Suffragettes to rub shoulders with Anglo-Saxon saints

Morris Men with Morpeth coat of arms from last year
Morris Men with Morpeth coat of arms from last year

SUFFRAGETTES will mingle with Anglo-Saxon saints at this weekend’s 46th Morpeth Northumbrian Gathering, when bonnets, bikes, bards, bells, battleaxes, bands, bagpipes, books and banners will be featured at the town’s annual celebration of local music and traditions.

As 2013 is the centenary of the death of Suffragette Emily Davison, who fell under the hooves of the King’s horse at the 1913 Derby and is buried in St Mary’s Churchyard in Morpeth, there will be special events on the theme of Emily Davison and a strong focus on women during a weekend of 60 activities, including concerts, workshops, dancing sessions, street shows, dialect, craft and competitions.

Organisers are keen to stress that there’ll be plenty of indoor events at central venues such as the Town Hall and Chantry Bagpipe Museum, while those braving the weather can enjoy outdoor fun seeing market stalls and entertainers in the Market Place, battle re-enactments in the park and a storytellers’ garden at the Millennium Green. On all three days local produce and crafts can be found on Market Place stalls and in the Town Hall exhibition where tickets, refreshments and colour programme leaflets are available. Extra outdoor schedules and changes to the programme will be posted on notice boards around the town.

Tomorrow’s evening gala concert, The North Country Lass, will feature local female musicians and singers including Werca’s Folk choir singing leader Sandra Kerr’s new song Emily Inspires, Tom Patterson with his piece Heroine of Morpeth Town, plus BBC Radio 2 Folk Award New Song winner Emily Portman, local champion accordionist Gemma Telfer, descendant of Emily Davison’s family now at Glasgow Music Conservatoire, duo Hautbois with popular songs of 1913 and female rapper dance team Star and Shadow performing the traditional pitman’s sword dance. Ray and Lottie Alexander will take the roles of leading Suffragette supporter George Lansbury MP and Emily Davison herself during the evening.

Earlier in the day tomorrow, there will be family art workshops, Punch and Judy, storytellers, music and costume and dance workshops around the town, with talks by Bridget Gubbins to launch her book about the Mysteries of Morpeth Workhouse, Bryan Jackson telling us about the fiddle tune book of the father of another local heroine, Grace Darling, and an early evening concert, Northumbrian Exchanges, featuring stars of the early music world Jamie Savan, Jacob Heringman, Susanna Pell and Andy Watt on cornett, lute, viol and guitar.

Onlookers are invited to wear Suffragette colours — purple, green and white — for Saturday morning’s pageant, where the hour-long road central closure from 10.45am to 11.45am allows the streets to be lined to help the Morpeth Gadgy (Alex Swailes MBE) welcome the return of Lord Greystoke from Otterburn along with the Gathering’s entertainers and flag-bearers. Visitors are then urged to stay on for the Muckle Day of living history, rapper and clog dancing, puppets, dialect, have-a-go workshops, pub music, performing competitions and storyteller’s garden. The evening Winners’ Concert, headlined by fiddler Stewart Hardy, is followed by the ever-popular barn dance with the Gary Forrest Ceilidh Band.

To avoid having to park in town on Saturday, motorists can use the free park-and-ride facility at County Hall operated by Tiger Tours and Aycliffe Bus Preservation Society.

Can you tell tall tales? Among the many Saturday afternoon competitions is a contest for the new Hoafy Trophy, in memory of the late poet and storyspinner Terry Common. The prize will be awarded at the speaking and dialect session on Saturday afternoon to the person judged to have told the most convincing lie. Terry was famed for keeping tourists in the rural parts of the county enthralled by his far-fetched tales of country life and following his sad death last year his family and the festival organisers have devised the new competition to keep his memory alive. Another staunch Gathering supporter, Fred Brierley, who ran the Saturday singaround for many years, will not be forgotten when the group Beeswing steps in to take his place at the Joiners’ Arms.

As well as marking the Suffragette era, the Gathering also features Anglo-Saxon music, art and stories to herald this summer’s return to the region of the Lindisfarne Gospels.

Re-enactments include both a Suffragette rally on Saturday lunchtime at the Methodist Church and an Anglo-Saxon skirmish in the park on both Saturday and Sunday featuring Time Bandits and new Edinburgh-based group Din Eidyn.

The music and stories of the Anglian era will be performed by Squeak’s Noyse and Sedayne and Rapunzel at various venues across the weekend. Musician Rachael Hales, experienced in both traditional and contemporary music-making, will present a multi-media composition inspired by an ancient legend during Saturday afternoon at the Bagpipe Museum and on Sunday.

For the final evening in the Town Hall, historian and archaeologist Colm O’Brien will tell us about the history and significance of the Lindisfarne Gospels and then after an interval of suitable Anglo-Saxon light refreshments Graeme Lawson will explore the mysteries of the era’s music.

In the North East we have less surviving evidence than in the rest of the country for the musical activity that we know took place in the era of Cuthbert and Edwin. Further down the Anglian coastlands growing echoes of the old pagan songs are emerging from the burial places of kings and their singers, while from County Durham to Kent, glimpses of the earliest chant are recorded on standing monuments and in manuscripts. Archaeologist Graeme Lawson will re-investigate this most musical of archaeology’s cold cases, and with the aid of replica instruments paint a picture of sounds and music which are likely to have enlivened the domestic lives of Northumbrian households from farmsteads to noble houses.

The Gathering’s voluntary committee is grateful to all its supporters and in particular for financial help from individuals, groups and agencies including Morpeth Town Council, Northumberland County Council, Greater Morpeth Development Trust, Heritage Lottery Fund, Arts Council England, BBC Performing Arts Fund and the parish councils of Ulgham, Pegswood and Longhorsley.