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 

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

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,

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!


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 or to book, please email

Sophie Courtiour working with living willow

I love living in the west country as there are so many things you see here, even travelling on the A303 or the M5, that you simply don’t see in other parts of the country. I spent my early adulthood in London and had never seen a willow structure of any kind until I moved down here in my early thirties, it wasn’t long before I had living willow soaking in my bathtub, but that is another story. These days I am pretty used to seeing incredible sights like willow horses and the beasts on the Blackdowns. At least that is what I thought, until I came across the Cathedral!

Taunton Cathedral living willow hires (2 of 14)

Two weeks ago on one of those rare sunny (but windy) Sundays, my daughter and I decided to go on a bike ride. We had to do something as we could no longer hibernate. We ended up going down to French Weir in Taunton, popping into Tesco’s and then taking a funny turn which got us down to Longrun Meadows. I had heard about the regeneration project going on down there, but had not imagined it was quite as good as what we found.   Riding along a path that can only be described as a country lane with meadows of grass

and trees along either side, yet still almost in the town centre, we decided to see if we could ride along the river/stream. So a little bit further we went, until right in front of us was the most awesome sight that took us completely by surprise. It was a huge willow sculpture, bigger than any I have ever seen before, and it was living and breathing willow.

Taunton Cathedral living willow hires (13 of 14)

You could tell this because it had just started to bud and was beginning to be covered in the most beautiful green leaves. As we cycled up to it, it became apparent how much work that had gone into it. From far away it looks magnificent and awe-inspiring and as you get closer you get to see the intricacies of the way it was crafted. I was quite stunned. What was really lovely was that there were quite a few people there, having a rest from a long walk with their dog or a family out on their bikes; bikes strewn and children lying on the floor looking up at the blue sky cathedral ceiling. It was quite obviously a restful, peaceful place, somewhere you can go and contemplate and be still. It was also fun and exciting and full of laughter from children – a hub of all kinds of emotions. Apparently, the ‘green cathedral’, measures 30m by 16m (98 ft by 54ft) and is made from living Somerset willow, which means that it will continue to green up over time. It was finished in June 2011 and is of course now really coming into its own, in 2013. It is easy to see why the vision for the cathedral is that it is used for plays, performances or yoga classes as it will appeal to so many different clubs, societies, and individuals.

Taunton Cathedral living willow hires (4 of 14)

When I got home I had to look it up. I had no idea what it was called, didn’t know it was called the cathedral when I was there and didn’t know who had made it. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that Sophie Courtiour and Stefan Jennings were the willow artists responsible, especially since we are so lucky to Sophie coming to do an arts and crafts workshop weekend with us at Halsway Manor on Friday 24th May to Sunday 26th May 2013. Sophie is a willow sculptor based in Cheddar who has worked with willow for over 10 years and has been involved with some really big projects. She is responsible for the leaping deer on the A303, the Willow beasts on the Blackdown Hills AONB and a 7 metre reclining lady in Weston-Super-Mare. 

Sophie will be running this two day workshop using willow grown locally on the Somerset Levels. Participants are welcome to use the comprehensive folk library at Halsway Manor with a view to creating their own mythical beast though the workshop will cater to any ideas and all levels of ability. There is no need for previous experience and you don’t have to be arty but you will need to be prepared for any weather as we will be working outside.

Taunton Cathedral living willow hires (12 of 14)

I can’t wait to see the creations that people will come up with. We have no idea if they will want to make their own or do a joint piece of work, where it will go or what type of willow beasts that will suddenly be popping up on the Halsway Manor grounds, but rest assured there will be photographic evidence as I wouldn’t miss it for the world. We are very excited to be welcoming Sophie to Halsway Manor and very much look forward to seeing what the course participants come up with.

Don’t forget that you can come for the weekend or as a day visitor – there are plenty of options. So if you think you would like to learn the art of making willow structures, then contact the as soon as you can to secure your place or have a look at our website for more information Halsway Manor and if you get a chance, go and have a look at the living green cathedral. It really is very beautiful!