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The Battle of Stanhope

I had a meeting with Helen Ward of Jack Drum arts about a new project they plan to run. This will be a community play based on the story of a riot that took place in 1818 in Stanhope, Weardale. The project is Supported by the Adult & Community Learning Fund (ACLF) through the Skills Funding Agency (SFA). There will be workshops aimed at family learning on all aspects of the production. My part would be to introduce a digital dimension to the project. The issue is the civic unrest of 1818 and the plan is to seek to draw a creative cluster around this issue. It therefore, seems that this is an appropriate project for me to feed into the AHRC Creative Clusters project. Below is a fuller description of the project.

1818 may be the closest we’ve ever come to a revolution in Britain, due to a famous riot in a pub in Weardale! “The Battle of Stanhope” as the event has come to be known, took place on December 7th, when starving lead miners and their families stood up for their rights against the Prince Bishop. It was a hard time for the local population as the end of the Napoleonic Wars had seen a drop in demand for bullets. With little work and no state benefits to buffer them against a hard winter, the miners took to poaching on the Bishop’s hunting grounds in greater numbers than usual. The Bishop was furious, and the local landowners and magistrates responded in military style, requesting that the government send troops to root out possible revolutionaries.

Documents from the period are housed in the County Record Office and available for public viewing. They clearly show how every story has two sides. Whilst Lord Darlington describes the poachers as a lawless “Set of Ruffians”, others perceived of them as “laborious and industrious” in a “ragged and starving condition” with only rye bread, coffee and tea for sustenance.

You can make up your own mind by going to see a musical play which tells the whole story. “The Bonny Moorhen” is an award-winning script commissioned by local group Jack Drum Arts, and based on a ballad of the same name. Written by celebrated singer-songwriter Jim Woodland, the play is being performed by members of the local community working in collaboration with professional artists, in a purpose-built theatre inside an agricultural shed on Stanhope Showground. It is an ambitious project which has received support from the Weardale Area Action Partnership along with £66,000 from the government’s Adult and Community Learning Fund via the Skills Funding Agency. Killhope Leadmining Museum is also involved alongside Daleforce, a ‘Cultural Olympiad’ project which aims to improve access to cultural activities for young people in the lead up to and beyond the 2012 Olympics.

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