|Outside the Old Town Hall, Weymouth [(c) Marloes Visser]
These are two men with a mission. Mark Vine (right) is the author of “The Crabchurch Conspiracy”, a slim but fascinating book that’s now out of print. It tells the story of events in February 1645, at the height of the English Civil War, when the Royalists made an audacious attempt to recapture the twin towns of Weymouth and Melcombe Regis from the Parliamentarians. Steve Booth, on the left, is one of the people, along with Mark, heavily involved in raising money to renovate the Old Town Hall in Weymouth.
|Old Town Hall, Weymouth
Take a look at the website and see what’s going on – the 17 Century building is in desperate need of repair but the council don’t have the funds. So it’s been leased at peppercorn rent to a local group determined to restore the lovely old building to its former glory, and make it available for community use. The happily named GOTHs (Guardians of the Old Town Hall) decided to combine the anniversary of the Crabchurch Conspiracy with a massive fund-raising event. Which is where I came into it.
Mr B and I spent the most amazing weekend in Weymouth at this event. I’d originally bought tickets to the fundraiser because I wanted to hear Professor Ronald Hutton give a lecture on the Civil War, and also see The Dolmen play. This band, local to Weymouth, are fast becoming internationally famous. Their energetic brand of folk-rock has gained them a huge following at home and abroad, and local historian Mark Vine writes many of their lyrics. A few years ago they recorded an album called The Crabchurch Conspiracy, which commemorates all those who lost their lives on both sides in the bloody battles that raged around the twin ports. I became involved when Mark asked for narrators for the evening.I volunteered, and before I knew it, I was judging local schools’ art competitions with Prof. Hutton and doing a joint book signing at Imagine Books!
|Professor Ronald Hutton and Kit Berry judging Beechcroft School’s art work
|Ronald Hutton, Marloes Visser and Kit Berry at Imagine Books, Weymouth
It was lovely to see Ronald again – he’s a great Stonewylde fan and his endorsement graces the final book, Shaman of Stonewylde. He’s Professor of History at Bristol University, and is frequently to be found on the TV. After the book signing, we made our way to Weymouth Beach, where the re-enactment of a battle was taking place (the chosen site being too wet). On the way, Mark Vine showed us many points of interest.
|Kit Berry and Mr B with Mark Vine [(c) Marloes Visser]
|Mr B calling the shots in Weymouth
There were large crowds at the beach watching the soldiers in full costume recreate the fighting. I’m no expert on the costume or weapons, but they looked fantastic! The noise was incredible with muskets creating the most amazing loud bangs which echoed off the stone pier, and thick smoke which added to the atmosphere. The pikes were lethal too – we all kept well back!
|Steve Howl and soldiers in sword combat
|Soldiers with pikes – very long and lethal
|Civil War muskets – so much smoke and noise!
I never did find out the significance of the red and white striped gaiters – does anyone know? Whilst the battle was taking place, Steve Booth and many others were out collecting money from the public, all to go to the Old Town Hall’s renovation.
After a lovely meal at Taloch’s, leader of The Dolmen, we went to Weymouth College and the Bay Theatre, where the evening event had proved to be a sell-out! At this point I was incredibly nervous. Ronald Hutton gave the most fascinating talk about the Civil War – the man is a genius! He talks so knowledgeably and yet so accessibly, and I almost forgot my nerves. Then it was my turn to join him and the band on the stage for the performance of The Crabchurch Conspiracy – a whole album of songs linked by our narration, and all written by Mark Vine.
|Kit Berry with Ronald Hutton and The Dolmen
The lights were blinding – I don’t know how people perform on stage when they can’t see their audience! You just have to hope they’re enjoying it and plough on. I felt a complete amateur amongst such professionals, but then something happened that calmed my nerves. Steve Howl, dressed in full costume (see below) came on to provide sound effects. He fired his musket so loud and so close to me that I squealed! The audience all laughed, much to my embarrassment, but I found that after that my nervousness had vanished. Thanks, Steve!
|Ronald Hutton, Kit Berry and Steve Howl at the Bay Theatre [(c) Bekki Neveah]
It was a wonderful evening, and The Dolmen were brilliant. Mark must have felt very proud hearing his lyrics performed so well, and knowing we were all there thanks to his efforts. He’s a modest man but everyone knew just how much work he, and Steve Booth, had put into making the event happen. I don’t know yet how much was raised towards the Old Town Hall restoration fund, but I’m sure it was substantial as the venue was given for free, along with the performers’ normal fees.
|The Dolmen – brilliant music and energy!
Next year, Mark hopes to get more local schools involved as this is everyone’s history and it’s a fascinating story. Beechcroft School entered the art competition and the children’s artwork was wonderful; Ronald and I found it hard to choose the winners. I certainly hope to be involved again, and this isn’t entirely altruistic! Some of you will know already that my next adult novel will be a slightly supernatural tale set in Weymouth and Portland during the English Civil War. What better way to do research than getting involved with this?
Many thanks to Mark Vine, Steve Booth, The Dolmen, Prof Ronald Hutton, Imagine Books and all the others for such a fantastic weekend. And thanks too to Marloes Visser, manager of The Dolmen, for the use of some of her photos, and also Bekki Neveah of Neveah Hair, Southsea. And the good news: Mark’s book, The Crabchurch Conspiracy, will be reprinted and available again soon!