Lancaster Priory is hosting a new site-specific performance/installation by the award-winning artist and researcher Louise Ann Wilson to mark the centenary of the end of World War One.
To reflect on lives forever changed by conflict and the loss of those who never returned home to Lancaster 'Returning, We Hear The Larks’ uses artefacts and objects found in and associated with Lancaster Priory, including memorial-texts, photographs, film, poetry and music combined with a beautiful, community-made paper installation of red roses, to create a memorable immersive performance installation. Louise Ann Wilson is bringing the local community together and working alongside musicians from Lancaster Priory choir.
'Returning, We Hear The Larks’ will form part of the popular “Light Up Lancaster” celebrations on Friday 2 and Saturday 3 November and will continue throughout the following week to be a part of the Remembrance weekend and The Battle’s Over national commemoration of the Armistice which marked the end of hostilities on 11 November 1918.
The performance-installation incorporates an installation of prayer kneelers and prayer books interlaced with 2,000 hand-made paper roses placed in front of the altar. A film will be projected on the front of the altar. This film layers archive film footage from the North West Film Archive of the King’s Own Royal Lancaster Regiment leaving Lancaster for the front with two photographs of the Lancaster Priory bell ringers (see below). One photograph, taken in 1887, shows a band of all male bell ringers whilst the other, taken on Armistice Day 1918, shows four of these same men – now much older – but an absence of younger men. Instead, six young women have joined the band to fill the gaps left the male bell ringers who had not yet returned from action or were killed in the war. ‘Telling’ the story of war and its impact.
The sound of larks and distant church bells will fill the air. A new choral version of the poem “Returning, We Hear The Larks” composed by Don Gillthorpe (the Priory Director of Music) will be sung by the Priory choir. This poem was written in the trenches by Isaac Rosenberg – a soldier of the King’s Own who was killed in action on 1 April 1918.
In order to create 'Returning, We Hear The Larks’ the highly regarded contemporary artist, Louise Ann Wilson, has brought the local community together in many ways. To make 2,000 red roses based on those that are already part of the fabric of Lancaster Priory. Women of the congregation will be playing the part of women who in 1918 – and due to other conflicts since – yearn for their lost sons, husbands, fathers and lovers.
The still gestures women make are taken from a painting of the Last Supper dedicated to ‘the loving memory of William Haigh Abbott: killed in action at Meteren 18 April 1918 and erected by his father and mother’. The shadow of a soldier will be seen on the Priory bell tower. The Priory will be candlelit with extra lighting effects designed by Brent Lees from The Dukes.
Over the duration of the performance-installation 6,500 red cards, each printed with the name a Kings Own Royal Lancashire Regiment solider who did not return, will be placed on all the pew shelves by visitors. Eventually, all the shelves will be filled.
Local photo restorer, Steve Smith, has restored the two rain damaged photographs of the bell ringers that have inspired Louise’s work.
The Vicar of Lancaster, the Reverend Chris Newlands, has said “It is a huge privilege to host such a spectacular installation to mark this very significant anniversary. Most of the local men who went off to war would have visited the Priory for prayers before getting on the train to depart for training, and ultimately the front line. It is particularly poignant, therefore, to remember them in this place, together with all the fallen on this Centenary celebration of the 1918 Armistice."