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Hidden Histories - Beacon Hill Arts

2017 Angel Award winners for Best Contribution to a Heritage Project by Young People, the young filmmakers with learning difficulties, autism and additional needs from Beacon Hill Arts, brought to life some notorious characters from Newcastle Castle's colourful past.

Reliving history is a great way to explore the past - especially if it’s horrid! And some pretty horrible drama returned to Newcastle Castle (which was once the scene of terror, betrayal and intrigue) in Beacon Hill Arts' trio of films about some of the ancient castle’s most notorious residents.

The films made by a talented team of film-makers with learning difficulties, autism and additional needs take viewers on a thrilling journey behind the walls of the castle. In partnership with Newcastle Castle, the team at Beacon Hill Arts researched castle dwellers from the dim and distant past, then carried out all aspects of the film-making process - scriptwriting, camera work, directing, acting and editing.

Young filmmakers Adam Fay, Issy Wheeler & Katelyn McKie of Beacon Hill Arts, at The Castle, Newcastle
Young filmmakers Adam Fay, Issy Wheeler & Katelyn McKie of Beacon Hill Arts photographed at The Castle, Newcastle © Historic England

Ripping yarns

The result of their creative labours are three short films and a music production that paint unique and colourful portraits about some very distinctive characters who once dwelled within the castle walls - and they’re not pretty. The Hidden Histories films were funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, Joyce Trust and Hadrian Trust and can be viewed on Newcastle Castle’s website. They are enough to send a chill down your spine. Characters brought to life in the films include:

  • The greedy High Sheriff of Northumberland, Sir William Heron, was a ruthless tax collector and the most feared man in the north of England. When he died in 1258, chroniclers said his soul was 'dragged straight to hell'.
  • Mary Bruce, younger sister of the Scottish warrior king Robert the Bruce, brought some tartan style to her cell in the castle where she was held until her compatriots won the battle against the English at Bannockburn.
  • Humphrey Lisle was a villain who managed to escape from the castle’s jail with his father. He went on the rampage, terrorising the borderlands by kidnapping, duelling, stealing horses and rustling cattle. But, as in all gangster movies, the law finally caught up with him!

Young actress from Beacon Hill Arts dressed in medieval costume to perform in the Hidden Histories filming
Young actress from Beacon Hill Arts performing in one of the Hidden Histories films © Beacon Hill Arts

History lesson

Disabled and autistic people have often been written out of history, so a key aim of the Hidden Histories project - which was funded primarily under the Heritage Lottery Fund’s Young Roots strand with support from the Joyce Trust and Hadrian Trust - was for the young artists to make their own mark on their city’s past by dismantling stereotypes of disability. The film-makers used their unique insights to produce high-quality work for a broad range of audiences.

David Silk, Learning Officer at Newcastle Castle, said: “The young people engaged with the history of the castle through the characters they chose, and were really keen to get the details right - all the way down to finding an authentic 13th-century way of saying ‘Cheers!’ It’s obvious from the films and their attention to detail that they learnt a lot about the history not just of the castle, but of the wider region."

Young actors from Beacon Hill Arts dressed in medieval costume perform in front of the camera as part of the Hidden Histories project
Young actors from Beacon Hill Arts dressed in medieval costume perform in front of the camera as part of the Hidden Histories project © Beacon Hill Arts

Outcomes

The three films and music production created by Beacon Hill Arts brought to life hidden stories from the castle’s past and gave participants a connection with their own history.

The young people developed new skills by researching the historical characters and the eras they lived in. They used a range of methods including a guided tour of the castle and its grounds, internet research and “boxes of delight” (historical props boxes) to learn about the past. The films now form part of an interactive exhibit in the castle’s visitor centre and feature on the Newcastle Castle website. The young people also performed content from the project at The Playhouse, Whitley Bay.

David Silk, Learning Officer at Newcastle Castle, said: “While we have previously engaged with school groups of children with disabilities and autism, it has been great to be able to be involved with a longer and more involved project with such a brilliant product as its outcome. We really hope it encourages more young people with disabilities and autism to consider volunteering or working with us at the castle in future.”

Young filmmaker from Beacon Hill Arts operates the camera as part of the Hidden Histories film project
Young filmmaker from Beacon Hill Arts operates the camera as part of the Hidden Histories film project © Beacon Hill Arts

Why this category?

The Hidden Histories project makes a valuable contribution to the way heritage is taught, and was conducted entirely by young people. The project evolved after Beacon Hill Arts had used the castle as the location for another production. Newcastle Castle was very supportive, and was keen to develop the creative relationship.

The young artists gained knowledge about history and film-making. They improved their research, creative and communication skills while gaining enjoyment from exploring our shared heritage. Comments from project members included “It shows people with learning disabilities that they can make films and act in them. It also shows neurotypical people that we have skills and talent.”

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