FORDWICH AND THE ARTS

Fordwich has made several appearances on England's artistic stage.

Shakespeare and the King's Men
William Shakespeare's company, The King's Men, played at Fordwich on several occasions. For instance, the town accounts show that on 6th October 1605, Fordwich paid 10 shillings (50 p in modern money) to the King's Men as an incentive to put on a show in the town.

Around this time Shakespeare wrote some of his most profound work, including Measure for Measure, Othello, King Lear and Macbeth.

Why would any theatre company appear in Fordwich, with a population of only a few hundred? It is only possible to guess the reason, but on at least 34 occasions between 1568 and 1621 the town of Fordwich paid sums ranging from 3 shillings (15 p) to 20 shillings (£1) to various companies.

Fordwich was attractive to actors because they probably travelled to and from Canterbury via water, embarking and disembarking at Fordwich. Also, as time went on, Canterbury itself became increasingly puritanical and hostile to all forms of public entertainment. The Mayor and Jurats of Fordwich saw a chance to bring some business to the town. Citizens prevented from seeing plays in Canterbury could easily walk or ride the three miles to Fordwich.

The records support this interpretation. Between 1614 and 1632, Fordwich paid theatre companies to play on ten occasions. During the same period, Canterbury ceased paying for performances, and instead paid actors considerable sums of money to go away.

One example is in 1621, when the King's Players (minus Shakespeare, who had died in 1616) received 5s from Fordwich on 2nd August. Yet in the same year Canterbury paid £1 "to William Daniel chief of the King's Players to rid them out of the city without acting".

Where did the actors perform in Fordwich? They may have played in the courtyard of a pub, though it is uncertain that the predecessor of the Fordwich Arms had one. They might also have put up a temporary stage on open ground
a canterbury tale
A Canterbury Tale (click image to enlarge)
During World War II, Fordwich was the setting for Powell & Pressburger's remarkable film A Canterbury Tale. The film explores the nature of wartime England, with a romantic emphasis on both continuity and social change.

Michael Powell had been born nearby at Howletts Farm and was educated at the King's School. The film was set in the fictional village of Chillingbourne, based principally on Fordwich. Powell had wanted to use the Town Hall, but the interior was too small for the cameras and lighting of the day, so a faithful reproduction was created in the studio. Many external shots feature actual scenes from Fordwich.
alfred palmer self portrait
Alfred Palmer, self-portrait 1939, courtesy of Swanage Museum
Alfred Palmer (click image to enlarge)
The painter Alfred Palmer (1877-1951) lived at the Manor House in King Street from 1906 to 1939. As a young man he had rebelled against the strict training of the Academy schools and went to Paris to study. Despite the influence of modernism he remained very much a figurative painter, and his work is attractive to modern tastes.

Many of Palmer's works are held by the Beaney Institute in Canterbury. He also formed the East Kent Art Society with Lord Northbourne. During the first world war Palmer worked in the Secret Intelligence Service; he also used his fluent German to good effect in interrogating prisoners of war.