Things to do in Newbury during summer 2016
PUBLISHED: 12:27 10 June 2016 | UPDATED: 12:27 10 June 2016
The West Berkshire town beside a historic canal has much to offer during the coming months, Claire Pitcher discovers
Newbury on the water
With The Kennet and Avon Canal running right through its middle, Newbury has always had a close connection to its watery heritage. The canal had its bicentenary in 2010 and back in the 1800s, its completion was a great leap forwards, as it was an important route from east to west across West Berkshire. The canal was developed from the earlier 18th century Kennet Navigation, when this river was made navigable for barges between Reading and Newbury.
Construction of a further canal from Newbury to Bath began in 1795 to create a trading link between the River Thames and River Avon. As the network grew it became the easiest way to transport heavy goods around the country, faster than the badly maintained roads and safer than a sea voyage. Horse-drawn boats carried cargoes such as coal, iron, bricks, timber, peat, stone and grain but also cheese, malt, tobacco and spirits, and many settlements along the Kennet and Avon Canal such as Newbury, Kintbury and Hungerford prospered.
The fortunes of the canal waned with the coming of the railways in the 1840s, and the Kennet and Avon Canal was actually bought by the Great Western Railway company in 1852, effectively killing any competition.
In the early 1950s the Kennet & Avon Canal Trust campaigned for its preservation; restoration started in the 1960s and the canal was reopened in 1990, with further money later coming from the Heritage Lottery Fund to complete the works. As well as now being a popular watercourse for narrow boats and cruisers, the canal provides walking and cycling routes along its towpaths.
Enjoy the water
The Kennet & Avon Canal Trust narrow boat ‘Jubilee’ is extending the length of time it runs its Thursday trips. They will be running a trip every Thursday at 2.30pm lasting about 75 minutes. It departs from Newbury Wharf outside the Teashop by the Canal. These trips run all the way through until 22 September. For tickets, go to Newbury Visitor Information Centre at The Town Hall, call 01635 30267 or see email@example.com.
The Newbury Waterways Festival takes place on the 23 and 24 July. The event is held in Victoria Park and at The Wharf. With free entry on Sunday, the Park becomes packed with stalls, sideshows, live entertainment and refreshment outlets. The day starts at 10am and culminates with a 1,000-strong plastic duck race before finishing at 5pm.
Celebrating Newbury’s fascinating history
Ruth Howard is the Collections Officer at the West Berkshire Museum in Newbury. She looks after the objects in the care of the museum: “It’s a fascinating job that could involve anything from research, packing, mounting objects for display to pest management.”
Since the museum reopened there’s been a definite upturn in visitor numbers according to Ruth: “It has very good visitor figures, with both locals and tourists making up the numbers. In fact we have more than tripled the number of visitors we get now compared to the old museum. The exhibitions at the museum are changed constantly, so there is always something new to see. There are also new toilets, a bright friendly café and all the exhibitions are fully accessible by lifts.”
“There’s plenty happening over the summer, with The Civil War Exhibition, King or Cause, being our biggest highlight at the moment,” says Ruth. “We have several new exhibitions with community groups such as the Embroiderers Guild, Newbury Camera Club and The Artists at the Chapel.”
Newbury has certainly changed for the better in recent years, something Ruth has picked up on through her position at the museum: “It’s now got a lot to offer visitors and residents, with great cultural experiences including the reopened museum, good shopping facilities and great parks, not to mention the Grade I Listed Elizabethan Shaw House, which offers fantastic cultural events.”
Ask her to recommend one thing for visitors to Newbury to do, and she doesn’t hesitate in suggesting: “People should see the amazing building that we are in here at the museum. It is one of the gems of Newbury and comprises a Grade I listed Cloth Hall and the Grade II listed corn stores.”
Find out more at westberkshireheritage.org.
Guided walks of Newbury
If you’ve always wanted to know more about this lovely market town, then why not join a guided walk? Walks take place on: 19 June (2.30pm), 1 July (11.30am) 17 July (2.30pm), 5 August (11.30am), 21 August (2.30pm), 29 August (2.30pm) and 11 September (2.30pm).
The walk leader is David Peacock who will guide you through the town’s history and buildings, including the Guildhall, which stood in the centre for centuries. You will then walk south along Cheap Street past the site of the house where Lord Falkland stayed on the eve of the First Battle of Newbury. David is the author of The Story of Newbury (2011), taught local history evening classes, and given talks to many clubs and societies. The walk lasts about an hour and you meet outside the Town Hall. Advance tickets are available from Newbury Visitor Information Centre on 01635 30267 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, priced at £5 for adults, £4 for concessions and children under 16 go free (must be accompanied by a full paying adult). There are only 15 spaces per walk, so book soon. Proceeds support the Newbury Heritage Fund.
Newbury Artisan Market - 26 June
Independent designer-makers, vintage collectors, artists and food producers will be selling their wares. They all come from within a 30-mile radius of Newbury and will set up on Bartholomew Street and Northbrook Street. Expect original arts and crafts, hand-made food, produce, sizzling street food and fun activities to keep children entertained. The first Newbury Artisan Market in November proved a great success and the market will now be held on the last Sunday of the month until September.
To take home
It’s Shop Local Week from 27 June to 3 July and Newbury BID is aiming to get as many of us as possible into town shopping. They will distribute over 50,000 leaflets to residents within easy reach of Newbury to champion their Great British high street. Parkway will host a street party and Covent Garden entertainers on 9 July. Enjoy live music, acts and exclusive retail discounts.
The town might have seen its fair share of chain stores, restaurants and coffee shops move in, but there are many independent shops to explore, including Jo Jo Maman Baby, Paul’s, Luna Boutique and Suits Newbury. There’s also the regular farmers’ market that takes place on the first Sunday of every month.
Newbury Retro Festival - 12-14 August
Now in its 10th year, the Retro Festival will have three live music and entertainment stages this year. First, The Black Hangar - the rock ‘n’ roll stage, as well as The Ricky Tick Stage – take a trip to the 60s club scene and everything Mod, and the Spitfire Pavilion, taking you back to the days of Swing. There will also be over 1,000 vehicles on show over the weekend – vintage and classic cars, scooters, vintage and classic motorcycles, full-size steam engines and miniature working steam engines, many offering rides around the Festival site. Then there’s the Auto Jumble and the Retro Festival Market. There are also vintage beauty parlours, hair and make-up, barbers and a tattooist.