A very dirty job

So far I’ve interviewed four volunteers working at the Museum and I’m in the process of writing pieces for the three people I met who worked in design studios. I’ll post them when they’re finished and checked for accuracy with the people who inspired them. In the meantime, I’m on the lookout for stories and writing by other people, and Melvyn Thompson (mentioned in my first blog post) has sent me a poem he wrote which neatly sums up some of the many jobs associated with carpet manufacture as well as the way whole families were involved. You’ll find it on the Your Stories page.

Here now is a piece which came from one of the interviews I did last year at the Tulip Tree Centre, funded by the Kidderminster Educational Foundation.

A very dirty job
for Constance Hockley, born Evans 1922

I worked on doubling. Some called it twisting. Near where we worked was a big shed where all the sheep skins were. We used to call it the Woolly Hole! It did smell! It was a very dirty job and your clothes smelled of sheep! When I got home my husband used to say, “Don’t sit by the fire till you’ve took your overalls off!” He used to work in Preedy’s where they sold tobacco. So he smelled of tobacco and I smelled of sheep! It was a dirty job because you were saturated with oil. Shoes! You couldn’t keep up with shoes because the oil rotted them – you had to keep walking up and down oiling the parts.

They were massive machines we worked on and if there was a problem you were all right if you got on with the electricians and fitters so they’d come to see to it straight away so you could start again. You were always relying on somebody else.

It was hard work because you were working to the machine all the time and the more you could turn out the more money you got. A doubler had to work with a reeler, and if you’d got a good reeler who could reel them off fast you were all right. But it didn’t always work like that. When I was at Greatwich’s, the reeler wasn’t keeping up with me and I lost my temper with her. As I’m doffing the bobbins she was supposed to put them on a reel and reel them off into skeins. Well she didn’t reel them off quick enough. That meant that the bobbins were piling up so you lost out. Oddly enough we earned more when there were less of us than when there were more there. If you’d got a good reeler who could reel them off as fast as you doffed them you had a good day.

Everybody’s business









Everybody’s business 1955
from an interview with Brian Mottram

Everybody’s uncle, father, mother
Everybody’s sister, auntie, brother
Everybody’s friend of a friend of a friend 
Worked in carpets, thought it wouldn’t end
Chatting at the cricket, chatting in the pub
Chatting at the football and the fishing club 
Chatting in the street, gossiping at home
Never any secrets in Kidderminster town!

© Heather Wastie

Brian is sitting in virtually the same spot as he did when he worked for Woodward Grosvenor as Export Director from 1986 until he retired in 2003. The Woodward Grosvenor building now houses the Museum of Carpet and Brian works there as a volunteer. 

Brushing off the Dust

I’ll be starting work at the Museum next week, meeting and interviewing volunteers and starting my programme of workshops. On Thursday 11.00-12.00, one of the volunteers will be presenting Focus on Collections, a chance to see some of the objects not on display in the Museum. In my writing workshop from 12.15-1.45 participants will write about what we have seen. I have no idea what that will be so I’m really looking forward to sharing that discovery with people at the workshop. Focus on Collections is free to attend and the writing workshop costs £5.00 payable on the day. No previous experience is necessary. Do come along – we’ll be upstairs. See the Workshop page for further information about the workshop programme.

When I first decided to begin researching the carpet industry I visited the Carpet Museum Archive where lots of volunteers were busily involved in getting a huge amount of material ready to be moved to the new Museum. My visit was in December 2011 and the Museum opened in October 2012. I was impressed by the painstaking work going on that day – one woman patiently untangling a massive bundle of yarn and rolling it into balls; two others carefully brushing the dust from every single page of a precious book. While I was there, Charles Talbot (Founder Member and Hon Sec of the Carpet Museum Trust) arrived glowing after a successful meeting. Here’s the poem I wrote shortly afterwards:

Brushing off the dust
describing visit to Archives December 2011

Yarns unravelled, teased apart,
measured, checked, recorded, packed;
business suit negotiations
done and dusted, wrapped and stacked.

Sticky traps for Tineola
bisselliella, here like me,
hungry for that human sweat,
the dirt of living honesty.

Carpets waiting to be frozen,
patient ledgers hoarding dust,
red rot staining sleeve and shelving,
ashes of Dyer and Colourist.

© Heather Wastie
December 2011

 Tineola bisselliella – clothes moth


Heather Wastie

Welcome to my new blog which marks the start of my work as Writer in Residence at the Museum of Carpet. I’m thrilled to be involved with this exciting new organisation in Kidderminster, the home of carpet-making. In this blog I will be writing about and featuring people who once worked in the industry as well as sharing material written by other people involved in the project.  I will also be setting up a Facebook page. Maybe you would like to be involved? Take a look at the Residency page to find out how.

The seeds of the Weaving Yarns project were ‘sewn’ when I went on a fascinating tour of Kidderminster in 2011 led by Melvyn Thompson who was a key figure in setting up the Museum and is heavily involved today. Here’s his website http://www.thompson.gb.com/ More information about the Museum can be found here http://www.carpetmuseum.co.uk/

Here’s the poem I wrote after Melvyn’s tour.

The Bell and the Bull

When Brinton’s Piano Building
was gutted, they blamed the bell,
ringing its heart out, unheard above the blaze.

The grand piano curve
of Brinton’s boundary hugged The Sling,
a huge five-storey warehouse
which soon became a smouldering shell
while the tiny bell
on the nearby dyehouse drying room
failed in the job it was meant to do.

So now I find it pinned to the wall
of Slingfield Mill over Debenhams door
with a plaque I hadn’t noticed before.

When Brinton’s Piano Building
was gutted it was full of wool
on wooden floors, combustible yarns
with oil and gas lamp open flames,
a terrible shame to lose it all
but never fear, The Bull is here!

The Bull snorted steam and bellowed
once for a town fire,
twice for a district fire,
three times for a Brinton’s fire
till fire-fighting went professional
so they found another use for The Bull:

It started and ended the working day
and during the war at the dead of night
four short blasts and a longer one
warned Kiddy folk to stay at home.

On eleven eleven nineteen eighteen
it breathed a public sigh of relief
and many special occasions later
its final song was three long blasts
as Brinton’s finally closed its doors

and now I find the Brinton’s Bull
pinned to the wall in Weaver’s Wharf
with a plaque I hadn’t noticed before.

The Bull was louder and fitted the bill
so I feel quite sorry for Brinton’s Bell.

© Heather Wastie
August 2011