video Loading
 

One of the highlights of the festival was the 1914 Street opened with a procession led by Lord Mayor of Chester Cllr Bob Rudd and Lady Mayoress Sandra Rudd.

Through costumed local actors and many artifacts from the period, Cambrian Road was transformed into a street from 1914.

Audiences were led from door to door by ‘Archie’ the postman, and invited to eavesdrop on the lives of the people who lived there.

Deputy headteacher of Chester Blue Coat CE Primary Rachael Orme said: “It was a fantastic opportunity to bring several generations of the local community together and the visit prompted many discussions back at school about life one hundred years ago – women's rights, rag and bone men and taking a bath in the front room were particular highlights!.

The 10-hour event ended with a recital of a poem specially written by resident Gary Smith, read by actor Tom Hughes, who will star in a new BBC spy thriller The Game later this year.

This was followed by the playing of Last Post by actor and trombonist Joe Mann.

Jan Tapp whose family travelled to Chester especially for the event said: “There was not a dry eye on the street.”

Other highlights of the festival

Historian Geoff Taylor led the fully subscribed Wartime Walk through the streets of the neighbourhood, which took in Taylor’s Boatyard with afternoon tea provided by local café The Cake Fairy.

Geoff said:   “The Garden Quarter Remembers Festival allowed the community to remember the sacrifices made in WWI and at the same time rejoice in our heritage and look forward to the future by sharing fun and friendship together.”

Neil Kendall was instrumental in bringing neighbours together for the reenactment and the new film. He said “The festival involved people from two to 102 years and was an inspiring, thought provoking event which bought out the best in everybody.”

An art installation entitled the ‘Cube of Peace’ was blessed during a civic service at St Thomas of Canterbury Church. The packed service was attended by the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress, Scouts and Brownies  

The festival closed at the Bouverie where Matt Baker led a trench singalong in the beer garden.

Pub manager Gaz Axonsaid: “A massive crowd of locals singing Lambeth Walk whilst doing a spontaneous dance routine in our beer garden is something I will never forget.”

The festival was rooted very much in research, which was generated by residents Amanda Moore and Alex Malthouse. Much of the research was on display throughout the week.

Amanda said: “Lots of people came to the heritage displays and added their own stories and even objects to carry on what we started.

“People brought me old letters (and even old bottles!) and told me about shops on Garden Lane in the 1920s.  All the sorts of material I could only get from speaking to real people in the community to add to this archive.”

The festival was made possible by a £10,000 grant from Heritage Lottery Fund as well as generous support from Garden Quarter councilor Bob Rudd.