Tag Archives: Bard of Bath

Bard of Hawkwood 2017



Centre – Madeleine Harwood, Bard of Hawkwood 2017

3 years ago I set up the Bard of Hawkwood contest to promote community creativity. This, along with Stroud Out Loud! – the monthly spoken word showcase I founded – offers a way for budding bards to hone their fledgling talents in an inclusive, supportive way. It is not the only way of doing things but it works here in Stroud and the Five Valleys, where there is a wealth of local talent and traditions of artistic heritage, alternative lifestyles, radical thinking, and grassroots activity. The Bardic Chair tradition and revival is something I have explored in my book, The Bardic Chair: inspiration, invention, innovation (1st published by RJ Stewart Books in 200, a new edition of the book is forthcoming).

RJ Stewart Books, 2008

The revival of English Bardic Chairs is largely down to one man, Tim Sebastian. The Arch-Druid of Wiltshire and the Secular Order of Druids. I had the pleasure to know Tim during my time in the city of Bath. I won the Bardic Chair he set up in 1996 (becoming Bard of Bath in 1998). He died in 2007 and the book is dedicated to him. This book, and the others I have written about the Bardic Tradition (Speak Like Rain: letters to a young bard, Awen, 2004; The Bardic Handbook, Gothic Image 2006; The Way of Awen, O Books 2010), as well as my training and experience in Arts in Community Development, inform my endeavours – providing platforms for creativity that celebrate local distinctiveness, diversity, and transcultural empathy. Now more than ever we need to hear one another’s stories and sing the songs of soil and soul.


Here’s the Press Release announcing the new Bard of Hawkwood – feel free to reblog, tweet or share….

The New Bard of Hawkwood Announced

After a gripping contest at the Hawkwood College May Day festival Monday 1st May, the new Bard of Hawkwood has been announced: Madeleine Harwood, who won with her original song, ‘Right Way Up’.

Madeleine said afterwards: ‘I shared the room with some extremely talented individuals and so I am very humbled to have been chosen as this year’s Bard. I look forward to working hard over the coming months to really promote everything the the Bardic Chair stands for.’

The Bard of Hawkwood contest – an annual competition for the best poet, singer or storyteller in the Five Valleys area – was founded in 2014 by Stroud-based writer Kevan Manwaring (a previous winner of the Bard of Bath contest). The theme, chosen by the outgoing bard, Anthony Hentschel, was: Contentment (or Resistance). Each entrant also had to read out a ‘bardic statement’ describing their plans if they were to win. The role lasts for a year and a day.

Madeleine will get to sit in the Bardic Chair of Hawkwood – an original Eisteddfod chair, dating from 1882, kindly loaned by Frampton-based solicitor Richard Maisey, in whose family it has been for generations. It is on permanent display at Hawkwood College. The new bard will get to set the theme for next year’s contest, announced in the winter. Future contestants then have until 23 April to enter an original story, song or poem, and must be able to perform at next year’s Hawkwood May Day Festival.

Kevan says: ‘The Bard of Hawkwood becomes the ambassador for the Bardic Chair, Hawkwood College, and their area. Having been a winner myself I know how empowering it can be – not only for the individual recipient, but also for their respective community. It is about celebrating local distinctiveness, fostering civic pride, and loving where you live.’


If you would like to be involved in the Bard of Hawkwood contest, Stroud Out Loud! or creative community in the Stroud area, get in touch.

Warming of the Chair

Richard Maisey talks about the Eisteddfod Chair (1882), at Hawkwood Open Day

Richard Maisey talks about the Eisteddfod Chair (1882), at Hawkwood Open Day                                  Copyright (c) Kevan Manwaring 2014

On Bank Holiday Monday (5th May) I organised the ‘Warming of the Chair’ – the Declaration of the Bardic Chair of Hawkwood, as part of their lovely annual Open Day – when the Gloucestershire College (dramatically-situated on the Cotswold Edge) opens its doors to the public and gives folk a taste of what is on offer throughout the year, with free taster workshops, stalls, walks, demos, delicious food and entertainment.

Hawkwood was originally called The Grove, and there is the possibility that once an avenue of yew trees led to the ancient spring which still bubbles there, these days at the foot of the massive sycamore tree. It has been a centre for holistic, creative endeavours and kindred-spirit gatherings for decades (and perhaps even longer, going by its old name) so it seems the perfect place for the location of a Bardic Chair, which is traditionally sited on a Gorsedd mound.

The Bardic Chair of Hawkwood - an original Eisteddfod Chair from 1882

The Bardic Chair of Hawkwood – an original Eisteddfod Chair from 1882 Copyright (c) Kevan Manwaring 2014

The idea for the Bard of Hawkwood came to me through a conversation with Richard Maisey – who interviewed me for the Five Valleys Directory just after I moved to Stroud. He mentioned he had in his possession an original ‘Bardic Chair’ – from a Welsh Eisteddfod. It turns out this precious family heirloom was passed down through the Welsh side of his family and was made for the 1882 Denbighshire Eisteddfod (as the plaque on it states). Having founded the Cotswold Word Centre  (CWC) at Hawkwood College last Autumn, I thought the title of Bard of Hawkwood would create a great platform for promoting the good work of the College, the CWC, and the local community. And the Open  Day seemed like the ideal day to do it. With the blessing of the Principal Alicia Carey and Education co-ordinator, Katie Lloyd-Nunn, I set to work.

The newly formed Gorsedd of Hawkwood, 5th May 2014

The newly formed Gorsedd of Hawkwood, 5th May 2014 Copyright (c) Kevan Manwaring 2014

I invited fellow Bards to help in the ‘Warming of the Chair’ – a year and a day in advance of the actual contest – each contributing their ‘bardic bottom’ to the proceedings! In the end there were eleven of us – the first eleven as it were – who came out to ‘bat’ for ‘Bardic College’ on a fine sunny day at the start of summer, wearing our finest clobber. I dusted off my Irish Piper’s cloak for the occasion.

The Gorsedd - with me on the far right

The Gorsedd – with me on the far right Copyright (c) Kevan Manwaring 2014

It was a bit touch and go as the key people didn’t turn up until 1pm – when we were due to start – but it all came together at the last minute. We processed onto the lawn before the May Pole, forming a half-circle around the Chair. Then  John Xzavian, Bard of May Hill, blew his horn to announce the start of the ceremony. I introduced the proceedings – announcing the search for the Bard of Hawkwood (the contest will be held in a year’s time at the 2015 Open Day – as is the tradition, the Chair must be announced a year ahead). There will be an adult competition and one for children (5-10;11-15 yrs). The theme for the adults is ‘Flood’; and for the children ‘Summer’. It has to be an original song, story or poem 10 minutes or less. The adult entrants must provide a 300 word statement of intent, about what their plans would be if they won the contest. They would hold the title for a year and a day and be expected to fulfil that role with their bardic skills, e.g. writing and performing poems for special occasions. To qualify the entrants must be residents of the area (with a GL5 or GL6 postcode). I then invited up Richard Maisey to talk about the Chair and he read out a little of ‘What is Poetry…?’ Then I asked Sulyen Caradon, Druid of Bath, to lead us in Raising the Awen and reciting the Druid’s Prayer. Together we formed the Gorsedd of Hawkwood – whose job is to look after the Chair and organise the competition. Next up, was John Xzavian again to recite his satirical verse about poetry. He was followed by Mark Westmore, the new Bard of Bath, who belted out his Beltane poem. Then we had a trio of Stroud poets – Gabriel Bradford Millar, Peter Adams, and Robin Collins (who will hopefully enter next year as they’re all strong candidates). Richard and Misha Carder from the Bath Gorssed then offered their eco-poems. I followed with my ‘Song of Taliesin’ poem – honouring the Penbeirdd – and the Eisteddfod part of the ceremony was finished off by Jehanne and Rob Mehta’s beautiful ‘Corn King’ song. We finished the ceremony with the Blessing of the Chair, scattering it with water from the Hawkwood spring. I joked that anyone who won the Chair would become the Soggy Bottom Bard! Once more I encouraged folk to enter. Then John blew his horn and we processed out. Job done. The crowds on the lawn seemed entertained – many no doubt being exposed to a modern Bardic ceremony for the first time. Hopefully, some will be inspired to enter the contest. Stroud has plenty of opportunities to hone bardic skills, with the numerous open mics and workshops – Hawkwood College of course running a comprehensive programme in tandem with the Cotswold Word Centre. Budding bards have a whole year to sharpen their quills and practice their projection.

May Pole dancing at Hawkwood College Open Day

May Pole dancing at Hawkwood College Open Day Copyright (c) Kevan Manwaring 2014

Afterwards, catching my breath, I was able to grab a ‘bardic burger and beer’ and enjoy the sunshine on the lawn, chatting to friends and watching the May Pole dancing.  It felt like we had successfully ‘warmed the Chair’ and announced publicly, in the ‘eye of light’, the competition. Until we get a winner I am acting Bard of Hawkwood and the Founder of the Chair. If no one comes forward I automatically become the reining Bard – but I hope we get plenty of entries. May the Awen flow and the best Bard win!

Natural Contests


Master Duncan, 13th Bard of Bath

Sunday, 14th December

A kestrel hovers in the wind, wings wavering then knife-edged, against a cold winter sky. In perfect equilibrium with its element – its will and skill counterpoised with the icy contours of air. It drops a dozen feet, but keeps air-borne – a sword of Damocles hanging on a thread, keeping me on tenterhooks. I dare not move. A little closer and I could scare it off, break its concentration. Then it plunges, wings tucked in – beak first, a deadly arrow out of the blue. It disappears briefly from sight amongst the frost-bitten tussocks, then it emerges triumphantly, a black limp parcel clutched in its talons. It flies away to devour its prey, justly plucked from the austere larder of the land.

Further on, I watch three crows harangue a buzzard above a naked forest. They heckle it, attack it, yet it bears their assault with a stoic grace – flying away, out of sight, pursued by the black hooded hoodlums.

I was walking on Bathhampton Down, enjoying the cold sunlight, peace and space, after last night’s Battle of the Bards.

Nature is red and tooth and claw – it is part of life. That doesn’t mean we have to be cruel to each other, but that we should accept that a certain healthy competitiveness is also part of life (from the quickest sperm to the most successful predator – evolution encourages excellence. Nature isn’t sentimental. If you don’t make the grade, you don’t endure).  

The contest for the thirteenth Bard of Bath took place at the Mission Theatre on the edge of the city. I was asked to be one of the judges by the outgoing bard, Thommie Gillow, along with fellow Bard of Bath, Brendan Georgeson, and Sulyen Richard Caradon, Druid of Bath. There were five entrants, all who made a good effort. The theme, chosen by Thommie, was appropriately for the 13th Bard, ‘Superstition’. Most chose to simply list superstitions in verse, but a couple interpreted the theme more imaginatively – local screenwriter Dave Lassman performed a clever story about ‘the Cursed Screenplay’, which got the audience involved; but he was pipped at the post by an impressive performance by up-and-coming bard, Master Duncan. He entered last year, but was hampered by nerves and a joky approach which didn’t do him justice, but this year he had plainly taken it more seriously and had put some real thought into his piece. He deconstructed the theme with some intelligence and ingenuity. He couched the core message within an amusing framing narrative, but the heart of the piece, with its very bardic song, showed his true colours. He has a good folk voice – which, combined with his hip-hop style and satirical style offers an interesting hybrid. A bard should be able to walk between the worlds, and it sounds like Master Duncan might be able to reach out to younger audiences, as he has been doing to a certain extent already with his fortnightly Speakeasy open mics. He plans to continue his work, spreading the word – and he’s got off to a good start, with Channel Four trailing him yesterday on the run up to the contest (as one of the contestants). Amazingly, C4’s choice won. The other participants were interviewed before the winner was announced and some of the evening was filmed – to feature in one of the ‘3 Minute Wonder’ broadcasts. It seems Andy Warhol’s 15 minutes of fame has been down-sized – another victim of the credit crunch? It was a good evening, professionally hosted by Simon, of Emporium Cabaret. Ironically, it took place on the same night as the ‘X Factor’ finals (yawn). What a contrast! There seems to be a tendency in popular culture to dumb things down, so it was good to see the winner of our contest wasn’t the ones who simply played it for laughs. Although his style is accessible, Master Duncan had a serious message which his poem, ‘The Idiots are in Charge’, which he performed on receiving the Chair showed.

Some people dislike the nature of such contests – preferring a wishy-washy hippy approach, usually to avoid making hard, but critically valid, qualitative judgements (as at the Peat Moors Centre Bard of the Avalon Marshes contest, where the winner was drawn from  lots). Certainly everyone who enters any contest is a ‘winner’ in the sense that the fact of entering is an achievement. It takes some pluck to stand up there and be ‘judged’. Not pleasant, but as they say – ‘you have to be in it, to win it’. Obviously the desire to win the accolade (of Bard of Bath) is sufficient to push the participants beyond the ‘fear’ threshold. It is good to rise to a challenge. It helps us to grow. Such contests encourage excellence in the arts, rather than rewards mediocrity. Many prefer mediocrity – perhaps because it makes them feel better about themselves, but actually most of intuitively respond to excellence – when we see a true ‘star’ perform, in a film, in a play; or when we behold a work of art by a genius – a painting, a book. I don’t think this appreciation of the finer things is elitism, it is simply a respect for true craftsmanship, for mastery of a form. Virtuosity is dazzling.  It shows what human beings are capable of. Surely we should strive for our highest potential? Certainly the Bard of Bath isn’t elitist, as last night proved. The winner seemed to be a popular choice – and Master Duncan’s success sends out a clear message, that the Bardic Tradition is something for everyone and at home in the Twenty First Century.  As he pointed out we must ‘evolve or die’. This is what I’ve been striving for these last ten years, since winning the Chair myself in 1998.

And it occured to me, as I watched the 22 year old Master Duncan perform – standing up there and shining – that we was watching a modern re-enacment of the Taliesin legend. The youthful bard wins the contest, defeating the older bards of King Maelgwyn’s court. The awen shone out of him, and Taliesin’s spirit lives on.

Richard, Brendan, Thommie and myself ‘initiated’ Master Duncan into the Gorsedd with the Druid’s Vow and an Awen on stage; and then I presented our youngest, newest member with a reference copy of The Book of the Bardic Chair – which should give him all the background he needs to fulfil his bardic duties over the coming year.

May the Awen flow for him, and may many be encouraged to come forth to enter (or re-enter) next year.