Bedford Park Festival History

By Torin Douglas MBE, one of the festival’s prime movers

Photograph: Bedford Park architecture by Ellen Rooney

The Bedford Park Festival came about as a campaign to save the beautiful Arts & Crafts houses of Bedford Park, which in 1967 were under threat. Bedford Park in the Sixties was a rundown area, with properties sublet into bedsits and falling into disrepair. As Victorian architecture was out of fashion, the local council started knocking down houses and replacing them with blocks of flats.

In 1963, two public-spirited local residents decided enough was enough. After the council demolished a large house in Bedford Road and replaced it with a five-storey old people’s home, they set up the Bedford Park Society with the aim of getting local buildings listed for preservation. The co-founders were Harry Taylor, president of South Acton Conservatives, and Tom Greeves, an architect and founder member of the Victorian Society, who enlisted the poet and preservationist John Betjeman as patron.

Within a year, the Bedford Park Society had attracted over 200 members and delayed the destruction of at least one fine house. A TV film was produced, with commentary by Betjeman. But the campaigners’ arguments were rebuffed by the listing committee of the Ministry of Housing. The architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner wrote to Tom Greeves: “Alas, I lost the battle over Bedford Park”.

Photographs above: Local newspaper cutting about the launch of the campaign to restore St Michael & All Angels Church, attended by John Betjeman in 1966;  Programme for the first Bedford Park Festival in 1967; Canon Jack Jenner judging the baby competition in 1969

By 1967, two more houses had been destroyed but the campaign went on, as Greeves’ wife Eleanor recalled in the book Forty Years OnThe Bedford Park Society 1963-2003: “The breakthrough came in 1967 with the first Bedford Park Festival, a brainchild of the recently-appointed vicar, Canon Jack Jenner, to raise funds for repairs to St Michael & All Angels church”.

And so was born one of the great heritage campaigns of the 20th Century. In the Vicarage, they put on an exhibition about Bedford Park, the world’s first garden suburb, called ‘Artists and Architecture of Bedford Park 1875-1900’. John Betjeman visited it, as did the Ministry of Housing inspector Arthur Grogan – an expert on the Arts & Crafts period.

A month later, no fewer than 356 of the houses were granted provisional Grade II listing, to save them from demolition. Soon both Ealing and Hounslow councils had declared conservation areas, preserving the first garden suburb as one of the most sought-after places to live in west London.

The festival became an annual event and has gone from strength to strength.

Photographs below: Train ride at Green Days 1967; donkey rides in 1975; actor Hayley Mills at the fete in 1981; artist Sir Peter Blake 1993; TV presenter Gavin Campbell 1995; Fr Kevin Morris 1996; actor Richard Briers 1997; fancy dress parade 2002; BBC journalist John Humphrys 2003; fancy dress parade 2010; BBC journalist Fergal Keane & Fr Kevin 2015; actor Elizabeth McGovern & singer-songwriter Sophie Ellis-Bextor 2016.

Find out more about the Bedford Park Festival on the festival website.

bedfordparkfestival.org