When Ruth and Lotte came to Halsway


One of the aspects I really enjoy in projects like this one is the Community Engagement as it’s always really interesting to see how the public bring their own ideas to the work.  Recently I was invited to Halsway Manor’s annual Fete to run a shadow puppet workshop and I took along a shadow theatre and a couple of helpers so that the guests could make some of their own puppets and then have ago at their own production.

I was really pleased to see how both the children and adults responded to the puppets. I always feel that my own animation silhouette puppets almost come alive once the lights turn on behind them and its interesting to see the children playing with their puppets and experiencing that little bit of magic once they sit behind the screen and cast their shadows. I like to think that it would have made both Ruth and Lotte smile.

Thanks to Kieran, Lauren and Mollie for all their help on the day.


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Catcheldy: adjective. Changeable or uncertain (Southwest England dialect)


The Castle of Twelve Towers by Ruth Tongue. Copyright Somerset Heritage Centre. Document reference A\CPY/1/2


I know I have been a little quiet over the last couple of weeks, which is due to me working on my animation. However, I thought it might be nice to share with you some images from Ruth Tongue’s book, ‘The Castle of Twelve Towers’.

You may recall I previously mentioned that during my research I had discovered a book, written and illustrated by Ruth Tongue, held at the Somerset Heritage Centre.  The book is dated 25thSeptember 1916, when Ruth would have been 18 years old and is dedicated to ‘My dear old Dad and my Little Mother’. It is a collection of hand written fairy stories and illustrations all completed by Ruth Tongue and it is a real labour of love. Interestingly, many of the illustrations are created on the back of the drawings that Ruth Tongue had created during her art studies at Harrow College.

I have been waiting for permission to share the images of the book with you. Unfortunately, Somerset Archives have been unable to contact the original depositor but have now generously given their permission. You can of course look at the book yourselves, it is held at the Somerset Heritage Centre in Taunton under reference A/CPY/1/2. I am also very pleased to tell you that Halsway Manor have plans underway to introduce images of the book to their own resources.

If you do manage to look at the original book or even spend a moment looking at the photographs of Ruth Tongue’s work I hope you find you are able to appreciate the talent and dedication shown by an 18 year old in completing this work. However, what I would really like to ask you to do is change, or at least be a little less certain, of any belief that her work is unworthy, as she is just a discredited folklorist, and allow me to reintroduce Ruth Tongue to you as a credible artist, performer, writer and lyricist. In short try to be a little more catcheldy in your categorisation of her.

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“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.




Halsway Manor Library


Library c1958 Miss Mardon's Collection
Library 1958 ©Halsway Manor Society


I wanted to take a little time to introduce you to the library at Halsway Manor as it is such a lovely place and filled with diverse and interesting collections.  There is also a large collection of photographs showing Halsway over a number of years so I thought I would include a couple of the library, although it doesn’t have a tiger skin rug anymore and there are lots more books.


Library 1
©Halsway Manor Society

The library is run by Matt who has an in depth knowledge of the collections which is a great help for my research. Matt also recently introduced an online search facitlity to help find items in the archive. Alongside the photographs, there are many items relating to folk music and several quite old book and papers which really give an insight into some of the, now extinct, local traditions. I thought I would include a couple of interesting finds for you.


Traditional Somerset Recipe


Tradition of the Quantocks written approx 1908



Illustrating the origin of vulgar customs 1813
Index of popular customs of the time
Basilisk or Cockatrice myth