Using the rich vehicle of story telling, people will go on a magical journey into the past of Newton Abbot, discovering the story of the screen and how it came to be. What are the secrets that the screen holds? What has it witnessed in the different homes it has decorated? Participants will find out about the story of the screen and will work with a storyteller and dramatist to create their own stories.


From Story-telling Workshop held at Newton Abbot Town Hall on 21 January 2012:
Comments from those involved:
“I really enjoyed telling the story about the King - we’d made a puppet of him at school too”
“I didn’t realise I could still use my imagination. I thought it had dried up years ago”
“It’s so nice to think about Newton Abbot as having a history. How different it must have been when the screen was first made”
“Trains would have come to the station. The screen was already old when that happened”
Artist Tony Gee has been working with children from Bearnes Primary School in the heart of the town. Children worked with Tony and project mentee, Anna, to explore the story of the screen and to make their own fantastical stories about how the screen came to be carved and what messages are held within the screen.The children investigated the messages that the wood carvers hid within their designs and thought about the past, present and future life of the screen. They made wonderful poems, amazing stories and lively puppets of wood carvers, tree spirits and a host of animals that the wood carvers meet on their journey to find the tree from which to carve the Sandford Orleigh screen.

Photos from the two days with Class 2 and Class 3 at Bearnes are now on show on the Workshop Gallery pages.
To view a short video of the workshop at Bearnes, visit the Heart of Oak vimeo Channel,

This is what Tony has said about the work that the children did with him and Anna

Two Days of Inspiration at Bearnes Primary School

On Day One we worked with Years 5 and 6. Together we imagined the story of the screen. We did this by looking at ten photos of restored panels within the screen and trying to imagine the messages that their creators intended to convey from 500 years ago.

This is some of what Years 5 and 6 imagined:

The wooden screens were made by travelling French carvers forced into exile because their religious beliefs did not correspond with the established beliefs in France at the time. For example, they believed that God has a lifespan. Once God was young and one day he will be old. So, wearing the thick blue coats that signified that they were travelling carvers, they crossed the waters to England where chance brings them to the market in Newton Abbot.

It happens that in Newton Abbot at the time where they are happened upon by a rich merchant. The merchant has been dreaming about making a big wooden screen and has been scheming and drawing panels for years without being able to locate craftsmen of sufficient skill to bring his dreams to life. The strange bright blue coats of the exiles catch his attention so he enquires of the foreigners who they are and what their coats mean. When he hears of their plight and how the coats signify that they are travelling master carvers, he is very excited and employs them then and there.

When the carvers see the merchant’s intricate drawings they tell him that they must go and search the locality for a special oak. They find a grove of oaks where Decoy Park is today and in the grove is the tree they are looking for. Over the next few years they stay in Newton Abbot and carve the screen to go into the centre of Newton Abbot in St Leonard’s Chapel.

The Year 5 and 6 children of Class 3 then looked at the panels and found all sorts of messages about the Carver’s and the Merchant’s imaginations. The Children then imagined their own panels with messages for children in 500 years time in the future. Here are the hidden messages in the panels designed by Class 3:

Our Messages

Cupid is banging his drum

He is calling everybody together.. he says.....

Take care of the animals

Take care of the water

Take care of each other

Be nice to cats

The birds will bring us happiness

Spend your money wisely

True love. Big Magic

God, like us begins as a baby and grows old

We, like little acorns, grow into strong oak trees.

Class 3 then made puppets and created a big story book. And, if that was not enough for one day, they then moved into the hall and did an impromptu show with puppets and narration in the hall to the rest of the school.

The next day we worked with Years 2 to 4, Class 2. They looked at the panels again and were just as creative as the elder children – making a fantastic poem, telling the story of the magic oak grove, creating their book and puppets and doing an end of day performance.

Here is the Class 2 poem that they created by themselves from looking deeply into the 500 year old panels and discovering the hidden messages:

The Swirly Curly Patterns of Life

Birds can have very curly tails

And the sky can have secrets

Flowers come in different shapes and sizes

The Angel is drumming on the drum

Now look at the trees

In the clouds I see a cows face

Her milk is good for you

And time is very old...

I think there are angels

And the Angels are playing the drum

I see a Cow and it is saying ”How do you do?”

And time is very old

Death is life’s spirits’ revenge

The old elephant faces and leaves

A man and a woman are climbing the fountain of life

Heaven, joy, understanding, rain and coins

Flowers make our world colourful

Corn is good life

The water is cool, helpful life

Oxygen, energy and health

Elephants boom and splash

Swirly, curly patterns of life

And time is very old.....

Their part of the story told of the woodcarvers finding the grove. The woodcarvers meet mice and owls and dream under an old oak. As they spend the night under one special oak they have the dreams that, along with the wood from the special oak tree, make the carving of the panels possible.

Both classes did astounding work and we are all looking forward to bringing these shows back to life for the unveiling of the screen when it is fully restored.