Whalton villagers gear up for weekend of midsummer celebrations

The finishing touches are being added to a 7ft ‘kern baby’ which will stand outside Whalton Village Hall this weekend.

By Amanda Bourn
Friday, 1st July 2022, 11:37 am
Updated Friday, 1st July 2022, 12:54 pm
Baal burning in Whalton village, 1902. The picture was taken by Sir Benjamin Stone.
Baal burning in Whalton village, 1902. The picture was taken by Sir Benjamin Stone.

The creation of the giant corn dolly is an ancient midsummer tradition and signifies the harvest being brought home.

It also marks the start of a weekend of events in the village of Whalton, culminating in the ‘baal burning’ ceremony in three days’ time.

Whalton is the only village to maintain midsummer the bale-burning tradition since 1903. It takes place every year on July 4 (which is midsummer according to the “old” calendar) on the village green, near the Beresford Arms hotel.

Whalton's kern baby in 1902. Picture taken by Sir Benjamin Stone.

Traditionally, children danced around the fire which culminated with the kern baby being thrown onto it and burned. That no longer happens, and these days it’s just a small community event, where the crowd dances to music, joined by Morris dancers. This takes place on Monday evening, from 6pm-9pm.

At 2pm this afternoon (Friday), local farmer Richard Grix, who is vice chairman of the village hall, will put the finishing touches to the kern baby.

Tomorrow and Sunday, there will be a special showing of a short film called Homecoming at the village hall, made in 2016 by artist Faye Claridge documenting the story behind the creation of a special giant kern baby art installation, which was eventually brought home to Whalton.

The 15ft figure was originally created by Faye as part of a project by Birmingham Library, to commemorate the work of Victorian photographer Sir Benjamin Stone, who was also the city’s mayor. One of the photographs taken during his travels in 1902 was of the annual kern baby at Whalton Village. This provided the inspiration for Faye’s creation.

The giant kern baby installed in 2016.

After being exhibited in Birmingham, the giant figure was transported to Whalton for a month-long exhibition in 2016 and its ‘homecoming’ is documented in the film.

And although the giant figure is no longer at Whalton, the village builds its own smaller version each year.

As well as the short film, other photographs taken by Sir Benjamin during his visits to Whalton in 1902 and 1903 can be seen as part of a bigger collection of old images displayed in the village hall.

Entry to this is free and is part of a two-day summer arts fair at the hall, running tomorrow and Sunday, 10.30am until 4pm, where 22 local artists and makers will showcase and sell their creations. One of the makers is fibre artist Anna Turnbull, of Biteabout Arts in Northumberland, who creates sculptures and baskets from willow grown locally.

Entry to these events at the village hall is free.

On Sunday, between 2pm and 5pm, the village is also staging its annual Open Garden at Moore House (opposite the village hall) as part of the National Garden Scheme. The 2.5 acre gardens were designed by Sean Murray, BBC/RHS Great Chelsea Garden Challenge winner.

Entry is £5 for adults and high tea will be available in the grounds.

On Monday, the festivities will take place between 6pm and 9pm.