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News

A glimmer of hope for Marlborough’s farmers’ market as it sadly closes down

The handwritten poster announced it was the end of the line and offered thanks to all the supporters of Marlborough’s own Farmers’ Market, which has filled the town hall once a month for almost 12 years.

And, inevitably, there was an air of gloom  about the place.  “I’m sad its ending because of what the decision reflects,” said Jo Ripley (pictured), the Friends of the Earth and Climate Change activist, who originally launched it while combating GM food production.

“Yes, we have scored a point as part of a bigger movement itself.  May be there was not enough local support.  There are always people who say they support farmers’ markets yet don’t necessarily get themselves here to shop.” 

But there was too a possibility of a revival of the market, thanks to the enthusiasm of Andrew Card, from Bourne Farm, Ramsbury, who believes that Saturday is the wrong day to stage the event.

“We’ve been one of the lucky ones,” he revealed as the number of stalls displaying fresh organic produce has dropped from 10 to seven and most have reported declining sales.

“Our sales have been increasing every time we have come here in the past two years.  And since we’ve diversified too.  There’s an awful lot of competition in Marlborough on a Saturday from the butchers and the market stalls out there in the High Street.”

“If you look at Hungerford, they do their farmers’ market on a Sunday.  And they are very busy indeed because there isn’t the same competition and same traffic problems either.”

“We have been thinking of the possibility of resurrecting the market on a Sunday and we would like to explore that.”

The idea was welcomed by Marlborough town councillor Richard Pitts, who helps out at the market selling bread from the Bedwyn Bakery, the only independent baker in the area, and an array of organic apple juice from local orchards.

“That’s something the council would support,” he said. “If there was enough public interest, then we would certainly want to keep the Farmers’ Market going.”

Bourne Farm’s success is put down to the fact that it has introduced new lines.  Apart from products from its traditional breeds of pigs and its own farm eggs, it has introduced organic vegetables grown in Devizes and an array of baked cakes and tarts.

However, stallholder Nick Venters, from Cherry Orchard Meats, Burbage, who has been selling his pork sausages, gammon and bacon at the market for a decade, believes there has been a turn in the tide.

“The novelty of farmers’ markets has worn off,” he explained. “The market here is not the only one affected. Business has declined for them all, and some of them in the Wiltshire federation have closed down.

“It’s sad – outrageous is a bit too strong a word -- that fewer and fewer local people bother to come. Most of those here this morning are tourists.”

Jo Ripley agrees that there has been a general decline, one reason being that the markets have influenced mainstream shops, especially supermarkets, to provide food, particularly meat, whose origin is now disclosed. They have improved too their relationships with farmers.

“We’re not exactly a food desert here in Marlborough,” she added. “We’ve got two good butchers, though unfortunately we don’t have a greengrocer any more.  And we’ve only ever sold organic veg so that we didn’t compete with them or the market stalls.”

Loyal customers at the Marlborough market are being given the contact details of the stallholders and there are plans to stage events in the town hall to give residents information of the organic farm producers in the area.

“People who don’t know necessarily that these producers exist locally can come and learn about them,” she said.

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Police sergeant Vince is intent on keeping Marlborough safe and sound

One of the safest places to live in the country.  That’s the view of Marlborough by its latest police recruit, Sergeant Vince Logue, who has taken on the role of being in charge of the neighbourhood policing team.

He agrees with the comment made by Wiltshire chief constable Brian Moore. “He’s probably right that it is probably the safest place on earth,” he says.

“There is usually a minority of people in any community – an absolutely handful - who commit the majority of offences.  And we deal with them as effectively as we can.

“The detection rate for Marlborough and Pewsey is the highest for the whole of Wiltshire in regard to violent crime. It’s an extremely good picture that’s down to the current inspector in charge, Ron Peach, and his predecessor Andy Noble.”

Sergeant Logue, 40, a softly-spoken Irishman from Derry who has taken over following the retirement of Sergeant Ben Braine after 32 years in the Wiltshire force, has himself spent nine years on patrol in the county.

His career began as a security officer and store detective in London before becoming the first member of his family to join the police. Then, after serving eight years in another force, he transferred to Wiltshire.

A friend had invited him to the county for a weekend break and the countryside became an immediate attraction. “I thought it was a lovely place and decided that I wanted to transfer to the Wiltshire force,” he explained.

“I feel very comfortable here. Wiltshire as a whole is a lovely place to live – and Marlborough is one of the nicest bits of the county.”

As promotions followed, he has served in Warminster, Chippenham, Melksham and Salisbury, spending the past two years with the response team covering Devizes, Marlborough and Pewsey.

A single father, he lives with his two daughters near Devizes.

“There are no particular problems in the Marlborough area that concern us,” he adds.  “There are not that many calls here for police help as there are in Trowbridge and Chippenham. Marlborough certainly isn’t as bad as some other places.”

 But he is in no way complacent. His team keep a check on shoplifting and anti-social behaviour by teenagers, especially when they cause noise and nuisance late at night.

“The chief constable and the police authority do have a strategic plan for Wiltshire,” he points out. “Most of that is based around violence and violent crime and the management of offenders.”

“Serious crime incidences do come up from time to time, but there is not specific trend in this area.”

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Marlborough’s Mound is now proved even older and more mysterious than Merlin himself

The huge mound that stands in the middle of Marlborough College is called by racier guidebooks Merlin’s Mount and is said to be his burial mound

.More reliable sources thought the sixty-two foot (nineteen metre) high mound was constructed by those domineering incomers from Normandy so they could build Marlborough’s castle on top of it and so lord it over the townsfolk down below.

Now new scientific research has confirmed that the mound was built way before any recorded sighting of that elusive fellow Merlin.  Carbon dating of pieces of charcoal found deep within the mound prove it was built three thousand and more years before the Normans rode into town.

Dated now to about 2400BC, Marlborough’s mound becomes the ‘little sister’ of the world famous Silbury Hill – which dominates the skyline just westwards along the A4.

Peter Carey of the Bath architects Donald Insall Associates who are overseeing the mound’s extensive conservation, points out that this discovery makes Marlborough’s mound the second largest man-made, prehistoric construction in Britain.  And as Silbury is the largest such mound in all of Europe, Marlborough’s mound may turn out to be the second largest in Europe.

Carey, who was at Marlborough College in the 1960’s, admits to being “carried away” by the news about the dating of the mound.  He thinks it is the most significant archaeological discovery in Britain so far this century.

How could the experts have been so wrong? A.R. Stedman in his scholarly book Marlborough and the Upper Kennet Country (published in 1960 in Marlborough) comes down, with some rather strange logic, on the side of the Norman theory:

“This sixty-foot mound is certainly artificial, but whether it was raised, as tradition asserts, in prehistoric times as a barrow…or whether, more probably, it was raised in Norman times so that the castle could dominate the town…is unknown. That the Mound was built for the castle is confirmed by the fact that the Norman rarely put his castle on a spot with religious associations”

So scholars can’t be right all the time – especially when the science of carbon dating comes along to confound their theories.

Jim Leary, who led the recent English Heritage archaeological investigations on Silbury Hill, and took part in the investigations into the mound, says “This is an astonishing discovery.  The Marlborough Mound has been one of the biggest mysteries in the Wessex landscape.”

“For centuries people have wondered whether it is Silbury’s little sister; and now we have the answer.”

The mound has had three distinct ‘lives’: it was the base structure for a very important royal castle built by the Normans, used at times by Norman and Plantagenet kings and the scene for some historic events such as the general oath of allegiance to King John in 1209.

The castle then passed from the Kings of England to their queens and eventually fell into disuse, before coming into the hands of the Seymour family of Wolf Hall fame.

Another ‘life’ started in the eighteenth century, when a house on the site was home to the Marquis of Hertford and his family, and Lady Hertford created what Peter Carey describes as “a wonderful and extravagant garden” - with the mound as its centre piece. 

Lady Hertford gave the mound an extraordinary spiral ramp right round the outside, shielded from the common gaze by a hawthorn hedge.  And she adorned it with several notable features including a shell grotto, a belvedere or viewing point and a water feature at the summit.

That the Hertford’s home was later the Castle Inn and a meeting place for Tory politicians need not detain us.  It has since become part of the College buildings.

Now we know the mound had a third, much earlier ‘life’ – a prehistoric ‘life’.  And the reason it was built around 2400 BC will almost certainly remain as lost in time, as mysterious and as subject to speculation, as Silbury Hill itself.

In an expensive and delicate operation, probes were drilled into the middle of the mound and surrounding ditch areas, and the carbon dating of the samples was carried out with the help of English Heritage.  Six cores were drilled and four samples taken from different levels within the mound itself provided shards of charcoal that could be carbon dated.

This work – and plenty of careful conservation still to come – was made possible by initial gifts and a £1,200,000 legacy from former college student, Eric Elstob.  On his initiative, the Marlborough Mound Trust was set up in 2000 and the first investigative work begun.

For more about Eric Elstob and the work to conserve and renovate the mound, see our companion story: “Marlborough Mound’s past is suddenly longer – will its future be longer too?”

And what about the Merlin connection? If Merlin was ever more than a brilliant invention of ancient story-tellers, he belongs in the so-called ‘dark ages’ rather than prehistoric times. Perhaps the slight similarity between the words Marlborough and Merlin was too much of a temptation for tourist guides of yore.

It is important to emphasise that as part of the College grounds, the Marlborough Mound is on private property and not open to the public.  In fact at present there’s not a lot to see anyway – just a mound of trees.

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Merlin Court, the Southern Cross care home in Marlborough, is not for sale

Against the background of financial maelstrom affecting the parent Southern Cross Healthcare group, life at Marlborough’s Merlin Court is very much carry on as normal – with one significant fact emerging this week.

The purpose-built, 62-bedroom home is not for sale.

This was the reassurance that Mandi Short, Merlin Court’s manager, gave to a group of relatives of Merlin’s residents attending a regular meeting last night (Tuesday).

She told them the home is not one of the 750 homes in the Southern Cross group, which serve some 31,000 vulnerable elderly people, possibly being put up for sale by its owners because of a funding crisis.

Only if the much criticised endangered group were to fail would the home be sold, she pointed out, and then as a complete unit to a new owner.  

And for the staff, residents and relatives the only apparent change would be the paperwork. Life at the home would continue as usual.

This came as welcome news to the group of supportive yet concerned relatives, for whom Merlin Court is regarded as a well-run caring home and a vitally important part of their lives and those of their loved ones.

Merlin Court is one of three Southern Cross homes in Wiltshire, the others being Ravenscroft, in Trowbridge, and Kings Court, in Swindon, but is not part of the care home operation of Wiltshire Council, which runs its own group of 32 care homes through the Order of St John.

But other local authorities do provide the funding for some of Merlin Court’s residents, an indication that it remains an approved care home, especially now that the government has guaranteed that it will step in to prevent residents being put under threat.

On its website, Merlin Court declares: “Welcome to Merlin Court, our purpose built home where we provide a high standard of care 24 hours a day. Our residents have varying needs from specialist nursing support to general assistance with everyday living.

“We offer residential and nursing care as well as specialist care for those with dementia.”

“We are very proud of our homely and welcoming atmosphere. We would be delighted to show you around so that you can experience it for yourself.”

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Claire Perry wins her fight to save St Peter’s lollipop lady

Marlborough MP Claire Perry has won her battle to keep a lollipop lady patrol outside St Peter’s School, originally a temporary post funded by Wiltshire Council.

The contract for Mrs Catherine Palmer to continue her safety role on the zebra crossing outside the primary school ran out at Easter, and there were fears that it wouldn’t been extended as a result of council spending cuts.

It was Mrs Perry who helped St Peter’s persuade the council that they need a lollipop lady last October because of the extra heavy traffic created on the London Road by the Pewsey Road bridge replacement project.

Parents backed the school’s bid to maintain Mrs Palmer’s service – gas main works are now adding to the traffic problem – and in particular after an incident three months ago when Mrs Palmer was shaken by a car that hit her lollipop out of her hand and sent her flying.

Now Mrs Perry is claiming victory after receiving a letter from Dick Tonge, Wiltshire’s cabinet member for transport, with the welcome news that the county will continue to fund the lollipop patrol.

“The post was originally a temporary measure to help traffic congestion in Marlborough,” Mrs Perry told Marlborough News Online. “But it was clear that the pupils at the school  needed this extra support going forward – it is a very busy road.”

“I have been working closely with St Peter’s  to argue the case for funding the post and, despite several set-backs, we have now got the result we wanted.”

“A very sensible decision.”

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Angry town councillors defy Wiltshire to launch a new tourism centre

Defiant Marlborough Town Council is to launch its own tourist information centre following the closure by Wiltshire Council of the public library based facility – with the Mayor’s parlour as its potential site.

Councillors voiced their angry concern at the loss of the TIC at Monday night’s meeting of its Finance and General Purposes Committee, when the county was accused of “dumping” the town it cared nothing for.

“We do seem to have been stuffed again by Wiltshire and I’m extremely upset about it,” protested Councillor Richard Pitts (pictured), who has chaired an emergency working party seeking a solution to the tourism centre’s disappearance.

“We have been dumped again by Wiltshire. They have not only destroyed our tourism but also our parking by introducing high charges that no tourists will pay.”

The meeting decided adopt a proposal made by Marlborough activist Val Compton and the two former Wiltshire tourist information centre employees for the town to have its own new centre, to be launched on July 1 with a £5,000 loan from the town council.

And to set it up initially in the Mayor’s parlour, used mainly as a robing room, in the town hall, while seeking permanent funding from other sources to maintain it, including Wiltshire’s own Marlborough Area Board.

“We are in desperate times,” declared Councillor Pitts. “And we need to take desperate measures to get something going by July 1. This is a stop gap solution so that we can catch the end of the tourism season and get people back into touch with Marlborough again.”

Former mayor Councillor Andrew Ross, chosen as the new chairman of the F&GP Committee, declared: “Clearly we have to pick up this commitment ourselves. We can’t accept what has happened now that Wiltshire have axed it.”

“We have to stand up and show leadership. And there is no other place for the TIC to go but here in this town hall.”

And Councillor Guy Loosmore, another member of the working party, agreed.

“What is happening may not be ideal, even temporary,” he said. “But if we don’t do anything then the council is failing the community. We will lose out otherwise.”

“We have been clobbered by Wiltshire. They have no interest in this town.”

It was Councillor Nick Fogg, himself a Wiltshire councillor, who proposed that the town council, if it passes the tourism plan at its next meeting, seeks funding from the Marlborough Area Board, and he was supported by Councillor Peggy Dow, also a Wiltshire councillor.

He congratulated all the members of the working party on their efforts, and said: “What you have done is fantastic.”

The proposal, outlined by Val Compton, is for Christina Ramsden and Robert Chrodi, the two tourist centre staff made redundant by Wiltshire, to run the new facilities as part-time managers, together with the support of band of enthusiastic volunteers, on a three-month basis.  They will be self-employed on short-term contracts.

St Peter’s Church was the original site suggested for the facility but this has now been ruled out as “a non-runner” and the Mayor’s parlour and/or the entrance of the town hall earmarked as the site.

This would give time for the town council to seek financial backing for a permanent centre from the Marlborough Area Development Trust, Community First and the Area Board to fund the project on a permanent basis.

Marlborough Chamber of Commerce, whose executive has already backed the proposal, is another target for funding, the town’s own retailers benefiting from increased tourism activity, together with some funding too from the town council once its initial loan is repaid.

“All this would give us a suitable degree of independence,” said Councillor Pitts. “It would be a double-edged sword and provide a regular revenue stream coming in.”

The town council will now be presented with a business plan for the new information and tourism centre, which itself is expected to bring annual revenue of £10,000 from the sale of souvenirs and guides to the area.

Modest fees will also come from hotels, bed and breakfast properties, restaurants and pubs listed on a new Marlborough tourism website. High fees charged by VisitWiltshire, which receives £500,000 funding from Wiltshire Council, have resulted in only one hotel in Marlborough being listed and only one out of the town's pubs and  restaurant shown to be available in the area.

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Marlborough literary festival injects a host of new youthful delights

As well as a wealth of established writers, this year’s Marlborough Literary Festival will be a showcase for young authors, international talent and other varied cultures.

It is all part of the way the event, now in its second year, is evolving, writes Ben Budd.

Starting off with Lemn Sissay, champion of black poetry, whose very name is lyrical and whose poems have been described as “songs of the street”. He will bring his unique brand of verse to open the festival at Marlborough College on Thursday September 22.Lemn’s public art poems are emblazoned on buildings, in sculpture and on streets in London and Manchester. Some have even become landmarks.  

And as the first poet commissioned to write for the 2012 London Olympics, his poem Spark Catchers will be etched into a structure in the Olympic Park.

Lemn, who received an MBE from the Queen for his service to literature, presents for BBC Radio Four and the World Service and his artwork ‘What If’ was exhibited at the Royal Academy of Arts last year.  

Nikesh Shukla, who is appearing at The Merchant’s House on Saturday September 24, is a young London poet exploring concepts of Britishness and non-Britshness. He also writes about coming of age.

His Coconut Unlimited was shortlisted for the Costa First Book Award in 2010 and he is the resident poet on the BBC Asian network.Now, in the world of youthful performances – and their enthusiastic parents of course -- the Litfest is delighted to welcome Lauren Child back to Marlborough, to talk about the creation of her characters and illustrations.

The creator of Charlie & Lola, Clarice Bean and now Ruby Redfort, Lauren grew up in Marlborough and went to school at both St. John’s and Marlborough College. Her stories contain some of today’s best loved and most successful children’s fictional characters and her books sell millions of copies across the world.
Charlie and Lola is a BAFTA-awarded TV show and global sensation. Lauren Child will be at The Theatre on The Hill, St. John’s School on Saturday 24 September.

And if parents ever worry that your child isn‘t a reader, there is still hope for them, thanks to Ivan Brett. He will be talking about his first book, Casper Candlewicks in Death by Pigeon. This is a hilariously funny debut novel by a young talent who has been tipped as a major new voice in young comic fiction. Ivan is also appearing at St. John’s on Saturday 24 September.

 For a more adult and less squeamish audience, there will also be Richard T Kelly, of whom it has been said “he drags the gothic novel kicking and screaming into the new century”. Any fans of Frankenstein or even Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight saga shouldn’t miss his talk on Gothic fiction at the Marlborough town hall on September 24.

This is only a smattering of what‘s on offer at the 2011 LitFest. More children’s writing will be on offer, street poetry, international authors, debut novels and workshops for the young. Of course the showcase on youth is only a part of the festival.

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Marlborough’s mayor highlights funding danger for county air ambulance service

Marlborough’s mayor, Councillor Alexander Kirk Wilson, gave a personal boost yesterday (Tuesday) to the Wiltshire Air Ambulance charity, which is in danger of losing its county police force funding.

And that will mean it is confronted with the task of raising its income from £700,000 to £1.5 million.

The mayor, who has been fascinated by airplanes since his youth and included hang gliding in his hobbies, has made the life-saving service one of his charities to support during his year in office.

That is why he made an official visit to the unit, based behind the Wiltshire county police headquarters, in Devizes, and soon witnessed its helicopter air ambulance flying off on a “shout” to the scene of a traffic accident.

Now celebrating its 21st anniversary, the Wiltshire Air Ambulance has operated throughout its life jointly with Wiltshire Police, though this arrangement may now terminate in 2015 because of national policing strategies.  

“This would be a pity for the county as there is a symbiotic relationship for the crews,” the mayor told Marlborough News Online.  “They generally fly together – pilot, medic and policeman – and all are knowledgeable about and experienced in helping with each other’s work.”

“But more than that, the incidents to which they are called usually call for medical and policing skills.  Obviously this is true of road traffic accidents, but also of many other incidents.”

He added: “But the probability is that the police will drop out of the funding picture.  If so, the Air Ambulance – which receives no public money and is entirely supported by charitable donations – will need to raise its income from about £700,000 to £1.5 million over a four-year run-down of the police contribution.”

A police spokesman said: “Wiltshire Police Authority are currently contractually tied with the Great Western Ambulance Service, until 2014, for the provision of a police helicopter/air ambulance. The current arrangements in Wiltshire will remain as they are at present.”

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A great day at Greatwood as police present £500 giant cheque

A giant cheque for £500 was presented by Wiltshire Police’s rural crime team to Marlborough racehorse welfare charity Greatwood at its open day on Sunday.

The team has security stamped hundreds of leather horse saddles across the county as part of its crime prevention work. This service acts as a deterrent against theft and, if theft does occur, it increases the chance of property being returned to the owner.


Although the tack marking service is free, many people made donations in the past year, and the rural crime team decided to present these funds -- £500 in total -- to Greatwood at its open day event.

The team took time out to promote its work to members of the public who were present. The team aims to provide the rural community with a single point of contact. It offers specialist policing advice and deals with rural community issues, such as hare coursing, poaching and theft of plant and machinery.

It also coordinates Horsewatch and Farmwatch schemes which both provide members with regular updates about rural policing matters.

John Bordiss, the team’s police community support officer (PCSO) told Marlborough News Online: “We had a great time at the Greatwood open day. It provided us with an excellent opportunity to talk to people about the work we do, services we offer and provide people with valuable crime prevention advice.

“We were able to present £500 to the charity thanks to generous donations from those who have received our tack marking service, including Horsewatch members and others. I would like to thank everyone for their support and I’m pleased we were able to present Greatwood with this money.”

Greatwood provides fulfilling futures for former racehorses and children with special educational needs through providing rehabilitation and education programmes in a secure and caring environment.

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We have nothing to hide over Marlborough town hall improvements

A major exhibition and consultation exercise will be carried out by Marlborough Town Council in September, to give residents the opportunity to air their views on controversial improvement plans for the town hall building.

Councillor Guy Loosmore (pictured), chair of the council’s Property Committee, gave the assurance last night (Monday) when he referred to incorrect reports and complained that the council was being “mocked” as it might be losing £40,000 a year on the project.

Some residents have threatened to call a town referendum on the proposals, financed through the Public Works Loan Board and said to cost £1 million in total, because they fear the cost will result in a council tax increase, currently frozen by the government.

“We are not a profit and loss organisation,” said Councillor Loosmore. “We are not here to make a profit like a company. We are creating a project for the benefit of the community. All views will be taken into consideration.”

He pointed out that the Assembly Hall had already been revamped, and had been initially open up to residents for the royal wedding celebrations. Now it was available for income-raising conferences and weddings.

Repairs to the town hall’s steps were also due to be completed shortly and there were proposals for repainting the town hall frontage.

“We don’t wish to hide anything,” he added. “It is a very complex project. We want to show that it is logical and feasible.”

“We will be criticised if we do not do it properly and ensure that everyone knows what is going on. We need to present the whole picture and show that we want to get it right.”

Councillor Peggy Dow warned that residents were likely to seek a referendum if the scheme, which includes opening up the dungeon area below the building, did not provide alternatives and was not carried out in phases.

But Councillor Richard Pitts was positive in his reaction, declaring: “What’s happening is exciting news. It’s great.”

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Community choir comes up with its own surprise trolley song in Waitrose

There was a surprise in store for Saturday morning shoppers in Waitrose – a flashmob demonstration by a dozen members of the Marlborough Community Choir aimed at promoting their forthcoming concert on Friday.

But it wasn’t Judy Garland’s Trolley Song that they burst out into singing. Instead they gave a rousing refrain of Baby Just Loves Me while standing around the delicatessen counter.

And handed out leaflets, of course, for the concert at St Peter’s Church at 7.30pm on Friday, which features the famed British folk singer Frankie Armstrong.

“I phoned the manager Andy Davies to ask for permission first,” said choir leader Vanessa Lafaye. “He’s a good supporter of the community and didn’t mind at all. And the customers loved it.”

Vanessa, a writer and photographer originally from Florida, launched the choir six months ago, on the basis that anyone can join in at any time, some weeks as many as 50 people attending impromptu sessions.

Twenty regulars will be taking part in Friday’s concert featuring Frankie Armstrong, whose motto is, “If you can talk, you can sing.” Tickets cost £5 at the door, profits in aid of Home-Start Kennet. (see 'What's On')

“It is a real honour to have Frankie Armstrong with us,” added Vanessa. “She will also be running a voice workshop the following day.”

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