The Broomsquire

a dramatisation of Sabine Baring-Gould's celebrated novel details of play photos
reports other Baring-Gould links

To order scripts ISBN 978-1-873855-34-8

In September 1786, a lone sailor was murdered on Hindhead Common by three men. This much is common knowledge. But was the sailor alone?

In his book The Broom-Squire, the Victorian author Sabine Baring-Gould imagines that the sailor was carrying a baby daughter, and that she survived the ambush.

Jonas and Mehetabel at Thor's Stone

Cover picture shows
Isabelle Glinn & Luke Oates as Matabel & Jonas
the Broomsquire
in a 2013 production

From this point, he develops a story of the orphan girl found in the Devil's Punch Bowl by one of the broomsquires who lived there at the time.

Eighteen years later, the finder and the foundling marry. But the circumstances and results of this union lead to a clash of wills - and more.

Adapted by John Owen Smith, and directed by Steve White, the play ran at a number of local venues during both September 2000 and September 2001, and again in 2013 photos poster

The play is designed to be performed 'in promenade' with a minimum of scenery. It is also designed to be portable, allowing for easy touring to many different types of venue.

Suitable for the family Click here to see details of play and sample scene

Cast List - The Broomsquire

Matabel, the foundling
Jonas Kink, the Broomsquire
Simon Verstage, landlord of The Ship Inn
Susanna Verstage, wife of Simon
Iver Verstage, their son
Sarah Rocliffe, sister of Jonas
Giles Cheel, an elder broomsquire
Betsy Cheel, his wife
Markham, a solicitor
Barelegs, an attorney
Judge, at Kingston Crown Court
Defence Counsel
Puttenham, Guardian of the Poor in Thursley
Doctor, staying at The Ship Inn
Vicar of Thursley
The murdered Sailor
Casey, a murderer
Marshall, a murderer
Lonigon, a murderer
Two labourers

Thor's Stone, Thursley Common

List of Scenes - The Broomsquire

Scene 1 - Introduction
Scene 2 - At the Ship Inn, Thursley - Iver leaves
Scene 3 - In the Punch Bowl
Scene 4 - At the Ship Inn - in the porch
Scene 5 - Jonas proposes
Scene 6 - The wedding party at the Ship Inn - Iver returns
Scene 7 - At Jonas's house
Scene 8 - Mrs Verstage and Iver visit the Punch Bowl
Scene 9 - At the Ship Inn
Scene 10 - To Thor's Stone
Scene 11 - In the Punch Bowl
Scene 12 - The Birth
Scene 13 - The Bequest
Scene 14 - The Baptism party in the Punch Bowl

**** INTERVAL ****

Scene 15 - The Trustee
Scene 16 - Markham visits Matabel
Scene 17 - Jonas visits Iver in his Guildford studio
Scene 18 - Matabel takes the baby to see Sarah
Scene 19 - Jonas visits Barelegs the attorney
Scene 20 - Back in the Punch Bowl
Scene 21 - Matabel on the run
Scene 22 - The Trial
Scene 23 - At the Ship Inn
Scene 24 - To Thor's Stone again
Scene 25 - Finale

The play runs for approximately 2 hours

Extract from Scene 3

In the Punch Bowl

Sarah You back from the Ship then.
Jonas What's it to you? Keep yer nose to yerself.
Sarah Must be their best customer, the time you spend down there.
Jonas You got your own house to go to, ain't you?
Sarah Sniffing round that girl all the time.
Jonas What girl?
Sarah You know what girl - that Matabel
Jonas I said, you got your own house to go to!
Sarah what was found by you abandoned, all them years ago
Jonas You're only my sister - you got no rights to criticise
Sarah an outsider, marked by the gallows she is
Jonas what I do, or where I go, or who I see
Sarah and grown up into a proper little hussy
Jonas it's me own business, see?
Sarah out to get her hands on your money.
Jonas I says, you're only my sister - what's it to you?
Sarah Cast yer net outside the Punch Bowl and you'll regret it, Jonas Kink.
Jonas I knows your mind, Sarah Rocliffe - you thinks you'll inherit all my wealth if I die single, isn't that the fact?
Sarah You'd never have looked after yourself, not after our mother passed away - not without me round to help you every day. Like a wife I was to you.
Jonas Help - that's what you call it! Sticking yer nose into every corner of my affairs.
Sarah That house of yours'd be unfit to live in now if it weren't for me.
Jonas You want me a bachelor, want me a hudger,
just so's you'll inherit - you and your husband
Sarah Least he's from the Bowl - he's not an outsider
Jonas and here you are snooping and prying around again.
Sarah not like that Matabel down at the inn.
Jonas So now, I've got news for you - let's see your face -
you see, I'm a-minded to get myself married
Sarah Not to her? Don't tell me you've already asked.
Jonas Maybe yes, maybe no - you'll have to discover.
Sarah I'll see you in hell first!
Jonas Who knows, sister dear?

Press Reports

Bordon Post, Wednesday 20 September 2000

Audience Swept into Action
The Broomsquire, Phoenix Theatre, Bordon

Last Friday night a packed Phoenix Theatre experienced not so much an evening at the theatre but a night in, as they were invited to sit on the set of Jo Smith's play The Broomsquire.

Adapted by the Headley Down playwright from Sabine Baring-Gould's novel, The Broomsquire is a far-from-everyday tale of 19th century country folk from the Devil's Punchbowl.

Matabel, played by Mel White, was portrayed as a naïve young woman who carried the stigma of charity upbringing after her father was murdered on Hindhead Common.

With no prospects, she married miserly bachelor Jonas Kink, the broom maker, or broomsquire of the title.

Tony Grant's Kink immediately took shape as a man who won the affection of the audience as a colourful, but roguish character.

But while Matabel thought the misanthrope's bad side was on display for all to see, she soon learned her husband had an even darker side.

The lead roles were strongly supported by a cast of lager than life characters and through their eyes and gossip the story unfolded to its climax in a deadly accident on the moor.

Pru Harrold created a formidable character in Sarah Rocliffe, Kink's shrewish sister, who domineered all in a powerful performance.

The Punchbowl Players are a co-operation of local amateur dramatic societies.

Not only did the audience sit on the set to watch the action, we were also co-opted as wedding guests and even as a jury, making life and death decisions.

Director Steve White said: 'Two hundred years ago this was the way theatre would be done for ordinary people.'

Bill Young.

January 2002 newsletter of the Baring-Gould Appreciation Society

Having played the villains in Tim Laycock's dramatisations of 'Red Spider' and 'Kitty Alone' and spent so much time researching Sabine Baring-Gould's life, I was very disappointed not to be able to visit Surrey in September last year (2000) to make the acquaintance of the broomsquire in John Owen Smith's adaptation of the renowned novel which Baring-Gould set in the Devil's Punchbowl.

Fortunately for me, the play proved such a success that popular demand led to a rerun and so it was that on 22 September 2001, I was to be found sitting on a wooden bench in the Ship Inn, Thursley, while the tragedy was played out around me. Well, to be honest, it wasn't really the Ship Inn, but the little village hall in Thursley where the very simple scenery and the way the cast involved the audience 'in promenade' made it very easy to imagine yourself back in the self-same village 200 years ago. I felt this even more so when, during act 2, I was enrolled as a member of the jury which, reluctantly, found Matabel 'not guilty'.

The play moved forward at a cracking pace and with sustained tension, as it vividly portrayed the desperate isolation of a charity girl destined to be exploited by almost everyone she encounters in a most hostile setting. John Owen Smith is to be congratulated on the play he has written and Steve White directed. No special lighting was used and Steve took pride in telling me that the Company was able to set up and, later, derig the hall in 30 minutes, so that the play could be taken to six different villages around the Punchbowl in two successive weekends. Most impressive.

It was wonderful to see how much the local people felt they owned 'The Broomsquire' in much the same way as Bratton people own 'Red Spider' and it was marvellous to meet the descendant of a real broomsquire then, next day, visit the tombstone of the unknown sailor whose murder inspired Sabine to write the novel and to see the little wooden 'Dame School' at Thursley which he, too, must have seen and where he had Matabel live out her days.

Ron Wawman

Amateur Stage, December 2000

To Promenade or Not to Promenade
presented by The Punchbowl Players

Local historian and playwright John Owen Smith had already written and produced four successful touring community plays on the Hampshire/Surrey border - but when he came to stage his fifth one in September 2000, the director decided to try performing it 'in promenade'.

The story was a dramatisation of Rev Sabine Baring-Gould's novel 'The Broom-squire,' with scenes set in and around the Devil's Punch Bowl at Hindhead in Surrey at the turn of the 18th century. The rustic nature of the plot lent itself to simple, portable furniture set in an arena constructed of felled fir poles supporting a hessian screen which surrounded both actors and audience.

This was to be a new experience for our actors - and also for our audiences.

Rehearsals went ahead, and the cast were briefed on the opportunities which existed in the script for interaction between themselves and the public sharing their space. For example, a grand circle dance sequence was written in, and where a trial scene was needed, it was decided to draw the Jury members from the audience rather than the cast.

Then the worried phone-calls began to arrive from locations chosen to host the play. Our first venue had received an enquiry from two Women's Institute parties, and were on the point of turning them away if we could not guarantee them seats. Our second venue was becoming equally concerned that a significant proportion of their clients were elderly and could not be expected to stand for two hours.

A quick consultation between Producer and Director followed. Could we include some audience seating in the design and still stay true to his wish to 'promenade'?

Pragmatism won the day over idealism, and we reassured the venue managers that seating would be available. No customers were turned away.

A hybrid solution was found, whereby seating was provided round the edges of the acting space - giving the effect of 'theatre in the round' - but not enough for all. Members of the audience were invited, when they arrived, to sit, lean or perch on any part of the set, including furniture later to be used by the actors, and this gave the interaction which the Director had hoped for.

In the course of the tour, we played at five different locations - from an Arts Centre with stage and raked seating to a dirt-floored cart shed in an agricultural museum. The design of the set allowed us to adapt with ease to these very different situations, and by the end of the run we had its construction at any site down to a fine art.

The actors, amateurs all, soon got used to turning up and finding their acting area had changed in size, shape and orientation since the last venue. And as for the audiences, their reaction to a new experience at the heart of the action was very positive.

Actors were drawn from the local amateur dramatic community by open audition to create 'The Punchbowl Players'. Expenses for the tour were guaranteed by Headley Theatre Club, but in the event we made a profit which enabled us not only to pay our own way, but also to thank the Club with a donation to them at the end.

This site maintained by John Owen Smith