ONE of the main cultural events in the Winchester calendar has announced that this year will be its last.

The Winchester Festival shocked its supporters by announcing at its launch last week that it was folding after 22 years.

The final festival will run from July 5-13 and will feature Andrew Marr, Michael Palin, Ed Balls, Simon Schama and Chris Bonington as well as classical music and poetry.

In a statement the festival said: “Since the Festival started in 1998 there has been an extraordinary increase in the number of concerts and talks happening in Winchester so that every week - almost every day - there are wonderful performances across the city.

“Winchester now has a wealth of music and literature throughout the year and we have decided, with a great deal of deliberation and a lot of sadness, that this will be the final Winchester Festival. We hope you will find many events to interest you in this year’s programme and that our last Festival will be one to remember.

“We are hugely grateful and indebted to everyone who has been involved with the Festival over the last 22 years – the sponsors, individual donors and patrons, the county and city councils, the local performers and the performers who come to us from much further afield, the staff and volunteers, and, most of all, the audiences – indeed everyone who has made the Festival so inspiring and rewarding to be involved with.

A spokesman was asked about its financial position but had not responded at the time of going to press.

John Miller, artistic director from 1998-2011, spoke of his sadness. “I was sorry to read that the Winchester Festival is to close this year. It made me think back to when a small group of us, led by David Hill, created the festival in 1998.

Mr Miller added: “We agreed then on an artistic policy of presenting the leading national figures in all the different art-forms, supported by the best of the local talent. So our first programme included P.D.James, Christopher Fry, Donald Sinden, Stephanie Cole, John Julius Norwich, David Starkey, Hugo Vickers, Jean Rigby and the BSO, plus the Waynflete Singers, Southern Voices, and the specially-created Festival Players who re-enacted The Trial of Sir Walter Raleigh in the Great Hall where it was originally staged in 1603.

“My 14 years as artistic director were immensely rewarding for me, and I was thrilled to have persuaded so many great stars to take part. It’s a real shame that Winchester audiences will be deprived of such cultural entertainment in the future.”

A city council spokesman said: “We are saddened to hear that this will be its final year of the Winchester Festival and recognise the value of cultural events such as this to our district.

“Over the last 10 years, the number of events in the Winchester district has grown substantially and the city now boasts a busy schedule of festivals that provide a sense of cultural vibrancy.

“We would like to extend our thanks to those who have organised this excellent event over the last 22 years and we are proud to have supported it.”

City MP Steve Brine added: “This event has become a staple of the spring for me and it was a lovely setting this year for sure. I think we’re all sorry to see it end in 2019 but the committee are certainly going out with a blast. It’s a fantastic programme this year and I wish them every success.”