Borde Hill Gardens at the Heart of the Arts

Andrewjohn and Eleni Stephenson Clarke open the 2015 Borde Hill Garden ‘Sculpture in the Garden exhibition’

This last weekend I found myself returning to Borde Hill Gardens, near Haywards Heath in West Sussex, as the guest of Andrewjohn Stephenson Clarke and his wife Eleni. These generous custodians have worked hard to put Borde Hill and its famous gardens at the heart of the arts in West Sussex. Borde Hill Gardens are celebrating their 50th Anniversary of being open to the public.

Andrew Bernardi and the ‘1696 Stradivarius’ at Borde Hill

Much has been written about the importance of the gardens and plant collection. Between 1893 and 1937 Colonel Stephenson R. Clarke sponsored many of the Great Plant Collectors’ expeditions. They returned with rare specimens brought back from their travels in the Himalayas, China, Burma, Tasmania and the Andes. Many of these plant species are still at the heart of the collection which make up the seventeen acres of formal gardens we enjoy today.

As the Friends of the Shipley Arts Festival gather at Borde Hill Andrewjohn welcomes us in the panelled Drawing Room. He explains that his family have owned Borde Hill since 1892 and says “Although my family extended the house and this room I think my great-grandfather was more interested in the gardens than the house. When he came to Borde Hill the land gave him the opportunity to plan, layout and plant the garden.” Andrewjohn speaks with a gentle pride and understanding of his own place in the story of Borde Hill. As he does his love for it and the desire to share it with others is apparent.

Andrew Bernardi, Artistic Director of the Shipley Arts Festival, leads a trio of remarkable musicians which includes the cellist Jonathan Few and pianist, Maria Marchant. The concert opens with two Debussy pieces written at about the time that Andrewjohn’s grandfather purchased Borde Hill. There is an intimacy in this setting as the delights of the concert unfold.

‘Respond 1’, by Angela Conner
‘Respond 1’, by Angela Conner

The textural melodies and rhythms of the music take me back to the week before when I joined my friends Andrewjohn and Eleni at the opening of their 2015 Borde Hill Sculpture in the Garden Exhibition. We gathered in the Italian Garden for the opening, as sculptor Angela Corner’s ‘Respond 1’ rose and fell responding to the forces of nature and the flow of water. The piece brings your senses alive to the play of light, sound and movement as you respond to the sculpture and the setting.

As I continued around the gardens the sight and scent of banks of bluebells, contrasted against the bright new leaves on trees, the giant rhododendrons and magnolias, made me feel more fully alive. The sculptures, like Guy Portelli’s ‘3 Blue Pokers’, are framed beautifully by the plants and gardens in this ever changing setting.

The Gardens extend into traditional parkland and woodlands, where the variety of micro-climates have contributed to the best collection of ‘champion’ trees (the tallest and largest girth) on privately-owned land in Britain. These ‘champion’ trees, together with many other exotic specimens, provide a canopy for spring flowers in Warren Wood, which is over 100 year’s old, and Stephanie’s Glade.

Andrewjohn and Eleni have placed Borde Hill Gardens at the heart of our community and the arts and their generous spirit and dedication is deserving of our thanks and support.

You must treat yourselves to an outing to Borde Hill Gardens. The 2015 Sculpture in the Garden runs until 1st September 2015 at Borde Hill Gardens, Borde Hill Lane, Haywards Heath, West Sussex, RH16 1XP, For more information on opening times and forthcoming events go to or telephone 01444 450326.

For information on The Shipley Arts Festival concerts click here.

Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 13th May 2015 in the West Sussex Gazette.

2015 Shipley Arts Festival Launch

Andrew Bernardi and members of his music group
Andrew Bernardi and members of his music group

It is a cold winter’s Sunday evening as patrons, sponsors and the friends of the Shipley Arts Festival are generously welcomed at Sedgwick Park House by its owners, Clare and John Davison. We have come together to launch the 2015 Shipley Arts Festival.

Francis and Christina Maude with Andrew Bernardi and Jonathan Lucas
Francis and Christina Maude with Andrew Bernardi and Jonathan Lucas

It has been my long-held belief that music has the power to transform our lives and communities. This is certainly at the heart of the vision of my great friend, the musician and Shipley Arts Festival Director Andrew Bernardi. He has brought his international reputation as a violinist and the 1696 Stradivarius to Sussex, providing an unprecedented focus for music and the arts and the opportunity to build up this fantastic community in our county.

Each year the Shipley Arts Festival brings some of the country’s leading musicians to our churches, stately homes and gardens to perform a varied repertoire at the highest level. Andrew comments: “We have built longstanding relationships with many of these artists who dedicate themselves to the festival and our community as they return each year.”

Andrew Bernardi, Clare and John Davison and The Lord High Sheriff of West Sussex, Jonathan Lucas
Andrew Bernardi, Clare and John Davison and The Lord High Sheriff of West Sussex, Jonathan Lucas

The breadth of engagement with our local community quickly becomes apparent as The Lord High Sheriff of West Sussex, Jonathan Lucas, and myself are introduced by Andrew Bernardi to those who, like myself and Toovey’s, passionately support the work of this generous and inspiring individual. Francis Maude M.P. has supported the festival from its early days and his wife Christina, an accomplished pianist, performs at some of the concerts. Individuals, young musicians and Sussex businesses, like Toovey’s and Spofforths, all play their part in the success of what Andrew describes as “a celebration of community through music”.

Andrew Bernardi with Professor Malcolm Singer
Andrew Bernardi with Professor Malcolm Singer

The West Sussex Gifted and Talented String Academy is part of this vision and something very dear to Andrew’s heart. It seeks to be aspirational and inclusive, creating the opportunity for a musical education of the highest calibre to children from all walks of life. It is a child’s ability and potential that determines their selection for this enrichment program, not their ability to pay. Andrew has an innate ability to build community and bring organisations and individuals together. The String Academy is partnered with Windlesham House School and its head, Richard Foster, who is passionate about the project.

The Gifted and Talented String Academy is also engaged in a two-year collaborative project with the Yehudi Menuhin School and its Director of Music, the composer Professor Malcolm Singer. Andrew comments: “The Yehudi Menuhin School is one of the finest string schools in the world and it is great that our string players encounter Malcolm and the school.” Andrew Bernardi is clearly moved as he speaks about Yehudi Menuhin; the life and work of this famous violinist is a great inspiration to him.

Against the backdrop of this splendid house, with its roaring fire and panelled walls, we are ushered into the music room, where we are treated to music composed and conducted by Malcolm Singer, played by students from the String Academy and Yehudi Menuhin School. Andrew and his group then play a series of pieces from this year’s concerts. The faces of all are transfixed as the music of J.S. Bach fills the room.

Like a conductor at the head of an orchestra, Andrew Bernardi weaves together our shared gifts and resources and blesses our community in West Sussex.

As Jonathan Lucas launches the 2015 Shipley Arts Festival, he celebrates Andrew, the Shipley Arts Festival and the young musicians.

As the speeches and applause fade in my imagination, the music continues to resonate in my heart. I am uplifted as I wind my way home across the ancient lanes of our county, the winter hedgerows and trees picked out in the headlights against a cold, clear night sky.

Tickets for the Shipley Arts Festival concerts go on sale on Monday 2nd February at The Capitol Horsham box office. Telephone 01403 750220 or go to to book your tickets. Demand is expected to be strong for these concerts, so don’t delay!

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 28th January 2015 in the West Sussex Gazette.

Andrew Bernardi Brings ‘1696 Stradivarius’ to Sussex

St Mary’s Storrington

Over the centuries, it has always been the gift of great artists and composers to reflect upon the world we all share and to allow us, through their work, to glimpse something of what lies beyond our immediate perception. It is my experience that truly great music and art, like faith, has the power to transform our human experience of the world – to inspire us.

The Lord High Sheriff of West Sussex, Jonathan Lucas, with Andrew Bernardi and the ‘1696 Stradivarius’ at Pallant House Gallery

I was delighted to spend much of this last weekend in the company of my great friend Andrew Bernardi at my home church of St Mary’s, Storrington Shipley Arts Festival concert, and at Pallant House Gallery, Chichester for the launch of the ‘1696 Stradivarius’.

Andrew and I both passionately believe that the arts have a tremendously important role in creating community and identity by providing a shared cultural narrative.

With his usual enthusiasm Andrew remarks: “For some fifteen years now I have had a vision as a violinist to acquire an outstanding instrument. I would never have dared to think that today I would be playing the 1696 Stradivarius.” For Andrew it has been an extraordinary journey of courage and determination to acquire this violin and to bring it to Sussex. He acknowledges the generosity and importance of his investors who have made this possible.

Stradivarius made some six hundred violins during his lifetime many of which now reside in museums and bank vaults. It is a rare and marvellous thing to hear the exquisite tone and range of this extraordinary instrument in the hands of a virtuoso musician like Andrew. He is clearly profoundly moved by the experience.

I am grateful that another of my great friends, Jonathan Lucas, the High Sheriff of West Sussex, is at the gallery to celebrate this moment. Jonathan shares our enthusiasm for celebrating and building community. He has a background in choral music having sung in choirs at Cambridge, London and elsewhere. His love and passion for music is expressed as he says, “Andrew’s remarkable contribution in bringing the 1696 Stradivarius to Sussex will provide an unprecedented focus for music and the arts and the opportunity to build up this fantastic community in our county.”

The concert program at Pallant House Gallery was a celebration of the Stanley Spencer exhibition on a theme of reconciliation with music from Sussex and Germany. For me the most moving was ‘The Lark Ascending’ by Ralph Vaughan Williams. The piece was completed the day before the outbreak of World War One. Vaughan Williams soon enlisted as an orderly in the Royal Army Medical Corps reflecting something of Stanley Spencer’s own experience of the war. There is such beauty in this piece as the music gathers and invites us to join with the lark as it rises, falls and turns as though in the soft folds of the Sussex Downs. It never fails to move me. Several of his folk songs came from the fields around Horsham and Monks Gate which he frequently visited. ‘The Lark Ascending’ was amongst the first pieces of music he returned to after the war. It was inspired by the poem of the same title by George Meredith. The following extract from that poem appears on the score:

Stanley Spencer – ‘Tea in the Hospital Ward’ © the estate of Stanley Spencer, 2013. All rights reserved DACs, National Trust Images/John Hammond

He rises and begins to round,
He drops the silver chain of sound,
Of many links without a break,
In chirrup, whistle, slur and shake.

For singing till his heaven fills,
‘Tis love of earth that he instils,
And ever winging up and up,
Our valley is his golden cup
And he the wine which overflows
to lift us with him as he goes.

Till lost on his aerial rings
In light, and then the fancy sings.

As you know, I have long advocated that Sussex was a centre for art and music in the Modern British period. With the Shipley Arts Festival under Andrew Bernardi’s directorship and the work of Pallant House Gallery, Sussex, it would seem, is entering a period of renaissance.

When I suggested a fund raising concert to bring together the Shipley Arts Festival and Pallant House Gallery, Andrew Bernardi and I could not have known that it would see the launch of the ‘1696 Stradivarius’. But people who are passionate about music and art should come together, united in celebration of our rich Sussex heritage. I am proud that Toovey’s sponsors these two vital cultural assets in our community.

For details of the remaining concerts in this year’s 2014 Shipley Arts Festival go to The ‘Stanley Spencer Heaven in a Hell of War’ exhibition at Pallant House Gallery continues until the 15th June 2014. For more information on this exhibition and the gallery’s remarkable permanent collection go to or telephone 01243 774557.

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 5th June 2014 in the West Sussex Gazette.