Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Biddy at Sandham Memorial Chapel

If you don’t have any other plans to mark the centenary year of WWI, I would urge you to go and spend a quiet hour or so at Sandham Memorial Chapel at Burghclere, just on the outskirts of Newbury. It’s a pretty special place.

I had been meaning to go for ... well, years actually; but having heard that it reopened in August after some preservation work was carried out, I decided to take myself off there. 

It is a National Trust property and because it is quite tiny you need to pre-book a timed ticket. (If you Google the National Trust website and plug in Sandham it is easy enough to do. Gift-aided entry is £10 if you aren’t an NT member.)

So... what’s special about this place? First of all is the utter sense of peace when you step through the gateway into the grounds of the chapel, which is dedicated to a man who died in 1920, probably from a disease he contracted while serving in the war. The man in question was Lieutenant Henry (Hal) Willoughby Sandham, and the chapel was built by his sister and her husband in his memory. But the particularly special thing about it, and the main reason for visiting, is the paintings housed in the chapel, which are the work of artist Stanley Spencer, who was commissioned by Hal Sandham’s family. I won’t tell you too much about them as you really need to go and see them for yourself to appreciate them. But what I will tell you is that Spencer – who was a medical orderly during the war – captured both the carnage of war and the human, everyday side of things in a spectacular way. 

Before you enter the chapel itself there is an interactive display and a 3 minute film to set the scene, plus displays of drawings and letters. The paintings themselves, though, are extraordinary – you could spend an hour there, if, like me, that is all the time you have to spare. Or you could spend several hours pondering the detail in the paintings. 

There is a small garden here, too, a quiet place to sit and reflect. They have plants for sale that they grow here, and a small area with postcards and the like. 

If you want to go this autumn, make it before the end of October as the paintings will be off on tour then. Sandham Memorial Chapel is open to visitors Wednesday through to Sunday. Be warned, there is no parking on site (unless you get a spot in the small lay-by opposite) so unless you go by public transport you will need to park a little way up the road and walk – but it is a pleasant walk.

Do go. It’s a piece of local history. 

Biddy x 

Friday, 19 September 2014

Biddy at the museum

Did you know that 350 million years ago a forest covered the land from Oxfordshire to north of Newbury and coal is still buried beneath West Berkshire? Well, now you do. 

I rather missed the museum in Newbury while it was closed for revamping. It seemed a long time while those hoardings were up with all sorts of mysteries going on behind them. But it’s been worth the wait. The new West Berkshire Museum is educational, informative, interesting – and just BRILLIANT.

First up – it’s free!  This is a real slice of life in Newbury and West Berkshire through the ages, part of our heritage and something every local should be proud of. Situated in the old Cloth Hall and Corn Store, this is one of the prettiest buildings in the town. The revamp has made the insides fresh and contemporary, with wide, clear spaces, and a series of open-plan ‘rooms’ over two floors. 

I got a warm welcome when I arrived and a brief explanation of the route to take. There are children’s activity sheets in reception for them to do on the way round – great idea. In some of the different ‘rooms’ there are things to entertain youngsters too, such as great big jigsaws and dressing up clothes.

You’ll find a huge range of artefacts on display, and big, bright boards with info that makes for fascinating reading. The items are incredibly varied – I saw everything from a 20,000-year-old axe to a Per Una outfit from Marks & Spencer!  You can’t get much more diverse than that, can you?

Exhibits change often, so it is the sort of place you can go regularly and see something new (or should that be old?).  Some objects are local (such as First World War diary notes from Captain Comley Hawkes, whose father was master of the workhouse in Newbury) and others come from all over the world: when I went I saw Egyptian jars from the days when Cleopatra was queen and terracotta heads from Greece dating from 200BC. All were equally fascinating! 

Another idea that I thought was great was a variety of displays called Volunteer’s Choice, where the dedicated team of people who make the museum happen get to choose an item that goes on display and say why they selected it. On my visit someone had chosen a Sinclair ZX Spectrum from 1982 and another person had selected a peregrine falcon, shot in 1935 at Denford Park by Sir Harrison Hughes. 

Oh yes, and there is a cafe too – good place to start or end (or both!) when you visit. 

Biddy x 

Monday, 8 September 2014

Star Search Newbury 2014

There’s still time to enter Star Search Newbury 2014 … but hurry!

Gotta sing! Gotta dance! Or gotta juggle, crack jokes, do acrobatics, play the ukulele, drums or saxophone? Or maybe it’s your dog that dances … or does your parrot sing the national anthem?

Whatever your talent, now is your chance to shine! If you’ve ever watched Britain’s Got Talent and thought ‘I could do better than that’, it’s time to prove it by showing your town what you can do by entering Star Search Newbury 2014

People of all ages are invited to apply to audition for the chance to win:
  • a recording session 
  • £250 in a Newbury Building Society account 
  • the opportunity to perform when Newbury’s Christmas lights get switched on!

There will be two age categories: under 18s and over 18s. Go to and fill in the online application form to register. 

Dates to note are:
  • auditions to be held on Wednesday 24 September and Saturday 27 September at Newbury College
  • grand final takes place at the Corn Exchange Newbury on Sunday 19 October.
So what are you waiting for? Go on ... you know you want to!

PSST! Even if you don’t want to perform, the grand final at the Corn Exchange Newbury at 3pm on Sunday 19 October promises to be a fantastic occasion! Everyone is welcome and tickets for this live show are £5 (free for children) and the proceeds will go to The Pink Ribbon Foundation Charity. (Pop in to the Corn Exchange to buy tickets, call them on 0845 5218 218 or book online at 

Star Search Newbury is brought to you by Newbury BID, The Breeze, Newbury Building Society, Newbury College and the Corn Exchange Newbury. Full terms and conditions at