Fishermen at heart of Sidmouth play

Folk festival scored hit with community play about Sidmouth’s fishing family

WITH FolkWeek just a fortnight away, it is interesting to see that Seaton are staging their own community play - Winefred - with a cast of roughly 100 local people, next week.

Nineteen years ago during Sidmouth’s Folk Festival of 1992, A Poor Man’s House was staged, involving the same number of actors from the community, writes Naomi Clarke.

Sidmouth’s community play was based on Stephen Reynolds’ account of the fishermen’s lives in the early 1900s and was then transformed into a production by Tim Laycock; the “brilliant success” proved its popularity with the public.

Laycock, who took the role of Reynolds, felt: “There’s always been encouragement to do something experimental at the festival” and took advantage of the opportunity.

Derek Schofield’s book The First Week in August - 50 Years at the Sidmouth Festival, explains it was different to other performances as it was “a full blown play with music and song, which also involved the local community.”

Stephen Reynolds was a well-educated man, who abandoned his middle class wealth to live and work in Sidmouth’s fishing community.

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He came to the seaside town in 1903 and was found sleeping underneath one of local fisherman Bob Woolley’s boats.

Bob upturned the boat and took Reynolds into his family home, where he would stay for years and work as a fisherman.

It seems he had a keen interest in the townspeople as A Poor Man’s House was one of several books Reynolds wrote, basing them on local characters.

A Poor Man’s House, published in 1908, referred to Sidmouth as ‘Seacombe’ and the Woolleys became the ‘Widger’ family.

Sidmouth Museum’s book, Sidmouth – a History, states Reynolds’ account provides a “moving and graphic account of the life of the local fishermen”.

It also includes information on how Tom Woolley and Stephen Reynolds designed Sidmouth’s first motor powered boat together, called the ‘Puffin’.

He later worked as an inspector of fisheries to improve standards in the South West, and was said to argue that a lot can be learnt from working people, he claimed they were “one’s superiors.”

Reynolds died of influenza in 1919 and was buried in Sidmouth’s churchyard, an inscription reads “In memory of Stephen Reynolds, Writer and Fisherman, 1881-1919.”

* Tickets to see Winefred at Seaton Town Hall, from Tuesday, July 26 to Saturday, July 30, can be obtained by calling (01297) 625699 from 10am to 1pm, excluding Sunday.