UWE Bristol's Regional History Centre launches its first film

Issue date: 21 January 2015

The Ballad of Johny Walford, is the first film from UWE Bristol's Regional History Centre. It marks a landmark development in the centre's approach to historical research, which is strongly focused on public engagement and knowledge exchange with partners in the arts, heritage and cultural sectors.

RHC director, Steve Poole has been working with sculptor/sound designer Michael Fairfax and poet Ralph Hoyte at two sites: Walford's Gibbet, above Nether Stowey in the Quantock Hills and site of the execution of John Walford for murder in 1789, and Arn Hill, above Warminster, where two farm labourers were hanged, also for murder, in 1813.

Live performances, featuring an historical talk and a unique poetry and sound performance, were staged in November at Over Stowey Village Hall and at Warminster Library.

The film – released this week – interprets these live performances which focused on the execution and gibbeting (exhibiting felon's bodies in iron cages at the scene of their crimes) of John Walford, for the murder of his wife Jane, in 1789. The hanging and gibbeting of felons at the scene of their crime was occasionally resorted to in the Georgian period, an effort to bring the full weight of the law to remote rural areas. They were elaborate processional occasions and designed to create a lasting impact in disorderly parishes.

Romancing the Gibbet is a collaborative project through which original historical research, poetry and experimental sound are melded together to make unique public performances at the sites of Georgian crime-scene executions in the West Country.

Steve hopes to continue to work with Michael and Ralph to extend this innovative history project over the next year. Steve said, “Over the coming year, we'll continue exploring these sites in the landscape, walking the routes, talking to local communities and collecting material so that gradually we're able to build a coherent sense of these emotionally powerful sites.”

The film can be accessed here: http://vimeo.com/113942263

The short film was commissioned from film-maker Nathan Hughes as part of the Centre's 'Being Human: A Festival of the Humanities' project, Romancing the Gibbet.

For further information about the Regional History Centre and how you can get involved in its work, see: http://www1.uwe.ac.uk/cahe/research/regionalhistorycentre.aspx

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