Despite what Google Maps might tell you, Surrey Steampunk Convivial is in fact in Surrey. It’s held in New Malden; a small town near Kingston-Upon-Thames. The event is located in the upstairs function room of a public house called The Royal Oak, with some of the fun spilling out to the church across the road on the Saturday.
The addresses of the locations are: Christ Church, 91 Coombe Road, New Malden, Surrey KT3 4RE (according to the church website) and The Royal Oak, 90 Coombe Road New Malden Kingston, Surrey KT3 4RD (according to the pub website). This is especially important information as search engine addresses seem to send people in the wrong direction.
However, while that might make it seem like a small time operation, it really isn’t. Hundreds of people come to visit the triannual event and it – and indeed the organiser and host Ben Henderson – has garnered the interest and attention of many steampunks from further afield. So much so that I decided to make the 200 mile trip to South West London and see what the fuss was about.
I visited the event in July, but there’s also two more held through the year. It was a gorgeous weekend and I was glad I was indoors to get out of the heat. I can appreciate the same could be said for the October event, but to avoid the cold and rain.
In the Church, there was a small room with some stalls available for steampunks and steam-curious to make purchases. There was a good variety of stalls available from clothes, to accessories and even a new blend of moustache wax. The latter is currently under test for a review, so keep an eye out for that. Next door to the market, the Nave had plenty of seating for those with weary feet. Or who wanted to watch the regular music acts that played there. I managed to catch a set by Spriggan Mist who are a folk band from Bracknell. I also had a chat with Baz from the band after. He gave me a copy of his album which is also currently in the queue for review. Also appearing were Pixiephonic, a group of Faerie Folk musicians – who are arguably most well known for their single “Have a Cup of Tea” – and Bang to Rites; a drummer group.
Across the road in the pub was where the majority of things happened. Downstairs was open to business as usual and anyone could come in. This is great as it gets the non-steam community involved with what we’re doing. I was asked by a couple of people what steampunk was. I was faced with two options to explain steampunk to a member of the public:
“It’s speculative fiction based on a quasi-utopian universe incorporating folklore, retrofuturism, myth, legend and imagination.”
Or, “It’s getting drunk with friends in a silly hat.
I opted for the latter and left them with a somewhat bemused look on their face. I jest obviously, but it was lovely to have such an encouraging, positive outlook from members of the general public. The pub has a great little beer garden in the back with some grass and a few tables to sit at. Food is reasonably priced for the area but there’s also a number of eateries locally if you fancy a stroll into town.
Moving upstairs to the main area of the event, it opens up into an intimate space with one or two market stalls dotted around the edge of the room and a few more in a separate area. Steampunk DJ is one of the main drivers of the event and provides great background music when an artist isn’t performing. As well as the artists performing across in the Church, there were also acts in the upstairs of the pub too. They tended to be smaller, single person or duos. With the exception of Choro Bandido and El Tel who are an incredible band, full of vitality, energy and fabulousness. One of the single person acts I enjoyed was Catherine Paver (above) who had been travelling America and came back with a head full of songs telling us all about it! She’s absolutely gorgeous and has an amazing voice. Some of her songs are riddled with humour and will have you laughing as you tap your feet.
The defining characteristic of Surrey Steampunk Convivial has to be the sheer volume of games played each day. Aside from the regulars of Tea Duelling and Teapot Racing, there were seemingly dozens of other games that had leaked from the brain of event organiser Ben Henderson. I managed to catch a game of Bumbershoot Bartitsu and Orange Battle. These games are as crazy as they sound and are incredible fun to watch.
There’s a distinct family feel to the weekend that is rarely seen at other events. That’s not to say that other events aren’t welcoming, but walking into Surrey is like walking into Ben Henderson’s Living Room. Albeit above a pub. Though I can think of worse places to have a Living Room. In fact, Ben has been cited as drawing inspiration for the parlour game style of the weekend from Christmas times with his family growing up. They would all play games and have a wonderful time and he wanted to do the same with the Convivial.
It certainly works because despite the distance I have to travel to get there, I know this isn’t going to be the only time I visit. Even now, well after the event has finished, I’ve tried to wrap my head around why – given the comparably small size of the event – I didn’t manage to see everything. I think it’s because there’s so much crammed in to see and do, but along with that, there’s such an air of friendliness and intimacy that you find yourself in deep conversation with people you didn’t know 10 minutes earlier. I made some great new friends as well as meeting some older ones from previous events I’d attended.
If you want to try a completely different type of steampunk event, the Surrey Steampunk Convivial is a viable option. There’s simply nothing like it that I’ve seen yet. Bravo.
You can follow the Surrey Steampunk Convivial Facebook page for more information about the next event: SSC Facebook page
Here’s a gallery of some photos I took of the fun at Surrey Steampunk Convivial: