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The Ballad of Susan Nobes

A Sedgeford poet and harpist have combined to film a live tribute to Susan Nobes, who was killed tragically in Sedgeford Church 200 years ago. The 14 year old daughter of a farm labourer was struck by lightning while attending Sunday School during a violent storm on July 5 1819.

It had been a beautiful and calm July evening. Tragically, weeks of drought broke just after nine pm in a blizzard of rain and hail, which ran straight off the baked hills onto the village, turning a rural idyll into a village from hell and causing a tidal wave of gravesoil to flood the church. The church tower was struck by lightning and a yard-wide hole scorched into it, blocks falling down into the deluged schoolroom below. In the panic as teacher and class attempted to get out, a bolt of lightning left Susan lifeless, her temples charred, on the floor.

Gaz Calway and Vanessa Wood-Davies, the composers of the ghost ballad, have seen comparable summer weather only once in the 30 years they have themselves lived in Sedgeford, in a heatwave during the early years of this century, when four fire engines were needed to deal with the floods around Cole Green and several properties endured long term damage. One witness born in Sedgeford life said he hadn’t seen another like it in 50 years. But it seems the 1819 storm was worse still, if only because it claimed a human life.

The composers published the words and musical score of their tribute to Susan in "Doin Different, 39 New Ballads From The East of England" (Poppyland) in 2016 and a recording on Soundcloud has since received over a thousand plays worldwide. The new film is a live performance of the ballad in a Sedgeford cottage. "The idea is that we are performing it in Susan's former home, now a holiday cottage, with the ghost of Susan calling its teenage boy visitor out to play with her in the 'real' Norfolk. She then tells the reluctant playmate her true story."

Gaz and Vanessa, who are members of the folk storytelling foursome The Penland Phezants, plan to tell Susan's story widely at Phezant events during Susan's bicentenary year. "We also have a special venue planned for July 5 and will announce it nearer the time."

Gaz found the unsympathetic account of Susan's tragedy ("A Narrative of facts" by Eliza Cunningham) in the British Library while attempting to research the history of his own Sedgeford residence.

View the 200th anniversary film on You Tube

Hear the special bicentenary version here-

Hear the original audio on Soundcloud


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