Dovery Manor Museum, Doverhay, Porlock, Somerset, TA24 8QB. United Kingdom
Across the Harbour
Guests were welcomed with wine and canapés in the Great Hall before gathering in the museum’s atmospheric solar, to enjoy Chris de Vere Hunt’s inaugural play for the museum, ‘Across the Harbour’,. an evening of tales, poems and music presented by the celebrated Museum Players. The entertainment reflected nine hundred years of people and events passing through Porlock Weir.
Chris de Vere Hunt welcomed everyone before the Lord of the Manor (Tony Richards) and the rector (Bill Ball) recalled the re-opening of the harbour in 1913 after three years of restoration, following the devastation caused by the 1910 storm. The cast joined in with a lusty rendition of ‘Eternal Father Strong to Save’.
Christine Greenwood, as Emily Eliza Ley, skilfully set the scenes throughout the evening, narrating the history of the harbour’s events. The audience were then transported back to 1052 when Portloca, as it was then known, had been frequently invaded by the Danes; Nigel Greenwood’s fierce portrayal of Harold Godwinson caused a powerful audience reaction! The haunting strains of Stephanie’s flute then accompanied Chris de Vere Hunt and Bill Ball, singing a terrible tale of abduction and loss on the Exmoor coast, ‘The Three Danish Galleys’.
Stephanie Blake was a splendid town Crier complete with ‘seventeenth century microphone’ interviewing a distraught Walter Perkins (Mark Palmer) about details of the huge tidal wave that hit this coast in the early 1600s. A most entertaining scene followed with Mark Palmer and Tony Richards furtively including the audience in their secretive goings on of ‘free trading’ or smuggling at the Weir despite the preventive men, persuasively represented by Nigel Greenwood.
The cast then gave a fine a Capella performance of the traditional pump shanty ‘Leave her Johnny, before Stephanie Blake (flute) and Chris de Vere Hunt (guitar) played the haunting Caller Herrin’.
In the 1700s the herring industry was a vital part of trade and industry at Porlock Weir, Bill Ball and Chris de Vere Hunt recounted the history before Stephanie Blake and Penny Kelham combined forces to great effect discussing the hardships of life as a woman in those times, and had the audience laughing with their reactions to the gutting and salting of the fish.
Many Porlock landowners, ship owners and merchants would have played their part in the slave trade; Nigel Greenwood convinced as a wealthy businessman trading in slaves for a nice home and lifestyle whilst his wife, ably played by Penny Kelham, questioned the trade’s morality. The audience were moved by an entrancing rendition of the traditional spiritual ‘Oh Freedom’.
Everyone was fascinated as Tony Richards related the account of the overland launch of the Louisa lifeboat in 1899, Mark Palmer told of the terrible storm of 1910 and Emily Pugsley (Chris de Vere Hunt) the disaster which befell her of her wedding cake being washed away in the storm.
Interspersed were poems from John Betjeman, Tennyson and John Masefield sensitively and sympathetically read by Penny Kelham, Stephanie Blake and Chris de Vere Hunt and three poignant poems especially written for the museum by Rosemary Toeman.
The evening’s entertainment was brought to a close as everyone joined in ‘Across the Harbour’, a hauntingly beautiful Exmoor ballad composed and accompanied by Geoffrey Perkins.
The audience and cast then exchanged reminiscences over coffee and chocolates, ably provided by Fiona Plumstead and her team.
The drama was written and directed by Chris de Vere Hunt and produced by Dovery Manor Museum’s curator Dr. Lita Strampp. The excellent costumes were created by Marjorie Steeds. The evening brought to a close the 2016 exhibition "Set Sail" which recounted the history and stories of the ships and sailing families of Porlock Weir.
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