A CLOUDY sky and the threat of rain didn’t stop thousands lining the streets of Malpas for its first Arts and Literature Festival.
The village came alive with crowds of up to 5,000 people enjoying music, dance and drama as the four-day Malfest event proved to be a huge success.
Malpas High Street was transformed back to Victorian times when adults and children took part in a special adaptation of Lark Rise to Candleford as part of the festival’s well-rehearsed street pageant, which attracted huge crowds.
Jane Grimwade, owner of Ginger Lily on the High Street, said she had never seen so many people in Malpas: “It has been fantastic, so many people are here,” she said.
“Malpas has been hidden away for so long, and been bypassed by the A41 with people driving past and not even realising we’re here. Anything that will bring the village alive is a great thing.”
She added: “Lots of new people are here today. This festival is exactly what we need.”
Over in Hampton, where organiser Fiona Midwood had opened her house and garden for various musical and theatrical performances, the other part of the festival was also in full swing, despite direction signs to the event mysteriously disappearing overnight.
“I’ve never known a more magical evening,” said festival director John Oakden, of classical pianist Rose Cholmondeley’s stunning Chopin recital in St Oswald’s Church on Friday night.
“I am absolutely delighted with how everything is turning out. We still can’t get over the reaction.
“I’ve already had offers from people wanting to help us with next year’s festival. We know what to do now, we need to get lots more people on board for next time.”
And budding writer Sophie Thomson of Malpas, made a big impression with her winning entry in the 11-18 age category of the Peter Wheeler Short Story Competition, judged by Peter’s daughter Jo Wheeler, who is known for her news and weather broadcasting on Sky.
Sophie’s English teacher at Shropshire’s Moreton Hall School, Andrew Macdonald-Brown, was named runner-up in the adult category.
Renowned TV writer Jimmy McGovern told the audience with his life story, and actress Sian Phillips ‘mesmerised’ crowds at a packed St Oswald’s Church.
The garden marquee at Hampton was full to capacity when folk legend Peggy Seeger closed the festival on Sunday night, performing a variety of songs and readings.
“It was magical,” said John. “Both of them were mesmerising and people were knocked out by how beautiful the church looked. It was absolutely incredible.”
Canon Ian Davenport, Rector of St Oswald’s said: “This weekend has been a marvellous opportunity for the community to come together – young and old. Seeing it all happen has been superb.”
From the origins of a simple idea by organisers Diana Mather and Fiona Midwood, Malfest seems to have put Malpas well and truly put on the map and attracted people from all over the country, some of whom even camped out at Hampton for the four days.
And the whole community is hoping the festival will become an annual event, with plans already under way for next year’s event.
Resident Kate Hodson said: “The community is hoping that this will become an yearly event, it would be lovely for Malpas.”
The organisers are now having a short break before planning begins for next year’s gets underway.
“We were very ambitious from the start,” said Diana. “We wanted it to rival the Hay Festival and by the reaction, I hope we have!”