Performance and film: 'Origins'

As we have seen, the Scottish soldiers story is not confined to north-east England and south-east Scotland. There is potential to explore some of the themes it raises to a much greater depth within a local historical and geographical context. One project which is doing just that is The Scottish Soldiers, the Ouse Washes; the Origins of Landscape Change in the Fens. Known as Origins, this is a Heritage Lottery-funded local legacy project created by The Word Garden, a not-for-profit community group working in the East Anglia region of the UK.

Here Peter Daldorph (Consultant Environmentalist) and Jean Rees-Lyons (scriptwriter and Project Coordinator) tell us a little more:

‘Origins, inspired by little-known historical events following the Battle of Dunbar in 1650, gave the Word Garden an opportunity to initiate, plan and implement a project of far reaching scientific interest and creative socio-cultural value.

The team, working with local archivists and specialists in the field, is exploring, researching, imagining, and retelling human interest stories drawn from primary and secondary sources, maps, visual images, county records, personal accounts and folk tales. Historical evidence and scientific research from archaeologists and environmentalists is integral to this work.

The primary aim of the Origins project is to tell the story of the Scottish prisoners and their work on the New Bedford River (see Step 4.3) so that it takes its deserved place in the heritage of the people who live in the Cambridgeshire Fens. Alongside others, their labours transformed the landscape and created the place where we live today. We will be researching documents and archives to reconstruct how the Scottish soldiers arrived here, and how they were employed and treated during their time working in the Fens. At the same time we will also study the nature of the landscape at the time, including the physical conditions and natural history, as well as the engineering challenges they faced such the nature of the ground they had to dig and rivers they had to cross. We have also investigated the key individuals involved in the drainage works.

Photograph showing the team on the Ouse WashesThe team on the Ouse Washes © Helena Anderson, Word Garden.

Our work will be presented through performance and film that will form part of a 2-day celebration at Welney Wetland Centre in June 2019. The aim of this event is to bring the historical information to life and make it part of how we see our surroundings. The event will also look to the future of the Fens and, in particular, ways in which the landscape may change, bringing in key stakeholders such as the Environment Agency, Internal Drainage Boards, and Nature Conservation organisations, alongside local historians and the Durham University researchers.

Our inter-disciplinary approach demonstrates how the creative arts can be combined with scientific research to promote innovative and accessible learning across differing levels of ability.

This methodology is relevant to the researcher, to educational bodies, as well as to all those interested in how history is made and how it changes over time. We show the consequences of unforeseen geo-political and economic forces driving the transformation of a unique landscape. As drainage work progressed, it became a site of survival, hostility and turmoil, breaking down and re-creating demographic barriers in its wake.

These historical events, largely neglected with the passage of time, became part of a ‘missing’ history which could have remained lost to living memory.

Origins portrays fictionalised ‘real’ characters, people in places past and present, who are woven with contemporary scientific fact forming evidential and arts-based tools for wide-ranging and in-depth teaching, learning and exploring.’

Share this article:

This article is from the free online course:

Archaeology and the Battle of Dunbar 1650: From the Scottish Battlefield to the New World

Durham University