If you’ve ever lived or worked in Ormskirk, you are probably aware of the town’s historic bustling market or the imposing statue of Disraeli on Moor Street, opposite the Golden Lion pub. But how many staff and students who have passed through Edge Hill’s doors over the years know who Orme the Viking was or why the church has both a steeple and a spire or about the unsolved murder of two old ladies in the 1950s?
These are just some of the many fascinating, but often forgotten, myths and legends of Ormskirk that are being brought to life in the Festival of Tales, a celebration of the town’s unique heritage organised by West Lancashire Borough Council, the Town Centre Management Group and local businesses, schools and community groups.
As part of Edge Hill’s contribution to the festivities, former Dance and Drama student Alice Lapworth aims to shed light on an age-old mystery with a theatrical extravaganza inspired by the myth of how the Devil’s Wall in Aughton came to be built. Performed by her theatre company, Wives’ Tales, the immersive production tells the story of a local tailor who makes a pact with the devil to save his marriage. The audience are led on a parade through the streets of Ormskirk to the famous Clock Tower, where the performance takes place, weaving in fun facts about the town’s buildings, people and history along the way.
Alice, who co-wrote, directed and choreographed the show, said: “I lived in Ormskirk for three years and stayed in the area after graduation, so I feel a strong affinity with the town. I love to look up at the buildings as I walk around – there’s so much history and each building tells a different story.
“With The Devil’s Wall we want to combine the mythical and the real Ormskirk to give people a better sense of the place they live in. The story is about love, time and identity but, as it’s aimed at families, it’s also exciting with music, dance and a devil made from multiple performers to really bring this folktale to life.”
The performance also includes current Performing Arts students who act as narrators to the tale.
“I had so many amazing opportunities at Edge Hill, I wanted to give something back,” said Alice. “It’s nice to return as a professional and give students the chance to work on large scale public performance and to learn more about their town at the same time.”
Edge Hill is also bringing its expertise in creative writing to the Festival with a collection of short stories for all ages that celebrate Ormskirk’s rich history. From the Viking Orme’s drinking sessions at the Golden Lion to quarrelling sisters and mysterious murders, the tales interpret the town’s folklore in wonderfully imaginative and surprising ways.
Author and Reader in Literary Fiction at Edge Hill, Dr Rodge Glass, was responsible for bringing fellow writers Claire Dean and James Rice to the Festival and also contributed his own story based on the myth of the Viking Orme, after whom the town is named.
He said: “We each chose one of Ormskirk’s myths and legends and then developed our own creative response to it. This is a common approach in fiction writing and something we do with our students all the time. We take a story and create a new piece of work that is inspired by it or responds to it in some way.”
Rodge’s tale is set in modern day Ormskirk and focuses on the Viking Orme, who is 1,000 years old and tells his life story to a young boy he meets while drinking in a local pub.
“It’s a story about memory and the stories we tell ourselves,” said Rodge. “I’m interested in how the past can be fictionalised to make sense of the present and to cope with facing the future. My story uses a mythically old character to uncover the town’s history and explore themes of parenthood, warfare and immigration that are still relevant today.”
He added: “We wanted to draw attention to these hidden folk tales and also show that history is alive and disputed, nothing is concrete, stories are always changing and growing. Our aim was to combine the town’s ancient and recent history to tell these stories that have been part of Ormskirk for the last 1,000 years.”
In December, Rodge, Claire Dean and James Rice, who once worked at Waterstone’s in the town, read extracts from their stories at a special event at Ormskirk’s Chapel Gallery. The stories are available to read online and also in a limited edition publication on sale at the gallery. Extracts from the stories will also be displayed in shop windows during the festive season to enable even more people to learn about Ormskirk’s fascinating history.
The Festival of Tales runs until 5 January 2018 – click here for more details.