Tag Archives: community

Witnesses

25 Sep

As I wrote in an earlier post, for just over 12 months now,  I’ve been exploring ideas and working with many different people in and around Dawley, Telford, to begin running events to commemorate and raise awareness of the Cinderloo Uprising of 1821.  We’ve come a long way, generated a lot of interest and support, and begun to attract funding to support initial activities.

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I’ve helped set up a website for the community organisation Cinderloo1821, which will bring together historical information, contemporary responses, writings and artwork about the 1821 Uprising.  We await news of an initial application to the Heritage Lottery Fund for a grant that will support plans for a range of different activities including intergenerational workshops, educational work with schools, walks, heritage skills workshops, local history and family history research.

Meanwhile, I’ve been walking and discovering the immense network of tracks, woodland and history which binds together the various communities across Telford; sometimes with new found friends interested in the project, and sometimes alone.  These walks have helped develop various ideas for art projects associated with Cinderloo.

The first of these, the Witnesses project, was inspired by a poem I wrote and read out at the inaugural public meeting of Cinderloo1821, back in February:

Do we have a witness?

Heavy boots pounded along woodland paths

From Dawley, Donnington and Horsehay

Long drawn faces grim and determined

Sharp voices called and with spirits rising

The miners found strength in their ranks

Do we have a witness?

The oak and the ash and the beech

The coppiced and saplings

Saw all that passed by

Some still stand there now

Oh yes the trees know but now they will not tell

Who were the leaders?

Who planned and plotted and schemed?

Or did long months of starving

And back breaking toil

Facing death from rock fall and coal damp

Light a fuse to inspire all into action

On those cinder hills

Where the trees were cut down

To fuel iron furnace and wealth

Only those that fought saw how it unfolded

When yeomanry executed arduous duties

And as men, women and children dispersed

With Tom Palin wounded among them

Was it fear and sorrow or pride and defiance

That continued to burn in their hearts?

Do we have a witness?

The oak and the ash and the beech

Oh yes the trees know but now they will not tell

© Andrew Howe 2018

Much of the history bound up in the old towns was swept away or obscured with the development of the new town of Telford (currently celebrating its 50th year).  Yet there is much remaining, and the history of the town is much more than that presented in the Ironbridge Gorge and Coalbrookdale.  But perhaps, some of the most interesting, enigmatic features which connect the landscape of today with the historical landscape of 1821 are trees.  I was drawn to the notion that some of those, that are now over 200 years old, may have witnessed the events of Cinderloo, for which we now only have newspaper reports to rely on.

I have been in conversation with Shropshire Wildlife Trust, the Small Woods Association and members of Severn Gorge Countryside Trust to trace and map trees which are thought to be over 200 years old.  A group of us are also tracing the old miners tracks, many of which still exist and which may have been used by protesters on that day in February 1821.

It would be great if other people wanted to walk these routes for themselves and find their own trees to add to the map.  We would also welcome any photographs or other artworks inspired by these trees.  Contact me directly or Cinderloo1821.

I have begun making drawings of some of the trees that I have found so far.  I am using materials that relate to this landscape and the historical events.  So I made my own oak gall ink, using the tannin from acorn galls and ferric sulphate from rusty nails.  This ink was used for centuries in historic documents, and has beautiful purply, brown hues, which darken as the ink oxidises.

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Beech, The Wrekin, ink on paper, 39cm x 57cm

Iron oxide pigment has a deep rich red colour, evocative of the blood shed and, along with charcoal, symbolic of the iron and coal industries which were at the root of the miners’ protest.

I have also made a couple of drawings using silver ink on dark grey paper.  Again suggestive of iron and coal.  I’m not so sure about these yet.  I liked how the drawing emerges as light reflects from the ink marks, but light conditions need to be considered very carefully since the drawing is near invisible in most situations.

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Oak bark, silver ink on paper

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Detail of oak bark

I’m also experimenting with mark-making using brushes hand made with sticks, birch twigs and plant fibres.  Look out for more drawings as we find more 200 year old trees.

 

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Your Perfect High Street

15 Sep

As part of last weekend’s Heritage Open Day events, I was delighted to be invited to run a workshop at the Unitarian Church on Shrewsbury’s High Street.  According to the inscription on its frontage,  the Unitarian Church was built in 1662 and was where Charles Darwin came to worship.  And I had a beautiful old room with stained glass windows above the street to work in.

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The suggested theme was designing a perfect High Street.  Arguably, Shrewsbury already has one, and so in preparation for the event I began to explore by taking a series of photos of details along the street.  Details that may go unnoticed unless you really slow down and look.

Participants helped create a collage of my photos as a grid during the workshop, and then people added their own thoughts, ideas and memories on sticky notes within the grid:

 

 

 

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My preparations also included a pen drawing of the elevations of both sides of the street, which became quite addictive.  I completed it in about three days, although certainly can’t vouch for its accuracy of detail.  It was interesting to see the differences in scale of the buildings and see them without the dominating colours and branding of the retailers. The Unitarian Church, which can seem quite an impressively large facade from street level, actually appears to be one of the smallest buildings along the whole street.

 

The workshop was aimed primarily at families with children aged 8 and over, but many adults dropped in and got involved too.  There were around 35 participants over the course of 3 hours.  Besides the photo collage, the activities began with thinking about the kind of activities that might take place in the High Street and which are more important.

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I made a few initial suggestions, and quickly realised just how many different activities already go on in our High Street.  Participants then added their own ideas, moved activities between “important” and “not important” and voted with red dots for the ideas they agreed with.  I deliberately missed out quite a few activities like shopping and gambling to see if there was any reaction, and surprisingly only one person added “ice cream shop”… and this was in the “not important” zone.  Someone else added “independent businesses” as important.  Hear hear!

The activities ranked in the highest zone of importance/votes were (approximately):

  • Homes for living,
  • green space,
  • learning,
  • seating,
  • street art,
  • a litter free environment,
  • having a strong community,
  • independent businesses,
  • walking/strolling/wandering,
  • healthcare,
  • theatre/street performance,
  • exercising democratic rights local political issues and public debates.

I think we can guess at the kind of social-demographic I was dealing with.  Other suggestions I really liked included:

  • Temporary closure of streets to create play/community areas,
  • interacting and co-operating,
  • installations and performance platform for local artists (obviously).

Most of the workshop activity revolved around building a scale model of a High Street using card boxes and hand drawn frontages.  Participants could use my pen drawings and a montage of architectural design considerations as inspiration.  There were some really lovely buildings.

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Finally, as an activity to take away, I produced a sheet of some of the architectural details to go and find somewhere in the High Street.  You can download a copy and have a go yourself by clicking this link:  Look Closely

look closely

 

A Voyage of Enterprise

10 Sep

Some months ago, the Shropshire Visual Art Network was appointed by Kate Gittins of the Market Hall, Shrewsbury to curate an exhibition to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Market Hall building.    After a huge amount of work, the exhibition launches this week:

MH flier front

I have taken a lead on this for VAN, working with fellow members/trustees Carola Fielden and Pat Jones and various other colleagues.  The exhibition features archive material, the original design drawings, work by artists inspired by the market, and photographs and stories of the many traders and people associated with the existing market building and its predecessor.  We have collaborated with Sarah Hart Media, historian David Trumper, and architect Paul Harries, partner of Baart Harries Newall.

Often likened by the public to a “starship”, “cruise ship” or “battleship”, the Market Hall was hailed “the most modern building in Shropshire” when it officially opened in 1965.  It remains an important commercial building, housing Shrewsbury’s 240ft clock tower, its thriving indoor market, a ground-floor shopping centre and now the town’s first university hall of residence.

A special celebration will be staged in the market from 11.30am to 3pm on Wednesday September 16th – the day of the official anniversary, followed by a private view at Participate from 4pm – 6pm.

The building is now owned by Shropshire Council, while the central stalls of the market are the responsibility of Shrewsbury Town Council.  So we have received support from both Councils and from Shropshire Archives.  It is planned to incorporate a digital screen as part of the exhibition above the main market floor, which will be installed by the excellent Microvideo – who, amongst other things, manage the video installation for the Shrewsbury Folk Festival.  The digital display will feature historical photos, photos of traders past and present, and art work by Pat Jones and myself.

Pat Jones, an artist based in the Market, commenced a 12 month journal of photography and sketches earlier this year due to finish in 2016.  Some of her photographs will also be shown at Participate Contemporary Art Space.

I had not originally planned to produce work for the exhibition myself, but was then inspired to take a series of photographs of fragments of the building fabric.  I will include more of the work, entitled Quotidian (everyday), in a later blog post.  Here’s one for now:

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It is the people that bring the market alive, and in looking at photographs of Shrewsbury’s markets going back almost 150 years, I was fascinated by how certain details barely changed through the ages, despite the more obvious changes to buildings and clothing.  The social activities of meeting, buying and selling in the market are timeless.  I produced a photographic frieze illustrating this – here’s a small section of it:

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Art work in the VAN Gallery includes:

  • special edition prints by illustrator Linda Edwards;
  • a collage produced in a collaboration between Peter Williams and Pat Jones;
  • two paintings by Bethan Laura Wood, who won the People’s price at the Shropshire Open Art Exhibition with one of these paintings in 2002, and has since gone on to become one of the UK’s top young designers;
  • portraits of traders by Ian Collett (18 from a total of 30 paintings commissioned a few years ago by VAN)

In parallel, VAN has co-ordinated with Participate Contemporary Artspace who will be running an exhibition, entitled “Outside In”, concurrently with VAN. This also features contemporary artists’ interpretations of the Market Hall. Keith Ashford and Liz Turner have both produced work for the exhibition and have collaborated on a sculpture comprising a life size replica of the 37ft finial from atop the clocktower.

I’m a great believer in the market as a place where new enterprises and ideas can venture into business alongside long established family businesses.  The market can act as an incubator for new businesses willing to take risks in a supportive environment

Through the history of markets in Shrewsbury and across the UK there has been an ebb and flow between public and private control, and competition between the Market Hall and other street trading.  Nowadays, competition includes vast superstores, indoor malls, out of town shopping centres and the world wide web.  Global corporations control most of the goods available.

Yet the Market Hall flourishes today with full occupancy and a diverse range of stalls and services.  Many of which could not have been foreseen when the first indoor market hall opened in 1869.

Independence, local, high quality produce, and unique crafts are just some of the Market’s attributes, which global brands struggle to compete with.  The Market Hall arguably has the ideal blend of entrepreneurism, municipal support and community resilience needed for a time when sustainability and equality are key to long term prosperity.

In 2015, both the market and the town of Shrewsbury enter a new phase, re-shaping their identity, as a University is opened and the long empty section of Mardol House is converted into student accommodation.  A new age of enlightenment?

Land in Hand – Postscript

18 Jun

This is a late postscript to the Land in Hand project. The selected photographs were included in an exhibition with Mairi Turner in May 2013, and in conjunction with that, Mairi and I collaborated on producing a book entitled “Land in Hand – the Making of Coton Hill Allotments”. The book is available to preview or buy on Blurb.com here:

 

Land in Hand by Andrew Howe and Mairi Turner
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Not long after completing the book, whilst researching another related subject, I encountered a link to a fascinating PhD thesis by Dr Rosemary Thornes, entitled “Detached Gardens and Urban Allotments in English Provincial Towns, 1750 to 1950. Distribution, Abundance and Transformative Processes (June 2011)”. The paper was available on the website for the School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Birmingham. Dr Thornes’s research focussed on Shrewsbury as a detailed case study.

It was found that Shrewsbury has an abundance of allotment sites, which have developed at different times. The earliest sites, including Coton Hill, are understood to have developed in the late 18th/early 19th Century or earlier in land beyond the urban fringe. It is unclear what caused them to be developed, or indeed when they first appeared, since there is evidence of some allotment type gardens in the UK as early as the 14th Century. It was not necessarily the case, for example, that wealthy land owners of large estates rented out land to poor tenants.

Earlier private ownership was replaced by public ownership in the wake of a series of legislation, which established the provision of allotments as a statutory obligation for local authorities. There were later phases of allotments which appeared in the First and Second World Wars, whilst some of the early sites were absorbed into the town as development expanded outwards. Most of such sites were built up on, but some sites still remain including a tiny site nestling alongside the original Town Walls.
The Coton Hill site is referred to in the research paper, and it was evidently distinct from many other sites in being significantly detached from the urban fringe, located just over half a mile from the housing built on Berwick Road at Coton Hill. I was intrigued to learn more, and subsequently met Dr Thornes to discuss her findings. She was kind enough to provide me with some copies of information from the Shropshire Archives.

In a map of the Borough of Shrewsbury dated 1832, there appear to be some 92 plots shown at a site known as Corporation Gardens. These cover the area, now recently re-established as part of the Transition Town Shrewsbury project, but then also extend both sides of Corporation Lane and on to another series of smaller plots aligned at right angles along the line of the old bed of the River Severn. It is peculiar that these plots should be so far from the town. They would appear not to have been related to the (now substantial) house at Coton Grange which in 1832 is indicated as being only a small building.
(I Hitchcock, A. 1832. Map of the Borough of Shrewsbury as extended and settled by Act of Parliament July 15th 1832. Scale 6”:1 mile. BL Maps.4930.(2.). SA 4756/1/20.

The audited accounts of 1833 (Corporation of Shrewsbury 1833 provide some interesting details. Audited Accounts. An account of the receipts and disbursements of the rents and profits of the estates revenues belonging to the Mayor, Aldermen and Burgesses of the Town of Shrewsbury. SA Watton’s Cuttings.

Income of a year’s rent due on Lady Day was £63/8/6

There were various tenants as per schedule. The premises comprised an area of 1558 perches (where 40 perches = 1 rood, and 4 roods = 1 acre)
Payments were made of mole catching, gate repairs, ale for tenants (!), Highway Lewns, Receiver’s salary, Church and Pool Laws and repairs: Richard France, William Jones, Thomas Bowyer, Robert Norton and Thomas Lloyd.

In 1849 all plots had just been sold (tithe plots 80-89) (Tithe maps and apportionments, Parishes of St Mary and St Julian, Coton Township, 1849. SA PF257/3/1). New owners were:
Sam Croft Theckler 1 plot. 22 perches.
James Davies. 1 plot. 40 perches.
James Holmes and others. 2 plots. 143 perches and 53 perches
John Swain. 2 plots. 288 perches
William Tisdale. 1 plot 23 perches.
George Wode. 1 plot. 60 perches.
Representatives of the late Eleanor Brier. 1 plot. 20 perches

All together these made up 506 perches, only one third of the area mentioned in the 1833 accounts. It may be inferred that the owners were not without some wealth, but not sufficiently wealthy to own large estates.
Possibly cultivation of the plots nearest the old river bed was discontinued due to flooding. This may even have been exacerbated by the construction of the railway just to the east, which would likely have restricted the free passage of water along the channel.

The 1880 and 1900-01 OS maps (6”:1 mile) both indicate that the Corporation Gardens site had reduced in size to the area west of Corporation Lane near Coton Grange. The plots towards the northern end of the site may possibly have become orchard, judging by the map symbols. This is consistent with the remaining existence of several apple, pear and plum trees in and around the site. The allotments are again indicated in a map dated 1933, which also shows a new site known as Coton Hill farm allotments, just north of new housing at Coton Hill and west of Corporation Lane. These plots appeared during World War I.

It is not clear when either of the allotment sites at Corporation Gardens or Coton Hill farm ceased being cultivated.

It is good to have witnessed a new chapter emerging for the Coton Hill site as the current community rejuvenates its use as an allotment garden and establishes its place in history. When looking at the photographs of the current allotment holders, one cannot help but reflect on the heritage of the site, and the succession of former plot holders that cultivated the land. This is land that has served a local community over a significant period of time. It is all the more striking to consider how small this plot is, in relation to the surrounding land, some of which is agricultural, some is undeveloped wetland, and the remainder is increasingly becoming urban development. What are the relative values to the community of these land uses?

Coton Hill Allotments – Winding down

5 May

My last visit to the allotments to take photographs was on 26th October 2012.  I didn’t manage to get to the site during most of the harvesting season, but there was still much produce still in evidence.  Some of the winter crops, like leeks and sprouts were also well under way.

It was also good to see that at least one of the bee hives in the neighbouring field had been salvaged.  The bee colony had not been in great condition but hopefully it will thrive.

It was a cool damp day, but the Autumn colours of the leaves were particularly vibrant this year.  Colourful chard leaves also brought some brightness to an otherwise quite sombre day.  There were plenty of mushrooms around in the adjacent fields.

Some people were hard at work just starting out on preparing their plot and putting up fencing ready for next year.

Coton Hill Allotments – it was all worth it

3 May

By 21st July, the site looked fully established.  Another 15 plots had been created and were being prepared, albeit quite late in the growing season.  It was quite astonishing how mature the allotments appeared, as if they had been ongoing for some years.  There was a general relaxed air of satisfaction about the place.

Most of the plots already had plenty of vegetable produce.  One lady was watering her magnificent crop of cabbages and she allowed me to take her portrait with them, albeit that our conversation was somewhat limited by our different languages.

It was quite a warm balmy late afternoon, and it was just the time I had imagined way back when the project started – a late summer’s afternoon when one could relax after working on the plot, have a drink and may be enjoy a barbecue.  I could see that one or two folk had already tried out this particular blissful experience, but there were no barbecues on the day during my visit, so I missed out on that photo opportunity unfortunately.

 

Coton Hill Allotments – Summer?

24 Jun

It was a beautiful warm sunny morning when I visited in May.  After the warm weather in March, its been mainly wet and unsettled.  But there’s always a plus side for allotmenteers, as that means we don’t have to keep visiting the plot just to water the plants.

For me two of the key signifiers of an allotment are sheds and bean pole supports.  And they are certainly well and truly established at Coton Hill.  I’m fascinated by the character and care that goes into these constructions.

Most of the plots look immaculately well tended, whilst some begin to show signs of the torment of the owners’ struggle against weeds.  But I was delighted to see radishes being harvested in abundance.