Wessex On Screen: The Silence

The Silence is a 2010 BBC 4-episode mini-series set in Bristol, though filmed on Dublin. It tells the story of a young deaf woman who witnesses the murder of a police officer. It was the first starring role for deaf actress Genevieve Barr, who had to learn sign language for the role, as she had previously relied on hearing aids.

The series won Best Supporting Actress awards for its co-star Dervla Kerwan at the Irish Film and Television Awards, and the Golden Dagger Awards. It also won two further IFTAs for its director Dearbhla Walsh, and for its sound design. It was subsequently released on DVD.

Wessex Attractions: Newbury Racecourse

Newbury Racecourse has been located at its current site since 1905, though horse races had been taking place in Newbury for 100 years before that, initially at Enborne Heath and, from 1811, at Woodhay Heath.

The racecourse has its own dedicated railway station on GWR's Reading to Newbury line, with occasional services extending to Bedwyn. Special shuttle trains run from Reading on race days.

The Lodge is a hotel located in the grounds of the racecourse estate, two minutes' walk from the station. It is currently closed due to Covid-19.

The postcode, for satnav purposes, is RG14 7PN.

Wessex Attractions: Saltram

Saltram is a stately homes described by Pevsner as "the most impressive country house in Devon", and built on the site of a much smaller Tudor house. It came to prominence after the Civil War, when it was purchased by George Parker, whose family continue to occupy it until 1951, when it was transferred to the National Trust. It contains a prospect tower that overlooks Plympton harbour.

The estate has since been bisected by both the South Devon Railway and the A38, but remains a popular spot with walkers and cyclists.

The postcode, for satnav purposes, is PL7 1UH.

Wessex in Fiction: Rebels and Traitors

Rebels and Traitors is a historical novel by Lindsey Davis set during the English Civil War, partly in Oxford. At around 750 pages, it is considerably longer than Davis's previous novels, and has been compared in its scope to Gone With The Wind.

The story centres on that staple of civil war fiction, the couple who find themselves on opposite sides of the conflict. However, for most of the novel, they are not a couple in the romantic sense of the word, merely two people whose paths have crossed and who the story tracks separately. Gideon Jukes is a radicalised printer's apprentice from London who joins the New Model Army. Juliana Lovell is the wife of a prominent Royalist from Oxford, Olando, who regards fighting for the King as more important than such trivialities as caring for his wife and children.

The novel has been praised for its meticulous historical research, with some reviewers saying that it is more informative than many a straight historical textbook. However, others have complained that this detracts from the story, which frequently gets interrupted by great infodumps regarding the Rump Parliament or the Levellers. Readers can judge for themselves whether Davis pulls off the tricky balance between entertainment and information.

Essential Wessex: TheTolpuddle Martyrs

We raise the watch-word liberty
We will, we will, we will be free
George Loveless, Liberty

After the Swing Riots (which will be the subject of their own article in due course) led to violent reprisals against the perpetrators, conditions for agricultural labourers in Wessex and elsewhere only got worse. Pay continued to decline in real terms, while expenses did not; a situation that many today will recognise. The peasantry needed to find less confrontational ways to press their grievances.

In the village of Tolpuddle in Dorset, workers formed the Friendly Society of Agricultural Workers in order to band together in protest at their starvation wages. An oath was administered at the home of Thomas Standfield, in front of a picture of skeleton. Officialy, this was a symbol of mortality, but it also served as a veiled threat to oathbreakers.

In 1834, members of the Society were arrested on a trumped-up charge of administering an unlawful oath, and sentenced to transportation to Tasmania. The burgeoning trade union movement organised nationwide protests, and on 14th March 1836, the martyrs were granted full pardons.

This was the first major victory for the unions, and led to great advances in workers' rights that have repercussions to this day. You could say that weekends, paid sick leave and the minimum wage all have their origins in Wessex.