Tag Archives: Northamptonshire

Bringing tales of folklore back to life

Bringing tales of folklore back to life

Article from: http://www.northantstelegraph.co.uk/news/features/bringing-tales-of-folklore-back-to-life-1-5852902

St Mary's Church, Orlingbury is mentioned in one of Kevan's folklore tales from around Northamptonshir.e

St Mary’s Church, Orlingbury is mentioned in one of Kevan’s folklore tales from around Northamptonshir.e

Have you heard the story about the last witches killed in England? Or the one about the man who bravely fought down a wolf to protect his Northamptonshire village and was buried at 
Orlingbury Church?

To those who have been born and bred in Northamptonshire, there is a chance the answer to these questions might be ‘yes’, as these – and many other – tales have been woven into the folk history of this county.

Describing stories to willing audiences may be a pastime commonly connected with centuries gone by, before the age of computers and TV, but it seems to be having a resurgence, with increasing numbers of storytelling events cropping up in Northamptonshire.

Northampton-born Kevan Manwaring is a professional writer, teacher and storyteller, who also teaches creative writing for the Open University and Skyros Writers’ Lab.

His most recent book, Northamptonshire Folk Tales, has seen him draw together, repeat and sometimes embellish the stories which have been told as folklore in Northamptonshire. Some will be familiar and some less so. Some have seen gaps filled in with imagination and others rely on records of eye witness accounts still in existence.

Kevan, who now lives in Gloucestershire, said: “I was born and grew up in Northampton, in the Delapre area, and I would go for a walk there once or twice a day with my dad and the dogs. He used to tell me about the grey lady of Delapre and that is the first story in the book.

“I used to go on lots of walks and that is when I would daydream and have lots of little adventures. I used to like reading comics and that got the juices flowing. This is something that started from an early age so I have been gathering stories all my life.

“I moved to Bath 20 years ago, but grew up researching this book. As a storyteller rather than a historian, my remit is to tell stories that are worth telling. There are plenty of fragments of folklore, but not all of them make for narrative.

“It is a combination of folklore, local history, archaeology and personal anecdotes. There had to be something there that people find intriguing.

“In all folk tales, the common factor is that they are attached to a strong location; does the story evoke the spirit of the place?

“Because it is attached to a particular place, there is usually a grain of truth which started it all off in the first place.”

Although stories used to be spread through oral tradition alone, social media like Facebook has replaced some of the ways in which people share narratives with one another, Kevan explained.

He said: “Oral tradition was broken up by two world wars but with modern technology it carried on in many different forms, even Facebook has multiple narratives.”

He continued: “I have noticed a real resurgence in storytelling. It has been over the last 20 or 30 years. There has been a revival in this county as story circles have started up. There are hundreds of them around the country. It is a great thing to do; it is very liberating and it builds your confidence up in speaking in public. I encourage people to give it a try.

“Storytelling is a massive reaction to our overly-digitised lives. We spend so much time at a computer or with some kind of device, it is lovely to experience something low tech.

“It is a good thing to have in terms of our mental wellbeing. Stories give you a holiday from your life for a while and it is quite entertaining.”

Kevan’s research has seen him visiting locations mentioned in the book and delving into existing records, for example eye-witness accounts of certain dramatic events.

He explained: “Whenever I have gone to a place I have tried to talk to local people and asked them if they know a local story. They used to say things like ‘that is where the castle used to be’; these things do linger in the consciousness of the area.

“Sometimes in local stories it is not always possible to get continuity, but I find that new stories develop. If people don’t know the history they fill in the gaps.

“With the Great Fire of Northampton, there were eye-witness accounts that I could draw on from the Local History section of the Central Library, but you can’t always get eye-witness accounts or you have to take them with a pinch of salt.

“It was the same with the Last Witches story, there were eye witness accounts of that too.

“The last witches were burned and it was a nasty way to go. Reading the accounts about those poor women, it is really terrible, you get the impression they were forced to sign these confessions, coming up with stuff to feed this appetite for details.

“I got the impression the two women we talk about were pretty feisty.

“Hopefully the story captures the spirit of these women and the rabid nature of the time.”

Extract from Northamptonshire Folk Tales: The Last Witches:

The last two women executed as witches in England are believed to have been Mary Shaw and Elinor Phillips, from Oundle. The pair are said to have been burned alive on the corner of The Racecourse in Northampton.

Kevan described: “It was Saturday, March 17, 1705. Two women in chains were carted to meet their fate at Gallows’ Corner. There was a wildness in the air, whipping the still bare branches into life, reflecting the mood of the crowd which converged the fateful corner, a humming mass, greedy for spectacle, driven by fear and bloodlust…

“Mary Shaw and Elinor Phillips were taken in a cart to their final destination. The crowds were desperate to catch a glimpse of them, at the same time as crossing themselves in fear.

“The doomed pair should have made a pitiful sight – shaven heads, threadbare and filthy smocks, sunken cheeked and hollow-eyed from who knows what unspeakable cruelty, and yet they stood defiantly, holding each other, fending off the scraps and insults thrown at them with dignity.

“Some said they appeared so calm because they had boasted that their master would not suffer them to be executed…”

The work is available in bookshops priced £9.99.

Or direct from The History Press here

Kevan hosts the Stroud Story Supper, last Friday of the month, 7-9pm, Black Book Cafe, Silver Rooms, Nelson St, Stroud. Free. All welcome. Have a go (10 mins or less, without text) or sit back and be entertained.

Creating a spoken word performance to promote a new book

I began performing at the same time I began writing in earnest – back in 1991 – and so it is second nature to me to create a spoken word show based upon my latest publication, Northamptonshire Folk Tales (The History Press, 2013). When I started out I quickly learnt getting folk to read your poetry was like asking them to do your Tax Return (and my early efforts were probably as excruciating), and so I realised that to ‘get my work out there’, I literally had to step up to the mark (or the mic). I started performing at ‘open mic’ events in my old home town, Northampton – badly to begin with, making all the classic beginner mistakes (reading from a text; speaking too low or too fast; avoiding eye contact with the audience; apologising, etc). In a live performance you quickly ascertain what works and what doesn’t. Instant feedback is visceral (clapping, tears, laughter), useful, but nerve-wracking. I learnt (the hard way) that the more effort you put into a ‘reading’, the more the audience appreciate it. Take the effort to learn it by heart, and the audience will generally give you the time of day. Suddenly, your performance has gone up several notches: there’s no paper-barrier between you and the audience; you can make eye-contact; you can use both hands for gesture… All you have to do is remember it!

Fast forward several years – I became Bard of Bath after winning the local eisteddfod in that city back in 1998. I started trying my hand at storytelling – even more terrifying, it seemed, as there’s no ‘script’, no safety net. The storyteller performers extempoire, or completely improvises. I became a professional storyteller in 2000 when I went freelance, getting bookings in schools, libraries, art centres, museums, and so on. I have since performed across Britain, live on BBC TV, and abroad.

After moving to Stroud in late 2010 I worked on a commission for The History Press – a collection of folk tales, as part of their county-by-county series. I opted for Oxfordshire – the ‘bridging’ county between my East Midlands roots and West Country home. For that I collected (and rewrote in my own words) 40 tales – the idea is that each has to be ‘performable’, that is not a verbatim performance script, but written with a sense of orality and aurality. This is where my experience as a spoken word performer cross-fertilised with that of my writing practice. To ‘test’ the material I performed it, whenever possible, to a live audience, before committing it to paper. After the book came out I toured it in venues across Oxfordshire to diverse audiences (Woodstock Bookshop; Alice Day, Guildhall Oxford; Beatnik Albion Bookshop; Oxford Folk Weekend).

Encouraged by the success of Oxfordshire Folk Tales, I wrote a second collection, drawing upon tales from my old home county of Northamptonshire. This was published in October 2013. I am now gearing up for performances based upon this latest book, but I also wanted to offer something different. Looking at my two books I decided I wanted to create a show based upon both. What could link them, beyond the folk tale genre? Earlier this year I took part in a project for Bath Literature Festival – based upon the New Penguin Book of English Folk Songs (Roud; Bishop 2012), local storytellers were asked to re-interpret them as narratives. The show I performed in was entitled rather memorably as ‘Tales of Lust, Infidelity and Bad Living’. Inspired by this, and by the many theme-based shows I have helped co-create with my Bath-and-Stroud-based storytelling group, Fire Springs, over the years, I decided to find a thematic link for the show, and thus was born ‘The Rose and the Snake’, partly inspired by the flowers associated with the respective counties, but also by the sexual politics which run throughout the material (as symbolised by my leitmotifs). Some stories are based on what are called Murder Ballads – and so love, death, revenge, and bizarre magical shenanigans are common tropes. This new show would be a collaboration with folksinger Chantelle Smith, who would complement my stories with ballads, thereby providing sonic texture, i.e. different registers of voice. Previously, when performing solo, I have achieved this by switching from story to poetry (I am no singer, but I am an experienced performance poet). Working with a musician widens out the appeal of the show tremendously. It is hard work, even for a word-junkie like me, to sit through a whole evening of poetry; or long stories, without variation. At sixty minutes, our show is intentionally lean and mean. With over 80 stories and countless ballads to choose from, the different configurations of material are vast – thus offering the possibility of numerous ‘sets’, differentiated according to the time of year, venue, and nature of the event. The Rose and The Snake is now available for ‘weddings, barmitzvahs and christenings’!

originally posted on http://www.open.ac.uk/blogs/WritingTutors/

Kevan is performing at the Bardic Banquet, Northampton, Wed 18 December 2013

Oxfordshire Folk Tales by Kevan Manwaring Northamptonshire Folk TalesAvailable from The History Press

 

Strange Skies

Earlier this year I completed Northamptonshire Folk Tales – originally it had 40 stories in it, folk tales which I had researched and retold in my own words. The editor took out a couple, saying they weren’t ‘folk tales’…. I have included them here (one below and one in next posting) to let you decide. What do you think?

STRANGE SKIES

The truth is out there, in the skies above Northamptonshire! According the many eye-witness accounts (and who is more reliable than a Northamptonian, the very salt of the earth?) ranging across centuries (although mostly late Twentieth for some reason), there are UFOs, UAVs and ETs swarming about the county’s airspace. Having travelled millions of light-years, or hopped-skipped-and-jumped through the dimensions, the alien invasion fleet has singled out the Rose of the Shires for its masterplan, like so episode of Doctor Who (luckily the eleventh/ incarnation hails from the area).

The truth is out there... above Northamptonshire skies - by author

The truth is out there…
above Northamptonshire skies – by author

The county’s skies have been busy for sometime. The first recorded sighting dates back to 1387, when it was recorded: ‘there was a fire in the sky like a burning wheel, emitting fire from above in the shape of fiery beams’. Yet, we must flit through the centuries to the early Eighties to get the fullest account of ‘first contact’ – and a not very pleasant one at that.

It was near Corby in September 1982. A couple were driving to visit a friend, in good spirits – listening to a new local band called Bauhaus on the cassette player – when a sudden light engulfed their car. Everything began to shake and the song was drowned out by a deep vibrating hum. Something was above them. Alarmed, to say the least, they looked out of the window to see a ‘flying object’ suddenly appear out of thin air, cruising parallel to them – as though a Klingon bird of prey had turned off its cloaking device. What this UFO looked like, they did not recall, but the next thing they knew – the engine had died. The car coasted onto the verge. Then, they blacked out.

They found themselves in their friends’ house – somewhat disorientated. Their friend had grown concerned. Where had they got to? Shaken, they were led inside and made cups of strong, sweet tea – the Englishman’s recourse for all emergencies. They were three hours’ late. What had happened…?

They went home, and slept deeply. It was only weeks later that fragments of the memory came back to them – often in vivid, disturbing dreams. The woman recalled being in unfamiliar surroundings and being confronted by two strange creatures ‘three and a half feet tall, hairless, with large, almond-shaped eyes. They had slits for mouths, their skin was greyish colour, and they had no ears – only two little holes for nostrils.’ The woman had found herself lain on a table while a taller entity – this one was seven feet tall – ‘prodded me with a sinister looking surgical implement, and took samples!’ From its mechanism their extended a long needle. She remembered screaming and struggling as it was inserted into her belly. She couldn’t recall anything else – and probably just as well. On reflection, she speculated that the aliens had taken her ovaries for some sinister experiment. Had she been used to breed alien-human guinea pigs? Are they amongst us, even as we speak?

Another remarkable occurrence took place on the July 22nd 2003 in Daventry – a rum town close to Borough Hill, which bristles with aerials like something from the Quatermass Experiment.

It was ten o’clock in the evening, on a warm summer’s night, and a father and son were standing in the backyard. ‘Look at those birds,’ the man commented, pointing at what appeared, at first, to be two odd-looking birds in the sky. They watched as they drew closer until they were almost above their house – they appeared to be two brown jelly-fish like objects ‘about the size of a coin held at arm’s length’. The extraordinary thing was they swam through the sky, pulsating as they went – as though they were swimming – making a ‘swishing’ noise as they did so.

Jelly-fish from outerspace!

This remarkable sighting was reported in that bastion of provincial journalism – the Daventry Express.

At this point, the sceptical amongst you might scoff – where’s the evidence? Well, about an hour earlier a BBC cameraman in Worcestershire filmed footage of similar objects in the sky – what has happened to this film, nobody knows.

Notes: Robert Goodman, in his article ‘UFOs and visitors from outer space’ observed that: ‘UFO sightings are a regular occurrence in Northampton.’ Under the Freedom of Information Act of 2005 27 credible account of unidentifiable airborne objects have been seen in the county since 1998. As a teenager, in the mid-Eighties I remember spotting a mysterious object floating above Delapr Abbey. It turns out so did many other people – also observing something resembling a giant ‘Chinese lantern’ with different colour lights on its edges had been witnessed swooping very low in the sky as though it were losing altitude, emitting sparks and flashes. Peter Hill, in Mysterious Northamptonshire, commenting on the many sightings reflects: ‘it is clear that UFOs are a form of new folklore.’ Of the famous ‘abduction’ of 1982, he said: ‘in many respects these encounters mirror the fairy abductions of bygone eras.’ Accounts of contact or sightings of dragons or fairies, become spaceships and aliens in the twentieth century. It is clear we frame things with the particular paradigmic goggles of our era. Sightings of ‘flying saucers’ were prevalent from the Fifties onwards – gaining frequency in the Eighties and Nineties, when films like Close Encounters of the Third Kind; and The X-Files, were hugely popular. Now, such techno-scientific sightings have gone off the radar. Who knows how they will manifest next? Maybe alien visitors simply use Google Earth these days?

(c) Kevan Manwaring 2013

***Northamptonshire Folk Tales by Kevan Manwaring, The History Press, published October 2013***

Northamptonshire Folk Tales

Take a walk through this county in the heart of England in the entertaining company of a local storyteller. Kevan Manwaring, born and raised in Northampton, regales you with tales ancient and modern. Learn how the farmer outwitted the bogle; how a Queen who lost her head; the Great Fire of Northampton; and the last execution of witches in England. Along the way you will meet incredible characters from history and myth: Boudicca, St Patrick, Robin Hood and Hereward the Wake, Captain Slash, Dionysia the female knight, beasts and angels, cobblers and kings. From fairies to wolves, these illustrated tales are ideal to be read out loud or used as a source book for your own performances.

Northamptonshire Folk Talesis a great companion for any visit to the area, for fascinating days out and for discovering exciting treasures on your doorstep. The ‘Rose of the Shires’ will open before you!

Published: 2013-10-01

ISBN: 9780752467887
£9.99  Order from The History Press