Recently performed in Hamburg
Three of the finest Irish folktales.
The Children of Lir, The Twelve Wild Geese & Oisin in Tir na nOg.
These tales show the fluidity of Celtic imagination and cover the period from the old religion to Christianity. They are stories of transformation; from human to bird, and from human to immortal.
Recently performed in England
The Odstock Curse
A true story from the village of Odstock near Salisbury. A stolen horse and a curse put on whoever locks a church are the two events behind this dramatic story.
7.30pm Saturday 26th March 2011
at The Memorial Hall, Downton, Nr Salisbury, Wiltshire.
Background information on the performance. For pictures see earlier posts on this blog for 2009 - October.
The Odstock Curse
“[Of the curse] There is no doubt as to the fulfilment.”
Rev Philip Miles, Rector of Odstock 1868 - 1907.
Two events created this story. In 1800 a horse belonging to John Marsh, a carpenter, was stolen from a stable in Steeple Ashton. Joshua Scamp, a respected Gypsy, was arrested on circumstantial evidence and sentenced to be hanged, although he was innocent. In 1859 Mother Lee laid curses on 5 men; Rev Charles Grove, Farmer Hodding, John Hackett and the two Bachelor brothers, and a death curse on anyone locking Odstock church door, a curse which lingered on into the last decade of the 20th century when it was laid to rest.
My performance reveals the links between these two events and tells the human story behind them. It is divided into two parts. The first; 1800 - 1870, is told from the perspective of a 19th century witness to the events. The second: 1870 - 2011 is told looking back from today.
The story is a dramatic and moving one and rightly has a high profile in the folklore of the Salisbury Area. It exists in several versions with slight variations in the facts. The main source for these, and my performance, is the Odstock Blacksmith, Hiram Witt’s, account written down in 1870 when he was 58. He was an eyewitness to some of the events he describes and tells others as if he was. This is well within the ‘rules’ of folk tradition and grounds the teller in the story.
What I have added to the story is my own research into original documents especially those from the Salisbury Lent Assizes of 1801 (which even after 200 years make chilling reading). I have also included information from the Salisbury Journal of that year including an eyewitness account of the hanging. Wherever I could I have also consulted documents which verify places, dates and the names of the protagonists in order to clarify the story.
My aim is to keep the drama and give it as much truth as possible to honour the bravery of Joshua Scamp who wanted above all to save his daughter’s happiness. He was caught in the implacable justice system of his time. It is the human story behind the events which I want to tell. It is hard to de-sensationalise the curse but I should add that in Romany lore, the laying of a curse of this magnitude is a weapon of last resort, and used only when all hope of redress is lost.
It is difficult to authenticate the later parts of the story (after 1870) but there is no doubt as to the unease the curse has inspired locally. This is hardly surprising. Just imagine yourself in the time before the curse was lifted and ask yourself the question “Would you lock the door?”
I heard the story repeated frequently when I was a child. It was ‘the church that must not be locked’. I remember my Great Aunt driving me past the church and telling me the story which she recalled from the 1930’s of the vicar who had locked the door and died and the key being thrown into the river. The road passes the north side of the church and the shadow adds gloom to what is indeed a frightening story. The story of motorcyclist’s accident was told to me in 1986 and in 2006, I first learned about the lifting of the curse in 1992.
The settled population of Odstock in 1851 was only 60 people and some of their descendants still live there which is perhaps why the events herein are so deeply etched in the folk memory. It is also clear that Joshua Scamp is a hero to local people and some believe (curse or no curse) that the door should have remained unlocked out of respect to him. There is, after all, a great deal of symbolism in the locking of something.
© Robert MacCall 2011