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Britsburgh Festival: It’s Pittsburgh with a British twist

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The staff of one of Hartwood Acres’ Downton Abbey teas, including “Carson the Butler,” back row, center. The Britsburgh Festival will feature a Downton Abbey-themed tea and tour Sept. 8.
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Enjoying “A Right Royal Afternoon Tea (Wear your Hat!)” at Mansions on Fifth were participants in the 2017 Britsburgh Festival.

Robert Charlesworth already knew after last year’s Britsburgh Festival what the theme would be for this year’s celebration of Pittsburgh’s connections to Great Britain.

With the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I (1914-18) on Nov. 11 this year, he said it “felt right” to honor the contributions and sacrifices former Pittsburghers made in the name of freedom.

“We wouldn’t be in the same place today if not for those who went to war,” says Charlesworth, chairman of Britsburgh.

The 4th annual Britsburgh Festival from Sept. 4-9 organized by British-American Connections Pittsburgh will include 14 fun activities with a British twist, including four events that incorporate WWI themes and will help raise money for veterans’ charities.

“All WWI events will collect donations towards our Britsburgh WWI Centennial Appeal for Veterans,” he says.

The main event at this year’s celebration will be an Exclusive World War I Centennial Charity Dinner from 6:30-9:30 p.m. Sept. 6 at Hartwood Acres Mansion in Indiana Township, the former estate of John and Mary Flinn Lawrence.

Charlesworth says the $250-per-person event featuring “a sumptuous meal in an Edwardian style — a meal fit for King George V” is a perfect setting with connections to the war, as John Lawrence served as a pilot in WWI. Proceeds will benefit the veterans’ appeal.

The dinner will be held in Hartwood’s Great Hall, with themed decorations centered on the Flanders Field poppy, a symbol of remembrance.

Richard Turner, a regional director of Britain’s Department for International Trade based at the British Embassy in Washington, D.C., will be the keynote speaker. Additional speakers will include WWI historian and author Elizabeth Williams and Duquesne University WWI historian Kimberly Szczypinski, who will talk about women’s and Pittsburgh’s important roles in the war.

The festival also will include two high teas, on Sept. 4 at Mansions on Fifth and Sept. 5 at the Omni William Penn, featuring a “Women in WWI” theme.

Leaning Cask Brewing Co. in Springdale will transform its pub into a British pub during WWI from 5-10 p.m. Sept. 8. Festivities include tapping of a new beer by owner Josh Lipke for the Britsburgh Festival, a Burton Ale that recreates a classic style of beer served during the war. British TV comedies will be shown on the brewery’s big screen, including BBC’s “Blackadder Goes Forth,” set during WWI.

Charlesworth says Britain’s Queen Elizabeth is aware of their plans to pay tribute to those who served in World War I at the Britsburgh Festival.

“I wrote to Her Majesty last year after the festival and told her we were going to do the World War I theme this year,” he said. He received a letter back from a staff member at Buckingham Palace, saying “Her Majesty has asked me to convey to everyone involved in Britsburgh her good wishes for a successful and enjoyable event.”

“Her Majesty was touched by our plans,” Charlesworth says. “It was nice of her to do that.”

Other Britsburgh Festival events include:

6-9 p.m. Sept. 4: Opening beer event at East End Brewery, “Tony Knipling Cask” tapping of this year’s Britsburgh Ale, Scottish ale with honey heather tips.

12:10 – 1:30 p.m. Sept. 5: “England Arise: The Hymns of Ralph Vaughan Williams,” Trinity Cathedral, downtown Pittsburgh, congregational singing of 20th century English church music by the composer, followed by a tour of the Cathedral led by historian William Kaiser.

11 a.m.-2 p.m. Sept. 8: Downton Abbey-themed tea and tour, Hartwood Acres Mansion, prizes for period costumes.

2-4 p.m. Sept. 9: “The Two Gentlemen of Verona,” Pittsburgh Shakespeare in the Park, Highland Park. Free, donations welcome. Picnics, dogs and children welcome at this 90-minute family-friendly performance.

3:30-5:30 p.m. Sept. 9: Netball demonstration and scrimmage, Davis Playground, Shadyside. USA Netball player Greta Spitzer from England will demonstrate the game derived in Britain from American women’s basketball 120 years ago. Scrimmage for age 12 and up.

A full schedule of events is at britsburgh.com .

Candy Williams is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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