Pilton Story Worldwide

Laurence Desborough familyThe Pilton Story archive is earning recognition in many parts of the world, some without any connection to Pilton.
We’ve been able to help two writers, one in South Africa, and another in London, who found us while doing their research. Both were looking up former Bellaire resident, Laurence (Lawrence)  Desborough, whose rare photo they discovered on the Pilton Story website.
The first contact came from historian Richard Wadley, who lives in the Limpopo Province of northern South Africa, where Laurence once managed a huge farm estate.

Mr Wadley was browsing our archive when he found the picture taken more than 150 years ago and given to our archive by Zandra Houston.

The photo is a copy of one of the earliest photographic portraits taken in England and shows Laurence among 12 members of the family of Henry and Alice Desborough who lived at Broadgate Villa in the 1850s.

Laurence became, in 1891, the first manager of the 250 000 acre land holding in South Africa and Richard told us: “The estate later (1913) was purchased by the wealthy Vestey family of the UK, then owners of a cold storage business, a refrigerated shipping line and a chain of butcheries across Britain. They sold the estate back to the South African government in 1939.
“Desborough’s family came from Pilton and on your website a couple of years ago I found a remarkable photograph of the family, including young Laurence, taken in 1858.”

Richard asked us if he could use the photograph in his account of the region.

The Pilton Story’s Martin Haddrill tracked down the photo’s donor, Zandra Houston, who gave her permission for its use in Mr Wadley’s book.

And Richard complimented us on the Pilton Story archive: “There’s no doubting the huge value of an archive like The Pilton Story. I’ve spent a while (too long actually, given my mission of writing the history of where I live!) browsing on your website.

“I’ve found it enormously entertaining and informative. I think it’s important for us to know our history and that of others with whom we interact, in order to form a better understanding of who we are, why we behave the way we do, why we have particular aspirations and phobias and in the end, how we can use this information to forge a better but realistic future for us all.”

Martin explained we’d also heard from someone else intrigued by the photograph:

“Strangely, we had a request concerning the same photo from a Stuart Hibberd in relation to a book he is writing on the history of Crystal Palace football club 1861 – 1876. He said that Lawrence Vivian Desborough represented this club at one of the founding meetings of the FA in 1863.

“What both these requests do is strengthen my belief that an archive like The Pilton Story has a wider value than just Pilton and is worth maintaining!”




Laurie the tall Green Man

Laurie Wedge, the Green Man on stilts who graced Pilton Festival for 15 years, has died, aged 63. Many thousands of people saw and enjoyed Laurie’s deep commitment to the festival.

Laurie as the Green Man reaches Pilton with the parade

No-one could miss his giraffe-like walk through the crowd, ten-feet tall dressed in a spectacular plant and flower costume, sprinkling everyone he could with rose petals and offering them a green blessing.

Laurie in Green Man costume

“Pilton Festival, and the Green Man, was the highlight of his year,” said his partner, Teresa Price. “It represented what he believed in. He’d spend a lot of time preparing for it, arranging his costume and collecting the rose petals. He really loved what he did on the day.  It was about fertility and abundance.”

Laurie came from London where he learned stiltwalking and other circus skills alongside Abi Falkner of South Molton, with whom he had two children, Robin, 15 and Elsa, 9.  Abi said: “He really was a very authentic and appropriate choice for the Green Man, as he loved nature, gardening and growing things. His long terraced house garden in Larkhall Lane (London) was absolutely bursting with plants, everything from a huge wild cherry tree to small bonsai trees in pots. Every window sill was chockablock with plants he had grown from seeds, lemon plants, passion flowers, pine cuttings and all sorts.
The Green Man was the first costume he put together.”

Laurie also leaves twin sons, Matt and Ashley.

Bev Neighbour, of the Pilton Festival, said: “Pilton Greenman Festival welcomed the new addition of Laurence in his fabulous Green Man guise around 2001.  He took the Festival parade through Barnstaple to a new level of entertainment for the hundreds of people who witnessed the spectacle.

“Laurence led the parade in magnificent style, all the way from the Square, up the High Street, along Pilton Causeway and right up Pilton Street.

“He would then spend the rest of the day on his stilts, sprinkling magic dust and flower petals and bestowing good spells and omens upon the heads of adults and tiny children who gazed up at this fascinating man in awe.

“Despite his own failing health Laurence turned out, in full costume and on his stilts, to show his respects by leading the procession when Hamish Patrick’s hearse was seen out of Pilton by festival folk in January last year.

“He will be very sorely missed by everybody involved with Pilton Festival as well as many who attend the day.”