Build another Barsham 4

Build Another Barsham

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Graft and Glitter

There's not much doubtthat the sight of the Site is an inspiration. If it excites the imagination of people who come along they will do their best to match it in their costume, stall, music, play, or even behaviour. The atmosphere on the field is the heart of the matter. However large or small the Faire, the thoughtfulness and energy expressed in the creation of it permeates the whole event by a kind of psychic osmosis.

Materials are all important – wood and stone, hay and greenery, fabric and canvas, brick and old iron, reeds and cane, ribbon and flowers, cardboard, paint and papier mache. There has never been much at Barsham that wouldn't rot into soil given time. Designing the site involves a balance between the pragmatic and the decorative. For instance, where fencing is called for to make safe a long ditch we hired sturdy chestnut stake fencing from the Highways Department of the local Council; for fencing of the children's playground and other smaller areas we use beautiful nutwood sheep hurdles hired from a nearby woodyard.

Posts and stakes in various sizes are staple items, those with iron bands around the top are the strongest and don't split when driven in. A podger is invaluable for anyone faced with driving in any number of posts and stakes. Podgers can be hired, but as with so many of the tools and pieces of equipment it's worth investing some cash if the event seems likely to become annual. Straw bales are useful for sectioning off arenas or areas for games and have a secondary purpose of providing seating. But a word of warning.... they do break up in large crowds and, as mentioned before, there is a fire risk.

Hiring stages is an expensive business, with a full programme of music and drama more than one may be called for. At the first Barsham Faire drama and music were mixed on one stage, but since then we have used two, or sometimes three, even four, stages. Separate stages make organisation and running orders more manageable, leaving people free to take their own preference.

To cut costs the base of the stage is hired from a scaffolding company and the smaller stages home-made from silage sides. Concrete shuttering (hired from building companies) would serve as well. The silage sides are nailed to stakes beneath. To make the effect look less like a rickety platform and more like a stage, wood splits, in our case pine, are nailed around the sides and a wall of painted, thick cardboard built at the back. Revamped packing cases, crates, sheets or old tarpaulins would do as well.

Any of the above items are bound to be useful in some way. Tarpaulins in particular are easy to paint and when hoisted on high poles make impressive-looking banners.

banner - painted sun Old sheets, stacks of which can be cadged from friends, local hospitals and homes for the elderly, can also be transformed into flapping banners. If cut to size and sewn to batons at each end they can also be used as hangings on poles, tents, fences and trees. Strips of material cut into ribbons, bunched together and tacked high in windy places become durable streamers. Lovely cheap parachute silk can be can be bought from Army Surplus shops. Shields cut from hardboard or cardboard, painted and hung around the place give strong splashes of colour.

At Barsham we formed a processional way to the main stage with tall pine poles hung and decorated in a different way each year. In '75 we stripped off the bark and a battalion of children set to work to paint snake-like patterns along each length. The towering Scots Pines on the hill behind the main stage were used one year to suspend a fairy castle floating in clouds and the next a wondrous silken dragon.

In Suffolk people spend a lot of time looking at the sky. It's above you and around you. Even when you lie and stare through the grass it's there between the blades. So when it came to designing Barsham it was natural that poles and streamers, flags and banners, be raised aloft in medieval tradition. Tallest of all at 67 feet is the great Maypole freshly crowned for every Faire.

Country woodyards, especially those connected to estates, can supply poles and help transport them to the site. Pine is usually the cheapest wood and again, if the Faire is to be held more than once it is a sound investment to buy rather than hire. Sinking the poles to between four and ten feet involves digging with muscle power or a tractor-operated posthole borer using hardcore and soil. Fairly high poles can be raised with ropes and a prayer but a J.C.B. machine is necessary for the bigger poles.


Top of the list for adornment is the aforementioned football hut which has to be banished from sight. Although the original motive was to cover up an ugly mess the hut has provided such a firm frame for fantasy constructions that any small buildings, however neat and inoffensive could well be used in this way. In '74 the hut was a castle built of large sheets of strong cardboard. In '75 it was a 30ft multicoloured scaly dragon with a skeleton of bamboo canes borrowed from a local farmer (with a vow to pay for any that were broken). The canes were tied together to form the dragon shape across the hut with old baler twine. Many things at Barsham are held together with bright orange baler twine which sensible farmers cut and keep. The huge head with its gaping mouth was sculptured from wire and papier mache around the entrance. The skin was scales cut from cardboard.

In '75 our feverish attempts to conceal the football hut eyesore backfired when we tried to cover it with a craggy tor on which rested the legendary sword in the stone. It might have worked but for wind and rain which left us with something resembling a gargantuan Neapolitan ice cream. Papier mache on a huge scale involves hours of tedious sweat and toil. Without good weather or an indoor workshop it's impossible.

The maxim for sitework is count those who can be counted on. I was going to say that the scale of endeavour should be kept manageable but Keith Payne who has site managed Barsham more times than anyone else says that people should try to do things that take them beyond what they think that they can do. Groups of people given individual projects tend to work more creatively than a pool of volunteers who are constantly moving from one unfinished task to the next.


Clearing Up

Keep litter and rubbish under control during the event so that the job of clearing up afterwards is not so daunting. We employ a local scrapman and his horse and cart to keep litter bins emptied and other rubbish cleared for the three days of the Faire and for three days afterwards. All rubbish is taken to a large pit where it is burnt and eventually covered over. Litter bins have been created from large drums which were first given over to children to paint.

Make sure that everything borrowed or hired is returned. If necessary mark things beforehand so that it is clear where they belong. Materials and tools that have been bought should go to a central store. It's worth renting a store rather than allowing things to disperse; once that happens they rarely come to light again.