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Asylum Festival Faces New Uncertainty as Kelham Hall Shuts Down

Saturday, June 26, 2021
Sanctuary II attendees
Steampunks gathered in May for Sanctuary II at Kelham Hall. Photo by John Naylor, Ministry of Steampunk.

The 2021 Asylum Steampunk Festival appeared to hit a major roadblock this weekend amid reports that the operator of Kelham Hall, the main venue for the event, is in liquidation.

“We Are Gob Smacked”

The first hint of trouble came late Friday when John Naylor, director of the Ministry of Steampunk, announced that the organization had suspended ticket sales for the festival.

“We have been informed that Kelham Hall is in financial difficulties,” he wrote in a statement on the Welcome to the Asylum Facebook page. “We are suspending tickets until we can discuss options with both the administrators and the local authorities. Both are considering options at the moment and we hope to meet with them and of course see where we are going with the event. We cannot at this time give any more information nor answer questions but must ask you to be patient and await information. At this point we are as gob smacked as everyone else.”

The Ministry of Steampunk is the producer of the huge steampunk festival as well as other events. One of them is Haven Outpost - First Light, an immersive post-apocalyptic gathering happening this weekend near Shrewsbury. In his statement, Naylor noted that he was writing from the grounds of the event. Connectivity was limited, he wrote, “and it is Friday evening when most offices are closed until Monday - perfect eh?”

Sudden Closure

Multiple news outlets, including the BBC and The Lincolnite, reported that Kelham Hall had shut its doors. “As of Wednesday 23rd June, Kelham Hall Ltd had ceased trading, and the mortgagee has taken possession of the site,” stated a notice posted at the facility. “The site is now closed, and all reservations are now unfortunately cancelled.”

The cancelled reservations included some from couples who had booked the venue for weddings, the BBC reported.

Best-Laid Plans

This is just the latest in a series of setbacks for the Asylum festival. Earlier this month, the Ministry announced that it was moving the event from its traditional home in Lincoln to Kelham Hall and Newark-on-Trent. That was due to concerns from authorities in Lincoln that large crowds drawn to the festival might pose a public health risk related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

As originally planned, Kelham Hall was to serve as the venue for activities requiring paid entry. The main program, dubbed Asylum @ Kelham Hall, was set for Aug. 28-30 with “talks, workshops, a curated market, performances, parades, exhibitions and the inaugural Coglympic Games.” Access would require a weekend or single-day wristband.

The organizers also planned a series of separately ticketed evening events, including Lady Elsie’s Fashion Show and The Time Travellers Ball. And they planned a return of The Great Exhibition, a showcase and awards competition for steampunk art projects.

They also announced Newark Fringe, a free festival set for Aug. 29 in Newark-on-Trent with live music and steampunk traders. Programming here would be subject to local and national safety guidelines. The organizers planned to offer shuttle buses between Kelham Hall and Newark-on-Trent, which are about two miles apart.

Kelham Hall
Photo by foundin_a_attic (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr.

It’s now unclear if the organizers can still arrange to use Kelham Hall or if they can find an alternative facility. It’s also unclear what, if any, impact the closure of Kelham will have on the free festival.

Steampunk fans in the UK appeared to be enthusiastic about the original festival plans, at least based on social media comments. And some tickets and wristbands were close to selling out. Past Asylum festivals in Lincoln have drawn an estimated 100,000 visitors, making it the world’s largest steampunk gathering by far. This year, the organizers emphasized that they would strive to operate within safety guidelines, in part by limiting entry to paid events.

The Ministry previously produced two socially distanced events at Kelham Hall: Sanctuary, held last August, and Sanctuary II, held May 22-23. In an earlier statement, Naylor described Kelham as “probably the most exquisite steampunk venue in the country.”

Newark-on-Trent and Kelham Hall are in Nottinghamshire, in England’s East Midlands region. The locations are about 20 miles southwest of Lincoln.

You can get more info and updates on The Ministry of Steampunk website and Welcome to the Asylum Facebook page.

Update: The Newark Advertiser reported Wednesday that Anthony William Jude Cundall and Stewart James Davies have assumed “significant control” of the Kelham Hall property. They are directors of A Shade Greener Finance Ltd, a privately owned commercial finance provider in Tankersley.

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