Chelsea History Festival Returns for Its Second Year

2 September 2020

Following a successful first year that saw over 10,000 people enjoy a diverse programme of speakers, historians and performers in the heart of London, the Chelsea History Festival is returning for a second year, 17-27 September 2020.

This year’s festival will take place both physically and virtually with an exciting programme of talks, tours and events presented by three iconic institutions: the National Army Museum, the Royal Hospital Chelsea and Chelsea Physic Garden. The programme will cover a wide range of themes, from military to art history and social to natural history.

Festival highlights

Headline speakers include Philippe Sands, one of the UK’s most prominent human rights barristers, in conversation with James Holland discussing his most recent book, The Ratline: Love, Lies and Justice on the Trail of a Nazi Fugitive. Hallie Rubenhold whose book, The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper, won the Baillie Gifford Prize and was named Hay Festival Book of The Year.

Following a similar format to last year’s sold-out Remembering Arnhem event, the Chelsea History Festival will present an evening with Bletchley Park spotlighting its role in the Second World War. In keeping with the intelligence theme, Ben Macintyre, one of Britain’s most acclaimed historians, tells the incredible story of Ursula Kuczynski. Codenamed ‘Sonya’, she conducted some of the most dangerous espionage operations of the 20th century, including planning an assassination attempt on Hitler and helping the Soviet Union build the atom bomb.

Former Children’s Laureate and one of Britain’s best-loved writers, Sir Michael Morpurgo will talk about how he turns the subject of war into fiction. He has adapted his much-loved novel War Horse into a picture book, providing a gateway to help children understand the history of the First World War. Olivette Otele, who last year became the first Professor of the History of Slavery at Bristol University, will provide a fascinating insight into the rich, varied complex history of encounters between people defined as ‘Africans’ and ‘Europeans’ spanning back over 2,000 years. She will be showcasing new research ahead of the release of her book African Europeans in October.

The expansive line-up also includes science journalist and novelist Laura Spinney, whose recent book Pale Rider explores the global history of the Spanish Flu, one of the greatest human disasters of all time.

Award-winning war reporter Christina Lamb has worked in combat zones for over 30 years. Her new book, Our Bodies, Their Battlefield, gives voice to the women of conflicts. She will be in conversation with world-renowned human rights lawyer Baroness Helena Kennedy, who has worked internationally with women in conflict zones.

Renowned historians Valerie Hansen and Peter Frankopan will discuss the birth of globalisation, exploring the impact that the flow of goods, people, ideas and technologies between Afro-Eurasia and the Americas had on the world 1,000 years ago. Professor Peter Frankopan is the bestselling author of The Silk Roads and The New Silk Roads.

During a career spanning 60 years, Sir Don McCullin has become one of Britain’s foremost war photographers. In a short film made specially for the festival, he will be joined by historian Barnaby Rogerson to reflect on their time exploring and photographing archaeological sites across the Middle East.

Also joining this year’s festival is Martin Brown, illustrator of Horrible Histories, who will take families on a journey from the bloody Battle of Waterloo to the frightful First World War and will get them drawing in a quick-fire workshop.

Closing the festival, award-winning historian James Holland will be sharing his extensive new research into Operation Husky, the Allied assault on Sicily in 1943, which remains the largest amphibious invasion ever mounted and was a major turning point of the Second World War.

Reflecting on our past

Festival Director, Harry Parker, says:

‘We are living through a global crisis that connects us all in ways that didn’t seem possible a few months ago. It feels like it is more important than ever to gather and reflect on our past. The team has put together a varied and diverse programme of over 50 events that I’m really excited about and I’m so grateful to all the authors and supporters who have got behind us this year amidst all the uncertainty.’

This year, due to the current pandemic, the festival is a mixture of physical and virtual events. Physical events will take place across two of the founding partner sites in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea along the Royal Hospital Road. Host venues are the National ArmyMuseum, an institution that tells the history of the British Army and its soldiers, andChelsea Physic Garden, one of Britain’s oldest botanical gardens, which will open its doors to the public free of charge on Saturday 26 and Sunday 27 September.

All virtual events are free to attend but must be booked in advance. Tickets for physical events are priced from £0 – £15 with a 25% discount when booking three or more.

To see the programme and book now, visit

Notes to editors

  • Festival dates: Thursday 17 September – Sunday 27 September 2020
  • Ticket prices: £0 – £15
  • Ticket offer: Book three or more events and save 25%.  Tickets must be purchased in the same transaction and the discount will automatically be applied within your basket. The offer does not apply to free events, or to any events which include merchandise in the ticket price.
  • Media centre and images:
  • Sponsor: Chelsea History Festival 2020 is sponsored by Cadogan
  • Hashtag: #ChelseaHistoryFest
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About the Chelsea History Festival

Launched in October 2019, the Chelsea History Festival is an annual festival aiming to draw visitors from near and far, to explore and celebrate history. Over five days, a diverse programme of events will entertain and inspire audiences of all ages. The festival is a partnership between three major heritage sites in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, along Royal Hospital Road: the National Army Museum, the Royal Hospital Chelsea and Chelsea Physic Garden.

About the National Army Museum

Established in 1960 by Royal Charter, the National Army Museum is the United Kingdom’s leading authority on the history and traditions of the British Army. It explores the impact that soldiers from Britain, Ireland and the Commonwealth have had throughout the world, from the 17th century to the present day. Through its world-class collections, the Museum safeguards and shares the stories and values of ordinary people who have been called upon to bear extraordinary responsibilities on behalf of others.

About the Royal Hospital Chelsea

Since 1692 the Royal Hospital Chelsea has provided the very highest standard of care to retired British Army veterans. It is an independent charity and home to over 300 Chelsea Pensioners. We care for the veterans who were willing to risk their lives yesterday to give us freedom today. Due to the vulnerability of the Chelsea Pensioners to Coronavirus it has not been possible to open up the main Royal Hospital site to external visitors at this time.

About Chelsea Physic Garden

Chelsea Physic Garden is a peaceful oasis and centre for learning, right in the centre of London. The Garden was founded by the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries of London in 1673 for apprentices to study the medicinal qualities of plants, and today our living collection of over 5000 medicinal, useful and edible plants means the Garden remains an important centre of botany and plant exchange. We are open to the public six days a week offering guided tours and bookable family activities that bring people closer the amazing plants that have an impact on our everyday lives.

About the Cadogan Estate

Cadogan is a family business, property manager, investor and developer with a 300 year history that informs its dynamic estate management approach today. As custodians of over 90 acres of Chelsea and Knightsbridge, their long-term stewardship aims to enrich the area’s unique character and community, while safeguarding its future vitality.

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