Lauderdale House celebrates 30 years at the forefront of arts and crafts

Lauderdale House’s acclaimed arts and crafts fair is celebrating its 30th anniversary this Monday by hosting a festival displaying some of the finest work in the trade.

For the past three decades the popular festival has provided artists with a forum to display and sell their work, creating a Highgate institution that, for many, is their first introduction to the Elizabethan house.

But its origins lay in a chance encounter when, on a summers day in 1980, Elizabeth Nelson stumbled upon the former stately home in Highgate’s Waterlow Park.

“I went along 31 years ago for a walk because it was a beautiful day”, said Ms Nelson, the fair’s longstanding organiser.

“Although I was aware of Lauderdale House and I wasn’t thinking about what I could do for it. But I noticed on the door that there was a notice advertising an arts and crafts weekend and a lady asked me if I wanted to get involved.

“I began volunteering regularly and I think they thought I had a lot of free time because they asked me if I would run an arts and crafts festival.”

She launched the fair the following year, in 1981.

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Just ten stalls exhibited at this first fair, raising �100, which Ms Nelson remembers as a ‘great achievement’ at the time.

Since then the festival has grown to incorporate many more crafts including pottery, photography, painting and prints, and provide an important source of revenue for the house, and the artists.

And the impact of this community festival has even been felt globally.

“Once a couple came from France and spoke to an Italian lady who was making these wonderful roses and selling them at the fair”, recalls Ms Nelson, a former art teacher from Islington.

“This couple had a place in Africa where they were teaching women to produce goods which they could then sell. They flew this lady out there to make these roses with these women.

“It is lovely to think that our fair can make such a difference.”

Weekend high street shopping and the growth of the internet are potential threats to small stall holders like those at Lauderdale House. But Ms Nelson is hopeful the festival’s unique atmosphere can shield it from these threats, and continue to uphold the great British institution of arts and crafts.

“From the sellers point of view, the fair is extremely beautiful and has a great ambiance, they enjoy coming and it has become a bit of a club really”, she said.

The fair takes place this bank holiday Monday (29) from 11am until 6pm.