New project will be funded by The National Lottery Heritage Fund as part of wider “Our Tower” regeneration plan
Beckford’s Tower in Bath is to collaborate with State of Trust on the development of a unique and powerful performance of the novel ‘Cane Warriors’ by Guardian Prize winner Alex Wheatle MBE.
Cane Warriors tells the story of Tacky’s Rebellion, an uprising of Akan people fighting for their freedom that took place in Jamaica in 1760, and included enslaved people on a plantation owned by the Beckford family.
The new project will put a spotlight on the link between the Beckford family and the rebellion and engage with a wide cross section of people in the process, particularly young people in the community and online, in order to develop an interpretive dance performance of the novel.
The research and development will build a team of exceptional performers. New choreography, music, photography and film will be created and there will also be a virtual gallery and film archive for future use.
The resulting performances will take place in March 2024. Beckford’s Tower will host one performance, with the other two to be held in other Bath and Bristol venues. The new production has been supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, thanks to money raised by National Lottery players.
The performance, which will be filmed for posterity, will encourage attendees to engage with one of the most troubling aspects of William Beckford’s legacy: his claiming in ownership enslaved people, which funded his lifestyle and his vast collections. The aim is to build awareness around the effects of enslavement and colonialism on the culture and psyche of modern Britain and improve community relations through greater understanding of the shared history.
Built between 1826 and 1827, Beckford’s Tower was intended to house the collections of books, furniture and art that were owned by William Beckford, whose wealth was gained from his ownership of plantations and enslaved people in Jamaica. Beckford would ride up to the Tower from his townhouse in Bath’s Lansdown Crescent every morning before breakfast, and enjoyed its solitude and the panoramic views from the Belvedere at the top.
Today Beckford’s Tower is owned and run by Beckford Tower Trust, part of Bath Preservation Trust. The landmark is a Grade 1 listed monument and is the only museum in the world dedicated to the life and work of William Beckford. In 2019, the Tower was added to the National ‘At Risk’ Register, sparking a major project to raise the necessary funds to repair and restore the Tower, transform the museum, open up the landscape and create opportunities for volunteering, formal learning and community engagement. In 2022, thanks to a £3million grant from The National Lottery Heritage Fund, the fundraising target of £3.9 million was reached. £480,000 of partnership funding had already been secured, with support from Historic England, Garfield Weston Foundation, The Medlock Charitable Trust, Historic Houses Foundation, Pilgrim Trust and several other organisations, as well as £50,000 in public donations. This second grant of £100,000 will enable Beckford’s Tower to deliver the Cane Warriors project, that will compliment the wider work taking place at the Tower.
Commenting on the new project, Director of Museums Claire Dixon said: “One of our main priorities at Beckford’s Tower is to ensure the transparent and sensitive portrayal of William Beckford’s troubling legacy; as his building and collecting was funded through his ownership of plantations it is vital that this is made clear in the regeneration of the Tower and its new exhibition. We approached State of Trust owing to their reputation for delivering powerful performances that tackle challenging social themes, and we look forward to working with them on this exciting project. It will enable us to explore more creative and artistic events, engage new and more diverse audiences, and embed this approach in the new museum programme when it opens in 2024.
“I would like to thank The National Lottery Heritage Fund, and National Lottery players, for their support in helping us to fully contextualise and reconfigure the story of Beckford’s Tower for a modern-day audience.”
Deborah Baddoo MBE and Steve Marshall, the Directors at State of Trust and State of Emergency Limited, said: “We are delighted that Heritage Lottery has agreed to fund the R&D phase of ‘Cane Warriors’. When Alex Wheatle first approached us, nearly three years ago, with a view to our making a dance interpretation of his novel, we didn’t realise what an uphill struggle it would be to achieve funding. Thanks to Bath Preservation Trust, and the synergy between the story and the history of Beckford’s Tower, we are now able to start working on what we believe will be an important work of African contemporary dance theatre. This production will allow us to pursue a long-term artistic vision, which began with the foundation of State of Emergency Limited in 1986, and to hone our skills as directors and performers. For us ‘Cane Warriors’ is the natural progression of all that has gone before. Working alongside the history of Beckford’s Tower, this project can make the connection between historic buildings in our local communities and the transatlantic slave trade, and reveal their hidden histories. We feel it is very important to reach and engage with people, particularly young people, on this subject, and through a range of activities, including workshops in schools, and online events, we know we can make a difference. Through the media of dance, music, and film, we aim to bring the story to life, to animate history in a way that is relevant and impactful to our contemporary lives, to get beyond the facts and to achieve a level of understanding and truth.”
Alex Wheatle, author of Cane Warriors, said: “The real story of Chief Tacky’s rebellion has been passed down through generations of my mother’s family who resided in Richmond, St Mary’s parish in Jamaica – very close to the plantations where Chief Tacky and his Cane Warriors toiled and planned their Easter rebellion in 1760. I was simply compelled to relate this story to the wider world and I’m very proud that State of Emergency will tell the story in the art form of dance. Indeed, the Cane Warriors will be honoured.”
Stuart McLeod, Director England – London & South at The National Lottery Heritage Fund, said: “Inclusive heritage is very important to us at The National Lottery Heritage Fund which is why we are proud to support projects that engage people with the complexity of our history. This project will help broaden everyone’s understanding of Beckford and tell his story and its significance to Bath. Our history can teach us a great deal about ourselves and who we want to be, and we encourage people to explore, understand and learn from it.”