1000 Years of Creativity in Turvey: Saxon Stonework to Singing on Zoom

In September 2023 Turvey History Society took part for the first time in a national event, Heritage Open Days . Each year this scheme, co-ordinated by the National Trust, provides an opportunity for local groups to celebrate their local history and culture by organising events around a particular theme, and in 2023 the theme was ‘Creativity Unwrapped’.  

We celebrated Turvey’s rich history of creativity with a two day exhibition which also included audio-visual displays and live demonstrations and performances by members of our village community. We were kindly given permission to hold the event in All Saints Church, itself a wonderful example of creativity in the heart of Turvey.

The event was organised around a number of themes through which we explored the history of creativity in Turvey – music, art, crafts, drama, poetry, and the architecture, gardens and landscape of the village environment. Central to our endeavour was the involvement of local groups for whom creativity, whether through craft, music, art or drama, brings people together today as it has through the centuries in this village. 

Over the course of the weekend nearly 300 people visited the exhibition and participated in the live performances. Perhaps the following comments in our visitors’ book summed up what we had set out to achieve:

A really nice insight into the village makers

What a breadth of creativity in a relatively small village

Inspiring, shows what communities are all about

You can follow the links in the sections below to read more about the content of the exhibition, watch audio-visual recordings played during the event and see photographs of the displays.


Music has long been a part of Turvey’s history, and the exhibition featured diverse examples of this including: accounts of 19th century church and chapel music and of a 1950’s skiffle band; recordings of the village production a few years ago of the Turvey Mysteries, a cycle of plays based on the original National Theatre production; and recordings of Turvey folk group Jack in a Barrel.  We were delighted that two of our local choirs, the Community Choir and the Barton Community Choir entertained visitors at the event. Discover the full story of our history of creativity in music here.


All Saints Turvey – fresco painting of the Crucifixion, showing Christ, Mary and St John.

Visitors to the church were able to see what is probably the earliest surviving example of art in Turvey – the wonderful medieval wall fresco of the Crucifixion, believed to date from the 13th century. Six hundred years later John Higgins of Turvey Abbey painted many scenes of the village and its surrounding landscape and we had some examples of these on display. You can see the full collection here.

Both religious and secular art continue to thrive in Turvey and we were delighted that Sr Esther from Turvey Abbey and the Turvey Art Group both joined us to display some of their work. Sr Esther is a founding member of the British Association for Iconography and she, and Annie Peel, provided a demonstration of icon painting throughout the weekend.

Turvey Art Group has been meeting for several years in the village, and their display revealed a range of styles expressed in the work of members of the group.

History, of course, is not just the story of the distant past but is also continually made in the present. To illustrate this we were pleased to be able to show a
painting of working life during the recent pandemic created by Turvey artist and graphic designer Nic Jennings. 


One of the most important examples of the history of creativity in Turvey can be seen in the story of lace making. For 300 years intricate lace designs were worked on by villagers, creating lace that would mostly have been used in the clothing and housewares of the richer people in society. A section of the exhibition described the history of lace making and we were able to illustrate this with a beautiful selection of lace kindly loaned by Jenny Skoines, Janet Cockings and Lis Tighe. You can read more about this history and see photographs of the exhibition here.

A piece of needlework that normally hangs in the village hall is a sampler made in 1880 and we were pleased to be able to display this and tell the story of its eleven year old creator, Annie Maria Sharman.

Many in the village will be familiar with the Turvey Quilt which also hangs in the village hall. Created over fifteen months starting in 1993, the quilt was made by a group of Turvey women for a competition organised by the Bedfordshire Rural Communities Charity. One of those involved, Mary Smith, kindly loaned us the scrapbook kept during the making of the quilt. You can read more about this project here

The craft tradition in Turvey developed further in 2001 when a group of women who had  been meeting to learn quilting and patchwork skills formed themselves into the Maybees. Over twenty years later they are still going strong, and they put on a wonderful display of their work at the September event, supplemented by live demonstrations throughout the weekend. You can read more about the group and see photographs of their display and other work here.


For over 40 years Turvey has been fortunate in having its own drama group, Turvey Amateur Theatrical Society (TATS). An exhibition by the group which included many photographs of past productions gave visitors an enjoyable opportunity to relive some memories.

Members of TATS also entertained visitors at the event with a poetry recital (see Poetry section below).

A community production produced by TATS, The Bells of Turvey, also featured in one of the audio-visual presentations. The play, written by Poppy Holman who lives in Turvey, was inspired by the memoir of Joseph Bell who was born in the village in 1846, and you can read more about it here.


Not only does Turvey have past and present musicians, artists, craftspeople, playwrights and actors, but we also celebrated three local people who have expressed their creativity through poetry. Examples of their poems, written from the 19th century to the present day, were on display and TATS presented some of these in their poetry recital. 

Architecture, Gardens and Landscape

Church Terrace

Church Terrace

Much of the history of creativity in Turvey can be seen in the physical environment of the village, its buildings, gardens and landscape. A key aspect of this, of course, is reflected in the architecture of the church itself and an audio-visual presentation, created for the exhibition by the Revd Jo Spray, took visitors through the history of the church and the rich creativity contained within the building and its contents. 

The creative skills of many people underlie what we can see today in the buildings, gardens and landscape of our village environment and memories from some of these people, collected as part of the History Society’s oral history project, featured in the exhibition. You can read some of these memories here.

One of the interviewees recorded in the oral history project worked as a gardener at Turvey Abbey. Another part of the exhibition explored, through artwork and writing from a century earlier, how the Turvey Abbey grounds and landscape changed in the 19th century through the influence and creativity of the Abbey’s owners, John Higgins and Charles Longuet-Higgins. Follow the link to discover the story of these changes. 

Just as music, drama and crafts have brought people together in Turvey, so has horticulture. The exhibition also told the story of some of the gardening societies and festivals that have been a feature of the village over the past 150 years and you can find out more about these here.

The exhibition was also enriched with a beautiful floral display, kindly provided by Debbie Felts.

Turvey Abbey and Turvey Monastery

Sr Benedict from Turvey Abbey curated a wide-ranging exhibition which covered many examples of creativity in the history of the Abbey, its buildings and occupants, over the past 400 years. The Benedictine community of nuns who have made the Abbey their home since 1981 have had many creative people amongst their members and the exhibition displayed many examples of this. 

Of particular interest was the demonstration over the two days of icon painting (see above under Art).

The Abbey display also included a 1:50 scale model of the Abbey that had been completed by Andrew Coles whilst studying architecture at Nottingham University. We were delighted to meet Andrew at the event, and afterwards he told us:

In attending the History Society’s Heritage Open Day on 9th September, I was reacquainted with my model for the first time in over 13 years. I was struck by the meticulous detail that I was able to capture and thought fondly about the long evenings spent making it in the studio as a student. I was thrilled that it contributed to the delightful exhibition at All Saints Church and was able to be enjoyed by the local community.

Andrew Coles BA Hons, DipArch, RIBA, SCA

You can see Andrew rediscovering his model here.

Sr Benedict has put together information and pictures relating to the Abbey’s display on the Abbey website.

We were also pleased to be able to include Turvey Monastery in the exhibition through a display of art and pottery by Br Herbert who had been a member of the Monastery for many years.


Turvey School

140 years after Annie Sharman created her sampler, the children of Turvey Primary School in 2021 were being creative in a quite different way by making a wonderful mural out of plastic bottle tops as part of an initiative to reduce plastic waste organised by the school’s Eco-Team. We were pleased to be able to show pictures of this, and other examples of their creativity, in a display of the children’s work provided for us by the school. 


And so, 1000 years of creativity in Turvey. From the early stones of the church laid by Anglo-Saxon stonemasons right up to 21st century village schoolchildren creating imaginative artwork, this community has expressed its creative talents in a rich variety of ways, and in so doing has provided a fascinating lens through which we can explore the history of our village.        

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