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.
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.
Our sound design leans heavily into a musicality which unites both present and past; recreating boys' choral singing in 1879, and scored with original music from emerging singer/songwriters Paige Temperley and Holly Rees, who were inspired to commit William's journey to music.
This 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.
"Oh my dear friend who may find a letter from me further in time,
Please may I ask you keep it safe, and tell the people of my name.
For I'm just a small orphan boy now, my father left for sea and drowned,
Mother lived Buslington Road, but here I am left all alone."