Welcome to Halsway Manor, Somerset

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Welcome to the new Halsway Manor Blog. Halsway Manor is a creative organisation that provides courses, events and activities for everyone interested in traditional folk music, dance and song, storytelling, folklore, arts and crafts. We are located in the Quantock Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in the South West of England.

We are very excited to be able to use this blog to tell you all about the wonderful things that are happening at Halsway, both before and after the events. We would love to hear from you, so please come and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Pinterest as soon as they are all up and running – which won’t be very long!  Don’t forget to check out our website http://www.halswaymanor.org.uk too and please feel free to comment on our posts. We look forward to connecting with you!

Halsway Manor’s Golden Garden for our 50th Anniversary by Bonny Sartin

sleepers 002In the early summer Maureen and Graham Knight asked me to help create a Golden Garden for the 50th anniversary of the forming of Halsway Manor Society and the purchase of the Manor. This sounded like a very positive project and if there’s one thing I enjoy its a very positive project. Maureen and Graham have their work cut out looking after the garden so I thought a little assistance would not come amiss.

dancers 005The plot allocated was the one in front of the Summerhouse which hadn’t been dug over for years. When we went to attack it we quickly discarded forks and spades and got the pick axes out. It was, ‘As hard as hells bells’, as father used to say. The water was not soaking in at all but just running off the top and in the first few days we only found one lonely worm. However, as we progressed and the piles of rubbish, roots and stumps grew, people began to take an interest in our activities and stop for a chat. We found that they were very enthusiastic about the Golden Garden and with their support, our ambitions and the size of the plot seemed to grow and grow. During the summer I bumped into some friends from Coventry. I told them what we were about and when they came to the Big Sing weekend in October they brought a bag of compost with them. Brilliant!!!

2013 summer wendy house 002My sister-in-law made us two golden folk dancing figures and these were installed at the end of September, just before the A.G.M. They make a great centre piece and, so far, have stood up to all the storms that mother nature has thrown at them.

We received a donation, which paid for some solid oak sleepers to put around the edge of the garden and Graham and I heaved these into place in the middle of October. Just behind them we have planted hundreds of daffodils which Maureen and Graham have saved from other parts of the garden. We have also put in some Winter Aconites so there should be some gold showing as early as January.

sleepers 008The main planting will take place in the Spring of 2014. Many of the people staying at Halsway seem to be keen gardeners and we have already been given a lot of advice and promised a variety of plants. Two big and potentially expensive jobs need to be done too; taking a couple of branches of the beech tree and re-thatching the summerhouse, but I can see filling the plot with flowers is going to be relatively cheap. Incidentally with the breaking up of the soil the worms are coming back so we must be doing something right.

If you are interested in helping Maureen and Graham to keep the garden under control they are organising Garden Working Days on the 13th and 20th of December.

Bonny Sartin

 

 

The Halsway Shop – Full to the brim and run by fabulous volunteers.

This week we thought we would tell you a bit about the shop that we run at Halsway Manor. The shop is run by volunteers who open it during each event and all profits from the shop go directly into raising funds for Halsway. 

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The majority of our stock is sourced locally or made by a team of volunteers who meet on Tuesdays to craft and produce jewellery, sew, knit. There is a large variety of items for sale in the shop, including essentials such as toothbrushes, brushes, combs, nail files and flannels for those that have forgotten to pack them! We also sell promotional items like sweatshirts, polo shirts, pens, melamine table mats, hand crafted chopping boards, coasters, canvas bags and mugs. We have a fabulous selection of jars from locally produced Honey in Wiviliscombe and jams, marmalades and pickles from Mrs Mops, in Carhampton.

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Our wonderful volunteers make hand painted silk scarves, ties and evening bags and as well as great stocking fillers like socks with musical designs. We have postcards of Halsway and the surrounding area too as well as maps, so there is no excuse not to write home or indeed to get lost as you explore the local area!

The shop also stocks the William Winter Tune book, The Ruth Tongue songs and stories, the Halsway wall hanging and the history of Halsway, all of which have been published by Halsway Manor.

We have recently purchased some lovely little jute bags that can be filled with your choice of jars, such as  jams and pickles. These make a great present at any time of the year, but with Christmas coming up, they would make a wonderful gift to loved ones as you return from your trip, a hostess present or a gorgeous present for under the tree. 

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The shop is open when we have events on, though it is possible to purchase items at other times. Please see Viv, our events and bookings manager if you wish to purchase something out of hours, or you missed the opening of the shop, because you were too busy having fun!

The Kennedy Grant Library at Halsway Manor by Cynthia and Bonnie Sartin

This week we are delighted to have guest bloggers Cynthia and Bonnie Sartin talking about the work that goes on behind the scenes in our Kennedy Grant Library At Halsway Manor which houses a huge collection of mixed media folk treasures – over to the Sartins…

HalswayManorLibrary (9 of 13)After 15 years of slogging away the 4,000 books and 2,000 records, CDs and tapes in the collection are catalogued, listed and key worded on the computer and accessible. We still have a couple of hundred LPs, about 100 CDs and the archives to sort but we’ll get there. Having said that we are continually receiving donations of CDs and other material from generous performers and visitors to the Manor so the work will carry on even when the final recordings from the Peter Kennedy collection have been added. We are happy to accept any folk related books etc. on the understanding that if we have copies already we will sell any extra ones to raise money for the library. Back copies of EFDSS Journals and Magazines regularly crop up in boxes left for us so we have a good supply of these for sale. By re-cycling these items the library is self-financing. Recently these funds have enabled us to purchase a new computer, a wonderful oak table to put it on and a top quality CD player.  

A lot of interest has been shown recently by people wanting to do research, which is very gratifying. At the ‘Give Voice’ weekend in October we were able to show the residents around the library stock and how to use the computer to find songs etc. This worked well and we were able to help in finding new material for people to sing.

HalswayManorLibrary (3 of 13)The library has provided material for several publications. The William Winter Tune Book and Songs & Stories of Ruth Tongue. Both were local characters; William a fine fiddle player from the 19th century and Ruth a self-styled folklorist and song writer who used to come to Halsway soon after it opened in the mid 1960s. We have also assisted authors writing books about John Short (Yankee Jack the shanty man from Watchet), Charles Marson (who helped Cecil Sharp with his song collecting in Somerset) and the tradition of the Ashen Faggot. Mary Rhodes is now Halsway’s official archivist and she and Cynthia are searching for material to include in a publication that celebrates the activities at the Manor since it opened as a Folk Centre in 1965.

HalswayManorLibrary (8 of 13)The collection covers a wide spectrum of folk-related material. Song, dance, music folklore and storytelling and tutors for many instruments as well as clog, sword and morris dancing. We have noticed that people come in and immediately panic when they see a library but it is very easy to use if you keep a cool head. There are printed catalogues for people who aren’t up to speed with computers but for those who are happy with modern technology a simplified catalogue is also available on the web at www.halswaymanor.org 

HalswayManorLibrary (4 of 13)If you would like more information on the library or would like to make an appointment to book some time in for doing some research, then please contact Viv on office@halswaymanor.org.uk

Cynthia & Bonny Sartin

A lovely bit of feedback!

There is nothing quite like receiving a card or a letter these days – there is still something so much more personal about handwritten notes, than an email – especially when it contains some great feedback!

We received this letter a few weeks back and the only reason for not posting (technically) it sooner, was that we wanted to write to the author to ask permission to use it… so what did we do? We sent them an email…There is just no stopping the flow of process – nor should we – but I can’t help but feel the difference between the two types of media, even if for speed it was more valid to use email. However – I digress and snail versus email is definitely a discussion for another day – either way, we were happily given permission to share so here it is…

Dear Viv,

I am enclosing the voucher for our booking for the next storytelling weekend, next year – I enjoyed the storytelling weekend so much, it was the 4th time I had come and I can’t wait for the next one. The events are very well organised and so much is fitted in, the tutors are excellent!

I am always sorry when it is time to leave, Halsway Manor is a beautiful place and all the staff make you so welcome. The meals are marvellous and I would like to thank everyone concerned for making it so special.

Best wishes

Valerie Marchant

So – there we have it! Another satisfied customer! It puts such smiles on all our faces and is so fabulous for morale when people write and tell us how much they enjoy coming to Halsway – it makes all the hard work so worthwhile. So, many thanks to Valerie for putting pen to paper and letting us share (in) her appreciation! Halsway is a wonderful place, but it wouldn’t be the same without all the wonderful people that come to visit.

Here’s to more special moments, special events and special people at Halsway Manor.

Don’t forget that if you would like to give us feedback, positive or otherwise, please do write to Paul James, CEO@halswaymanor.org.uk

From Bagpipes to Nyckelharpa – an instrumental journey

Vicki_Pipes3Our guest blogger this week is Vicky Swan who tells us of her own personal journey in learning, playing and discovering these wonderful, yet quite different instruments. Over to Vicky…

These two instruments might seem poles apart and in many respects they are, so how did I get to become a player of both? My Dad was piper and entertainments manager at a hotel up in Scotland one year, where he met a Swedish lass on holiday – the rest as they say is history. As my Dad was a piper, the pipes naturally came first. He was an excellent teacher and ran the Brentwood School of Piping, which was later to become a full-blown competition pipe band. I like to think that I got my pedagogical background from him; his mother and sister were also both teachers. I tried at many different times to take up the Highland Pipes, but they just weren’t quite right for me, so when I discovered the Scottish smallpipes I was instantly away. Unfortunately my Dad died quite early on in my piping career, but I know he’d be proud of what I’ve done. I’m sure we’d have had many discussions on style and grace notes. He would definitely be proud of the teaching work I did for my Masters degree in Education and the subsequent tutor that I wrote.

quartet1Having spent several years teaching students with no face-to-face interaction as a teacher on-line I decided to put myself back in the position of being a learner with no teacher of my own. What better instrument to choose in the UK but the nyckelharpa. Being half Swedish I had the advantage that I’ve always known about this stunning instrument and I could speak the language and was able to get hold of one. It was a major turning point in my life. I discovered that I could never really be a beginner again, I have too much ‘prior learning’ and too many ‘transferable skills’ to eve really be a beginner. Initially it was just an instrument I could sing and play with but gradually it has taken over my life.

quartet1With my Swedish connections I do as much as I can to bring instruments into the country and unite them with new owners. I have a little stash of instruments that I can let people use to see if they like the instrument. It’s not likely that anyone wouldn’t want to take it up, but it can be a big outlay for an instrument you’ve never tried. Not everyone can take the risk I took of ordering one before I’d really seen one properly live (at the Swedish Church in London as a small child doesn’t really count).
My leap of faith paid off but if it hadn’t I’d have had no difficulty in selling it on as nyckelharpas are like gold dust! Of course I haven’t forgotten about the pipes and since taking up the nyckelharpa I’ve added English borderpipes and Swedish bagpipes to my collection. It’s a lot of up keep, practicing all these different instruments but luckily I love playing and it’s really not such a hardship. The only problem is deciding what instrument to play first!

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Vicky will be running a Nyckelharpa Workshop Weekend on 1st to 3rd November at Halsway, and a Scottish smallpipes workshop weekend 29th November to 1st December.

If you would like further information please contact vicki@swan-dyer.co.uk or to book, please email office@halswaymanor.org.uk.

Hothouse Reflections by Clare Parker

As the Hothouse Show have just received a warm welcome for their final performance at Sidmouth 2013, it is a natural time for me to reflect on the past 12 months dancing with young people at Halsway Manor since Paul James appointed me as Halsway Manor’s Youth Dance Associate. I met Will Lang a year ago at Sidmouth Folk Festival and we soon started hatching plans to integrate young dancers into the Hothouse project which Will has lead with musicians for the past few years at Halsway Manor. The idea was to bring together talented young dancers and musicians, who had limited or no prior experience of folk, to work with top dance artists and musicians and create a new show based on our folk traditions, for touring. The following January we had funding support from both Arts Council England and Futures for Somerset; and established partnerships with Take Art and Somerset Youth Dance Company, Bridgwater College and a number of schools in Bridgwater.

For a week in early Spring 2013, 23 talented young musicians and dancers got together at Halsway Manor to work with leading dance artists and musicians. Bringing fresh talents and skills to the mix, they explored traditional folk song, music and dance, alongside other styles like street dance and rock music. They created a new and exciting fusion, formed the Hothouse Show; presenting a new piece of original music and dance for touring to the Hothouse festival, and Priddy and Sidmouth Folk festivals in summer of 2013.

It was wonderful to see how the young dancers felt so at home at Halsway and embraced a totally new style of music and dance. As one young dancer said “I have gained experience of these different styles of dance. It has made me realise there are other good things out there”.

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Photo: Hothouse dancers/musicians after their first performance at Halsway Manor Hothouse Festival April 2013

In the past year we have also worked with over 150 children in Taunton schools on our Spring Up! programme which aims to inspire a love of folk and social dance through regular country dance sessions in schools. Following sessions in their school, many of the children came up to celebrate May Day at Halsway Manor, and some teachers and their pupils were so inspired that they worked on their own dances to perform at local fetes. One teacher said, “The children learnt different dances – street, folk, country. They were great! It is a great opportunity for specialist dance – thank you!”. 

So what do we have in store for next year? We are taking Spring Up! to Minehead schools and hope to develop a schools flashmob shanty performance for the Minehead Harbour Festival of July 2014. Hothouse will continue to grow and merge traditional and new styles of music and dance. We will form new partnerships and work with young dancers in Bridgwater and Taunton to create our own youth dance company. And we have some exciting plans for a folk dance project for disabled children as we continue in our mission to bring the joys of folk dance to as many young people as possible.