Medieval rat catcher brings a taste of horrible history to Wrexham

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Eagles Meadow Medieval re-enactment duo called Tangwystle who will be taking part in the Wrexham Carnival of Words literary festival in April, which will have a pop-up shop at Eagles Meadow. Pictured are Sid and Joanne Lavender who are respectively the Wise Woman and the Rat Catcher.

A RAT catcher and a “healing” wise woman will bring a taste of horrible history to life when they turn back the clock over 700 years at a Wrexham shopping centre.

Among the stomach-churning ways of curing some basic ailments shoppers will hear about from the time travelling duo is how to cure a cold by chewing on a live rat’s tail and strapping a dead mouse to your head to ward off a bout of ear-ache.

Living historians Joanne and Sid Lavender – better known by their respective medieval handles of Tangwystle Bengrek the rat catcher and wise woman Tegwaret Loyt – will be venturing out into Eagles Meadow to give modern-day shoppers an idea of exactly what it was like to live in the year 1310, a time when pestilence and famine stalked the land.

Their guest appearances will feature in a week-long programme of special activities being staged at the centre as part of Wrexham’s first ever literary festival, called Carnival of Words, from April 18-28.

Eagles Meadow is playing a major role in the festival by hosting a pop-up shop in a prime location on selected days which will be the base for a round of free events with a literary theme.

Amongst the most colourful will be Sid and Joanne, collectively known to fascinated history buffs across North Wales by their performance name of Tangwystle.

They’ve been invited along by one of the carnival’s organisers, Wrexham-based historical fiction writer David McCall, who under the pen name David Ebsworth has written a series of novels on topics from the Zulu War to Jacobite intrigue in the 18th century.

He will be at the shop as resident author for afternoon sessions, telling tales stranger than fiction and discussing with the people who call in their favourite periods from history.

David said: “With Sid playing the rat catcher and Joanne as the wise woman, we’ll be giving a vivid depiction of the medieval period both in the shop and outside in the shopping centre.

“We are delighted to have them as they present a hugely entertaining blend of living history and crowd-pulling anecdotes.”

Sid, 67, and his 62-year-old wife Joanne, who come from Garden Village in Wrexham, are both retired, Sid from his job as a gardener and Joanne from her career as a local government officer.

They’ve been performing as Tangwystle – it means “hostage of fire” in old English – for the past decade because, as Sid explained, they love to help keep the past alive in an interesting way.

He said: “It’s all about communication. History seems to be fading a little from the school curriculum, so we try to interest people with a heady brew of entertainment and education.”

Both he and Joanne dress in completely authentic costume from around 1310, fashioning their smocks, cloaks and leggings as faithfully to the period as they can get using modern materials.

They chose to set their presentation in 1310 because that was the year in which building work finished on Chirk Castle, where they appear regularly as Tangwystle during the summer season.

Sid and Joanne also perform at medieval days, such as the one they are due to attend at Holywell in May, and give talks to groups such as WIs across North Wales.

Sid’s fearsome rat catcher cuts a striking figure with his long gown and bonnet – plus a huge cudgel for killing the unfortunate rodents he captures.

He also carries a small wooden cage containing a ferocious looking rat which, luckily, is not a real one and has the affectionate name of “Touille” after ratatouille, the stewed vegetable dish.

His character is also the purveyor of fake holy relics such as the finger bone of St Peter.

Wife Joanne as the wise woman will be offering advice to Eagles Meadow shoppers on some stomach-churning medieval remedies.

She said: “My character is a wise woman and a healer who has some traditional – and not always very pleasant – cures, such as chewing the tail of a live rat to get rid of the common cold or strapping a dead mouse to the side of your head for three weeks to ward off an ear infection.

“People love hearing about this sort of thing – especially the children – and I’m very much looking forward to passing on the details to people at Eagles Meadow during the Carnival of Words.”

The Eagles Meadow pop-up shop will be open from 11am-3pm on Friday April 10, Saturday April 11, Monday April 13 and then Friday April 17, Saturday April 18, Monday April 20 and Friday April 24.

Tangwystle will be there from 1-3pm every day to pass on their medieval knowledge and on the same days, from 12.15pm, another Carnival of Words committee member Peter Read, a renowned Wrexham poet and playwright, will be poet in residence.

He will be inviting people calling in to select a poem which will then be read out by one of a team of visiting poets, including Tim Humphrey Jones, David Sabacci, Aled Lewis Evans and Rona Campbell.

Peter will also be going out into Eagles Meadow inviting shoppers to add their own lines to a poem he will kick off.

Eagles Meadow centre manager Kevin Critchley said: “Of course, we have no rats at the shopping centre but I know everyone is looking forward very much to learning how they were tackled in medieval times from Sid and Joanne.

“We are delighted to help host Wrexham’s first ever Carnival of Words.

“As a keen reader myself I’m pleased to do all I can to encourage a love of books and the written word.”

Committee member and author David McCall added: “The Carnival of Words grew out of initial discussions our committee had with Dylan Hughes, Wrexham Council’s libraries officer, about coming up with a way of celebrating authors, local and otherwise, and we believe this event will be the perfect way to do that.

“The aim has been to provide an inclusive series of events for anyone who has a passion for books and writing.

“That means we’ve arranged something which is bound to interest people of all ages and backgrounds from Wrexham and further afield.

“We are very grateful to the management at Eagles Meadow for providing the pop-up shop in the shopping centre which will be the perfect base for some of our main activities.”

Events have been arranged at a number of other Wrexham venues, including Glyndwr University, Wrexham Library, Wrexham Memorial Hall, the Saith Seren Welsh centre in the town centre, Gwersyllt Community Resource Centre and Wrexham Rugby Club.

Amongst those on the all-star guest list for the carnival are former Home Secretary Alan Johnson and Wales rugby legend Gareth Thomas, who will lead a question and answer session about his experiences as the first openly gay rugby player, along with authors who’ve written about smash-hit BBC sci-fi show Dr Who.

Another highlight of the week will be a special bus tour around the Wrexham area which will stop off at various landmarks connected with great literary figures from the past, including iconic Victorian novelist H G Wells who penned his masterpiece The Time Machine while teaching at the former Holt Academy.

Programme

April 18, 10am-1 pm: Literary Bus Tour leaves from Wrexham Library to visit sites in and around Wrexham.

April 18, 7-10pm: An evening with Gareth Thomas, Q&A and book signing, Catrin Finch Centre, Glyndwr University.

April 20, 7-10pm: Dinner with Secret Millionaire, author and property developer Kevin Green, who is launching his first book at Wrexham Rugby Club.

April 21: Closed event for Wrexham schools – with children’s author S F Said.

April 21, 12.30-1.15pm: Poetry book launch and reading with Liz Lefroy, Glyndwr University library.

April 21, 7.30pm: Poems & Pints, reminisce with the locals on 150 years of Wrexham FC, Saith Seren, Wrexham town centre.

April 22, from 7pm: Panel discussion with the Murder Squad, authors from the Crime Writers’ Association, Wrexham Library.

April 22, 7pm former Home Secretary Alan Johnson at Gwersyllt Community Resource Centre

April 23, 2-5pm: Writers’ workshops for budding authors, Wrexham Library.

April 23, 5pm – 6.30pm: Local author networking event

April 23, 7-8 pm: World Book Night, welcome by Welsh Assembly Member Ken Skates, children’s story writing competition winners, World Book Night giveaway and guest speaker, Wrexham Library.

April 25, 11am-2pm: Whovian Happenings, family event for fans of Dr Who with  writers Justin Richards and Mark Wright, Catrin Finch Centre, Glyndwr University.

April 25, 2.30-6pm: Romans to Redcoats, popular historical novelists describe their passion for the past and lead light-hearted discussions with the audience, Catrin Finch Centre, Glyndwr University.

April 28, from 7pm: Dirgelwch a Llofruddiaeth, a murder mystery in Welsh, Rhos Library.

Activities at pop up shop at Eagles Meadow

The shop will have displays of books relevant to the Festival, but no sales will take place. We will have programmes, posters and information.

 

Friday, April 10

12:15 to 1pm – Poetry with Tim Humphreys and Un Deg Un writers

1:15 – 3pm – Historical Fiction segment

 

Saturday, April 11

11am to 12pm – Wrexham Myths with children’s storyteller Jude Lennon

12:15 – 1pm – Poetry with David Sabacci and Chester Poets

1:15 – 3pm – Historical Fiction segment

 

Monday, April 13

12:15 – 1pm – Poetry – Aled Lewis Evans with Wrexham Welsh writers – Bilingual event

1:15 – 3pm – Historical Fiction segment

 

Friday, April 17

11:00 to 12pm – Read Aloud Session organised by the Wrexham Library

12:15 – 1pm – Wordy Birdies – a talented female duo of performance poets

1:15 – 3pm – Historical Fiction segment

 

Saturday, April 18

12 – 1pm – TBC

1:15 – 3pm – Historical Fiction segment

 

Monday, April  20

12:15 – 1pm – Rona Campbell and Mold writers

1:15 – 3pm – Historical Fiction segment

 

Friday, April 24

12:15 – 1pm – Peter Read with Wrexham and Ellesmere writers’ groups and the first reading of the People’s Street Poem

1:15 – 3pm – Historical Fiction segment

 

For more information on the Carnival of Words or to be added to the mailing list for updates and notification of ticket sales, email: wrexcarnival@gmail.com. The event is also on Facebook at Wrexham Carnival of Words and Twitter @WrexCarnival #wrexwords. Contact: Debbie Williams or Ann Hughes at Wrexham Library on 01978 292090. Ticket booking through Eventbrite: http://bit.ly/WrexCarnivalEvents.