The history of our venue
Cogges Manor Farm is a historic farmstead just 5 minutes walk from the centre of Witney, a town once known for its thriving wool trade. Cogges has a fascinating history going back 1000 years. It is listed in the Domesday Book and the first owner Wadard appears as a Norman knight on the Bayeux tapestry! The manor is one of the oldest remaining houses in Oxfordshire with 15 acres of grounds, 17th century farm buildings, a walled garden and Victorian apple orchard. Popular with locals and tourists with over 40,000 visitors this season, Cogges is now attracting visitors from all over the world due to appearing as ‘Yew Tree Farm’ on ITV’s Downton Abbey.
Using the orchard
The beautiful outside space gave me the idea to hold the main attraction for our first Museums at Night event in the orchard. We aim to present the site in a unique and inspiring light to visitors, so focusing the event in the orchard after hours was a great way of creating a new experience.
I got in touch with Oxford Contemporary Music and they suggested an installation by Alex Bradley, a Bristol-based artist they had been working with. We were delighted to be able to host Alex’s outdoor installation Field Test.
Alex has a family history of cataracts, and this installation is inspired by the Visual Field Test used to examine peripheral vision. Mixing audio, technology and instruments with birdbox speakers and 800 solar LED light units, ethereal harmonies came from all around as people wandered through the trees.
I programmed harpist Steph West, and singer Jess Hall with cellist Barney Morse Brown in the barn, and we served soup and a drinks bar. We had artwork and demonstrations, storytelling and kids activities led by volunteers.
The visitor experience
We welcomed over 300 regulars and new visitors. People meandered around the farm while it was still light and gathered in the orchard as the skies darkened. The evening was unique for Witney, and we were lucky with the weather, as it was a beautiful summer evening and people stayed outside till 10pm.
It was wonderful to see families picnicking and children playing and many commented how special it felt. People loved the event and enjoyed spending relaxed time in beautiful surroundings after hours at Cogges, a place at the heart of the community and special to many generations.
Financing the event
Alex’s installation was produced by OCM and was funded, which is why we were lucky enough to be able to host an artistic piece of this calibre at no cost to the charity. We charged just £2 entry to encourage as many people as possible to come along and see it. On this special occasion, none of the performers charged a fee, and we broke even.
What we learned
Lessons learned included providing more food stalls in future, and lighting dark areas, as we had to keep the orchard and surrounding area unlit for the installation.
Communicating the artistic nature of the event was challenging: from descriptions of the lights, some visitors said they had expected a laser show. Providing suggested tweets in the press release might have helped to describe the event more clearly, and several visitors asked us for more information about the artist.
Overall, though, the event was very well received with lots of 10 out of 10s on the visitor survey.
Autumn Neagle was Marketing and Events Manager at Cogges.