Barton-upon-Humber is one of Lincolnshire’s many off-the-beaten-path gems. Sitting on the south bank of the Humber Estuary less than an hour’s drive from Lincoln, this historic town has much to offer. It is known for being the southern point of the Humber Bridge, one of the greatest feats of British engineering. But it is the bursting creativity that makes the town so special, from its quirky art centres and craft cottages to the pioneering legacy of local inventors. One captivating way to experience this creative spirit is on the Barton Ghost Walk.
Hosted by South Bank Players, a local theatre company, the Barton Ghost Walk brings tales of the town’s past to life in dramatic fashion. Actors appear in costumes along the way, telling stories of days gone by – and all of this in a spooky, after-dark setting.
The walk runs throughout the winter months, beginning quite fittingly on Halloween. But the 2020/21 season presented its hosts with a challenge. Faced with restrictions that would make the regular experience impossible, the theatre group decided to keep audiences entertained by creating a short film version. Liz Drury, the group’s secretary, tells us how this came about.
The origins of the Barton Ghost Walk
The South Bank Players theatre group has been part of the local community in Barton-upon-Humber for over 30 years. Liz, who has been secretary for much of the time since joining in 2009, says that the group has always had an open door.
“There are no auditions to join, and anybody who wants to get involved either on stage or behind the scenes is very welcome,” she says. “We perform plays, pantomimes and murder mysteries, as well as the Ghost Walk. We have a junior group for younger members and they put on their own productions, as well as joining in as the chorus in our pantos.”
“The first walk was held on Halloween 2002, and it has remained popular ever since.”
The idea for the Barton Ghost Walk was inspired by a similar experience just down the road. “It was researched and written by the same person who wrote the Epworth Ghost Walk,” explains Liz. “This was before my time, so I don’t really know how it came about! The first walk was held on Halloween 2002, and it has remained popular ever since.”
Over the years, the walk has grown and evolved. “Further stories have been added to original script due to our own research, and also due to members of the public telling us stories we haven’t come across before,” Liz says.
How the experience works in normal times
The Barton Ghost Walk runs seasonally each year. After the opening night on Halloween, it continues throughout winter on the last Friday of each month, finishing on the final Friday before the clocks go forward at the end of March.
Participants are guided along the walk by a character known as ‘the Grey Lady’, who tells tales about bygone Barton. “The audience learns quite a lot about the history of the town during the evening,” says Liz.
“The Ghost Walk starts outside Baysgarth House Museum, where the audience meet their ghostly guide,” she continues. “The Grey Lady takes them on a walking tour of Barton that lasts about 75 minutes and takes in a number of spooky locations including two churchyards.
“Along the way, a number of actors in period costume appear and tell their stories. There are also some unexpected surprises from time to time to make the audience jump!”
While the walk has become highly popular with the local community, people have been known to come along from far and wide. “A typical audience would be 20 to 40 people,” says Liz. “Though we’ve had as many as 70 and as few as six!”
Keeping the public entertained through a pandemic
Theatres have been among the hardest hit by the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. And the challenges have been especially difficult for small amateur theatre companies like South Bank Players.
The January Ghost Walk in 2020 was one of the group’s last in-person performances, along with a pantomime during the same month. Bad weather prevented the walk from taking place in February – and we all know what came after that.
“Since then we have been unable to meet in person, and it has been difficult to generate any revenue for the group though we still have outgoings for rent, insurance and maintenance of equipment,” says Liz. “We have been meeting on Zoom to read plays and pantomimes, for which we have encouraged members to dress for their parts, and we’ve held a few quizzes too.”
Despite the trying circumstances, the group has found ways to stay creative and keep the public entertained. “We have recorded a couple of plays that were written by our members as radio plays,” explains Liz. “These have been broadcast on Barton FM, Steel FM (Scunthorpe) and Project Radio (Hull). We have also posted them on our YouTube Channel so they can be listened to at any time.
“We have also been selling DVDs of our play ‘Shelter from the Bombs’ which was filmed in 2019,” she continues. “This was written by member Martin James and was filmed in a real bomb shelter in Barton.”
Then, as the Ghost Walk season approached, the group had an idea how to keep it running.
Filming the Barton Ghost Walk
“When it became obvious that we were heading for another lockdown and we wouldn’t be able to perform the Ghost Walk as usual, we decided to make a film version in early October that we could sell to try and raise a little money for the group,” explains Liz.
Social distancing measures and other restrictions made it a tricky task to film the Ghost Walk. However, the group found ways to navigate the obstacles safely.
“The Grey Lady is the only ghost that is present for the whole walk, and the other ghosts only appear one at a time, so it was quite easy to obey the ‘rule of six’,” Liz recalls. “We created a timetable for the filming and had everyone be ready in their positions for when the Grey Lady and the cameraman reached them.
“The camera operator had to wear a mask of course, but the actors were always at least two metres away from him.”
“It was a lot of fun, even though we couldn’t all be together at once.”
Lighting presented another challenge. The live Ghost Walk takes places after dark, but the team didn’t have the equipment to shoot it in this way. “We had to film during the day because the camera wouldn’t have worked in the dark,” explains Liz. “The film was then darkened up at the editing stage. The only problem with this was that there was far more traffic on a Sunday afternoon than we usually experience on a Friday evening!
“We managed to film most of the walk in one afternoon, but had to film a few sections on a separate day with actors that hadn’t been available. We also had to re-record a short piece that had been ruined by traffic noise.”
A positive response
The Barton Ghost Walk short film – which you can buy online for £5 – has kept the experience alive, and the proceeds have helped the theatre group to keep running through the pandemic.
“We sold access to the film in the run-up to Christmas and a number of people bought it as gifts,” says Liz. “We then advertised it again around the time that the walk would have run in January, and we will do the same for the rest of the ‘season’.
“We had a lovely response from a gentleman who was new to Barton and had really enjoyed learning about the history of the town through our film. Hopefully he will come on the real walk when we run it again.”
Filming the Barton Ghost Walk has given the group some positive memories to take away from a gruelling year. “It was a lot of fun, even though we couldn’t all be together at once,” says Liz. “The Zoom pantomimes have been good for a laugh too – especially one with a pirate theme where everyone turned up on screen in stripy tops and pirate hats!”
The show will go on
Liz is hopeful that the group will be able to meet again in person this year. “Social distancing may be around for a while, which will affect audience sizes and seating arrangements, but if we can get back to rehearsing together that will be something,” she says. “We might have to look at more outdoor performances like the Ghost Walk, as people might feel more comfortable about attending something in the open air rather than an enclosed space.”
So, what does the future look like for the Barton Ghost Walk?
“We hope that the 2021–22 season will be able to go ahead as normal, or at least with the audience wearing masks,” says Liz. “We had added some new stories and effects to the walk for the 2019–20 season, so even if people have been on the walk in the past, they will hear and see something different if they come again.
“Ideally we would like to attract a few more actors to help us with the walk, as since we made our film one of our actors has sadly passed away and another two have moved out of the area.”
The Barton Ghost Walk will celebrate its 20th anniversary next year, which Liz hopes will be a momentous milestone for the group. “We would like to make it the best season ever!”Buy the virtual Barton Ghost Walk for £5
If you would like to learn more about South Bank Players, including information on upcoming performances, joining the group, how to buy DVDs and access video productions, you can visit the website at www.sbplayers.co.uk.
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