Wednesday, 6 May 2015

An evening walk, with history at every turn

© Margaret Manuell, 2015
A view of Tamworth town from the castle grounds

On Wednesday evening, I took a walk round town, through the castle grounds, along the Anker, in a wide circuit before dusk. Arriving home as raindrops fell. This is one of the views from the castle grounds, which are accessed from the town centre.

Although not oldest building in town (I think a tiny chapel in the Wigginton Road residential area dates back to the Saxons) Tamworth Castle is remarkable in that it was a family home from its beginnings until the late 19th century. Built by one of the Norman nobles given land by William I, the last man to conquer Britain, it was 'modernised' by each successive generation, and when the last residents, the Cookes were given notice to quit by their absent landlord Lord Townsend, the property was sold to Tamworth Town Council. This means it is intact, uncommonly for British castles which are usually complete or partial ruins, and today serves as a museum of Tamworth history.

© Margaret Manuell, 2014
Tamworth Castle from the lower gardens 

This basically Norman building was not the first castle on this spot, for the town goes way back in history before then. During Saxon times, King Offa, in the 9th century, made Tamworth his capital, with its own minted coinage, and his castle would have been the mound (motte) with a pallisade enclosure (bailey) with dwellings and a tower.

Tamworth takes its name from the river Tame (nothing to do with the London river Thames - the word was perhaps the name for a river in an earier language), but there is another river runs through Tamworth, the Anker, which joins the Tame in the town, whereafter the river is called the Tame until it eventually becomes one of the tributaries of the Trent, eventually flowing into the Humber on the east coast of England and so into the North Sea. It is the Anker that I follow on my walk, still in the castle grounds, under the road bridges and into what used to be MacGregor Park, which bears the name of a local vicar and town benefactor (William MacGregor, a Scotsman, 1848 - 1937) who not only founded the Tamworth Co-Operative Society, and initiated the movement to raise the money to buy the castle and restore it for the enjoyment of the public; but also set up recreational and educational clubs for young people in the town. Fittingly, the park is now part of the castle grounds. 

Before I finish my walk by completing the circuit to my home, I go underneath the Bolebridge Arches - a multi-arched railway bridge which has carried the Cross-Country rail line since 1839. The Trent Valley line which runs at low level through Tamworth station was built below the earlier line some ten years later. It was on the Trent Valley line that a horrific accident occured which sent a train hurtling into the River Anker, with fatalities and injuries. More at..

Thursday, 23 April 2015

A Community Sharing Event - with Shoebox Theatre

Shoebox Theatre cic, the community theatre I volunteer with in Tamworth, have had a very enjoyable evening in the town library, sharing our current project with a small audience of family, friends of Shoebox and others coming along for the first time to see what we get up to.  

The programme was made up of some of our explorations on the subject of Betrayal & Revenge, a project funded by Awards4All through the National Lottery. We have been improvising on the theme in weekly workshops since January: some serious scenes and others very funny improvisations. I love the way that participants who struggle with the written word (or life in general) come alive in scenes that they have devised and improvised themselves. I wish our politicians could get to grips with the idea that you don't have to be academic to be successful and clever, witty and entertaining. Freed from the burden of the written word, this small motley group from teenagers to elderly adults, only two of whom are professional performers, entertained their audience with energy and dedication. Attendence at workshops and rehearsals is necessarily patchy, and at the final rehearsal we didn't have a full company, but they had individually put in such a lot of work between their last rehearsal and the performance so that it far exceeded my expectations.

The project will continue with a film short on betrayal, and later in the year we will be reprising St George's mummers play at Middleton Hall for Heritage Weekend in September, with some participants tackling this for the first time, although it's been in our repertoire for a number of years. In the long run we hope to be able to take part in the next airing of the Lichfield Mysteries, which, sadly, was postponed this year because their main funder in previous years decided not to renew their commitment this time round. I directed Slaughter of the Innocents for the last performance, in 2012, of the cycle of these mediaeval plays; and took with me from Tamworth four young teenagers  with learning disabilities, to rehearse with a group of Lichfield adults. They were so proud to perform in the city market place and in the cathedral in front of large audiences. They had never done anything like that before, and they inspired me to work with a mixed aged and ability group to take part in the next Mysteries. That's how our current project came about.

If you are interested in following our activities, which are varied, you can find us on Twitter @shoeboxtheatre and follow our Face Book page Shoebox Theatre c.i.c. We also have a website 

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Up to London - a two hour journey for a fifteen minute interview

Despite the headline, I'm not disgruntled. An audition for me is, in addition to the hope of an acting role, the chance of a little excursion, a leisurely journey and a chanceto look again at the changing face of London.


Tweeting from London 1    Off to London. Been a good few weeks.

Tweeting from London 2    Riding on a London bus. A few years since I did that. Bit of a walk at the other end, but it's lovely & sunny, despite gloomy forecast.

Tweeting from London 3    Very jolly audition, which is fitting because it's for a comedy. Ended up close to St Charles Hospital.Worked there 1958 btwn theatre jobs.

Tweeting from London 4    Vote to save lives. Thanks for speaking out on Mediterranean emergency. We need your vote tomorrow. Please !

(Huh! that tweet makes me sound like a Tory supporter - that was part of the wording we were given to use in the petition to resume search & rescue patrols in the Mediterranean to prevent the huge loss of life we are witnessing daily. If we targeted human traffickers as persistently as the international community hunted down the Somali pirate ships taking hostages for ransome, that should get results. Who hears of Somali pirates these days? problem considerably reduced, if not irradicated.)

Tweeting from London 5 Ladbroke Grove, rundown shops,takeaways. Asked passing workman, Coffee shop? without much hope. Pointed to brill little Italian. Real deal.

Tweeting from London 6     London Transport smooth without hitches today, so arrived at audition early, seen promptly, and caught a much earlier train back. Home soon. (edited)

Friday, 17 April 2015

A Visit to Compton Verney

Back home and we find the sunny weather has followed us, so far ourselves to a drive into Warwickshire to the beautiful Capability Brown landscaped grounds, and manor of Compton of Verney a relatively new art gallery. We had promised ourselves a visit to the Canaletto exhibition which was excellent. And here was a new exhibit - a sort of wicker woman.