The History of Romsey Festival

The first Romsey Arts Festival took place in 1987 and has been held every three years since then. This is how it came about.

As most people know, the best ideas come without warning. For Pam Gale, then Mayor of Romsey, it was a shaft of sunlight and a choir on particularly good form that led to a moment of pure inspiration: “I was listening to the Abbey service one evening in 1984 with sunlight pouring through the windows and I was suddenly struck by the choir’s talent.”

A chance meeting with the churchwarden led to a discussion about the artistic prowess in the town as a whole, and so the idea of harnessing Romsey’s love of the arts was born.

The first Romsey Arts Festival was held three years later in 1987, attracting star performers like the violinist Nigel Kennedy.

But Pam says the aim has always been for professionals and amateurs to share a platform, encouraging the younger talent. She cites the ladies’ choir Sing Something Simple and the Abbey choir.

Many participants in earlier Festivals have gone on to reach the top of their profession, including flautist Sarah Bull, violinist Lizzie Greaves and Jadie Pearl who sang with the English National Opera. But the balance of the line-up has changed in recent years, with sponsorship no longer readily available.

“We can’t hire professionals because we can’t offer guarantees to sponsors,” says Pam. “The forms always ask for Festival audience numbers, but how do you count the number of people who go to the Abbey to see the Quilters’ exhibition for free?”

In fact, the Festival is almost unique in that no events are bought in. Performers and exhibitors arrange their own venues and are responsible for their own finances, with the Festival itself making no profit. Pam is content that some ‘niche’ events might only attract an audience of a few dozen: “That’s thirty people who wouldn’t have gone otherwise. It really is to get the town expressing its love of the arts.”