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Charles Kingsley 200 Festival: Eversley 14-15 June 2019

Published: 10 June 2019
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This June a Hampshire village will be bringing a Victorian author and controversialist back to life, using the latest historical research to explore former parish priest Charles Kingsley's legacy for contemporary debates on sexuality, race, capitalism, science and faith. Together with colleagues from Music (Prof. David Owen Norris) and English (Dr. Justine Pizzo) Dr Jonathan Conlin (History) is closely involved in organizing a wide range of activities, intended for children as well as adults: from Frank Field to flights in a Tiger Moth.

Charles Kingsley's The Water-Babies (1863) told the adventures of a young chimney sweep named Tom, using the latest science (evolution) to tell a fable of virtue and kindness overcoming exploitation and cruelty. Although Kingsley himself did not shy away from depicting the harsh realities of child labour in his society, for many twenty first-century readers of this best-selling children's book the passage of time has made Tom's situation appear remote, alien, maybe even quaint. Though we no longer send boys up chimneys in Britain, our economy and our world are still shamefully reliant on the exploitation of child labour in geographically remote regions of the world. Among the events planned for the CK200 Festival is an Edwardian-style historical pageant, inspired by that held in Eversley a century ago, featuring children from the village primary school (the Charles Kingsley School), intended both to educate the next generation about the realities of Victorian childhood as well as to inspire them and their parents to make Child Labour history.

Kingsley's profile as a figurehead for this cause has already been recognized by UNICEF, who chose Kingsley's birthday, 12 June, as World Day Against Child Labour. But this connection is far from familiar to the residents, young or old, of Eversley or Hampshire generally. Other aspects of Kingsley's career - his embrace of "sex as sacrament", feud with Cardinal Newman, imperialism and historical writing (he was Regius Professor of History at Cambridge) - are even less familiar.

Alongside other activities aimed at children, including a long-string puppet show, story-telling and music-making, a series of "Tent Talks" curated by Dr Conlin will present a "mini-Hay Festival" of leading thinkers and commentators, including Frank Field on Kingsley's political legacy, Giles Fraser on "Life as a Pundit Priest", Professor Piers Hale (Oklahoma) on Darwinian aspects of The Water Babies and Kingsley biographer Ivo Klaver (Urbino) on the feud with Newman. Dr Pizzo will be convening a symposium addressing Kingsley's talented daughter, a bestselling author in her own right, under her pseudonym Lucas Malet. This symposium will meet in Malet's former home, also in Eversley. In the runup to CK200 both Dr Pizzo and Dr Conlin have been leading day courses at nearby Odiham's U3A campus, placing Malet and Kingsley in their literary, political and scientific contexts.

"For me personally the most exciting element of planning CK200 has been collaborating with Festival Director and former television director Peter Ormrod on an original play, a one-hander entitled #realCharlesKingsley," Dr Conlin said. "The play's premise is on the one hand straightforward: Kingsley has returned to his home parish in 2019. Peter's idea of using projection and scrims to show this figure barraged by texts, Whatsapps, tweets and so forth from fellow residents of the afterlife with whom he had fenced IRL (Marx, Darwin, Newman, Queen Victoria...) was less straightforward, however! I hope that the final result will allow today's audiences to get a sense of Kingsley's close relationship with the media of his day, his love of controversy (he was made for Twitter) and the breathtaking range of issues on which he felt himself qualified to comment. Though we can't reveal the name yet, the actor playing Kingsley is a former Blue Peter presenter, and so ought to be ready for anything we throw at him."

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