An enjoyable way to expand your knowledge of the arts

Sew Grove Hill

As a member of the National Association of Decorative & Fine Arts (NADFAS), the Pantiles Decorative & Fine Arts Society has access to outstanding speakers from all around the country. Chairman Graham Archer explains how PADFAS promotes cultural education and conservation through a series of fascinating lectures…

Tell us how PADFAS got started
The Pantiles branch is an evening branch. It was formed because a lot of people who found it inconvenient to get to a morning meeting were disappointed, and suggested we should have a second NADFAS group in Tunbridge Wells, which would cater for people who were more able to get to an evening meeting, either because they work or have morning commitments. This meets at the school in Langton Green, which is very convenient for people to get to by car.

How would you sum up what it is you do?
What we’re doing is bringing experts from around the country in areas that we know will be of interest to people in Tunbridge Wells. We try – quite deliberately – to cover a very wide field of interests, such as art, sculpture and costume. We also occasionally introduce local speakers; later on this year, we’re having a local magician talk to us, so there’s a wide spread of interests, which cover history as well as art.

Would you say education is a big part of what you do?
Very much so. We think we’re going to be able to provide a programme that will enable us to help schools. There are one or two new schools around with growing art programmes, and our members are very interested in seeing whether we can arrange extra activities for young people.

Is the involvement of young people important to you?
We would like to have more younger members, but we do find that they tend to be people who have retired. This is a little disappointing to us, because it should be possible for people who work during the day to come along to an evening meeting. Of course, with our emphasis now on trying to help schools, we hope some very young members might occasionally come along and participate in our activities.

Are there any particular highlights for members?
One of the attractions to people – and we find that they join possibly for this reason – is that we have quite a wide-ranging programme of visits to theatre and art events, as well as places around Tunbridge Wells and in London, which people particularly like. For instance, we took a group to Chevening House on the other side of Sevenoaks, which was a very successful day out. People were able to go in and see this house, which isn’t normally open to the public, and we found that was vastly oversubscribed.

Whereabouts do members come from?
We find they come from places like Groombridge, Mayfield and quite an area around Tunbridge Wells. That’s partly because it’s outside Tunbridge Wells and relatively easy to drive there in the evening. We meet every month and are having a meeting on February 25, which people are very welcome to come to. We charge visitors a very low fee of £7, and if people are joining NADFAS, they’ll pay to become members. It’s all run by volunteers and we’re entirely self-supporting, so members’ fees, donations and the money we get from visitors pay for the annual programme.

Exactly how many members do you have?
It’s a little bit over 100 at the moment, but we’ve found for a number of years that we’ve managed to retain about 100 members. We would very much like to increase that and see 120 members by the end of this year, and we’re fortunate out at Langton Green that we have a large, very good hall with a screen and all the audio amplification systems, so we could actually fit in a lot of people, and certainly have 150 members if people were interested in coming.

Do you come up against many obstacles in running PADFAS?
One challenge is that we have to be quite certain that we have the members, which we sustain at about 100. The other is to ensure that we get high-quality speakers, for which we go all around the country. For instance, a speaker we’ve got soon is coming up from South Devon and is an expert on costume in court. She’s been a curator and is the expert, so that’s what we tend to try and do, which is get the best people from around the country to give the talks to us. What makes it rather special is that they bring with them a very high quality of visual presentation.

Why is the work of NADFAS so important?
What NADFAS does for young people is very important. We provide study days, so if anybody is interested in looking into a subject in some depth, with a bit of luck, they can look at the NADFAS programme and enrol for a whole day in a subject that will interest them. So, it’s not just a question of evening lectures, as there’s a programme throughout the year, run by NADFAS, which people can get the details of when they join us. We’ve found that a lot of people enjoy the extra activity and education that provides.

Monthly illustrated talks are held in the Jubilee Theatre at Holmewood House School, Barrow Lane, Langton Green, on the fourth Thursday of each month at 7.30pm, apart from July, August and December.

Forthcoming topics by national speakers will include Toulouse-Lautrec and Bohemian Paris, Coventry Cathedral, Icons and Inspiration, Wonder Workers and the Art of Illusion, The Aztec Legacy and Handel, Hogarth and Captain Coram’s Foundling Hospital.

The PADFAS committee welcomes all those attending talks to coffee afterwards, with the opportunity to meet other members and the speaker. They also arrange members’ outings to places of interest. Highlights in the last year have been to Waddesden Manor, Chevening, a Thames cruise, Watts Gallery, Glyndebourne, the National Theatre and a members’ garden party in the summer.

An annual subscription covers the monthly lectures, quarterly editions of the NADFAS Review and the opportunity to join in the visits. Another important benefit is the chance to make new friends and share your interests with them. NADFAS is for people of all ages and new members are always welcome.

The current annual membership subscription is £45. Visitors pay £7.

If you would like to join or find out more, please contact Mrs Jane Langrish by calling 01892 535 385 or by emailing

For more about PADFAS, visit


Thursday February 25 РMartin Heard: Toulouse-Lautrec and Bohemian Paris. The atmosphere and excitement of fin de si̬cle Paris, as depicted by Toulouse-Lautrec and his contemporaries.

Thursday March 24 – Alexandra Epps: Coventry Cathedral, Icon and Inspiration. The extraordinary story of the rebuilding of the cathedral as a symbol of reconciliation, and its inspiring commitment to world-class contemporary artists such as Piper and Sutherland.

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