Ducking TV presenter Alice Roberts in the River Wensum was all in a day’s work for woodturner Andy
PUBLISHED: 18:02 27 April 2018 | UPDATED: 18:02 27 April 2018
Beccles-based woodturner Andy Coates took it in his stride when Channel 4 asked him to make a scold’s chair in order to duck Professor Alice Roberts in the River Wensum
It was an unusual request to say the least: could woodturner Andy Coates put together a 17th century ducking stool capable of punishing a scold in the River Wensum?
Andy, who owns Cobwebcrafts in Worlingham, was contacted by the makers of Britain’s Most Historic Towns just weeks before the show filmed a section about Tudor crime and punishment in Norwich and asked if he could replicate the chair which was traditionally used to punish “disorderly women”.
Also known as a scolding stool or stool of repentance, the wooden chair was used in England as a form of public humiliation and often involved the accused being paraded through the town before they were tied into the chair and then lowered into water.
Repeated duckings routinely proved fatal, the victim dying of shock or drowning.
“I was slightly nervous that I might end up killing a national treasure,” laughed Andy, whose creation was tested by Professor Alice Roberts who presents the Tudor Norwich episode of the series on Saturday April 28 at 8pm at Pulls Ferry close to Norwich Cathedral.
“It’s certainly one of the most unusual commissions I’ve ever had and I didn’t have long to make it, but I enjoyed the challenge and loved being involved in the filming.”
Andy said that he had just under a fortnight to construct the torture device which programme makers had hoped would be used at the original site for ducking – at Fye Bridge in Norwich – but which had to be used down-river at a more suitable site.
“We realised it would be impossible to erect the stool at Fye Bridge because of the location. Each chair would have been constructed to suit its location, so as soon as I knew I couldn’t use it there, we had to find somewhere else – Colin Howey, the clerk of the Stonemason’s Guild, suggested Pulls Ferry.
“I went to the river there, took my boots off and waded in, but it the water was only up to my shins, so I knew we’d have to wait – it’s a tidal river, so at points it’s deeper. I then needed permission from the council to take up some of the concrete in order to secure the post for the chair.”
Made from Russian pine which was waxed and stained to look as if it had aged, Andy secured the post at 8am on filming day last autumn and then crossed his fingers.
“I’d had to ask for Alice’s measurements and her weight, which felt a bit intrusive but was very necessary so that the chair was big enough – in the 17th century, health and safety wasn’t a top concern, but in 2017, it most definitely was,” he said.
“The two gents doing the dunking were Colin and Dave Tonge, a Tudor storyteller and author – Alice was a really good sport and was absolutely lovely. It all went to plan and Alice was ducked in the Wensum and suffered a Tudor punishment with very good grace.
“It was absolutely exhausting – I had to stay and dismantle the chair and then repair the ground where it had stood, then wait for the council to inspect it, but it was a really good day. I was so impressed at the level of detail involved in the filming. I’ll be watching it with a glass of wine in hand!”
Andy’s normal work sees him create a whole range of woodturned creations, including stair spindles, bowls and pots.
• Cobwebcrafts is at Boast Industrial Park, Worlingham, Beccles, visit www.andycoates.co.uk.