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ACT Location Walk, Fordwich, 28th August 2011
It was quite sunny as I drove down to Canterbury, a pleasant drive without too much traffic on the road. That's often the case on the Bank Holiday (public holiday) weekend. People tend to go away on the Friday or Saturday and then come back on the Monday so there's not much traffic on the Sunday.
I got to Fordwich just before 12 and saw that some of the regulars had already started to gather there. We said our hellos and chatted for a bit while we waited for the pub to open at 12. A nice pint of Kent's finest (Shepherd Neame) for a liquid lunch and the weather was looking bright so we sat at the tables in the garden and chatted away as various other people joined us. A few newcomers so we were telling them the sorts of things that they could expect between catching up with what the regulars had been doing since we last met.
But then the rain started. Not too heavy, just enough of it to be a bit of a nuisance. Most people reached for their umbrellas and waterproof coats, but by the time they had them organised - the rain had stopped. It was like that for much of the rest of the day. In that sort of weather I prefer to just wear a light cotton shirt. It dries off quickly enough and my skin is waterproof so a bit of rain doesn't bother me much.
We got started at about 1:30 with a visit to Fordwich Town Hall, just across the road from the pub. Although what you see in the film is very similar to the Town Hall in many ways, not a single frame of the finished film actually contains any shots of or in the Town Hall. Those crafty Archers used it as a basis for what they created back in the studio at Denham.
But it is still an amazing place. Nobody's quite sure exactly when the Town Hall was built, but it's very old. The dendrochronologists have dug into a few beams to try to date them but keep coming up with different dates. Fordwich has, as Thomas Duckett says of Chillingbourne, been a municipal borough since the time of the Domesday Book (1086). Fordwich was the highest navigable point on the River Stour and acted as the port for Canterbury. All the Caen stone that was used to build the original Cathedral was shipped in through Fordwich.
In the film, as they're chasing the glue-man on the Friday evening, we see something sticking out from the right hand side of the Town Hall. That's actually a representation of the crane that was, and can still be seen, on the real Town Hall. That was used to winch goods into and out from the boats that were moored at the quay.
Everyone made their way into the room under the Town Hall where the trustees normally show a DVD giving some of the history of Fordwich. We made a few initial introductions and explained the plans for the day, then we had the DVD player playing the opening of the film from the Carlton DVD. It was a good way to remind people who hadn't seen the film for a while and it set the appropriate mood. We only ran it up to the point where the "pilgrims" go into the Town Hall just to remind them of what it looked like on film at the top of the stairs.
So then it was time to see the real thing, round to the main entrance to the Town Hall - where the door opens straight onto the staircase which takes you up to the courtroom. Everybody paid their £1.50 entrance and there weren't too many of us to risk overloading the place, just under 40 of us - I think the threat of rain kept a lot of people away, we normally start with more than that.
The trustees gave an explanation about how the Town Hall worked, especially as a courtroom. I followed that with a comparison of the real Town Hall and how it was seen in the film, pointing out some of the small differences. Then saying why it was necessary to re-create it in the studio. The main reason being that it is so small (the smallest Town Hall in Britain) they they just couldn't have got all the cameras, lights and sound equipment in there. There is also that big tie beam going across the width of the roof space. That would have severely limited how much they could move the camera.
Time for a couple of playlets. Dragging a few reluctant volunteers from the audience we got them to read out the scene where Bob Johnson meets Thomas Colpeper and then the scene where Alison meets Colpeper. The playlets are a bit of fun and they help to remind people of the scene that was filmed or set at the location where we do them.
After a few questions from the assembled throng and a bit of time for people to explore it we made our way back out to gather again on the quay, between the Town Hall and the pub, the Fordwich Arms. That's where we did the "village idiot" playlet. Although it takes place quite a bit later in the film we reminded people what had happened in the film up until then.
Thence on to Fordwich church. This is the church that Bob goes to on the Sunday with Mr & Mrs Horton. We're fairly sure that the single church bell that was rung was filmed in the church and then as we see Bob and the Hortons coming into the church that was filmed from inside the church. There aren't any shots of the outside of the church in the film.
The church is over 1,000 years old, in parts. It's been added to over the years though but they still have the old box pews inside. It's well worth looking at if you're ever in the area.
Up to the top of the High Street where a road leads off to Elbridge Farm, where Alison is working. That lane also leads to Wickhambreaux where Colpeper's house is to be found.
From the top of the High Street we can take a slow perambulation and admire Fordwich's "Beverley Hills - Home of the stars". Many of the boys involved in the river battle and the three boys named in the credits all lived along there.
At the bottom of the High Street we find the Colpeper Institute. Actually the Manor House but that's where we see the soldiers going to Colpeper's lecture. Again, only the outside of the Manor House was filmed, the interior is back in Denham.
The Manor House is also a significant part of the confusing geography of the film. When Bob talks to Len Smith (General Leslie) we see the Manor House behind him. When Bob looks out of one window of his room at the Hand of Glory he is looking out onto Fordwich High Street. But when he looks out of another window in the same room he is looking out at Wingham, some six miles away - that's a BIG room :)
From the Manor House a short walk along King Street takes us to the other pub in Fordwich, the George and Dragon. This was used for some of the exterior shots of the Hand of Glory and it's also where Micky Powell and some of the crew stayed. What is now their car park is also the field where the boys are seen under the end credits playing with the new football with the money given to them by Sgt Johnson for helping him unmask the glue-man.
And that was the end of our tour of Fordwich. Not so many people there this year, mainly because of the weather I expect. But those who did brave the rain all seemed to have had a good time.
As is usually the case on these things, I don't have time to take any photos myself. I'm too busy chatting to people, shepherding people and making sure nobody gets run over, giving the talks and running the playlets. But we now have our official photographer, Richard Fraser, who always captures the event very well and I'll put his photos on the site as soon as he sorts them out.
See you all on the last Sunday in August next year.
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