On the north-eastern edge of the Chilterns, seven miles north of St Albans in the ancient village of Flamstead, a bizarre annual celebration has resumed after a four year hiatus.
The Flamstead Scarecrow Festival first ran in 2002 and now raises funds for the preservation and restoration of St Leonard’s Church in the centre of the village.
However, the 2019 Festival never took place due to a police investigation into a murder (which, in the region where Midsomer Murders films, was a grim example of life imitating art).
And as for 2020 and 2021, you can guess…
But this weekend, the Festival returned. Flamstead’s residents compete to see who can create the most popular scarecrow, presenting them in their front gardens and drives, with a visitor vote deciding the outcome.
Many entries tend to reflect whatever or whoever has been in the news recently. In 2017, ‘Jeremy Crow-bin’ was one of the stars (a crow in a bin, if you’re wondering); this year, an idle-looking Boris Johnson lounged next to a bin.
There’s a generous helping of references to TV, films and sporting heroes. We spotted entries celebrating ‘Beaky Blinders’ and Love Island and a weary-looking Star Wars stormtrooper sitting with his Darth Vader mug.
“Is that enough milk in your tea?”
“No, add a bit more, it’s a little on the dark side…”
Harry Potter is here, with a white owl for company, while one enterprising family has recreated various scenes from Mary Poppins. And there’s a special appearance by a shirt-brandishing, sports bra-wearing ‘Crow-ie’ Kelly, in tribute to the England footballer who scored the winning goal in this summer’s women’s European Championship final.
It’s all good fun and in an excellent cause. A 2016 survey of the church found that damp was endangering its medieval wall paintings, while rot and death watch beetle were threatening to cause the collapse of the nave roof.
Fundraising has helped to enable the restoration and repair of the roof, the south clerestory windows and some walls. The work goes on, along with efforts to engage local and regional communities, to make good use of the church’s potential as a cultural hub and to equip it for the future.