A home of creative arts and literature

Please can you give us a brief overview of what the Penshurst Festival is all about?

It is about bringing talent across the arts to Penshurst as the evenings draw in, to entertain in an informal and intimate setting. We want to draw visitors to Penshurst, to give them fun, to persuade them to return next year and tell their friends about it. 

Who came up with the idea?

The Friends of Penshurst Church group is the main organiser. It’s a charity that helps look after the wonderful Grade One listed church in the middle of the village and boost its usage. But there are several other organisations involved too, particularly Penshurst Place & Gardens, the historic estate at the village’s heart. In the future, though, we hope the festival will be run by a community company reflecting all these contributors.  

Can you tell us why you decided upon the festival’s theme of Crossing Boundaries?

David Lough is the festival’s artistic director – he is an author who lives in Penshurst and was a banker before writing about history, so he’s interested in others who have switched art forms or careers or physical boundaries such as Loyd Grossman who, as well as writing, has been a TV presenter, most famously on Masterchef. He’s also performed at Glastonbury, is a food entrepreneur and also chairman of various arts and heritage organisations.    

Why do you think the festival is something that will benefit the people of Penshurst and the local area?

We want to reinforce Penshurst’s reputation as a home of the creative arts and literature – it’s something which it has been known as for centuries, since Sir Philip Sidney was penning his famous poetry here almost 500 years ago. We believe that this recognition of our literary heritage will turn into more people visiting Penshurst, with a view to putting on more interesting events for residents and these new visitors spending more time in the village, thus helping to safeguard the historic buildings that it has at its core.

What have been the challenges in setting it up?

First time round there have been many including attracting performers, building a website, establishing ticketing systems and attracting funding. But the biggest challenge for any new event is getting its audience through the doors. You have to do this firstly by building awareness in the local area, then persuading people to give it a try.

Tell us a little bit about the different venues?

Twelve events spanned literature, jazz, classical music, stand-up comedy and poetry. We chose the wonderful Baron’s Hall of Penshurst Place for our opening party and an author event. The church (which now boasts new facilities after its renovation) hosted more authors and a classical concert. Penshurst Village Hall had some stand-up comedy and the Leicester Arms Hotel put on a special jazz supper plus Loyd Grossman’s literary lunch. Village eateries, coffee kiosks and pubs were open all day.

What did you hope to achieve with your first festival and will you put on another one?

We’re aiming to put it on the cultural map and lay foundations for an event that grows each year in stature, programming and audience. There’s a small village in Cornwall called St Endellion which started a festival 70 years ago. Today it packs out three weeks of events across the year by attracting top musicians and writers and putting them on in relaxed and intimate surroundings.  That’s what we would like to reach. 

The festival is supporting the charity Prison Reading Groups – why did you choose it?

Prison Reading Groups supports nearly 50 voluntary book groups in 30 prisons across the country. These groups meet monthly, choose their books and a Prison Reading Group volunteer leads the discussion of them. Reading connects prisoners with other prisoners, with their families and with themselves. It’s a wonderfully simple, civilised scheme and we thought it deserved to become better known through a partnership with the Penshurst Festival.  


Daisy Goodwin

Author and film producer (Victoria)

“Penshurst is famous in the film world for its Tudor settings. I’m looking forward to bringing a perspective from Victoria’s world to its opening night on 4th October.”

Loyd Grossman

Television presenter, gastronomer, musician, writer, arts and heritage expert

“Penshurst has long played a proud part in the country’s literary and artistic history. It’s great that a new festival will celebrate that and I’m looking forward to joining in.”

Sonia Purnell

Author and biographer

“Penshurst’s new festival programme sounds different and fun. Leadership is in the news and I’m really looking forward to talking about two contrasting leaders about whom I have written: the notorious Boris Johnson and the lesser known Virginia Hall. Who would you rather have?”


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