THE PAST COMES VIVIDLY TO LIFE AT HALIFAX MINSTER

Early in April, the vicar of Halifax asked me:  Could I come up with a scheme to create a variety of Living History figures associated with the Minster, for us to produce a drama in the building?  The concept was for this event to take place on an evening late of June, as part of the Minster’s Summer Festival.   It was quite a challenge.

Firstly, I had to come up with some characters.   How many?  Thinking large, I decided to aim at twelve, which grew to fourteen when another came to mind, and Hilary also wanted to introduce St Benedict, to explain the beginnings of monastic Christianity.  Along the way I have picked up reasonable knowledge as to Halifax’s history, and we used characters from the 12th Century down to the 20th.  Most are quite well known; they included two Tudor vicars: William Rokeby and Robert Holdsworth; Dorothy Waterhouse, who gave the Commonwealth windows to the church; William Herschel, first organist; and Martha Crossley, of Dean Clough.

Secondly, came the script-writing. Each character was to speak for a few minutes about his or her life in relation to the Minster.  Some were easier to choose words for than others.

Thirdly, how were we to cast the characters?   My concept was to use members of the Minster congregation as much as possible; though I doubted I could find enough available.

Fourthly, where might we source the costumes? As a number of our characters were clerical, we could draw on the Minster’s wide selection of vestments for these; and the Bishop of Huddersfield generously lent us a mitre for our archbishop characters.  But what about attiring the non-clerical folk?  For some years I have been supporting performances by the Actors’ Workshop in St James’s Street, and had already offered a fundraising presentation for them in October.  Might their wardrobe mistress help?  With the influence of the Community Foundation for Calderdale, this was achieved.  It was a delight to work with Delia; and with her access to a variety of costumes, plus what I term her magic needle and thread, we were to be greatly blessed.  Delia was also able to play Anne Lister for us; and one of the workshop lads, Jack Boothroyd, was to play a Great War Soldier remarkably well.

The vicar’s vision was for the audience to move around the Minster to meet the diverse characters.  Each of these would be located in a part of the building with which they had a specific connection. We agreed that guests would enter the building via the rarely-used Holdsworth Chapel door.  Logistically, with a number of visitors moving around, it was not feasible to keep to chronological order.

It had always been intended that the performance be given by candlelight, with some additional floodlighting; so a title of Sans Illuminaire was selected by the vicar, as a nod to Son et Lumiere.  Hilary felt we should limit the number of tickets to thirty, as guests would be moving around the Minster.  The performance was scheduled for Friday 30th June, and tickets were sold out several days in advance.   However, permission was given for those who might turn up at the door on the night to be admitted.

Having consulted with those who had agreed to perform, measurements were taken or given. Many required costumes were ready several days in advance, and transported to the Minster.

The main rehearsal was held on the afternoon of the day itself.   It was all quite frantic, but everyone managed to keep their heads.

That night, we ended up with an attendance nearly double the figure expected!  There were one or two minor hiccups; yet, on the whole, things went like clockwork. Additional numbers made movement around the Minster more challenging, and the whole event took nearly two hours rather than ninety minutes, but everyone was very patient.  Along the way, Herschel, played by our organist Graham Gribbin, provided some music ‘he’ had composed.  As the thirteenth local character, Percy Halliday Christie, retired from the front of the nave, the vicar appeared as St Benedict, to explain the beginnings of monastic Christianity.    Following his presentation, a group of choirmen sang the office of Compline from the choir stalls.  It was a magical evening, and feedback was very positive.  I should emphasise that all those who took part, were most obliging to work with, and that they deserve more thanks than I can offer.   When the performance was over, many of us were ready to drop.

We now know of things which need refining for any similar event in the future.  And now, Hilary tells he wants a repeat during the Halifax Heritage Festival in September.  Can we rise to the challenge? Watch this space!

David C Glover – July 2017   

Dates in August to hear David Speaking in Public:

On Wednesday 16th August, probably at 1.30 pm, a celebration will be held at Lister Lane Cemetery on the 175th anniversary of the violence and deaths during the Plug Riots of 1842.  This will include a talk by noted historian Catherine Howe, author of “Halifax 1842: A Year of Crisis”. We hope that both our MP, Holly Lynch, and The Mayor of Calderdale, will be present.  This will be a free event and all are welcome.

On Tuesday 29th August at 8.15 pm, David Glover will be presenting “Old Prints and Views of Halifax from the 18th Century” at The Grayston Unity Bar, 1-3 Wesley Court, opposite the Town Hall porch. Tickets at a minimal cost may be booked in advance on 07947 087823, but kindly bear in mind that capacity is very limited.