The wonderful world of Harpenden

PUBLISHED: 11:36 25 May 2011 | UPDATED: 19:27 20 February 2013

John Williams, David Fensome and John Green are the Kings of Herts

John Williams, David Fensome and John Green are the Kings of Herts

Highland games, a barbershop choir and an expert on thyme show Richard Young that the weird and wonderful are going on in the desirable town of Harpenden...

When Scotland comes to town

THE Black Watch in battle cry, massed piped bands, and beefy men lobbing hefty objects are not things you readily associate with Hertfordshire, but for one day each summer, the Scottish Highlands come to Harpenden.

The Highland Gathering in Rothamsted Park may be out of context, but it provides a magnificent display of traditional Highland games, music and military spectacle for the 15,000 people who come to watch and take part.

The event, on Sunday July 10 this year, began in the 1940s when it first took place in nearby Wheathampsted and St Albans, before moving to Harpenden, where it flourished until the end of the 1950s.

In 1996 on the 50th anniversaryof the first Gathering, community support group Harpenden Lions decided to revive the event to raise money for worthy causes and it has since gone from strength to strength.
Lions member and chairman of the organising committee, Bengie Walden, is today the driving force behind the event.

Its an amazing atmosphere. A great family fun day, the 70-year-old former Royal Marine said. I like the massed pipe bands and the heavy events. These are quintessentially Highland Scottish, which is how we try to keep the Gathering.

The event is a big commitment for the club, which has around 30 members, and has probably reached its optimum size, Bengie says.
We are assisted by some Scots from outside the club who are experienced in heavy events, dancing and piping. The dancers and pipers have their own networks and are always keen to take part. The heavy events, dancing and piping are keenly contested.

Last year the event, which also features falconry, classic cars, jazz bands, craft stalls and a fun fair, raised 17,000 for charity.

We promote it widely, encouraging people to buy advertising in the programme, and hire stalls to promote their own activities. Both of these raise funds for our selected beneficiary charities. We tend to select one national and one regional charity, plus our own Lions charities to benefit from the Gatherings proceeds each year.

To find out more about the Gathering and the work of the Lions, go to

When music really matters

JOHN Williams, a retired banker, swapped bank notes for music notes when he joined the Kings of Herts Chorus based in Harpenden.

The 70-year-old has been singing bass in the all-male vocal group for 15 years and is passionate about their barbershop treatment of songs old
and new.

We practise on a Thursday evening in the hall at Sir John Lawes School a group of men, normally around 25 or so, singing four-part harmony acapella, he says.

Three of our existing singers are founder members. They met in a pub singing for pleasure, and the chorus grew from these early beginnings.
His favourite song at the moment is The Carpenters For All We Know, which the group has just learned, although the group sing everything from Michael Jacksons pop to beautiful Irish blessings.

We sing a range of songs from ballads to up-beat tempo songs, and are currently looking to bring more modern songs into our repertoire. Any chords and harmony that make the hairs on your neck stand up!

The group, which this year celebrates its 25th anniversary, not only sings for pleasure but also competes annually against dozens of four-part harmony groups from across the UK, as well as putting on a programme of events locally.

Performing to a live audience gives us a real buzz, through concerts to entertaining at dinner events, John says. At Christmas we put on shows for care homes and retirement clubs, and have sung at weddings looking good in our white dinner jackets.

Listening to the chorus, it is impossible not to smile at the joy the men put into their renditions and this seems to come from the enjoyment they share in each other. Its a chance to enjoy the pleasure of singing with a group of men, learning some new songs, and being part of a very sociable group, John says.

The chorus is holding a six-week singing course from June to attract new members. To join John and his fellow balladeers, call choir chairman Don Cooper on 01438 714261.

When thyme is important

AN expert on growing herbs and a passionate conservator of traditional plants, Margaret Easter has a nationally important garden in Harpenden which is a Mecca for gardening enthusiasts.

The green-fingered pensioner, who describes herself as a plantsman, began gardening when she was five, and is today a respected author and lecturer on the subject of thyme, which she says is her favourite plant.
It smells good, looks great when in flower with such a variety of colours, the leaves look good when it is not in flower, the bees like it I just love everything about it, she says.

The majority of the Thymus collection is planted at the bottom of my garden where it is in full sun all day during the summer. The remainder of the garden is full of all my other favourite plants Galanthus, Crocus, Narcissus, Helleborus, Primula, Pulmonaria, Allium, Geranium, Aquilegia, Clematis, Lilium, Penstemon, Hyssopus, Satureja, grasses, in particular Miscanthus, ferns and roses, especially the older ones which smell good.
Margaret says her garden, which is today abundant in plants as well as wildlife, thanks to her organic methods, was neglected when she first began to landscape and plant it in 1989.

Each year I worked on a different area. By doing the work gradually I was able to visualise how it was taking shape and planned it as I went along. Not the way garden designers are trained, but it works!

There is no grass, just paths and a patio on the top level by the house and a small patio area in front of the greenhouse and lots of individual flower beds, including the long border which runs down the length of the fence. There is also a small camomile lawn, it smells great and I encourage visiting children to touch and smell.

In fact visitors of all ages come to marvel at Margarets garden when she holds open days for the public.

People can see a garden full of interesting flowers, also planted for wildlife. Its an example of how much can be done in a medium sized garden, Margaret says.

Margarets garden will be open to the public on May 29 and July 10 in aid of the RNLI. Visitors to 23 Wroxham Way will be able to tour the garden from 2pm to 5.30pm.

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