Play inspired by Emsworth Oyster Industry debuts at The Spring Arts & Heritage Centre

Inspired by the rise and fall of Emsworth's oyster industry, Poisoned Beds written by Lucy Flannery and Greg Mosse will premiere at The Spring Arts & Heritage Centre on 1 November, the one day of the year that oysters can be harvested from Emsworth harbour.

The remains of the Emsworth oyster beds are still visible today for anyone who cares to walk along the foreshore of this picturesque harbour town. But the story behind the demise of the Emsworth oyster, and the people whose lives were so drastically affected, remains shrouded in confusion.

Getting to the bottom of the mystery surrounding the famous food poisoning of the Dean of Winchester is one of the motivations for local writer Lucy Flannery. Lucy co-wrote Poisoned Beds, which premieres at The Spring on November 1st. The date is no coincidence.

“Traditionally, it’s the one day of the year when permission is given by the harbour authority to harvest oysters,” said Lucy.

“It’s such a dramatic tale and an oft-cited one. But local people tend to know the odd detail about the Winchester banquet, not the whole story. Poisoned Beds fills in the gap.”

Lucy and her co-writer Greg Mosse, a Chichester resident who was less familiar with the sequence of events, got into a conversation about the famous banquet where Emsworth oysters did for the Dean.

“Talking about it, we realised what a gripping subject it is,” said Lucy. “Perfect for the theatre.”

The central character is a strong-willed Emsworth woman fighting for personal liberation against the backdrop of female suffrage and the Victorian oyster industry.

“Elizabeth Wells is an invented character, but her situation was not an uncommon one in late Victorian England,” said Lucy, who lives in Havant but is married to an “Emsworth boy”.

“Women like her were not unusual in Emsworth. A famous photograph from the time shows a formidable oyster woman in the doorway of an Emsworth shop.”

Mrs House sold oysters from her shop in South Street, Emsworth. She looks like a woman you mess with at your peril.

At its peak, the town harvested about 100,000 oysters a week from the waters of Chichester harbour and employed between 300 and 400 people, many of them women.

“Our focus was very much on events around 1900 up to the First World War,” said Lucy. “But there are resonances for modern audiences. Current concerns about plastics in our oceans echo outrage at the pollution of the harbour at the beginning of the 20th century. 

Lucy has an impressive CV, having written award-winning comedy for BBC Radio 4 and penned an array of shows for theatre and screen, including an episode of CBBC’s hit The Story of Tracy Beaker. She and Greg are collaborating with celebrated Havant musician John Gleadall, who has blended traditional music and catchy new compositions to accompany this story of female resilience.

The play is also followed by a post-show chat with international best-selling author Kate Mosse.

Poisoned Beds is at The Spring, on Thursday, November 1st, 7.30pm. For more information and to book your tickets, visit www.thespring.co.uk.

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