www.arleseyarts.co.uk was founded to promote artistic events in a small Bedfordshire community and, it must be admitted, to publicise our activities.
We (Kate Elmitt - musician and Bob Wilkins - storyteller) moved to Arlesey in July 2002 to Edgeworth House, a late Victorian property on about an acre of ground, with a large coach house in the back garden. The place had been empty for some years before we arrived, prior to which it had been a laboratory for a long time.
We set to work cleaning the upper floor of the coach house, chipping from the original wooden floorboards the linoleum covered hard-wearing composition flooring laid when the building was used commercially. After the removal of many pipes and gauges, and things which looked like a giant’s hairdryers sticking out of the walls, and the repair of broken floorboards, the place was ready for cleaning and painting.
Friends helped with these jobs and the day came when we were able to welcome our choir Vivace into its new home. An upright Yamaha piano was bought from the Pianoman in Arlesey and man-handled up the stairs, but at first most of the singers had to bring their own chairs as we were short in that department.
We founded Vivace (the name is a musical term which means ‘fast and lively’ in late 2001 when we lived in Hitchin. At first the choir rehearsed in several places, including the Friends Meeting House in Letchworth, and St. Christopher School. After we moved to Arlesey we were able to rehearse in the upper floor of the Coach House (into which we could squeeze about 70 people) with all but one of the original members of the choir. The exception was a lady who felt that she couldn’t make the journey from Letchworth on her scooter. It’s only four miles, but a lot of it is along poorly-lit creepy roads, so we couldn't really blame her.
While the choir performed concerts elsewhere, we used the coach house for pupils’ events and a couple of recitals, keeping warm in the winter with calor gas fires and curtains given by friends and neighbours hung to trap the draughts.
We wanted to have a junior choir to perform independently and also to join in the senior concerts, and soon had about ten youngsters, nearly all female. The trouble is that young teenage girls discover boys, and our membership declined to the point where we had to close our junior section. We would, however, like to revive it at some stage
As there seemed to be little else of a cultural nature happening in Arlesey (for instance, there wasn’t a piano in any public place in the village, apart from the school), we decided to create a focus for the arts in the community. First thing was to buy a cheap piano to put in the WI Hall across the road, a welcoming cosy venue in which we have held many concerts. Secondly, we needed to convert the coach house into an arts centre.
Discussions with those who know about such things revealed that we needed £300,000 to extend and refurbish the building, so we had plans drawn to submit to the planning authorities. However, we learned in 2003 that the Arts Council were not accepting any further applications for this sort of project until September 2006, and that there would, at that time, be such a welter of applications that the chances of success would be minimal. Consequently, we decided to do something for ourselves instead, and find another way to bring the arts to Arlesey. We drew up further plans, this time for the conversion of the coach house into four one-bed flats.
As soon as the work began, the choir had to find a new rehearsal space, and for months they squeezed into Kate’s music room, sitting on chairs borrowed from our neighbour John Saunders, who had bought out a bankrupt restaurant and lent the chairs and tables to friends. John is owner of Stotfold Motor Company and has the largest private collection in Europe of road-going steam vehicles. In an auction he outbid the singer Michael Jackson to get a pair of steam-powered swing boats for a trifling £250,000.
The house had rather unattractive built-on garages, so it was back to the planners for permission to demolish these and replace them with a rehearsal space. The result is an eighty seat hall in which we have two grand pianos, a Steinway and a Chappell. While The Studio, as we first called it, is clearly suitable for musical events it can be used for almost any purpose and was, for instance, borrowed by a group of five actors from Arlesey who needed a space in which to work on a play they were shortly taking to the Edinburgh Festival.
Although we called the new hall The Studio, we weren’t quite happy with that because it was boring, so had a competition to find a new name. Several suggestions were made, some of them unprintable, but we didn’t find one we liked until Kate’s niece Elise came for a few days from Zurich and suggested The Eagle Wing. We have hundred-year-old terracotta eagles on the gateposts, so it seemed appropriate.
We were fortunate that an early member of Vivace, policeman Gary Neesam, offered to design a website free of charge. This website, now run by talented Helen Bradley, is attracting attention and has resulted in people joining the choir. Others have been introduced by members, and have come from leaflet distributions and from unrelenting exhortations at concerts. For up-to-date information, with some archived material, please go to www.vivacechoir.co.uk
In keeping with our general ‘arts’ theme, we had an exhibition of paintings in the Eagle Wing by local professional artist Louise Shotter. Jayney Edwards was the next artist to exhibit here, her collection of paintings in various media and drawings going up in January 2008. Anyone who can draw or paint to professional standard is welcome to apply for hanging space. We charge a commission of 10% on sales, nothing if none are sold.
The Arts in Arlesey
In the last few years we’ve discovered that there is quite a lot going on in Arlesey, some of which might benefit from extra publicity. We are, therefore, inviting any Arlesey based arts organisation or individual to advertise their services or products on this website. This will be free of charge for the first six months, and possibly longer depending on developments. What we’ll need is artwork and photographs and text to the tune of about one-and-a-half to two A4 pages.
So, do you sing or act? Are you a storyteller or puppeteer? Do you paint? Are you a sculptor or ceramic artist? Are you an instrumentalist? Do you offer courses in any of the arts? Do you do anything of a similar nature which could do with some publicity?