Greatham Boat Houses Revisited
By Robert Nchols
Wednesday 24 Apr 2019 16:31:00
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In 2018, River Tees Rediscovered invited artists of all disciplines to submit applications to develop a new piece of work exploring the notion of ‘community’, inspired by the vanished houseboat community of Greatham Creek between Stockton and Hartlepool.

The successful application was boat-house-theatre from artists Tom Adams and Dan Scott.

Tom and Dan have already spent time in the area researching Greatham Creek and engaging with people who spent time there, or have memories of the community.

Greatham Creek is a tidal creek between Stockton and Hartlepool, and one of the last remaining large saltmarsh areas in Teesmouth. For around a century, it was a popular destination for families across the region who would set up temporary homes in houseboats and cabins along the river where they fished for salmon during the summer months.

Many of the houseboats and cabins remained there until the 1980s until they fell into disrepair and the community vanished.

I interviewed Dan Scott to ask him all about a fascinating project culminating in the Greatham boat houses reappearing again in Stockton High Street with public theatre performances this Friday and Saturday.

Q: Can you please tell us a little about yourself and the project.

Dan: I am an artist and my colleague Tom Adams is an artist theatre maker and amateur musician, we are doing a project with River Tees Rediscovered and Arc exploring the history of the Greatham Creek houseboats and our project is to create a structure inspired by the Greatham Creek house boats that will sit in Stockton High Street and become a small theatre space where we are going to do a show about this history and about the story of our journey up to Stockton and creating this structure and some of the people we have met along the way and it is called Boathouse Theatre. Basically because these house boats were boats originally and they became houses and now we are turning it into a theatre.

This is going to be this Friday 26th and Saturday 27th of April.

Q: A lot of people might be surprised to hear that we are talking about something from Victorian days or from Charles Dickens put that there were people living in boats near the mouth of the Tees as recently as the closing decades of the 20th century.

Dan: There was a community of about 9 or 10 boats that were built by various families. Some of the earliest were built in the early part of the 20th century but from the stories we have heard from the people we have met by the 1960s and 70s they were almost like holiday house for families from Hartlepool who would go down there in the summer and stay on the boat and they would fish off them and spend time in the creek and have a nice time in the sun. They were really loved places. They survive right through to the 70s when for various reasons they stopped being used. There were disputes with the council about the status of them. By the late 80s and 90s they were gone.

Q: Over the Tees at Paddy's Hole and Warrenby there are fishermen's huts perhaps still used in this way.

Dan: Yes and although we are using the term house boats they were actually like a Yorkshire cobble or a timber lifeboat and then a house was built on top of it. So, they weren't designed as house boats, they were really ad hoc, kind of like prefab structures that these families built.

Q: So, not a canal boat or barge?

Dan: No. They were built piecemeal but the quality was really great. From the outside they looked shambolic but inside there were lovely interiors because there were lots of skilled workers from Hartlepool that had these houses. It was like you were in your grannies kitchen. Really tidy. Lots of really nice carpentry. Stoves and gas lights. Really cosy places.

Q: So, was it like someone having a static caravan. A bolt hole. Rather than somewhere they lived all the time.

Dan: Yes. I think there were a few people who did live there but certainly by the 60s and 70s, from the people we have spoken to, they were mainly used for holidays and fishing trips and things like that.

It is quite mysterious still. A lot of the people we have chatted to were going there as kids so they are looking back on something they saw when they were very young.

Q: You have a more vivid imagination as a child too. But there were photos weren't there?

Dan: We were really inspired by Ian Macdonald's pictures because it was basically an open call from River Tees Rediscovered and ARC to make work in response to this history so it could be anything. And we were particularly inspired by one picture by Ian Macdonald of one of these houseboats, we saw it and thought that would be a really cool theatre space and that was where the idea came from. Let’s use that as the inspiration and then set about creating a mini theatre that looks like one of these house boats. We have to say inspired by because we haven't got the finesse of the interiors. Ours is just a rough and ready boat that you can sit in with the roof structure with our show inside it.

Q: Of course you are doing this with Arc, which is almost Ark as in Noah's Ark.

Dan: That's true. We are into the idea of it being slightly incongruous. This boat suddenly arrives in the High Street. We are there for two days and then it will go off to RSPB Saltholme to hopefully be a bird hide.

Q: Is the theatre related to the house boats?

Dan: Yes, we worked with an architect for the design, so the shape of it and the size is reminiscent of these boats. We have got a real Yorkshire coble boat, timber boat which is 10 metres by about 3 metres. Then we have got this fine timber structure around it which mimics what they were doing with the house boats.

Q: And what about the performance?

Dan: For the performance, Tom and I have written a 45 minute show. We have been writing a lot of songs inspired by people we have met. We are not from the area, we are outsiders, so we are telling the story of us arriving here, learning about this history and then about building this boat. The show is partly about the history and partly about how we got here and got to tell the story. And we have also been working with Teesside Women's Poets and the Ukulele Orchestra so they are going to be involved in the show. The Ukelele Orchestra have been learning one of the songs, so we are going to do a little performance with them outside the boat and the Teesside Women Poets have been writing a piece that they will be performing in the boat as well.

So, there are a lot of little threads to it. The song will have songs, storytelling and video as well. Yet another element is that we are going to screen two films inside the boat between our shows. We have got an amazing film by the RSPB of Birds of Teesmouth from the 1960s. A really good film. We have also got the licence to show the Ridley Scott film. Boy on a Bicycle that he made in the 60s as a student and it is all filmed around Hartlepool with the interiors of these house boats, a really lovely short film. That will be outside the boat.

We will doing our show three times a day, Friday and Saturday with other bits and pieces gong on inside.

Q: The great thing about Stockton with its widest High Street is you can put that boat right in the middle of town, can't you?

Dan: Yes, and there is space around it. The intent with Arc and River Tees Rediscovered is to start this conversation around this history, so hopefully it is the beginning of a growing awareness of what was there. It is not the end of the story. So, while we are there, what would be nice, hopefully people will come up to us and tell us stories we have not heard about. So, when we are there we can maybe gather some of that and record some of them stories. We are working with a school as well one day. It is quite nice to tell the story to young people. For them it will be a mystery and exciting, I hope.

Like I say we are not from here but it is one of those things that captures the imagination that there used to be this community that is no longer around.

Q: I think Stockton is trying to go back to the river. The industry has gone so now so the town can now look back to the river. This encourages that. We are Teesside, after all.

Dan: We have been working with Groundworks North East who have been building the structure for us and they are brilliant people.

We have also been working with architects in Margate called, RL-a, who did the design,

boat-house-theatre will be a replica house boat, converted from a fishing boat, situated on Stockton High Street that will function as both a site of remembrance to a lost community and as a venue for a two day micro-festival featuring music, theatre, film, and other events that the public will be invited to engage with. boat-house-theatre will be open from 11am on Friday 26 April and 10.45am on Saturday 27 April.

Friday 26 April

11.00am Tom Adams and Dan Scott's boat-house-theatre

12.00pm - 2pm RSPB Film Unit's Birds of Teesmouth and Ridley Scott's Boy and Bicycle

2.00pm: Tom Adams and Dan Scott's boat-house-theatre

3.00pm - 5pm RSPB Film Unit's Birds of Teesmouth and Ridley Scott's Boy and Bicycle

5.00pm Tom Adams and Dan Scott's boat-house-theatre

6.00pm Close

Saturday 27 April

10.45am Silver ARC-ulele (a performance of ARC’s over 50 ukulele group)

11am Tom Adams and Dan Scott's boat-house-theatre

12.00pm - 12.30 RSPB Film Unit's Birds of Teesmouth and Ridley Scott's Boy and Bicycle

12.30pm Performance from Teesside Women Poets' “Voices of the Creek.”

1.00pm RSPB Film Unit's Birds of Teesmouth and Ridley Scott's Boy and Bicycle

2.00pm Tom Adams and Dan Scott's boat-house-theatre

3.30pm Performance from Teesside Women Poets' “Voices of the Creek.”

4.00pm RSPB Film Unit's Birds of Teesmouth and Ridley Scott's Boy and Bicycle

5.00pm Tom Adams and Dan Scott's boat-house-theatre

6.00pm Close

Tickets for all the sessions are on a Pay What You Decide basis but are limited and are available from ARC’s Box Office or online. A number of tickets for performances will be available on a first come first served basis on the day of the event.



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