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Rolle Canal Gig

On Wednesday 15th November, 33 children from Year 2 took part in a community performance at RHS Garden Rosemoor. The performance told the story of the Rolle Canal through drama and song, and was the culmination of weeks of rehearsals and preparation by the participating schools: Great Torrington School, Great Torrington Bluecoat C of E Primary School, Monkleigh Primary School, Appledore School and St Mary’s C of E Primary School.

The project was the brainchild of Debbie Kent, Robert Barber, Jan Baker and Tony Kent who wanted to explore a topic central to local life. Tony became inspired by the canal through walking parts of the route of the canal along the Tarka Trail and the opportunity to create a show about the Rolle Canal seemed too good an opportunity to miss!  The songs were researched, written, composed and arranged by Tony Kent. The music was co- ordinated across the schools by Debbie Kent (Babcock LDP Music Service – Professional Lead). The community choir was led by Jan Baker and the drama was created by the pupils under the direction of Robert Barber. Research has been supported by the Rolle Canal Society.

The History

Two hundred years ago the canal transformed the life of the town and community. It improved the lot of the farmer and so the prosperity of Great Torrington. Now there is barely a mark left of this industrial development. Few people have heard of the canal, fewer still knew of its whereabouts or use. So in the spirit of “knowing your past will enrich your present and future” the creative team set out to learn about this corner of North Devon in the early 19th century. Tony’s songs, the energetic work of students and the enthusiasm of the community choir brought to life an Inclined plane where tub boats went up and down, an aqueduct soaring across the river Torridge and the fiery furnaces of the many lime kilns. These converted the cumbersome limestone rock to the fine powder that is spread on the fields to balance the acidity and bring back the essential fertility.

The creative team are inspired by the thought that through music and theatre young and old, performer and audience can share in this joint history and so appreciate just a little bit more about who we are.

The Performance

The story of the canal was told through the conversation of two ladies who worked at the Glove Factory in the latter part of the 19th Century. Both had contrasting memories of the canal. Mrs Leonard, now a manager at Truscotts, had done well whereas Mrs Scoins’ life had been scarred by her association with the canal. It was Mrs Scoins’ reflections and memories that brought the canal and its people to life.

Each Primary School learnt several of the songs and some developed drama around the canal. GTS students represented the people of Great Torrington and those present at the tragedy in the Sea Lock at Annery.

The children of Bluecoat created a dance to demonstrate how the Inclined plane worked. It was rehearsed and performed with the four other schools, the community choir and a house band! It was an amazing experience and thoroughly enjoyed by all.

What the children thought

“Last night I liked going onto the stage because I felt really happy and I got to see everybody. I wasn’t scared. I was excited to show everyone our dance.” Ruby 2P

“I really enjoyed last night. To start off with I was a little nervous but kind of excited at the same time. I really liked watching other schools.” Imogen 2P

“I really enjoyed being the tug boat and showing my family our performance. I was excited to get started and I also liked watching the other schools’ parts.” Daniel 2P

“I was really scared to perform in front of 300 people. I really enjoyed myself when doing the dance as a rock on the tug boat. I liked showing my family and watching others.” Quinlan 2P


The Rolle Canal Society provides a wealth of information and can be found at: