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Sudbury Silk Festival to be staged every two years to celebrate town's heritage

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Sudbury will hold a silk festival every two years, following the success of last year’s inaugural event, it has been confirmed.

Around 5,000 people attended the event on September 7 to celebrate the town’s history in the industry dating back to the 1790s, with locally-woven fabric having been worn by the likes of Princess Diana and Michelle Obama.

In a report prepared for Babergh District Council, it was confirmed that the event would return every two years, with preparation already under way for the 2021 event.

Sudbury Silk Festival held at St Peters Church, Sudbury - Lynette Domony with a piece of silk artwork by Lynne Pretty..Pic - Richard Marsham. (28001893)
Sudbury Silk Festival held at St Peters Church, Sudbury - Lynette Domony with a piece of silk artwork by Lynne Pretty..Pic - Richard Marsham. (28001893)

Smaller events will take place in the intervening years – including this year – to highlight the industry’s importance locally.

Derek Davis, cabinet member for communities at Babergh District Council, said: “We were pleased to support the first Silk Festival last year.

“The event was a fantastic way to showcase a key part of Sudbury’s heritage and was a tremendous success thanks to the hard work of everyone involved, attracting more than 5,000 visitors.

“Sudbury has been involved in the silk industry for more than 100 years and is still very much part of our tradition today.

“Fabric produced in the town has been used to make the wedding dresses of Princess Anne and Princess Diana and a gown for Michelle Obama, to name just a few.

“We are proud to continue to support this wonderful initiative and look forward to continuing our association through a biennial event.”

According to the council’s report, the 2020 event will focus on textile makers and crafters, and is utilising local experts as event organisers.

A bid is also being made to Arts Council England to continue work with schools on the town’s silk heritage beyond April 2020.

While only a few details for the 2021 event have been announced, the council did confirm it will be held over three days at eight venues in the town centre.

Talks, walks, films and exhibitions are also being lined up for next year.

Gainsborough’s House is involved in the project, having agreed to support organisers with a funding bid to the National Lottery Heritage Fund for three years of cash support.

If successful, that will support the events in 2021 and 2023.

Last year’s first festival featured garments from designer Vivienne Westwood and historic weaving displays, held in St Peter’s.

This year, Sudbury silk firm Stephen Walters & Sons celebrates its 300th anniversary, having been established in 1720.

Managing director Julius Walters said a programme of events to celebrate the anniversary is being planned, both locally and abroad.

“We are finalising plans at the moment”, he said. “As a major exporter, we have events planned in Paris, Milan and Tokyo. There are also events with our customers and staff.

“It’s the complexity of it as there are multi-events and a rolling programme.”

Mr Walters said the date of the company’s anniversary is in the summer, but one or two events will start taking place in a few months’ time in the spring.

The company started in Spitalfields, London, and built a mill in Sudbury in 1860.