Local artist Heidi Luker was commissioned by the Derwent Valley Mills Heritage Site and Beam as part of the Great Place Scheme creative programme, to produce a performance and video documentation to explore the heritage of Willersley Castle in Cromford, Derbyshire and in particular its role as a maternity hospital during the Second World War.
Heidi says, “When I moved to Derbyshire from Tottenham, London, I was told that the castle became a maternity hospital during the Second World War. The hospital was set up by the Salvation Army and run by the Hackney Mothers’ Hospital to allow thousands of expectant mothers from North London, to escape the constant air raids in order to give birth safely.
“I wanted to research the stories of these mothers, to explore their experience of leaving home to give birth in Willersley Castle and hopefully locate or tape interviews with surviving babies and their families.”
“I was also keen to find out how the rural communities of Wirksworth and Cromford reacted to so many London women and nurses billeted with families in the area and how the two different communities communicated and adapted. ”
Heidi put out a call to the “Princes and Princesses of Willersley” to ask if they were willing to share any personal accounts and photos of their experiences, and those of their mother about their time in Derbyshire.
Heidi’s overall aim was to create a fictitious drama and digital documentation based on these joint memories to highlight how these two distinct communities came together and what it was like to grow up with the castle as your place of birth as recorded on your birth certificate.
Heidi is a multi-disciplinary Sculptural Artist & Theatre Designer and often works within Community Arts, designing and delivering theme based Public Participation Art Projects for organisations and events.
This project was funded by National Lottery Heritage Fund and Arts Council England for the Creative Programme of the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site Great Place Scheme.
Watch a recording of the Live Premiere with Q&A with Heidi Luker and Adrian Farmer (DVMWHS Heritage Coordinator) and hosted by Fran Smith from Beam. This includes insights from Heidi about the process of the project and added historical context from Adrian. We were joined by Willersley “Princes & Princesses” from across the world!
Watch the Filmed Performance of the London Mothers – with subtitles: