Illustration by Jacob Goff

Inspired by true events; a letter discovered written by a young choir boy in 1897, written on the back of an order of service, and hidden between the wooden panels of a pew in an old church.

Folded in the faded browned paper was a handwritten letter by 13-year old William Elliott, who lived at the Sunderland Orphanage Asylum, a home dedicated to educating boys whose fathers died at sea. William wrote of being concerned that he, like his father who was washed overboard on the merchant vessel Skyros, would be drafted to the waves.​​​​​​
Written overleaf and around the text of the order of service, William's writing reads: "Sunderland Orphan Asylum, August 11th 1897. Dear friend, whoever finds this paper think of William Elliott who had 2 months and 2 weeks and 4 days on the 11 of August 1987. Whoever you are that finds this paper don't tear it up or throw it away but keep it in remembrance of me, W. Elliott. I was the leading boy of this choir. I love you if you love me."
This unearthed treasure ignited the imaginations of visitors to the former church in Sunderland's East End - what happened to William, and to his plea to be remembered? A search began, eagerly pursued by various volunteers in the local community united by the quest; they engaged in extensive research, scoured the records, and eventually uncovered William's story.

Supported by historical research from the church's Lily Daniels, 'William's Castle' jumps forwards and backwards through time exploring the imagined journeys of William's life, recreated from this gathered historical research. This is a drama with elements of documentary, dovetailing and interweaving imagined past with present, and interview recordings with people who were inspired to research the story behind William's letter.

Listen to William's Castle on BBC Sounds

Our sound design leans heavily into a musicality, which unites both present and past; recreating a modern take on boys' choral singing in 1897, and scored with original music from North East singer / songwriters Paige Temperley and Holly Rees, who were inspired to commit William's journey to music.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​
“Quite early on during the editing process, I added the original song ‘Someone, Somewhere’ by one of our brilliant musicians Paige Temperley,” says 'William's Castle' writer & producer Jay. “I sat back, listened, and burst into tears. It’s such a powerful, emotional song. Paige and Holly’s music is so integral to the drama, and it’s heartwarming thinking that William’s Castle and William Elliott’s story will touch other listeners in the same way.”​​​​​​​
Songs "William's Castle" by Holly Rees and "Remember Me" by Paige Temperley were created as part of WE MAKE CULTURE'S SONGS OF THE STREET PROJECT, which was funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund."
William's Castle is a story of the universal will to be remembered, to leave a mark on the world. As childhood William in 1897, aching to leave memories of himself behind, and musing on the dangers of the epic voyage ahead - which we'll hear in vivid narrator-driven sound design. And as the fictional Paige, who finds William's letter today whilst cleaning the church and is inspired, we'll embark on a voyage around the church's community to find more fragments of William's journey, and keep his memory alive.
Feedback for William's Castle
"We just wanted to congratulate you on this lovely story. We loved that it was a community project, that the childlike painting stayed with us throughout the broadcast, the way you dealt with the story, the music, so sensitive to the detailed facts, all the different empathetic voices you wove into this, and how the story continually pulled at the heart strings." - Lorna Windham (via email)
"You captured [William's] story very well. As his story unfolded to me about how he ended up in the orphanage before he wrote the letter, I could feel his apprehension at what was coming next. He was clearly a sensitive boy, but he did alright for himself in the end. Thank you for telling his story so beautifully." - Sharon Vincent, Community Researcher (via X)
"It was certainly the best afternoon drama I've heard on Radio 4 for a long time. Congratulations to all involved." - Eileen Richardson, Folk Musician and Folk Researcher (via Facebook comment)
Meet the Cast
"William's Castle is a heartfelt real-life tale made all the richer by recording in the actual church where the letter was discovered. What a treat to perform."
Charlie has a long history of Radio 4 plays including 'Exemplar', 'I Must Have Loved You', 'Bloodlines', and the epic WW1 saga 'Home Front'. Her film and TV credits include 'The Scar' (Best Actress, Monte Carlo), 'Purely Belter', 'Billy Elliot', 'Emmerdale' (Val Pollard), 'Ackley Bridge' (Sue Carp), 'Vera', 'The Good Ship Murder', 'Professor T', and will be seen later this year in 'Murder, They Hope'. She has a wealth of Theatre and Musical credits including Sting's 'The Last Ship', 'Cabaret' (Emcee), 'Cooking With Elvis' and 'The Awkward Squad'. She sings with a brilliant band of women, Kissed.
Becky Lindsay is an actor/fight performer from Sunderland. Winner of the 2023 best female actor award at Wolverhampton and Romford Film Festival 2023. Credits include feature film Blue Jean, BBC Waterloo Road.​​​​​​​
"Anyone who knows me knows how proud I am to be from Sunderland. To be able to tell the true story of William through Jay’s delicate and beautiful writing is a privilege. And all set in my hometown… It can’t get any better!"

Headshot Photography: The Headshot Box

Headshot image  © John Clarke

"What a privilege it has been to be part of the team that has brought this story to life. Not only because it’s a story routed in Sunderland, but because William's story will resonate not only regionally but internationally. It’s an amazing example of how the arts can not only give a voice, but elevate a voice that was previously unheard."​​
Christina most recently was part of the RSC's 37 plays which was
presented at Northern Stage, she played Alwen in ‘The Odyssey’ -
(National Theatre / Fire Station), Heather ‘THE WASP’, and appeared as
‘Louise’ in ‘The Hunt for Raoul Moat’ (ITV). 
Her other credits include ‘Gaze’ (Northern Stage), ‘Art of Facing Fear’ (Theatre Os Satyros), ‘Credit’ (Cap-a-Pie), ‘Sugar’ (Open Clasp - BBCiPlayer), ‘Goldilocks & the Three Bears’, 'Cinderella & Pinocchio’ (Crossroads. Theatre Royal Newcastle),
‘Under Milk Wood’ (Northern Stage) ‘Rattlesnake’ (Open Clasp), 'Beyond
The End Of The Road' (November Club-Tour / SAGE), ‘Key Change’ (New
York Theatre workshop, Off Broadway and UK National Tour & Live filming
Space / BBC), Sugar (Open Clasp at Live Theatre), Dead Nobody (Customs House), ‘Clothes Swap Theatre Party’ (Forward Theatre & Derby Playhouse), ‘Dolly Mixtures' (Customs House), 'Make do and Mend' performed at European Parliament, 'From there to you, from here to me' (Odd Man Out), 'Turning Pages' (Live Theatre), Season Ticket R&D (Northern Stage), 'Prince', ‘Queen’ & ‘Dandini’ (Tyne Theatre), The Frights (Alphabetti Theatre & Theatre N16 London), Hull’s Angel (Ensemble 52), Gaslight On Grey Street (Theatre Royal Studio), 'Pied Piper Project' & 'Cautionary Tales From The Trenches' (November Club), 'Flock' (ZENDEH), Dick in 'Dick Whittington' & Aladdin in 'Aladdin' (Barnsley Lamproom Theatre), The Selkie (Sage Gateshead), The Bodies (Live Theatre), 'Nowt To Look At' (BBC Radio Drama), 'George Gently' (BBC), and feature film 'The Magdalene Sisters'.
Christina is represented by Janet Plater Management.

Lyndan is a British actor from the North East of England. He graduated from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland last July with a BA in Musical Theatre. He is also a singer-songwriter who plays the guitar. Currently, he is in the process of developing his circus skillset by learning fire performance (eating, breathing, contact, staff and poi). Lyndan can most recently be seen appearing in EE’s new advertising campaign.
"Being born and bred in Sunderland this amazing play effectively and emotionally brought to life the history of a place I was already familiar with. Working with such lovely, talented, mainly North East based cast and creatives was inspirational, exciting and thoroughly enjoyable. For me, working on this production was both a privilege and a fantastic learning experience."

Headshot Photography: Kim Hardy

I initially met with Jay for a twenty minute discussion about the 1973 Cup run. Two hours later, he was suggesting an audition for his play! Given that I was a child of Hendon and the East End and knew the area so well, I thought that I had to give it a go. Amazingly, it all worked out! It was a great privilege to work with such a collective of creative and inspirational people.​​​​​​​
Hendon and the East End hold my earliest memories. My Mam worked in the sweetshop in Hudson Road and my Dad was in the Merchant Navy, so William's childhood haunts were very much my own. I was the first member of my family to go on to further education and trained as a teacher in Manchester. I taught in Sunderland, East Durham and South Shields. 42 years, two headships, advisory and other leadership roles, but always happiest in the classroom with the children. Any latent acting skills must come from working and learning with them, especially the youngest children. We used to laugh a lot. I am currently a governor at a Washington school, so I'm keeping my hand in and helping out where I can. However, I'm open to offers from Hollywood, Pinewood or Redwood. That Brando, Clift or Dean role may have eluded me by now, but you never know!​​​​​​​
"I really enjoyed working with some of the cast, meeting Polly and Jay, and learning more about Sunderland."
Mikki Hodgson has been been acting from age 7. He loves football, rugby (he’s on the school team), athletics, and is a runner with the Sunderland Harriers. Mikki loves acting, including performing at the Sunderland Empire Theatre. His credits include: 'LUTED' in 2018, 'Vera' in 2022, and William's Castle - 'Young William' in 2024.
Meet the Production Team
William's Castle marks Jay's first time writing and producing for BBC Radio 4.
“There’s something universal, and also beautiful, about wanting to be remembered. When writing 'William’s Castle, I wanted to explore the metaphor of the murkiness of time, in both directions; people in the present reaching back through time, just as much as a scared young boy reaching out into his unknown future.
“It’s been such a rewarding experience; the opportunity to work with such an excellent team of actors and musicians, and especially with renowned acclaimed radio drama Director Polly Thomas at the helm. But the whole team has been really supportive, and it’s a credit to Chantal and to Sister Sounds for fostering such a strong creative atmosphere, all led by an important ethos.”
Polly Thomas is widely recognised as one of the UK’s leading audio producer-directors. Her award-winning work has explored the potential of the medium, including location-based recording, international co-production, community activism and simultaneous live relay. She works in live performance as writer, producer and director, most prominently with THOMAS CARTER PROJECTS, an international media and performance company which she co-founded.
As Participation and Events Officer at SEVENTEEN NINETEEN, the redeveloped church-now-arts-centre at the heart of the narrative, Lily Daniels is involved in the scriptwriting and development process in ensuring the accuracy of real-like William Elliott's story and the locations' historical context are honoured.
Lily started her career as a volunteer facilitator in venues around the North East, helping people make things in museums, galleries and shopping centres, amassing a toolbox full of skills to get people engaged and inspired about the past. With a bachelors degree in Glass and Ceramics, and an MA in Inclusive Arts Practice, Lily has worked in 3D printing labs, heritage arts centres, and on railways, making sure that visitors learn something by having a go.
“Bringing William’s Castle to BBC Radio 4 has been an enriching experience. I have learned so much and met so many wonderful people. The story is captivating and universally thought-provoking. Jay has done Sunderland proud with his script and storytelling, and I can’t wait for everyone to hear how well this has been put together.”
Chantal Herbert is the founder of production company SISTER SOUNDS, a Charles Parker Prize winner, and a keen advocate for the rights of women and non-binary People of Colour. Much of Chantal’s work, including her BBC Radio 4 documentary OUTSIDER SISTERS, centres around the amplification of marginalised voices.
“I have spent half of my 40 years living in the North East, so much so that I now feel that this is much more my home than anywhere else. I have noticed the disparity of voices and stories heard on National radio, and I am making it my mission to change this in some small way. Championing and amplifying the voices of this most marginalised is my central focus. As an intersectionality marginalised person, I understand the need for this focus, and I am delighted to have the ability to bring these stories to others.”​​​​​​​
Chantal graduated from the University of Sunderland with a master’s degree in Radio, and a from Northumbria University with a BA in Media Production (specialism in scriptwriting). She also regularly DJs, engages in public speaking, and organises events.
Darren Spruce (He/Him) is a freelance Creative Project Manager & Producer. He co-founded charity Happy Valley Pride in 2015 and has helped to develop it into the leading LGBTQIA+ Community Arts organisation in Calderdale; delivering an annual 7-day queer arts festival, an LGBTQIA+ youth initiative, and human rights campaigns. Darren works for arts organisations and festivals across the UK as well as independent radio production companies, whose clients include the BBC and Audible. 
Lucinda works in radio drama and music; she is a classical composer. She has been involved in a large number of radio dramas as producer, composer and sound designer.
Lucinda worked for a while in BBC Radio Drama and at the BBC Writers Room. She is an experienced producer and script editor who has also worked on arts-related features, narrative-driven comedy, readings and short stories. Since 2006 she has worked for Indie company Goldhawk Essential.
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