Flashback to November 2012


A permanent casualty of the torrential summer rains of 2012 was one of Shropshire's most prestigious festivals, a cultural event regularly graced by international stars, including Hollywood big names.

In November 2012 it was announced that Ludlow Festival was folding after more than 50 years because the downpours had caused the event to suffer major losses.

Organiser said they did not have enough money to hold a festival in 2013.

Trustees said the appalling wet weather during the summer was to blame for hitting ticket sales and finances.

The traditional centrepiece and showpiece of the two-week festival was the Shakespeare play held in the open air at Ludlow Castle.

Obviously that setting left it at the mercy of the elements. With "normal" rain the audience would simply don coats or those plastic rain protectors you can get.

But the summer of 2012 was out of the ordinary, and that year's offering of Much Ado About Nothing which was scheduled for July 6 was called off at short notice after heavy rain left backstage areas of the castle flooded.

More than 800 tickets had been sold for the performance and as the grim news was announced on November 6 of the festival's demise Roy Coles, chairman of Ludlow Festival Society Ltd, explained that it had been "the straw that broke the camel’s back."

The tone had been set on the opening night of the play's run on Saturday June 23 when over 650 people who turned out to watch the performance had to endure steady rain throughout the evening.

Although the play, which was reimagined in a Second World War setting, was well received by audiences, there was no getting away from the fact that unlike previous years, there were no household names in the cast.

Hopes among organisers that the festival might escape the worst of the weather through being in a microclimate were not borne out and things finished much as they began when almost 3,000 people braved the mud and damp at an open-air concert on July 8 which brought the 2012 festival to a spectacular finale.

Tribute acts Bjorn Again and Killer Queen performed inside the grounds of the castle, and the night was brought to an end by a colourful 15-minute firework display, despite heavy rain battering the town in the hour before the concert.

A statement issued by Ludlow Festival Society Ltd said the decision to axe the festival was taken with “heavy hearts and great sadness”.

It added: “We were hit extremely hard by the appalling wet weather which badly affected our sales, resulting in losses.”

The festival was founded by a band of arts enthusiasts in 1960 on the back of a successful fundraising appeal to restore the town’s St Laurence’s Church.

The Shakespeare play performed at the first festival that year was A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It was supported by just three events. But by the 1980s the festival had grown to include 25 events including speakers, jazz recitals and popular music.

The festival was visited by the Queen and Prince Philip in 2003, and attracted 12,000 to 15,000 visitors each year, making it a key part of the county's cultural scene and a big contributor to Ludlow's economy.

Highlights included those Shakespeare plays and the grand finale concert and fireworks display at Ludlow Castle.

The news that the festival was being axed caused shock and there were immediately offers of help, some of them from as far afield as America and Asia, to create a new event to take its place.

Ludlow folk rallied to create something from the ashes and the result was the nine-day Ludlow Arts Festival which began on June 21, 2013, featuring the likes of Jools Holland, Paul Merton, Reginald D. Hunter, Gyles Brandreth and the English National Philharmonic Orchestra.

Just over 11,000 of the 20,000 tickets available for arts festival events were sold, and it made a loss of about £2,000.

The 2014 arts festival brought in a string of famous faces, like Ken Dodd, David Essex, Jim Davidson, Courtney Pine, and survivalist Ray Mears, and saw a revival of the Shakespeare play at Ludlow Castle.

Tickets sales were better than for 2013, but in October 2014 organisers said that the festival would not be held again because there had not been enough support.

And while there have of course been many cultural and arts events in Ludlow in the years since, the days of the big festival which had spread the town's name far and wide were over.

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