Artists search for puppet watchers

Two artists, who will be following the footsteps of famous puppeteer and showman Walter Wilkinson, are looking for people who saw his performances or met him when he toured parts of Cumberland and north Lancashire in the 1930’s.

Vagabonds (credit Steve Barber)

Vagabonds (credit Steve Barber)

Gary Bridgens and Phill Gregg of Headzup Theatre in Barrow will travel about 100 miles, mainly on foot, through the countryside of the Lake District and South Cumbria, performing along the way.

Their specially created show, called Vagabonding, will feature songs, stories and puppetry inspired by local history and folklore.

The performers will collect stories from the places they visit, sharing them with new audiences each day.

Walter Wilkinson – Puppeteer

Walter Wilkinson toured the UK and the USA during 1920s and 1930s.

He carried a small cart, which doubled up as a puppet booth and set up his show wherever he could find an audience.

He wrote travelogues of his experiences, which became a series of popular books.  The author DH Lawrence, said of one of Wilkinson’s books that ‘It reveals England better than twenty novels written by clever young ladies and gentlemen.’

[pullquote]We would have loved to have seen some of his shows and it would be fantastic for us if we could meet anyone who had seen him perform
Gary Bridgens[/pullquote]

Wilkinson visited what is now know as Cumbria in the early 1930’s, during what he described as the wettest summer for 40 years.  He battled through storms and driving rain to visit Coniston, Grange over Sands, Cartmel, Ulverston and Kendal, where he wrote   ‘There was no doubt about the audience; we have seldom met better.  They threw a good deal at us, but only in the shape of applause, and it was obvious that the people of Kendal have very good taste’.

His trip to the area was part of a tour of Lancashire and was described in his book Puppetts Through Lancashire, which was first published in 1936.  The book also describes his visit to Lancastrian towns such as  Preston and Lancaster.

Gary and Phill are hoping that they can meet some of the people who saw Walter Wilkinson’s shows all those years ago, hear some anecdotes about his visit to the area and maybe even unearth one or two photos of the performer.

Gary Bridgens says:  “As performers, we are fascinated by Walter Wilkinson.  He is a real inspiration to us.  We would have loved to have seen some of his shows and it would be fantastic for us if we could meet anyone who had seen him perform and could tell us what he was like.  Alternatively, people could just send us their memories of him.  It’s a long time ago but we’re hoping that there are one or two people who saw him and his shows.”

Gary and Phill’s tour starts at Piel Island and stops along the way will include Ulverston, Grange, Kendal, Windermere, Kirkby Stephen, Dalton and Barrow.

Vagabonds (credit Steve Barber)

Vagabonds (credit Steve Barber)

As well as performing for people they meet on their travels, Gary and Phill will be doing free outdoor shows at fixed times in each place they stop.

They will also be recording their experiences on a blog, and on Facebook and Twitter so that audiences from far and wide can share in their journey.

Lakes Alive

Vagabonding has been commissioned by Lakes Alive, Cumbria’s programme of world-class outdoor arts events.  Lakes Alive is the county’s unique contribution to the Legacy Trust UK programme, which was set up to help build a lasting cultural and sporting legacy from the 2012 Olympic Games and Paralympic Games.

The programme of events is created and directed by Kendal Arts International with Manchester International Arts.  Julie Tait, the director of Kendal Arts International, says:

“Gary and Phill’s journey will take them through many of the communities in South Cumbria giving lots of people the opportunity to see the show. I’m sure it is something that everyone will enjoy and I hope that when people see Gary and Phill passing through with their cart,  they will come out to meet them.”

For more information on Vagabonding and other Lakes Alive performances visit

Do you have any memories about Walter Wilkinson?

If anyone wants to contact Gary and Phill about Walter Wilkinson they should email, telephone 01539 720252 or write to  Lakes Alive, Kendal Arts International, 22 Riverside Business Park, Natland Road, Kendal, LA9 7SX

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