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The audience in Dovery Manor Museum, Porlock, were welcomed with wine and canapés in the Great Hall before gathering in the museum’s atmospheric solar, amidst paintings, photographs and reminders of life in Culbone in the time of the potter Waistel Cooper and Tom and Lizzie Cook.

Bill Ball welcomed everyone before asking members of the audience to join in reading Lizzie’s great niece Rose-Marie Ilot Davies’ poem ‘Back to Porlock’. After this they settled back to enjoy an entrancing rendition of ‘O Waly, Waly’ by Chris de Vere Hunt, Bill Ball and Stephanie Blake. Tony Richards set the scene with a description of Culbone with its tiny church, reputed to be the smallest parish church in England. Tony told the stories of Culbone, its myths and its colourful history from the earliest times when monks may have settled there in the 5th Century, having come ashore in Porlock Weir.

Stephanie Blake made a convincing Joan Cooper, relating the tale of a ghostly meeting with the monks in the woods and a Latin chant filled the air as the monk (Mark Palmer) came to tell his tale. Christine de Vere Hunt delighted with a charming reading of The Edge of Exmoor by Rosemary Toeman.

Tony continued his history with tales of the Chaplain of Culbone in 1280 who was charged with murder, for he had struck Albert of Ash such a blow with a hatchet that he fell dead; of outcasts, lepers, Indian charcoal burners and smugglers who have all played their part in the story of Culbone.

During the 100 Year’s War there were French prisoners in Culbone and Nigel Greenwood entertained with his amusing portrayal of a ’filthy’, disheartened, French prisoner yearning for the wine , women and culinary delights of his homeland.

Visitors to Culbone used to pass the big house at Ashley Combe, at one time home to Lord Byron’s daughter Ada Lovelace. Christine Greenwood brought Ada to life with her beautifully told story, her departure marked by an enchanting rendition of Laura Farnell’s arrangement of ‘She Walks in Beauty’ based on a poem by Lord Byron.

Everyone was enthralled as Tony Richards amused and entertained with his own reminiscences of life in the peaceful and enchanted clearing in the woods which is Culbone and of Tom and Lizzie Cook and Waistel and Joan Cooper.

The audience were then transported to Lizzie Cook’s kitchen where Lizzie, amusingly played by Penny Kelham, affectionately chided her husband Tom, convincingly played by Mark Palmer, and entertained her friends and neighbours, Ada Richards (Chris de Vere Hunt), Waistel and Joan Cooper (Nigel Greenwood and Stephanie Blake) to tea. The arrival of some hikers (Christine Greenwood and Bill Ball) enabled Lizzie to provide her renowned West Country welcome and regale them with heart-warming stories of the joys and idiosyncrasies of life in Culbone. Cups of tea, scones, homemade berry jam, clotted cream kept cool in the stream, smiles, chatter and even a few tots of whiskey were shared.

The evening’s entertainment was brought to a close as everyone joined in enthusiastically with a medley of country songs including Heart of Oak, Blow the Wind Southerly, The Ash Grove and Home Sweet Home and Tony Richards delighted the audience with Sweet Nightingale.

Lizzie Cook had the last word as she cut her cake and handed out pieces to the audience -‘Bless you my dears!’

The audience and cast then exchanged reminiscences over coffee and chocolates, ably provided by Fiona Plumstead and her team.

The drama was directed by Lita Strampp. The stories, information and poetry were collected, compiled and written by Lita Strampp with musical contributions from Chris de Vere Hunt. The costumes were created by Marjorie Steeds. The evening brought to a close the 2015 exhibition ‘Lost in the Woods, Culbone In the time of the Cooks and Coopers.’

Whilst Lita Strampp will remain as curator of Dovery Manor Museum, the evening marked the final drama with Lita as writer and director. Lita has written and directed many highly successful plays for the museum over the past ten years and will be a very hard act to follow. Nigel Greenwood thanked Lita for all her magnificent work over the years on behalf of the cast and audiences.

The Culbone Chronicles

Dovery Manor Museum, Doverhay, Porlock, Somerset, TA24 8QB. United Kingdom