“Even with primitive materials one can work small wonders” Lotte Reiniger

I wanted to spend a little time giving some context to the work I have been making as part of my Artist Residency. I have previously worked with stop motion animation and have been extremely keen to develop my knowledge in a relevant way as I feel the folk stories cannot really be brought to life using normal 2 dimensional artworks. Obviously Ruth Tongue’s work,  and life story, have had a strong impact upon my work. However, every time I see Halsway Library’s copy of ‘The Chime Child’ I find myself thinking of another artist of that time, Lotte Reiniger.

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Lotte was a German film director who specialised in silhouette animation and was an innovator in her field. Both Ruth and Lotte were strong women working in male dominated industries with their own unique styles.

Reiniger’s animations were created using silhouette cut outs, which are positioned on a flat sheet of glass. However, Reiniger’s creation of the multi-plane camera allowed for these animations to have greater depth than had been seen before. This method of animating uses several planes or levels on which images can be positioned thereby creating a three dimensional aspect to the animation. Although Reiniger invented the multi-plane several years before Walt Disney I have included a link to his film about the multi-plane camera as it explains the process really well, just remember it was Lotte Reiniger who invented the method not Walt Disney!


Keen to try this method of animating I spent an interesting afternoon building my own multi-plane using three picture frames, some wood and some sheets of glass. Once assembled the frame was painted black, to stop any reflections, lights were placed at the bottom of the frame and a camera was fixed facing down. The silhouettes were then placed upon the different planes (sheets of glass) and as the silhouettes are slowly moved photographs were taken to form a stop motion animation. It’s worth mentioning that to get smooth movements the figures are only moved in very small amounts between photographs. I shoot all my animations at a rate of 24 frames per second, which translates to 24 photographs per second of film. I always shoot at night, which helps stabilise the light and stops the film flickering and I like to capture the whole scene in one go, something that I can often result in me working well into the night.

My own version of a multi-plane camera. You can see lights at the bottom and different paper silhouettes on each of the three planes or levels


Photo of scene arranged on the multi-plane. The tree on the right seems furthest away as it is placed upon the bottom plane or layer

It’s an extremely interesting method of animating but the multi-plane camera is just one aspect of Reiniger’s work. Next time I will show you some of her methods of puppet making.




20th August 1789

I have been experimenting with the use of shadows to animate stories from Halsway Manor’s Landscape and have included a test shoot for John Walford’s Gibbet with a soundtrack of Ruth Tongue’s ‘Severn No More,’ sung by Biddy Rhodes.  I am hoping to explore several stories in this manner and want to share some of the facts behind the folktale with you.

It would be possible for me to write a whole blog on John Walford alone, but I thought I would share a couple of documents with you that remind us this is no folktale. Unusually the passage of time has seen this story become heavily romanticised. John Walford is raised up to almost angelic status. He is described as having striking good looks, even in death.  However, his pregnant victim has been vilified, described as slovenly and cunning. John is trapped into marriage and kept from true love. John Walford is the victim of a cunning woman who repeatedly seeks him out leaving him powerless to resist her. To add a little context I would like to add that, at the time of the murder, Jane was heavily pregnant with her second child by John. The first child continued to live in Over Stowey following the murder of her mother and where her father’s body hung from a gibbet on Doddington Common for a year.


John Walford sentence 1789
Copy of John Walford’s Sentencing from Somerset Summer Circuit 1789


As I said earlier the story has been heavily romanticised with claims that the Judge was so distraught at having to deliver the death sentence  he cried during sentencing. Yet, the notes from the Summer Circuit do not show any form of leniency for the prisoner. Walford’s body was initially to be passed to a surgeon for dissection. However, Judge Kenyon later changed this, instructing that Walford’s body would be ‘hung in chains’ on Doddington Green at the place where the offence was committed. Apparently this public display was at the request of the parish due to three murders being committed in the area in living memory.  It is worth mentioning that, for many of the poor, life was very hard. The full document shows several entries for execution and deportation for theft of relatively small items such as a coat.

Lord Kenyon’s bench notes from the trial on 18thAugust contain statements from several witnesses who knew both John and Jane Walford. The notes refer to Jane as Jenny, allowing me to gain a sense of the woman who was so horrifically murdered.  John was clearly acting strangely. Blood was seen on his hand and he had been heard saying that he would either ‘murder her or go from her’. Walford accuses another man of the murder and even implicates his brother ,William, before claiming that Jenny had done him a ‘good chore’ by cutting her own throat. At no point is he seen to express emotion, any shock is perceived by the witnesses as a sham. I couldn’t help notice that none of the witnesses heard John and Jenny arguing before the murder, none of them make any comments that relate to John’s unhappy marriage at the hands of a slovenly or sly creature and none of them, including the two called to speak for John as character witnesses, make any comment regarding his good character.  John Poole, in speaking on John’s behalf, can only say that he had ‘never heard anything about his character (and he had) as good a character as other common Labourers’.


Over Stowey Church Burial Records. Jane Shorney’s Burial is listed at the bottom left of the page.


It is worth noting that although Jenny and John set out for cider from the Castle of Comfort Inn they were not seen there that night and there is nothing to suggest that they were arguing.  I remain unsure how a seemingly premeditated and violent murder of a heavily pregnant wife and mother became anything other than a heinous crime but to answer that I think we would have to consider the influence of Wordsworth, Coleridge and Thomas Poole who, in the years following the murder, will come to have a huge impact on the area

Perhaps Doctor Blake’s account of Jenny’s wounds is all that needs to be said?

I inspected the Body. Large wound in fore part of the neck. It appeared to have been cut with great force, as a mark in one of the bones of the neck.

The windpipe & principal vessels all divided. Must have occasioned death.

I opened the scalp. Found an impact contusion on right Temple. Exhausted blood. Scull materially hurt. Sections in the scull had given way. The injury must have happened by a blow from a large blunt instrument or by a violent fall.

X          She must have died for Death from the consequence of the hurt on the head.

 Evidence of Mr Blake, Surgeon, from Judge Kenyon’s bench notes 

“Let the Curtain Rise!”


The memorial to Frances Gair Wilkinson’s parents at Halsway Manor.


Halsway Manor’s status as the National Centre for Folk Arts started when Frances Gair Wilkinson  purchased the Manor  11thJune 1965. A full history can be found on Halsway Manor’s website.

Frances was an artist and came from an extremely creative and freethinking family. However, I am very interested in the family’s links to puppetry, as it seems a natural progression for my work.

Francis’ Uncle Walter built his own barrow which he took around the country to perform his shows entitled ‘the Peep Show’. He seems tireless in his resolve to master his art and his travels seem to be an act of love rather than necessity


Walter Wilkinson with his travelling puppet show


Walter wrote a series of eight books about his travelling puppet shows which can be found in Halsway’s library.

At the beginning of any project there can be periods of self-doubt, especially when the work is taking a different direction. Walter’s books generously share his own doubts together with his belief that he could master his art. I must say I found his advice to be quite inspiring and very well timed.

 All showmen should make their own figures. Like a picture, a puppet-show should be a work of art, dominated by one personality, organised into a harmonious production of form and colour by one definite style of thought.

                                                                              Walter Wilkinson

In the next post I will let you know how making my own figures is going.

Forgotten Places

I  previously told you about the storyteller, Ruth Tongue and her association with Halsway Manor who hold a large collection of her papers in the library.

It is extremely fortunate that one of Halsway’s volunteers, Biddy Rhodes, knew Miss Tongue. During one of our discussions Biddy very kindly offered to show me the ruins of Miss Tongue’s cottage, which had been destroyed by fire. I will mention that Halsway’s library has a book called ‘The Book of Crowcombe, Bicknoller and Sampford Brett” by Maurice & Joyce Chidgey which contains a picture of the cottage prior to the fire.

Up until its destruction the cottage had featured on maps of the area but, as it has not existed for many years, this is no longer the case. Looking on modern maps you can no longer see Miss Tongue’s cottage.  Boundaries have expanded to erase it; it has become a lost place, reliant upon the memories of a few remaining people for its survival. Of course, similar associations also exist for the work of Ruth Tongue. Luckily some original recordings of her singing exist as part of Halsway Library’s archive and I have shared one of my favourites, ‘Severn No More’ with you as part of a film showing the cottage’s remains. Interestingly, Biddy told me that Ruth Tongue taught her the song when she was a child and would often be encouraged to perform it. During these performances Biddy would be told that the song was a gift to her. I will include more about Biddy’s lovely rendition of the song soon.

IMG_1815 (1)
Biddy Rhodes and Halsway’s librarian, Matt Rose,  outside the ruins of Ruth Tongue’s cottage.




Location, Location, Location

Walford's Gibbet
Test shot for Walford’s Gibbet ©Andrea Oke

The creation of folktales seems, to me, to be heavily influenced by visitors coming to an area.  Within Halsway Manor’s landscape there are several examples of this. Perhaps the most notable seen after the invasions of the of the Danes, resulting in a number of Norse characters, Wild Hunts, Wayland the Blacksmith and several others being added to local folktales. It may be that new visitors to an area are less likely to be affected by the real history of the place and are more open to creating new versions of oral history through the addition of memorable places within the landscape to maximise dramatic effect.

I am wondering if this was the case with the John Walford story, which I shared with you on the last post.  More modern versions of this story consistently give Dead Woman’s Ditch as the place that Walford left his wife’s body.  The correct location of his wife, Jane’s body, was actually some 1.7miles away from Dead Woman’s Ditch as is demonstrated by Lord Kenyon’s bench notes from the trial in 1789:

‘I found the Body of the deceased with a stake by her just as we came into the Turnpike Road in Doddington. Between the Prisoner’s house and the Castle of Comfort, nearer the Castle of Comfort’ John Mogg (Somerset Heritage Trust ref: A\BGE/18)

A similar, but much more recent event happened in 1988 when the body of Shirley Banks was also said to have been left at Dead Woman’s Ditch. I wanted to investigate whether this murder had created any new folk stories being attributed to this place. Luckily Rachel, who is Halsway’s Communications and Programme Manager, not only vividly recalls the events surrounding this crime but was also able to share with me her recollections of its impact on the local people. You can listen to Rachel’s account if you follow the link below:

I always endeavour not to have preconceived ideas in my work. But, every now and again I find myself guilty of making assumptions. This time I had assumed that the project would demonstrate the fluid nature of story telling as each storyteller adds his or her own narrative whilst the landscape has remained unchanged for hundreds of years. However, I am starting to realise that Halsway’s landscape and its folklore seem to have a symbiotic relationship; stories develop, change or are lost but not in isolation they ebb and flow with the landscape and in some cases it is the stories that shape the landscape.




Walford’s Gibbet


Walford’s Gibbet Sign Post


A couple of miles from Halsway is the infamous location of Walford’s Gibbet. Locally this seems to be an extremely well known story and the Internet also has several versions of this story. For those of you not familiar with the tale I will share a version of it now;

John Walford was a local charcoal burner who lived near Over Stowey. His work required him to spend long, lonely hours on the Quantocks where  a slovenly but cunning girl named Jane Shorney visited him. Following her visits Jane became pregnant and John was forced to marry her, forsaking his true love, Anne Rice.

The marriage was not a happy one and one evening, following a visit to the Castle of Comfort Inn John Murdered Jane dumping her body at Dead Woman’s Ditch. The murder happened after only three weeks of marriage.

There followed a trial and John was sentenced to Hang, near the site of the murder and then have his body hung in a gibbet for a year. It is said that John asked to see Anne Rice when he stood at the gallows and they shared a few quiet moments together.

This story and its many variations holds much interest for me. Time has painted John Walford as a wronged man who was forced into marriage and his wife; Jane Shorney carried the blame. Typical of local folklore, many of the facts have been forgotten or changed. As have real locations. But this story is quite unique in that it is an actual event, occurring locally and, as a crime, many of the facts are held in the sessions records for 1789 making it potentially good story to demonstrate the progression of a folk story over time.

As I research the story I will share the facts with you.




Uncovering a Landscape

It has been a little while since my last post but this isn’t down to me enjoying the spring sunshine. I have been researching local folklore and traditions and trying to place them in Halsways landscape. One of the difficulties with this is that, not only have some events been dramatically changed or forgotten over time, but the exact locations have also become a little foggy, not helped by a landscape that has changed over time.

I seem to spend a large amount of time looking at old maps and have taken to wandering, map in hand, across the Quantocks. However, I am inclined to boldly stride off in the completely wrong direction recounting various tales of local history leaving my Husband to match up landmarks and set me on the correct path!

This has led me to the feeling that I need to make it a little easier for other people to find these locations so I have created Halsways folklore landscape which I am sharing with you on the blog. All of the information  has been verified by more than one source and, where possible, by factual accounts. As I continue the research I will add photographs and more information. There will also be blog posts about some of the folklore that will explain in more detail why I am disputing some of the current versions of the stories.

If you want to add anything to the map please let me know. I am happy for the map to evolve. However, as I am trying to uncover the truth behind some of these stories I would be grateful for information about your sources.