The Royal Tunbridge Wells Juggling Festival

By Danny Colyer

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On Saturday 27th September 1997, 230 people descended upon Tunbridge Wells Sports Centre to enjoy the first Royal Tunbridge Wells Juggling Festival. The festival doubled as a 5th birthday party for the Tunbridge Wells Juggling Club, founded in 1992.

The festival, funded by a £5,000 grant from the National Lottery 'Arts 4 Everyone' scheme, was organised & run by the members of TWJC. We hired a sports hall & roped it off into 4 courts, with a gangway along one side & another between the middle two courts. The courts were cunningly colour coded & marked with coloured helium balloons around the edges - festival programs included colour coded workshop timetables, which were also displayed around the hall.

The format was simple & effective. Two workshop periods (with separate workshops in each court), followed by a show. Three more workshop periods, then another show. Then two last workshop periods before cutting the birthday cake & buggering off down the pub.

There were workshops in everything from stilt walking to plate spinning & from devil stick to rope spinning, all run by either the club members or our guests: mime artist Richard Vobes & the Europa Clowns Matto & Polo. By far the most popular were the unicycling workshops, which went on all day in the red court. Balloon modeling workshops were packed with youngsters (& parents!) who really just wanted a free balloon animal & didn't care how it was made. Most of the people at the 4 ball workshop wanted to learn three. I don't know how the four 3 ball workshops went - I wasn't involved with those.

Much of the sponsorship money was spent on new equipment, which we will be able to use at displays & workshops for years to come (I thoroughly enjoyed showing off on our new ultimate wheel). Equipment was also donated - many thanks to Butterfingers, Beard, Spotlight & the Europa Clowns for their support. Also, thanks to Dave Mariner for giving us a good deal on unicycles.

The workshops started at 10am. The first show of the day, at 11.30am, was the Matto & Polo International Clown Show. Mike Bonfield, aka Polo of the Europa Clowns, is a local man & president of TWJC. The show also featured Jon Relf, the club's star diaboloist. His magnificent one & two diabolo jugglery went down a storm with the crowd.

The second show, at 2.30pm, was put together by the club members, showing off our skills & doing our Christmas acts (I toned down one of my Renegade acts for the kiddies). Richard Vobes (if your toddler watches Snug & Cosy you'll know who I mean) did an absolutely hilarious act which has changed my perception of mime completely. He also ran a couple of excellent mime workshops during the day.

Before the event the sports centre managers were a bit dubious about what we were up to. At the end of the day they asked if we would like to do another one next year, in conjunction with them. Maybe we will. We had a great time & got a few new members, but we were all glad when the hard work was finally over.

Special thanks to Kevin Fletcher, David Akhurst & Cora Hallett, who did most of the organising.

Danny Colyer

Danny has his own website at

The festival was a great experience, it really brought the club together, absolutely everyone was involved in some way. I still have my orange TWJC name badge (I also managed to nick one of the limited edition green security badges too but don't tell anyone). It surprised me how much had to be done for just a one day event, the BJC & EJC organisers have my greatest respect.

Does anyone recall seeing Frank's feather duster?

You can also read about our second Royal Tunbridge Wells Juggling Festival.