The Grand Ball of Rosevear
The Isles of Scilly Museum, Community Arts – Commission 2022/23
In the Autumn of 2022 I visited the Isles of Scilly with writer Anna Maria Murphy for some Research and Development about the ‘Grand Ball of Rosevear’. I had first heard about this remarkable event when I listened to a beautiful song written by singer songwriter Chris Lethbridge. I have always been fascinated by the Western Rocks and the tenacity of those who built the Bishop Rock Lighthouse, not just once but three times. Of the incredible, often tragic tales that surround its conception, design, and construction. Stories of wrecks and ghosts alongside accounts of great courage and ingenuity.
Having explained and explored my ideas with Creative Islands, the project moved forward as an Arts Commission for the Isles of Scilly Museum with partners The Five Islands Academy and The St Mary’s Theatre club and by The Arts Council England.
Certificate of Recognition
The Grand Ball Project has been awarded a Certificate of Recognition by Gorsedh Kernow and has been nominated for a Cornwall Heritage Award 2024 for Collaboration.
The animated film ‘Puffins Watch” by Amanda Lorens and children from The Five Islands Academy was selected by the Cornwall Film Festival ‘ Best in The West ‘ category.
The fabulous Story Quilt created by The Lyonese Quilters, staff from the museum and myself has been nominated for Cornwall Heritage Object of the year 2024.
Congratulations everyone who took part in this fabulous Project
The Grand Ball Project:
As a Theatre practitioner and producer, and like others before me, one inspirational story that truly fired my imagination was the tale of ‘The Grand Ball of Rosevear’ cited in the autobiography of Sir James Nicholas Douglass written in 1900. Rosevear being such a wild, desolate, sea quenched and inhospitable island.
What an incredible and unlikely place to hold such an event.
The inhabitants of all Five Islands were invited, or so the story goes. A ‘Ball’ to lift the spirits of everyone that took part. The idea of this historical event is ripe with personal experience, history, intrigue, mystery, music, excitement, dance, festivities, and human connection.
My aim throughout the project was to ignite a creative spark working with and within the community and to watch this ember grow. I wanted to shine a light on the Islands remarkable creative talent that should never be underestimated.
I have been so richly rewarded. The outcomes have been far beyond anything than I could have ever imagined.
There have been so many highlights for me throughout this process that it is hard to name them all, with work created of such exceptional quality.
The Lyonese quilters ‘Story quilt’, tells the story of the building of the Lighthouse using the Trinity house plans from all three builds. The quilt was beautifully designed by Karrie Skaife, with each panel sewn by members of the quilting group with such skill. I was lucky to have been able to add the middle panel the quilt of the ‘Ball’ itself.
It is now exhibited pride of place in The Isles of Scilly Museum
The Five Islands Academy embraced our ideas and together we created a truly inspirational Project week that would be the envy of any school. Working with both Secondary and Primary school students we created a week long, deep learning opportunity for all students. The Workshops were devised and run by Artists and Scientists from both the Islands and the mainland, all experts in their fields. The workshops included Dance – Sally Knight/ Bec Applebee, Science –Shawn Brown. Sculpture – Sue Hill, Animation – Amanda Lorens. With new music, creative writing, print making, singing, bands and much much more.
The week was hugely successful firing the imagination.
The Grand Ball Barn Dance
Central to the project was the idea of the ball itself. Unfortunately we were unable to land on Rosevear as it is now a nature reserve. So instead working with the fantastic local band the Barnacles we created a Nos Lowen style barn dance with a set comprised of tunes that have either been written on Scilly or are influenced by Scilly. This was a first on the Islands. The event was opened by Chris Lethbridge singing his beautiful ballad ‘The Grand Ball’
St Mary’s Theatre Club
The Bishop Rock Lighthouse Play
The treacherous rocks and hidden reefs around the Isles of Scilly are renowned for causing many disastrous shipwrecks throughout history. This new play honours those astonishing men and women who risked their own lives to create a light in the dark; The Bishop Rock Lighthouse. Commissioned by Trinity house the building of this incredible Lighthouse commenced in 1847 and was eventually finished in 1887.
This new theatrical piece celebrates the remarkable building of the Bishop Rock Lighthouse not once – but three times. It tells tales of ordinary men and women achieving extraordinary feats. With characters unique to Scilly and stories of wrecks and ghosts, alongside accounts of great courage and ingenuity. One amazing fact about the build was that not one person was lost during its construction.
The St Mary’s theatre club were one of the major partners of the project. They were looking to do something new and to reignite some enthusiasm within the club after the difficult effects of Covid. They also wanted to attract some new members.
The Club are famous for their Panto’s , so really rose to the challenge, daring to take a leap of faith and to try something completely different. I devised a New Play written by Anna Murphy with extra contributions by brilliant young Scillonian writer Sophie Wainwright. We ended up with a cast of over 40 people that included 14 actors, Two amazing local choirs The St Mary’s based Siren’s and Enys Keur who are based on St Martins. With accompanying music by Piers Lewin played by local musicians Piers, Nick , Chris and myself. With incredible technical support from Jack Chandler from The Old Town Inn.
Together we were able to produce something powerful, funny and deeply moving.which played to a sell out audience.
New musical compositions.
I knew when I started this project that I wanted the incredible St Agnes based composer and musician Piers Lewin to be at its heart. Piers is an incredible talent and can often be found sitting out in the landscape on the Islands with his instruments creating new compositions in response to nature. I commissioned Piers to create a new composition and short film in response to Rosevear Island and the quote from the autobiography. As with all involved he went above and beyond producing two incredible new music films actually filmed (with special permission) on Rosevear Island. His work is stunning.
I am truly thankful to the singers, songwriters, musicians, bunting makers, cake constructors, local council, printers, film makers, artists, fishermen, lobsterpot makers, generous friends, teachers and of course The Isles of Scilly Museum and the Arts Council; everyone who trusted me to shine this light in the dark winter months and who with open hearts offered their time and creativity to make this project such a success. Of a local population of approx 2000 people over 400 people were actively involved.
It has been inspirational, and a truly joyful experience that I will never forget.