Postcard from Ilfracombe

I’m just back from a lovely four days in North Devon, with the shops just beginning to re-open for the impending spring season, and the weather having a touch of warmth in it despite a couple of very wet days.

I was made to feel most welcome there.  It really is a charming town.  Someone described it as a village in town clothing which feels right.  I have a soft spot for it certainly and with my new role as Artistic Director of the Victorian Celebration, it meant I could start delving into the roots of what is going on there, gathering support and inspiring the community to engage with the event again.  I have to say they have really gone for it to a great extent although I did encounter a few doubters.  The younger element of the town have warmed and embrace the new ideas for the event being circulated.  Steam Punk day will be one worth attending.

I have managed to develop quite an exciting workshop programme so people can have a go at some of the craft activities that the Victorian Ladies (and maybe the gentlemen too for all I know) practiced.  I have also managed to secure the services of the well known magazine episodic fiction writer Mr Charles Dickens who is going to present some readings from his works and talk a little about his life. I hear that Queen Victoria (who is also attending) has a secret penchant for his work, apparently much to the disapproval of the royal entourage.  I have been reliably informed by a source close to the Palace that she would like to offer him a knighthood.  I have also heard that he is not in favour of the idea and might refuse it if offered.  Anyway the drama is to be played out against the backdrop of Ilfracombe Victorian Celebration from June 11th – 19th.  Please try to come down.  Apart from the scandals in the Royal household, there is plenty for all tastes and promises to be a very different event from previous years.  If you can only make one weekend, come for the second one (17th – 19th) and enjoy the Weekend Gala.  It will be the place to be this summer.

I was lying in the lorry one night and recapping the day in my mind when I was interrupted by the sound of church bells being rung.  Is it me or is that becoming a rare sound?  I seem to remember church bells always filling the air in my childhood.  Mind you I was a chorister and the bells were always de rigueur at the many Saturday weddings I sang.

So I followed the sound up the hill and came across the beautiful Holy Trinity church commanding the town and surrounded by the largest and most impressive graveyard I have seen in a while.  After following the old path around the church I came upon the door with a light above, ajar and with steep steps ascending the tower.  At the top was a trap door above my head and as the previous peal had just ended, I rapped loudly.  After a pause the ancient oak trapdoor creaked open to reveal six or seven Dickensian characters holding ropes and all staring at me.  I don’t know who was more surprised as I was quite unexpected and effectied what must have been a dramatic entrance with my burgundy fedora. I asked for the Captain, although I don’t know how I remembered that’s what the chief campanologist is called.  One of them stepped forward and there ensued a conversation which I had had with many people in the days in Ilfracombe, namely that I was trying to revive the event’s fortunes and engage individuals and groups in the process. 

The team gladly agreed to ring a special peal (‘Sixties in thirds’) on the Wednesday night of the Celebration and I said I would put it in the main programme. Result.

As I descended (backwards) down the steep stair it felt I had interrupted something from a previous age.  I learned later that the tower is the oldest part of the church, dating back to the 1500s. It certainly felt that way, with the ghosts of history’s many bell ringers watching from its walls.

All the best from a road near you,

Mr Alexander
Mr Alexander