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A Picnic in the Park



Before it closed down for good as a hotel, every other Wednesday evening would find me entertaining at Byng House in Southport. Our route there would take us via Euxton (pronounced Exton), and a lovely little chippy in Croston if we were in good time to stop off on the way. Before that, though, travelling through Chorley, I would regularly pass Astley Hall, with no idea that it even existed.


That changed when I was invited to be part of the Hall’s centenary celebrations, organised by the town council. A two-day programme of events included a family-fun day and a picnic in the park on the Sunday. Looking at pictures of the impressive Astley Hall, I was excited to be part of the entertainment today. Arriving nice and early to set up, I was even more struck by how magnificent both the Hall itself and the surrounding gardens were. I was also invited to take part in the ceremonial opening of the Hall by the mayor cutting a ribbon to bring in the next hundred years. Helped by the sun shining, a good crowd were in attendance, many wearing costume from different periods over the past century.


My sets were in the Garden of Remembrance, either side of a local act, Pink Vintage, who were lovely to work alongside, and a dance group, Shincrackers Swing, who were dressed in 1920s Peaky Blinders costume and danced all afternoon, both during my first set and afterwards to their own choice of music, which Dave played for them through our sound system.


With me singing in their midst, together we drew a large crowd, many of whom probably hadn’t ever seen the strolls they were doing. For my second set, I stayed on the covered stage and dipped into the 50s and 60s, as well as the 40s, finishing with a small tribute to the upcoming D-Day commemorations by singing White Cliffs of Dover. One lady came up to thank me, and with tears in her eyes said it had made her day. “Amazing!” she kept repeating. Another couple said they could happily listen to me all day. They were a great audience all round, though, applauding generously.


It’s always a good sign when a day like this absolutely flies by. Learning about the existence of Astley Hall was also a wonderful discovery for me personally – and having the honour of contributing to their centenary celebrations was equally as special. I do hope they’ll have me back soon!



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