Donkey Rides And Roundabouts

Wyn Borger remembers the first Bedford Park Festival

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Wyn Borger was a young mother newly-arrived in Bedford Park fifty years ago when she received an invitation to a party hosted by neighbours Gemma and Andrew Best in 1967.

"They plied us with whiskey", she laughs "and then suggested that we start up a local community festival so that everyone could get to know one another."

As they formed a committee and divided up the tasks-Wyn's job was to organise the donkey rides, book the roundabout, and organise the children's Fancy Dress -nobody could have foreseen that the Festival would run into its fiftieth year.

The idea behind the Festival was to foster a sense of community, celebrate the arts, and raise money for repairs to the Church. Since then it has raised hundreds of thousands of pounds for charities.

"Bedford Park was full of arty and professional people, film people fashion directors etc. It was not the wealthy suburb that it is today. But everyone knew somebody who was an actor or a singer, or painter, or could bake cakes or something and everyone did their bit. What was wonderful was there were enough musicians, and actors to have enough events for several days. We even had an Opera in Melbourne house on South Parade as there was a wonderful opera singer, Laura Sarti, living in Woodstock Road."

Many of the local shops were family owned and came on board to sponsor events ( Mackens is the only one remaining). Gemma Nesbitt (wife of Andrew Best) was an artist and did the original map of Bedford Park which featured on the poster, while Eleanor Grieves (ceramicist) was later responsible for the Sunflower logo (the original poster is in The Tabard pub).

Wyn and her husband had moved to Fairfax Road after a period in a flat in Eyot Gardens-she recalls that the day they moved in, the Boat Race was in progress and the area was full of activity. She was then teaching art at Brentford School for Girls while her husband was lecturing in psychology at Brunel University. When they started a family, they decided to move "inland" as the houses in Bedford Park were more affordable than those by the river.

"It was cheap at that time so a lot of young families started to move in- my daughter Charlotte was born in Queen Charlotte's hospital and my son Julian was born at home- at that time there were nurse midwives who used to cycle around to your house and help with the birth."

Tasked with finding donkeys, Wyn located an elderly gypsy lady wintering in a glass-fronted caravan at Pinewood Studios who took bookings for village fairs. On the day of the festival Wyn got up at six to greet the horseboxes with half a dozen donkeys inside -the weather was good, she recalled, and the ladies on the festival committee had their best frocks on-"I think I made a new dress for myself."

Meanwhile a team of volunteers had erected the stalls selling plants, cakes, teas, books etc. The fair rides, including the roundabout, had been installed on the Green the previous day. Father Jack Jenner, the vicar of St Michael & All Angels, had given over the church hall for concerts. The festival was opened by the two local MPs.

"It was like a village fair, that's how we all saw it and when it was all over that day we said, "Let's do it again'. And so we did, I remember in 1973 there was a campaign to save the local trees from being cut down and we even went to the Opera dressed as trees."

A mother of four grown up children, and grandmother to seven, Wyn now lives in the Gunnersbury area and is a regular contributor to the St Michael's Art Fair. She believes that the first Bedford Park Festival played a central role in helping the local community come together and flourish.

"After the first one we all became friends and went in and out of each other's houses. We never locked our doors- we even had supper parties with leftovers on Monday nights. We'd all moved into the area from other places, and had young families. The Bedford Park Festival was how we got to know each other. I am almost the last survivor of those days I think, apart from Ted Holloway who is now 92 and still lives in Chiswick."



May 13, 2016