In July 1947, two years after he opened Pendley Manor as a Centre of Adult Education, Dorian Williams hosted an open day where each of the groups who met reguarly at Pendley displayed their wares. The Drama Group presented some five or six scenes from Shakespeare, including a scene from Macbeth in the Manor’s gardens.
Following the success of this presentation, the next year saw the group present famous love scenes, using for the first time the ‘big’ stage, over 80ft wide with a magnificent yew hedge background and 100ft high flanking Canadian fir trees.
The next year a full production was presented of Henry VIII and the Festival was born… 1950 saw the first floodlit production, and by 1954 such was the success of the Festival it was decided to present two productions, Julius Caesar and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Records show that, up to 1964, over 70 performances of Shakespeare’s plays had been given, attended by approximately 30,000 people. Over 300 people had been numbered in the casts, and over 40 horses had taken part! Dorian’s last production was in 1983. Since Dorian’s death in 1985, the Festival has run every year, apart from 1988 when the Hotel was undergoing refurbishment, with as much verve as ever.
A stunning firework display celebrated the 50th anniversary in 1999 and in 2001 Sarah Branston took over the running of the festival. Her parents, John and Jennie Branston, met at a festival over thirty years ago and have been attending ever since.
In its current life the Festival is run by Sarah Branston and William Edwards who are as keen as ever to keep doing new things, challenging audiences and introducing new strands to the Festival. 2014 sees the launch of Pendley Plus – an educational scheme that takes the Festival back to its roots.