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Free tours of new church included at Clare Priory Craft Fair

The Clare Priory Craft Fair
The Clare Priory Craft Fair

Visitors to this year’s Clare Priory Craft Fair on Saturday and Sunday (July 11/12) will be offered free guided tours of the award-winning newly extended church.

In May it won the Building Conservation Award and was named as the East of England Project of the Year by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS).

The project is now being considered for the RICS Grand Final Awards in London this October.

Father David Middleton OSA, Prior of Clare, and two members of the parish who are on the Clare Priory Church Extension Committee, Steven Cubitt and Justin Blake James, will lead the tours which will be every hour, starting in the old church and lasting for about 30 minutes.

“From the start, one of the main purposes for setting up the Craft Fair in 1993 was to raise funds for the creation of a new church,” Father David explains. “Well, the church is now built and we are offering guided tours of the building to help our visitors to see and understand everything that has been achieved with their help over the years.

“The extended church is a striking combination of the historic and the modern,” Father David adds. “I think that the new 21st century building actually increases our appreciation of the 14th century structure.”

The old building, which is Grade 1 listed and a scheduled monument, has served many roles. As a two-storey construction it included an infirmary downstairs for the Augustinians who had arrived in Clare from Tuscany in 1248 at the invitation of the Lord of Clare. Above, there was accommodation for novices.

In the 1700s it was used as a barn, in 1870 as a school, in the 1930s again as a barn, and in the 1940s as a wartime billet for soldiers.

In 1954, a year after the Augustinian friars’ return to Clare, it was dedicated as a church for the friars and became the parish church for local Catholics.

“Because of serious overcrowding, a free-standing contemporary extension has been built alongside and linked to the old church,” says Father David.

“It has been designed to avoid interfering with the fabric of the medieval building and the archaeology of the historic site, and to be in keeping with the peace and beauty of the setting.”

The architects for the project were Inkpen Downie of Colchester, and the construction company was TJ Evers of Tiptree.

All the proceeds from the Craft Fair go towards the upkeep of the Priory and its church, and to local charities.

“This weekend there will be 140 exhibitors , with nearly 170 stalls,” says Bernard Rushton, one of the volunteer organisers from the parish.

“We are looking forward to welcoming back all the exhibitors who have supported us for many years. They have become good friends.

“Some have been here every year since 1993. One of our wood-turners, Chris Wedlake from Deal in Kent, has been coming from the beginning, and we are sad that this is going to be his last time as an exhibitor at the Craft Fair.

“We are also looking forward to greeting a number of new exhibitors. Eric Simonds, from Out Of The Woodwork in Stowmarket, will be among the newcomers, with his artistic and ingenious carved wooden bird boxes.

‘We probably have more award winning exhibitors this year than ever before,” says Bernard. “Tim Matthews, of the Artisan Smokehouse in Trimley St Martin, Felixstowe, will be among them. He has just won the Pride of Suffolk award at the 2015 Suffolk Food and Drink Awards in Kesgrave.”

Fresh from the Chelsea Flow Show and Glastonbury, Andy Gage of the Fire Pit Company from Helions Bumpstead, will be showing sculpted steel fireballs for patios and gardens of all sizes.

Andy set up the business only two years ago after making a fireball for his own garden. He now has a staff of seven and exports around the world.

Live music this weekend will include the Essex-based Encore Harmony Singers. First-timers at Clare, they will sing unaccompanied four-part harmony around the Priory grounds between midday and 4pm each day. There will be a quartet on Saturday and a septet on Sunday.

The range of crafts being displayed over the weekend will include blacksmithing, wood craft, leatherwork, textiles, ceramics, high-quality wooden furniture, metalwork, glassware, jewellery, lace-making and wool spinning; there will also be artwork, pyrography, photography, decoupage, cards and stationery, clothing and accessories, candles, aromatherapy, beauty products and specialist food and drink.

Refreshments include all-day breakfasts, there is a licensed bar, and for the children there are Punch and Judy shows, a magician and a free raffle each day.

Opening times on Saturday and Sunday are from 10 am to 5pm. Admission costs £5 for adults and £4 for seniors, but is free for accompanied under-16s.

This year all parking, including parking for the disabled, is at Clare Playing Fields (CO10 8PE). The free park-and-ride shuttle service has disabled facilities. For those who prefer to walk, the Priory is only a short walk away through Clare Castle Country Park.

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