I’ve written this blog in two posts as there was so much information to impart and I thought I would do this in more manageable chunks – not to mention that all those photos, photo credits, and videos were beginning to make my head spin! :O
So on to the evening of the All Hallows Gathering. First of all we descended as a ravening hoard to the Cobweb Inn for some much-needed victuals and of course, beer! As is traditional at these Morris beanfeasts, someone started up a rousing and appropriate tune which we all merrily joined in with.
Once we were all adequately fed and watered, it was time to bring out the Osses and start our visitation of the pubs with our final resting place being the Wellington Hotel.
I had set up an evening’s entertainment of song, dance, music and storytelling – however, it soon became apparent that we had underestimated the sheer volume of people who descended on the pub. The poor bar stuff were doing their best but they didn’t have a moment’s peace until many hours later. Without a PA system it was useless even trying to tell a story, so a note for next year should we be in the same venue – book PA early! There also wasn’t the physical room for everyone to sit down let alone brandish musical instruments as people were sitting on the floor and stairs – so music and dancing was out. So that left belting out some rousing songs, which is what happened for the rest of the evening. My apologies to anyone who came along hoping to see a well-ordered evening’s entertainment although Steve Podger was gallant in his continuing role as MC making sure that everyone that wanted to perform got their turn.
The high point of the evening for me was when Will Fox got up to sing Tam Lin. This is a magical ballad of extraordinary potency. Although it is specific to Scotland the motif of transformation by the Fair Folk is repeated in many cultures worldwide. Traditionally, and certainly I have observed this myself, it is very difficult to sing and only certain folk can manage it without recourse to reading the words or stumbling/forgetting the lyrics. Will Fox managed it superbly. It was pure magic, I was very impressed and told him so the next day! I had intended to include an excerpt here as the whole song, although recorded at the time, will take some time to upload to YouTube. However, it’s not ready yet so in the meantime enjoy this photo of the young man concerned and Watch This Space….!
The evening eventually ended with the organising team having a quiet drink at the other end of the bar and reviewing the day’s events. We were all a bit staggered at how well it all went, how relaxed the atmosphere and how much so many people enjoyed it. We then said our farewells and departed for our various hotels and B & Bs.
The next day was spent getting feedback from the local businesses who were without exception delighted with the way that trade picked up at what was usually a very quiet time of year. So, the Gathering was excellent news for the local economy and the Chairman of Boscastle Chamber of Commerce was very pleased indeed and is looking forward to us coming again next year. This has also been confirmed by the Museum of Witchcraft and we have decided that it would be best for all concerned that in future the date for the All Hallows Gathering will be the Saturday nearest to Halloween. This means that next time we shall be doing it all over again on Saturday 29th October 2016. There will be a few new additions as well so lots to look forward to…!
At this juncture I would like to give a particular vote of thanks to my fellow conspirators who helped so much to get the All Hallows Gathering off the ground.
It was Angie who a year ago persuaded and encouraged me to pursue my idea of creating the All Hallows Gathering as a potential annual event. I was a bit daunted by the immensity of it, but she said that she would help and suggested that I ask others to do the same. I’m so grateful for that support, also not forgetting the skill and hard work in designing our publicity pamphlets and helping me network to get other Morris teams onside. All this she managed to fit in, as well as taking the big step towards self-employment this year for her newly set-up business of prints and greetings cards. Angie and her husband Dougie make a powerful and hugely creative partnership – check out their website and Facebook group here:
Steve I got to know through Angie as he is the percussionist in Wytchwood Morris and lately Shadow Hunters. I asked Steve to be our Master of Ceremonies as he not only is a famous raconteur within the Morris world, he also has a resounding voice which carries well in a crowd. Avidly interested in folklore and strange stories he was the best choice for this role and he produced sterling work; not only throughout the day but also during the evening where he kept perfect order with humour and aplomb. Many, many thanks Steve – you were fabulous! 😀
Phil & Viv Larcher
It was a random message from Viv and Phil suggesting we meet up and bring Penkevyll to meet up with their Mari Lwyd again (they were visiting Cornwall to celebrate their anniversary) that first started all this off. Little did they know what they were inadvertently setting off! They are a very creative couple and produce some really unusual works of art some of which are on sale in the Museum of Witchcraft. Check out their Facebook page here:
Thanks for staying with it guys and for giving so much help and support all the way from Wales.
John & Sue Exton
Although not a member of the organising team, I wanted to mention John and Sue because they are very new to the world of the Mari Lwyds. Their Mari has only recently been birthed, so to speak, and the All Hallows Gathering was Mari Celeste’s first outing and debut as a fully fledged Mari. Anyone who was present at the Gathering will agree with me I am sure, that both of them performed splendidly and the crowd loved them. Well done John and Sue, thank you for travelling down to see us and we hope that this was just the first of many more visits! 🙂
Finally, none of this would have been possible without the loyal and loving support of my partner Laetitia. In fact, if it wasn’t for her brilliant idea in the first place of making ‘a bit of a do’ of the Osses meeting at the Museum of Witchcraft, I wouldn’t be writing this blog and hundreds of people would have been deprived of enjoying such a spectacle that the All Hallows Gathering has become! Thank you m’dear – we make a formidable team! 😀
So at last I have reached the end of this particular blog and believe me I am relieved to do that! It has been very intense but oh so powerful an experience! Before we left Boscastle last weekend we were hearing that some people as they were booking out of their accommodation, they were already booking up for next year’s event!
Thank you one and all who came and shared such a magical experience with us. See you all next year – and remember it’s on Saturday 29th October.
What a spectacular event the All Hallows Gathering turned out to be! As one of the main organisers I was experiencing considerable nerves and trepidation as Halloween approached this year – I had never attempted anything of this size before which involved quite so many people and logistics. My main concern was the weather but as it turned out the weather gods were kindly and it was a beautiful winter’s day and evening. Another issue that was on my mind was what the attendance would be like – performers as well as audience numbers. I needn’t have worried as I watched what eventually turned out to be hundreds people slowly arriving and setting up. The air was electric with expectation and anticipation and it was heartwarming to see so many people gathering together to celebrate All Hallows in such a special way.
Events kicked off at 2 pm with Catseye Morris, based in Cornwall – the side that I belong to as a member of the band, and Laetitia as a dancer.
Next up was Shadow Hunters all the way from Worcestershire. This is a group that was especially created for this event. It started off as a ‘Dark Morris’ scratch side and evolved to become an official Border Morris side. They were energetic, elegant and spooky – not easy to achieve!
“Dancers of the Dark Morris . We come from the woods and dance …..and then slip away back into the shadows.”
So for the next two hours onlookers were treated to some remarkable performances from these Morris sides:
Then it was time to go and get Penkevyll from her stable where she was impatiently pawing the ground, so to speak. The crowds delighted in her antics and then as the tribal drums began, witnessed Penkevyll and her Teazer (yours truly) start the dance which called up the Mari Lwyd(s).
Sure enough it was soon time for us to scuttle into the Museum of Witchcraft and await the arrival of the famous Mari Lwyd. Once the Mari(s) had a short ‘meet & greet’ with the audience it was time for the pwnco ceremony. Here’s some photos and footage of this old tradition:
Once the Mari Lwyds had gained entrance to the Museum there followed introductions. Penkevyll and Y Fari Troellog were old friends, but Penkevyll and Mari Celeste had not met and exchanged pleasantries as only Obby Osses and the like can! We then set off around the Museum bestowing blessings as we went.
Then it was time for much-needed libations of soul cakes (baked by Museum manager Peter) and beer – which was much appreciated by all concerned! 🙂
Meantime outside Steve Podger, my very able Master of Ceremonies, with the fantastic support of Beltane Border Morris entertained the crowd by torchlight with some powerfully evocative and wild dancing.
This included the now famous Beltane Fire Dance!
Once they were fed and watered, the Osses emerged from the Museum and mingled with the large crowd and danced to the pulsating tribal beat of the drums until it was time to end this part of the evening.
Steve our trusty MC, wound up the day’s proceedings and we wended our weary but elated way into the night for a well-earned dinner at the Cobweb Inn!
It’s hard to believe that there hasn’t been a Museum of Folklore before in Britain. I just imagined that there would be one somewhere tucked into a little side street off Kensington. I remember vividly being taken to most of the main museums in this area when I was a child. I used to gaze in awe and wonder at extraordinary things in the Natural History Museum, Science Museum, British Museum and so on and so forth. Even in later years when I was employed in London as a teenager, I used to spend most of my lunch hours trailing round the more little known establishments and curiosities near where I worked. I have a fascination for such places…
Now there are plans afoot for the first Museum of British Folklore and rather than write reams here on this blog, it’s probably better – and more concise to guide you towards this promotional video:
Exciting stuff! One of the ongoing projects that caught my attention in the early days of meeting Simon Costin, Director of the Museum of British Folklore, was the ambitious Morris Doll collection. The aim is as follows:
The museum has launched a new initiative to represent the wide variety of Morris sides within the UK. Any teams wishing to take part will be sent a blank figure to decorate with their team kit. The idea being that over time, the collection will grow into an original and unique visual record created by the people who participate in the dance. For any teams wishing to receive a figure, please email us – email@example.com
Story posted on September 21, 2013 from the Museum of British Folklore’s website:
I have belonged to a Morris side for about five years now, so had a special interest in creating a doll that would be part of a display in a museum. The side I’m with is called Boekka (Cornish for Scarecrow) and I’m a founder member. Myself and Laetitia along with her son Rhys first formed this group following the departure of our Obby Oss, who used to be a Penglaz, from the Golowan Festival. We changed her appearance, her name and title – she then transformed into Penkevyll the Lands End Obby Oss appearing alongside Boekka.
Following many months of pestering the beleagured Simon (a notoriously busy man!) eventually a large package arrived at our cottage containing not one, but two dolls. This lead us to believe that maybe they wanted us to create not just a doll representing our side’s Morris dancer, but also our famous (or should that be infamous?) Obby Oss as well! Simon had seen our Oss, Penkevyll in 2012 at Charms Day in Boscastle when Boekka gave a performance to wind the day’s events up.
So it was time to start making the dolls. First job was to assign who was going to do what – always a tricky one! We started on the Teazer doll first. Laetitia drew the short straw and was lumbered with all of the sewing. She has small hands and produced neat work creating the T shirt, tailcoat tatters, trousers and boots. (This is what comes from being really good at something, you become the victim of your own success – a lesson I have found out many times to my cost!) Whereas, I have large hands for my size and am very clumsy with tiny, meticulous work. I sourced materials, created and cut out templates and was a general ‘gofer’ (go for this, go for that etc).
We were trying to think of how to make a snapper for the doll. This is what we were trying to replicate:
I asked a good friend of mine, Chris White for advice on how to make this as he is into model making; and before I knew it he had kindly offered to help us out by creating it himself – and what he created was superb!
Chris is an amazing guy who we have meet only via the Internet/Facebook. He used to be a Beast Rider with a Morris side and has a really fine sense of what is required of someone who dares ride these fabulous creatures. Sadly he no longer is able to do this as he has a progressive medical condition that has rendered him seriously disabled. However, he has an indomitable, cheerful spirit and a delightful sense of the absurd and ridiculous. He often has Laetitia and me crying with laughter over something he’s written – he’s particularly good at finding the right caption for many photos, especially ones that include Obby Osses and the like. One day we would love to meet him. 🙂
After several weeks of sporadic work on our Teazer doll in between work and gigs, we finally had our completed doll:
Then it was time to consider the Oss doll. We had approached a local lady who makes, amongst many other things, marionettes and puppets. We knew she would do a very good job but we weren’t too sure whether we could afford her services, even though we were offered ‘mates’ rates’. As Chris had already alluded to the possibility before, I tentatively approached him and asked whether he was interested in attempting the unusual modelling project of making a mini sized Penkevyll head for our doll, although we insisted on paying him for materials. Chris said he would be honoured and to offer him money for the privilege would be tantamount to offending him – so we quickly agreed! 😉
Between me and Laetitia we created another T shirt, trousers and boots, plus the Riders skirt for the doll and then waited for the necessarily long process of creating Little Penk’s model skull. It was such a fascinating process, and so many folks have asked us, that I think it best if Chris himself takes over the story at this point:
The Construction of Little Penk Chris White
I’ve been asked to write about how I did the construction of what all involved came to call ‘Little Penk’.
I’d just like to stress a couple of things. I’m disabled and this took months rather than days. Secondly I’ve never done anything like this before. Although my background is in art and design I have no skill in symmetrical sculpture and had to work out just how to do this from scratch. What I came up with was a combination of hybrid techniques that would give me a guide to work to as it progressed.
Living halfway up the country I didn’t have direct access to Penkevyll so I bought a digital model of a horse’s skull. I was lucky that one was available! I brought this into Cinema 4D, a program I’ve used in the past for digital modelling. It was used for the dragons in the Harry Potter films so it’s a really versatile program. I scaled the skull to size using photographs of Penk’s skull next to her ‘Rider’ so the small one would be the appropriate size next to the Teazer doll. The important first stage was to build the basic skull from a series of cross sections taken from the digital model, printed out of the computer then cut from a material called ‘Plasticard’. I found out about this from a friend who does a lot of model railway modelling. I hadn’t a clue what materials I’d need so this was the first step of many like this. All the cross sections had to be kept in careful order obviously until I could put them together. I used three different kinds of adhesives until I found one that did what I wanted too!
So now we have a rather fragile basic construct that gives us and accurate 3D reference to work on to. That’s the hardest part over. Very scary and very slow, that bit.
Next I used expanding insulation filling. This comes in an aerosol can and is a pig to use! It’s sticky and sloppy and risks distorting the flexible cross sections as it expands between them so I had to scrape some of this gloop out as it started to dry.
It expands so much it pretty much buries the form. However, weight is a major problem with man-animals of any scale and insulation foam gives you form with minimum weight. The adhesive property of the stuff bonds the Plasticard sections together very nicely.
Disgusting isn’t it? So now I could cut and sand the foam away back down to the surface of the cross sections without distorting the base of the shape. Now I had an accurate, symmetrical 3D shape.
Although I had a stable form it was still quite fragile so I had to coat it with something to give it strength. I opted for something like polyfiller. This was quite heavy at first but, being water based, it dried much lighter. I skinned this one and sanded it back as much as I could to retain the outline of the underlying form.
I’d been looking forward to this part. I love the delicate, architectural form of skulls, especially rodent and bird skulls.
The orbits of the eye sockets are particularly lovely and as the form refined I spent a lot of time just enjoying running my hands over the emerging shape. The more I did though, the more there seemed to be that needed doing! It’s just as well I didn’t have a deadline for this.
The fine point at the top of the nose was another piece of Plasticard which I embedded.
This brings me to the final ‘skin’. It had to be strong and light while being smooth, being able to take detail well and giving a good surface for paint. I found the perfect material. Called ‘Miliput’, it’s a two-part epoxy putty. Once I got it stretched onto the surface, working it carefully across the form, flattening and smoothing, I found that working with wet fingers makes it very smooth, taking out any finger marks and smoothing out irregularities in thickness beautifully! Once cured, it’s very hard; sands well and takes detail very well.
The teeth posed a bit of a problem. I opted for Plasticard again. To bend the teeth around the curve of the skull I heated the ‘denture’ in very hot water. Fortunately Plasticard is a thermoplastic so once heated and shaped, it will cool to that new shape and can be glued in position without it trying to flex back again.
To my delight the jaw fitted perfectly! All that slavish measuring and cutting at the beginning had paid off. Just as well, because to correct something like that in three dimensions would have been a nightmare. I drilled and hinged the jaw using a piece of coat hanger wire. All the usual bits and bobs that Animal keepers end up resorting to!
When it came to the eyes I decided to print directly from the photos of Penkevyll. Cassandra and Laetitia took such good pictures that I was able, correcting for distortion, to copy and scale the eyes straight from those. They were glued onto disks of Miliput and varnished to keep them bright and lively.
Since my fine art days I’ve always preferred alkyd paints. They have the depth and transparency of oils but dry much, much faster. They’ll go onto practically any surface and can be layered and glazed for depth and subtlety. Perfect for bone, then, as it’s such a tricky colour and changeable under different lights. Alkyd can take care of all that.
Finally the ears. I carefully copied the profile (thanks again to lots of rapid feedback from Cassandra!) for the ears and cut them from black leather.
Then came the support for the head. Tricky. Traditionally I’d always kept the internal bits of my Animal in my Green Oak days, strictly schtum. So it goes a bit against the grain. Nevertheless, this is essentially an archive piece so on we go. Although Penkevyll has a harness support, the doll would not be able to support this Animal so I had to think of an alternative. Pole mounted heads are traditional so I went with that option as it could be set to take the weight off the doll. I nobly sacrificed one of my metal walking poles. Let me tell you, aircraft aluminium is a pain to saw!!
Ears, jaw strung and working and staff mounted. Ready for the off! It’s been a long project but very enjoyable. I was able to test some ideas and see how much I’d retained of my skills. Truth to tell it was hard on the hands (as I’d suspected) and when I occasionally overdid it I had to take a few days off. But in the end I got a result that I was very happy with.
Next she was shipped to Cornwall to be properly dressed and coiffed by Latham-Jones Haute Couture. And a magnificent job they did too! See Cassandra’s pictures.
Photos in a moment. Once we’d got over oohing and ahhing over Chris’s remarkable work we set to finishing off the dolls. Together we managed to lash the doll to its accompanying pole, secured the ears and the mane that I had painstakingly woven loads of tatters into, and then Laetitia sewed on her gown which was lovingly covered in tatters.
Here’s a close-up of Little Penk’s head showing the skill of Chris’s work:
Then we introduced Little Penk to Penkevyll…
This is when we realised that Little Penk was looking far too neat, so I set to with a pair of scissors and made her tatters more ragged and more in keeping with the ethos of Boekka. Here are the final photos of all the dolls and Penkevyll together.
At last we were finished! Both me and Laetitia agreed that we didn’t want to trust the Post Office with delivering our finely crafted Oss & Teazer dolls – we had awful visions of them throwing the parcels across the room and ruining all that hard work. So I sent a deliberately tantalising email to Simon Costin and asked him when was he next down to the Museum of Witchcraft at Boscastle, as we had something very delicate and fragile with a guaranteed ‘Wow’ factor to deliver to him. It worked beautifully and we successfully delivered the dolls (which we had become quite attached to over the months) to the Museum. Here we are presenting Simon with them:
To directly quote Simon, ” Thank you so much for coming over with your wonderful creations! They really are spectacular.” It was well worth all the hard work and we look forward to seeing the dolls displayed within the next exhibition of the Museum of British Folklore. It’s good to know that you are producing something that will be preserved for prosperity and displayed within a museum environment.
Sadly this post will start off on a slightly negative note, but will hopefully soon rise above that and develop into something much more interesting.
About six months ago I was contacted by the Museum of Witchcraft managers and informed that the soundtrack to the Wisewoman’s Cottage tableau which I had narrated was being replaced by another that had been created by some of the Friends of the Museum. Although I was initially rather miffed that I hadn’t been consulted before this decision was made, I did agree that it had been a long time since the original recording and that it was time for new material.
Then just recently a link to Gemma Gary’s blog was circulated via the Museum’s Facebook page where it described the update of Joan’s Cottage by herself and others. Upon reading it I decided to rise above the rather disparaging comments made about the previous soundtrack, as everyone is entitled to their personal opinions, although I’ve never understood why some feel the need to denigrate what preceded them; however I couldn’t ignore what was an inaccuracy within the text. I politely pointed out to the Museum that despite what was stated, I did not get paid for narrating but gave my time and energy freely, and asked for the mistake to be rectified. The Museum duly got back to me and said that they would contact Gemma Gary and wrote an explanatory note on their blog page (where Gemma’s link had also been posted).
Please note: If you follow the link to the article, you will see that it suggests that the person who provided the previous incarnation of Joan’s voice (Cassandra Latham Jones) was paid. In fact, she gave her time voluntarily. We remain grateful to everyone who has been involved in any project which has been of benefit to the Museum.
All well and good I thought, sorted without any complications. Wrong! 😦
Far from discreetly amending her text, Gemma Gary in her wisdom chose to ‘up the ante’ and escalate the whole situation by writing the following:
“For many years now, visitors to the Museum have been able to hear the voice paid to represent ‘Old Joan’ [18/8/15 it has been brought to my attention that the provider of this voice claims to have volunteered her time. She was in fact paid to do ‘promotional work’ for the Museum. It was my understanding that the recording was part of this work] reciting (with the incongruous inclusion of the odd cold and sinister cackle) an extraordinary and wonderful collection of verbal charms and spells,”
This, a blatantly untrue statement, is ludicrous when one considers that Gemma Gary was not present, or ever involved in any of these events which happened nearly 20 years ago. No-one knows better than I, whether I was paid or not! Furthermore, I have never been paid for any promotional work for the Museum. Someone needs to check the veracity of their so called ‘facts’. As a direct result of this, Gemma Gary’s blog links were removed by the Museum from both the Facebook group and the Museum’s blog. It remains to be seen whether that lie stays within her blog – but whilst it remains I think it says more about Gemma Gary than it does about me.
Anyway, enough of all this unpleasantness and on to more interesting things. Although these events had unsettled me it did make me think about whether it might be a good idea to share exactly what did happen all that time ago as it’s quite an interesting tale. Certainly it would add a bit more clarity, and might even avoid future inaccuracies and assumptions from certain quarters.
Let’s go back to the late nineties, to 1997 to be exact. I had a phone call from Graham King who had recently purchased the Museum of Witchcraft from Cecil Williamson in Boscastle. As a result of this call Graham came down and stayed overnight in my cottage in order to speak at our Pagan Moot later that evening. It was the start of a long and stimulating friendship with Graham, the Museum and countless others who helped him initially to revamp the Museum in those early days.
One of the main objectives in the Museum’s transformation was the removal of the rather disturbing (to some) and sensationalist ‘Dennis Wheatley style’ tableaux. These incidentally were fascinating to deconstruct, as some very unusual and enigmatic items came to light which wouldn’t have been seen by the average onlooker passing by. Graham had some very definite ideas of what he wanted to put in their place and a reconstructed Wisewoman’s Cottage was top of the list.
Although Graham had to introduce and purchase a lot of new materials to replace old, outworn things, he wanted to use recycled materials whenever possible. This not only fitted in with his environmentally friendly ethos, but he felt that this would have been the way that a wisewoman would have acted – utilising and reusing the materials available to her. He was absolutely right – at least as far as this particular wisewoman is concerned. 🙂
I remember that there was a lot of discussion about how to get sufficient stones for the building of the cottage walls and how costly they were to obtain. Graham admitted to me that after he had seen where I lived, it gave him inspiration for the Wisewoman’s Cottage planned for the Museum. Just so that you can see what he meant, here’s my cottage as it was back then:
Later that same night there was a storm at sea which managed to find its way into the inner harbour, because when Graham and Liz woke up the next day they found that a huge pile of stones had been deposited by the Museum door by the thrashing waves. It appeared that the wind and sea gods had heard of their plight and had provided what was needed!
Graham and the team set to with gusto to create the inside of the Wisewoman’s cottage with the stones, wood and window frames recycled and/or found in the local dump and any skips they came across on their travels. Once the ‘grunt’ work was achieved I was assigned the job of covering the walls with whitewash and painting the woodwork. At one point Graham remonstrated with me that I was doing too neat a job and to roughen it all up a bit!
Once the cottage was starting to take shape, Graham told me his plans to have a mannequin created of an old woman around age 70 years to represent the wisewoman. He was going to call her Joan in honour and in remembrance of Joan Wytte the Guardian of the Museum (another story!) Graham then asked me whether I would be willing to narrate a soundtape of charms as he specifically wanted a wisewoman to be the voice of Joan on tape. It would mean travelling up to Hampshire to Graham’s friend who owned a sound studio. I readily agreed to this and plans were made to travel within that week.
In the end, four of us travelled up to a small village called Wherwell in Graham’s old van. After a long and bumpy journey, (I think the suspension was a bit dodgy!) we arrived at the White Lion and had a few well-deserved pints and a bite to eat.
The next morning at breakfast we were introduced to a couple of people I hadn’t met before, but who I still know and occasionally see today. It was Paul Broadhurst and Vivienne Shanley. Paul is well-known in the dowsing world as he used to team up and co-wrote with the famous and beloved dowser from Cornwall, Hamish Miller. Vivienne, who was Paul’s partner at that time, was an accomplished artist who has produced many fine works of art, some of which can still be found within the Museum. For example, a beautiful presentation of The Wheel of the Year:
Apparently our services weren’t required until later in the afternoon whilst the studio was being prepared, so we were free to explore the village – which we duly did. There was no question that Wherwell was very picturesque, however as we wandered around the lanes and then the surrounding fields and meadows there was this distinct feeling of unease bordering on unreality…and then the penny dropped. It was Fran, a member of the team at that time who pointed out that in the fields there was a huge amount of dead wood lying around, which down our way in West Cornwall wouldn’t have lasted five minutes. It would have been gathered and collected ready to be stored for kindling and logs for the winter. When we made our way back to the village lanes and walked past all the cottages, we noticed that there were logs stacked ready for open fires and log-burners – but they were uniform and neatly stacked, obviously delivered rather than harvest the same from the fields a few yards away.
When we looked closer, we could see that the thatch and surrounding gardens were manicured and well-controlled – even the climbing ivy was chopped off in a straight line in an attempt to regiment and tidy up nature. We realised that this was one of the places that had been taken over by the affluent who loved the idea of a country idyll often seen in copies of Country Life. They lived in what used to be peasant and farm workers cottages, probably turfing out the locals who now were forced to live on council estates or in urban poverty. It’s an elite fashion craze followed by folks that I call ‘Aga Louts’ or the ‘Green Wellie Brigade’! I heard that in Knightsbridge, London where monied people drive around in needless (considering the terrain) 4 x 4 landrovers known colloquially as ‘Chelsea Tractors’, that they actually use spray on mud to make it look like they’ve been driving across the countryside! I was dumbfounded when I first heard this – and I’m not entirely convinced that this is true…maybe it’s an urban myth (or should that read rural myth?) A perfect example of approbation by the rich of what used to be a peasant/working class culture. This has been mirrored in the occult world too, in my opinion, but that is another story for another day.
Back in Wherwell it was time to attend the recording session. Firstly there was the Pagan Chants for background music to the Museum which was to be performed by Liz Crow and her friend Heike Robertson which was worked on and successfully completed after about an hour or so. Then it was my turn.
I had my script of sayings and charms compiled by Levannah Morgan which I had familiarised myself with. I am a trained theatre performer, but in one sense I didn’t have to act as such because I was already a working wisewoman. All I had to do was add a few decades to my age as I was in my forties at the time. Fortunately to all concerned I managed to record the whole script on the first take and I was just about to climb down off the stool I was perched on, when Graham’s voice came over the tannoy system -“Can you give us a selection of cackles please Cassandra?” I have to say I was not expecting this, but duly gave them what was asked and then we were all released from our hours of intensive work and spilled out like naughty schoolchildren into the garden outside.
Graham and his friend said that they needed to spend the next day editing, adding sound effects and working on the tapes so we were left to our own devices. Me, Fran and Liz went for a long, relaxing walk down a wooded lane to find what was locally known as the Witch’s Cottage. It was situated as per tradition right on the outskirts of the village far away from any other dwelling. It was a lovely spring evening and Liz gave us a beautiful rendition of ‘Lady of the Woods’. She has a unique poignant quality to her voice and is especially skilled at singing laments.
When we returned it was time for dinner which was followed by an evening at the White Lion Folk Club which was very entertaining. Me and Fran were doing our best to remain upright on this ancient leather sofa that dipped in the middle rather alarmingly – so much so, it felt that you were on one of those Waltzers that spin around at fairgrounds. Mind you, this was probably enhanced by the many excellent real ales we sampled that night! The evening was being facilitated by a rather bossy woman who could only be described as a ‘born-again Redcoat’! You know the sort – they insist that everyone does a turn, in this case, either singing or playing an instrument. Quite frankly Fran and me were incapable of performing anything because we were giggling so much. This seemed to make this woman even more insistent…which made us laugh even more and…well I think you get the picture! In the end she gave it up as a bad job and moved on to someone else, much to our relief and I’m sure to all the others as well!
The next day I emerged rather bleary-eyed. I was sharing a room with Fran and what I didn’t realise was that she snored – very loudly and erratically. I didn’t get much sleep so I was pleased to hear that we were visiting nearby Winchester that day. This gave me the opportunity to purchase some ear-plugs – and I haven’t travelled anywhere without them since!
Before that we visited St Catherine’s Hill where there was a huge labyrinth cut into the turf on the summit of the hill. I spent a spell-binding 20 mins walking that mazed path and, as usual when I do such things, felt my energy and consciousness shift into another level.
Winchester is the ancient capital of Wessex and you could feel history all around in spite of a lot of 21st Century trappings crowding the space. I was entranced by Winchester Great Hall with its famous Round Table and was amused to find when I emerged into the yard, Liz madly rummaging through a skip she had found there. She emerged victorious with yet another foraged prize for the Museum. 🙂
Soon it was time to return to Wherwell and to Graham who was well pleased with how the sound tapes had turned out. We all returned to Boscastle that night battling through a seriously thick fog to the Museum, tired out but with a strong sense of achievement.
A few weeks later the commissioned mannequin arrived and was carefully and appropriately dressed by us girls and there was Old Joan ensconced within her newly crafted cottage and looking very much at home. I have to admit that I was startled by her appearance at first because the finished Joan bore an uncanny resemblance to Rowena Cade (Creator of the Minack Theatre) who I had nursed about fifteen years ago. It was all feeling a bit weird and deja-vu ish, especially when the soundtrack started up. I felt like I was in the middle of an episode from the Twilight Zone!
I have included this link because this film commissioned for the Museum wonderfully conjures up the atmosphere of this unique place – it also contains some excerpts of the original Wisewoman tape.
So here we are back in 2015 and things have moved on. Graham has handed the Museum on to a new owner who is redesigning a lot of the presentation of the exhibits into a more up-to-date genre. Joan’s voice is now different and is now more motherly and I suppose as a result, more acceptable/accessible – although to be honest I have heard some call it “a bit like Jackanory”. I guess in comparison I would have sounded something like Granny Weatherwax (without the cackle!) but I make no apologies for being ‘Old School’. That’s the one thing we can always guarantee – All Things Will Change. 🙂
Update – Candlemas 2019
Several months ago Simon Costin, presented me with the last remaining copy of the Wisewoman Spells and Charms soundtrack that was created for Joan’s Cottage in the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic in 1997. Recently, Laetitia had one of her brainwaves…
There are many people who have bewailed the loss of the original soundtrack, and those who have yet to hear it. Being that the CD is no longer in the public domain we thought we would create a video filmed in my cottage using the soundtrack in the background whilst I worked at the hearth. I’m nearly 70 now so much closer in age to what I was attempting to portray all those years ago. The footage is not of the highest quality due to the spirits as usual playing around but then I’m used to that sort of thing when I work. However, it is atmospheric with no gimmicks or techno-wizardry to distract from the energies evoked. Here’s the finished video – we hope you enjoy it.