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Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Preston Guild...well worth the wait.

Being a patron of Yorkshire I try to sure support and promote activities in my county rather than those next door. I have probably made more trips to the Punjab than I have to Preston. But this year I ventured twice across the Pennines to that exotic city because 2012 is the year of the Preston Guild. The last Preston Guild took place in 1992 when John Major was PM and the next one will take place in 2033 when goodness knows who (if anyone) will be in charge.

Preston Guild takes place once every 20 years - or 30 when there is a war on as happened in 1942.  It celebrates the granting of a charter by Henry II to hold a guild merchant in 1179.  Guilds were associations of craftsmen and merchants in medieval Europe and they existed in every city to regulate trade. Their importance diminished with industrialisation but there are still plenty of guildhalls around the country most notably in London. In Preston the guilds are remembered with a festival that takes place every 20 years.  There are ceremonies, concerts, dance, exhibitions, parties, processions and even dresses made from wallpaper.  It is the only festival of its kind anywhere in the world.   Traditionally the Guild festival takes place at the end of August and beginning of September of the Guild year.
I made two visits this Guild: the Vintage Weekend on the 2 September and the Finale on the 9.   Though I saw a lot of the Guild I missed a great deal more including all the processions, the Guild Court and a concert by Jose Carreras and Katherine Jenkins at which I am told that Jenkins changed her dress no less than 5 times. Great Girl!  (see Jane Lambert "Once in Preston Guild" IP Northwest 8 Sept 2012).

Arriving in Preston for the Guild I thought I had gone back in time.   Part of that impression was formed by the Vintage weekend in Avenham Park where there were old newsreels, vintage films an old Cadillac and plenty of stalls selling clothing from previous guild decades.             My impression was reinforced by the orange curry, orange tandoori prawns and orange bhaji  that were served up with 1950s Bollywood music and flock wallpaper at the Dilshad Tandoori  when it was time to say goodbye.  You don't see many of those places nowadays - at least not where I come from.

There was more history in Winckley Square which had been set up for the Square Food Festival.  There were stalls selling cheese, honey, sausages and goodies from Nimes Preston's twin city. I bought some lovely Lancashire creamy, cheese and would have bought some French onions had they not run out of stock but I was most impressed by musicians dressed as chefs.
a story teller who told some tall tales about the history of Winckley Square and "cake city" the principal buildings of Preston reproduced in cake.I ate my cheese melted on some toasted wholemeal bread from   
          Thehandmade bakery simple but truely yummy.
On my next visit Avenham Park was transformed into a theatre for "Les Commandos Percu", a dazzling display of dance, drumming and pyrotechnics.  The sky was ablaze as was the stage at times.
This was the finale attended by 14,000 thousands and more tuned away not only of the Guild festival but also of the finale of the North West celebrations for the London Olympic and Paralympic games.  Though it was the finale it was by no means the only or even the last show. There were concerts, exhibitions, plays and what can only be described as the transformation of ordinary human beings into celebrities.  The hair of a Marks & Spencer's employee, for example, was transformed into a sea of blue on which the artists planted a ship

What was my abiding impression of the festival? In a word "friendliness". Everyone was joyful, helpful and above all friendly.   A few miles from my home there is a neighbourhood near Halifax which is actually called Friendly (I kid you not). As I drove through Friendly I was reminded of Preston.

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