Saturday, October 18, 2014

A puppet theatre at Marshbrook

The other day I blogged about the new Radio Times database.

One of the first things I did with it, of course, was search for my favourite places in Shropshire. This threw up some fascinating (and on doubt long wiped) regional radio broadcasts on folklore and farming from the early years of radio. And it confirmed that Down Your Way and Gardners' Question Time visited every settlement in the kingdom twice.

But it also threw up something unexpected. Because in 1969 Home This Afternoon ("A family magazine introduced from the Midlands by David Stevens") included this item:
Hand-in-glove at Fiddler's Folly: Keith Ackrill has been to see Shropshire's only permanent Puppet Theatre, run by Douglas Ward, in a valley near Church Stretton.
A puppet theatre in a valley near Church Stretton? It sounds unlikely, but there really was one.

I found it on the Beresford's Puppets website:
We had heard about Fiddler's Folly, which was over the other side of Shropshire, so we phoned and made a date to visit. It was run by Doug Ward, who had inherited his parents large house along the old road (now just a rutted track, superseded by the A49) from Shrewsbury to Ludlow near Church Stretton. When he was just a lad, his parents had let him use the small, empty, derelict cottage in the garden for a puppet workshop and later a theatre. It was - and still is - a beautiful and quiet site, with very few houses close by and on the edge of the Long Mynd (Mynd - mountain). The picture shows the cottage being renovated; Doug's house was the white house behind. 
Doug's assistant was Hilda Cross who had her own puppet show with which she toured schools and was responsible for the schools side of Fiddler's Folly. She, with the help of her husband Harry, made many of the Folly's puppets. Doug produced and directed the shows and was a good pianist and singer. The cottage was two storied and had a twenty five seat theatre downstairs and an exhibition room upstairs. School classes would visit and half would see the show whilst the other half looked at puppets and had pop and biscuits. ... 
Doug came into some money and decided to renovate the cottage theatre. Much of the work was self help. Son, Chris and I doing a lot of the rewiring and designing of the staging. Chris's then girlfriend, Helen, also helped as a labourer. The raked seating was improved and the staging completely rebuilt so that it extended into the upper floor. 
Many of the summer, public events were held in the garden.
Fiddler's Folly was at Marshbrook, the Onnybrook of Malcolm Saville's Lone Pine books for children.

The estate agent's particulars do not say exactly where the house is, but I suspect it stands on the lane that runs parallel with the railway. This follows the route of a Roman road, and when the lane peters out you can follow the Roman road as a footpath over the hill to Wistanstow.


Anonymous said...

Fiddlers Folly is my house now.

Unknown said...

The theatre was amazing and Doug was also a very talented performer and pianist he did workshops,as well as shows and worked all over Shropshire he would hold cabaret nights on the lawn at fiddlers dolly and it's a shame he's only on the net at the beresford's web worked closely with bert amies who was a county drama officer I lived at fiddlers folly for a while and the memories are wonderfull.thankyou

Anonymous said...

I’m still living at Fiddlers Folly. It’s a beautiful cottage, lovely garden and great location.