About Us

1ship-430x300Harwich International Shanty Festival


Please note – this was written well before COVID19 hit us. The 2020 festival will now happen in October 2021


This year marks the 15th anniversary of Harwich International Shanty Festival. It has journeyed a long way since its small beginnings with a bunch of friends meeting up in a couple of pubs to drink good beer and sing good shanties, but we like to think that the initial idea of a cosy pub atmosphere, good friends and rousing shanties is still at the heart of all we do.

Nowadays the whole town of Old Harwich resounds to the sound of Shanties and Sea songs and in addition there are concerts, barge trips, street theatre, maritime crafts, pirates, a Shanty train and much more. 

Here is a taster of what to expect in 2020:

2020 is an important year for both the Shanty Festival and the town of Harwich. It marks the 400th Anniversary of the voyage of the Pilgrim Fathers to America on board the Mayflower. Here in Harwich we are particularly well placed to be involved as Christopher Jones, Master & part owner of the Mayflower was born and lived in the town. The Mayflower was a Harwich ship, plying its trade from this port for many years before that historic voyage. This means that Harwich is at the forefront of international celebrations for this event.  We at the Festival have several Mayflower themed events taking place over the weekend, so look out for these in the Programme, due to be published late Summer.

In addition, enjoy the Shanty Train, running backwards and forwards between Harwich Town and Manningtree Station; visit the wonderfully restored Redoubt Fort with displays and demonstrations of maritime crafts, Street Theatre, children’s entertainment, pirates and Napoleonic Re-enactment; attend one of the many workshops on offer; take a trip on a Thames Sailing Barge, complete with nautical entertainment or join an informative guided walk through the old town, attend one of our prestigious concerts or just snuggle up with a beer and a song at one of the many hospitable venues throughout the town.

This year we welcome shanty singers from France, Sweden, Norway, the U.S.A and the Netherlands as well as from all over the U.K. There’s a full programme of events from mid-day Thursday until midnight Sunday, many are free to attend.

There’s also a 90 minute trip on board a Thames Sailing Barge which features  entertainment from our festival artists; this is always a highlight of the weekend. In 2020 there will be trips on the Thursday and Friday of the Festival as well as on Saturday and Sunday.

Workshops and talks this year include Singing in Public for beginners and harmony Singing for the more experienced, Knot Tying, aspects of Harwich History and the always popular How to Play the Bones. Our popular Spoken Word Sessions where you are encouraged to bring along and share your maritime poems, stories and monologues take place on both Saturday and Sunday. There are always a series of small intimate concerts in addition to our big Saturday evening concert featuring all our top artists.

A full programme and tickets for priced events can be bought via this website approximately four weeks before the festival weekend.. 

Meanwhile keep up to date by subscribing to our email newsletter .

Background Info:

The Harwich International Shanty Festival was set up in 2006 to organise and co-ordinate an annual sea shanty festival over a weekend in October. Through concerts, ‘singarounds’, pub sessions, talks and workshops, the history and heritage of Harwich as part of the British seafaring nation is celebrated, promoted and perpetuated by local people and groups. This is unique for the county of Essex and is attracting audiences countrywide and beyond. 

Why the community needs us

The festival celebrates Harwich’s unique, important and sometimes overlooked great maritime past. Shanty singers from all over the world come to Harwich on the second weekend in October and the whole town is filled with music and colour. The people from Harwich have taken the festival to their hearts and large numbers come every year to enjoy the atmosphere. Local businesses also benefit from a large influx of tourists from farther afield, especially at an otherwise quiet time of year

Our impact on the community

Through the years over which the festival has been running a huge amount of interest has been generated locally in singing and in shanties in particular and their relevance to the residents of Harwich. Workshops have been run which have resulted in a special Song for Harwich being created and Harwich now has its own Shanty Group, following workshops at a previous festival. In 2013 local Primary Schools worked together to create new Shanties, which were sung over the festival weekend. A book with a CD of these new songs was also produced. In 2014 we commissioned visiting artists to write new songs concerning Harwich links with the Mayflower’s trip to the New World, captained by a Harwich Man, Christopher Jones. Seventeen new songs were performed and a CD of these songs has been produced. We have run several workshops with local schools, teaching them shanties and how to play the Bones, both activities always popular.

Further information

Please Contact Us if you require any further information. We also have a links page to local attractions, companies and partner organisations.