Wednesday, 20 July 2016

To Matfield with Love

My involvement with the Siegfried Sassoon Fellowship has given me so many memorable weekends (not to mention the weekdays) over the years that it would be difficult to single out a particular experience.  However, our 2016 weekend in Siegfried’s home village of Matfield has to be a contender.

There were three separate, but connected, events on 16th-17th July.  We began on Saturday with the annual village fete.  To tell the truth, Jack Sturiano and I started somewhat earlier in the day, by paying a visit to Matfield’s parish church, where Siegfried’s brother, Hamo, is commemorated by an excellent information board; their mother, Theresa, lies buried in the churchyard.  For the casual visitor, the grave is difficult to find, partly because the ground has subsided beneath the memorial cross, and partly because the inscription is at the base of the cross, necessitating the removal of excess grass in order to read it.

This is only the second time the SSF has attempted to run a stall at Matfield fete.  On that earlier occasion, our efforts were dampened by monsoon conditions (which quickly cleared at 4pm, after all the stalls had been packed away).  This time we had the benefit of a small marquee, kindly shared by the Local History Society, whose exhibition of photographs of the village and some of its Victorian and Edwardian residents attracted great interest from visitors, many of whom paused to share their stories and memories of the Sassoon family.  These included Mrs Pollard, a great-great-granddaughter of Richardson the groom.


Pentons and Lawsons meet for the first time at our stall
Among our own number we could boast several close connections with the bard of Matfield.  Lorna Lawson, Siegfried’s great-niece, opened the fete at the special request of the organising committee, commemorating the centenary of the Battle of the Somme with a short speech.  Lorna’s husband Tim and their son Jeremy were also present, as were Enid Wells, a former resident of Weirleigh (Siegfried’s birthplace), and her son Adrian – who was actually born in the house.  Newer members of the SSF include Anne Penton, a great-niece of Siegfried’s great friend, David Cuthbert Thomas.  

Anne and her husband Tim made a welcome contribution to our programme of “pop-up” readings, as did several pupils of the local secondary school, Mascalls Academy.  We were impressed by the youngsters’ appreciation of the poems they read, especially since the youngest was only eleven years old (but she read like a seasoned old trouper). As is usual with our impromptu readings, we were not sure how many of the passers-by understood what we were doing, but heads certainly turned.  Sam Gray and Meg Crane managed to take over the PA system at one point, though it must be admitted that it was barely more effective in terms of reaching a wider audience. Meanwhile, back at base, Enid was listening to the test match commentary on a portable radio, unwittingly recreating that famous photograph of Dennis Silk, Edmund Blunden and Siegfried Sassoon on the porch at Heytesbury House.

There was so much interest in our activities on Saturday afternoon that we anticipate picking up a few new members as a result.  It’s always good to have the locals on board, and they won’t be disappointed after they’ve attended a few of our events and read our wonderful bi-annual Journal.   


And then there was our annual dinner – not so well-attended this year, but extremely enjoyable nonetheless.  The Wheelwrights Arms, right next to Matfield Green, kindly accommodated us on Saturday evening and we enjoyed a gourmet meal and good conversation enlivened by what I thoughtlessly referred to as an “inter-course reading” by Enid Wells of a passage from Siegfried’s Journey.  It was some years since we had dined formally at the Wheelwrights, and the management has changed in the meantime, but the food was not in any way a disappointment.  Jack's photograph shows a crowd of relaxed and cheerful people who have well and truly enjoyed their day.
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