Grace A Williams: The Mud Hut Megaphone
“I was drawn to Morpeth Chantry Bagpipe Museum by its unique and active preservation of important local folkloric musical heritage. I have always been interested in the connection between landscape, folklore and indigenous musical traditions; they play a key role in shaping local identity, fostering pride and establishing communities to sustain heritage for future generations.
In the particular context of Morpeth, the living culture of folk musicians, gatherings and piping societies that clearly form a major part of museums contribution to the local community offers a chance to explore temporary architecture during already established annual festivities.
I am suggesting a small floating pavilion on the water of the River Wansbeck adjacent to the Morpeth Chantry Bagpipe Museum. Drawing on the local medieval context and the remains of the medieval bridge still partly visible in the water, the pavilion would be built from simple materials of mud and thatch based on a traditional Celtic round hut, with a wooden base stilting the water. Protruding from the top of the hut, breaking through the thatch is a giant metal unamplified megaphone.
The historic crossing of the toll bridge into Morpeth would be transformed into a ceremonial place for audiences to to stand and listen, as local and international small pipe players perform within the hut and broadcast the incredible sound across the town and towards ‘The Wilds of Wanney’.
The large metal megaphone is ornately decorated with Thomas Bewick’s famous engraving of a Peacock from his ‘A History of British Birds, Volume I (Land Birds), 1797’ as a reference to Northumberland small-pipe player John Peacock. I was struck by the association between the English printmaker Thomas Bewick, who lived and worked in Newcastle, and the history of the performance of the Northumberland Small pipes. Bewick is noted as remarking that “I used to engage John Peacock, our inimitable performer, to play on the Northumberland or Small-pipes; and with his old tunes, his lilts, his pauses, and his variations, I was always excessively pleased.” Bewick’s son Robert is also famously noted as a small pipe player who wrote Bewick’s Pipe Tunes, a collection of tunes for Northumbrian smallpipes.
The creation of a playful temporary architectural space that has multiple references to local site, landscape and the history of the Northumbrian smallpipes offers a unique celebration of the already rich festivities of this musical instrument in Morpeth. Aimed at families, the powerful magnification of sound offered by the metal megaphone offers an atmospheric but joyful spectacle and one that could indeed feature in the Guinness World Records!”
– Grace A Williams
Grace A Williams is an artist and researcher based in London. Her work uses archival material to explore feminist power dynamics in the history of magic, mythology and the occult. Grace holds a PhD from the Birmingham School of Art and has lectured at Birmingham City University, De Montfort University, Royal College of Art, Glasgow School of Art and currently works as part of the Sackler Research Forum at The Courtauld Institute of Art.