Disappointment in the UK: Asylum Festival Is Cancelled for 2021
Photo: John Naylor, Ministry of Steampunk
Sunday, July 11, 2021
The Ministry of Steampunk announced today that the Asylum Steampunk Festival will not be happening in 2021. Festival director John Naylor revealed the news in a post on the Welcome to the Asylum Facebook page, expressing “an enormous sense of disappointment and genuine sorrow” about the move.
Past festivals have drawn an estimated 100,000 visitors, making Asylum the world’s largest steampunk gathering.
In early June, the Ministry announced plans to move the festival from its traditional home in Lincoln, UK to Newark-on-Trent and nearby Kelham Hall, with the latter serving as the main venue for activities requiring paid entry.
As with previous festivals, it was to be held over the August Bank Holiday weekend, which runs through Aug. 30 this year.
New Kelham Hall owners balk at a deal
The Ministry’s plans hit a roadblock in late June when the company that operated Kelham Hall shut its doors. The property is now controlled A Shade Greener Finance Ltd., which held the mortgage. In his announcement on Sunday, Naylor wrote that the Ministry was unable to negotiate a deal with the new owners.
“They were in a position to make a huge positive gesture to both the steampunk community and the people of Newark and Sherwood,” he wrote. “Sadly they did not feel that this was appropriate for them.”
Kelham Hall was a popular venue for weddings, and with the closure of the facility, couples were informed that their reservations had been cancelled. That apparently factored into the finance company’s decision.
The new owners “seemed very concerned about how allowing us to go ahead would lead to disappointed brides complaining and so our application was turned down,” Naylor wrote.
Efforts to find a new venue also came to naught. “We have had just nine working days to try to save the festival,” he wrote. “We looked at lots of possibilities and have been knocked back every time.”
Ticketholders for this year’s festival will receive refunds in the coming weeks, he stated. And he held out the possibility for a smaller event in Newark.
“This would not be the Asylum but would still serve to show our determination to be a positive contributor to Newark and may ease the disappointment just a little,” he wrote.
An “exquisite steampunk venue”
Last year’s festival in Lincoln was cancelled due to COVID 19, and the Ministry replaced it with Sanctuary, a smaller hybrid event with online programming and limited activities at Kelham Hall.
The Ministry returned to Kelham Hall in May for Sanctuary II (shown above). Naylor has described Kelham as “probably the most exquisite steampunk venue in the country.”
The organization originally planned to host a scaled-down 2021 festival in Lincoln, but authorities there expressed concerns about the potential for large crowds and public health risks related to the COVID-19 pandemic. That prompted the decision in June to move the event.
News of the cancellation prompted an outpouring of sad but sympathetic reactions on the Welcome to the Asylum page.
“I am sure that we are all gutted about the cancellation of Asylum in Newark,” wrote group member Kim Shrimpton in a post that echoed many others. “[B]ut I would like to thank all of the MoS for their unfailing work and all the time and effort they all put in to organising these events. All being well see you all next year.”
Karl Burnett of The Cogkneys also weighed in: “We have a real connection to The Asylum,” he wrote. “It inspired us to create the act over ten years ago, it was the venue for our first ever gig (during the second Asylum), and we have played shows for the Ministry of Steampunk at many Asylums and a whole variety of other venues.” He went on to thank the Ministry “for giving The Cogkneys a voice and a home.”
The Ministry still plans to move forward with The Town That Never Was, a steampunk event set for next weekend at Blists Hill Victorian Town in Telford.
This story has been updated with reactions from UK steampunk fans.