Salwarpe to Porters Mill

To inspire my writing for The Ring Project, I took a stroll along the Droitwich Canal with Nick Yarwood who was involved with its restoration as a teenager, and later as a Canal Manager. As we looked down from Salwarpe Bridge, I imagined the “wet mud, silt, dead trees … years of debris”, Nick described, my imagination helped along by one of Max Sinclair’s photos, taken in 1965. When the painstaking restoration work began, this is what the army of volunteers were confronted with.

1965 droit (3)
I had already been told by another interviewee that many of the locals weren’t keen on the canal being restored because they thought all sorts of riff raff would be marauding around, up to no good!

Under the bridge, holes made when it was constructed are clearly visible today, and the original wood is still there.


At the first event, the Droitwich Dig in 1973, a thousand people turned up. Nick was one of those people, aged fifteen. He tried to work out the location of Max’s photo and stood there for this shot:

As we moved from location to location, Nick described the work undertaken by the volunteers. In order for volunteers to repair this culvert under the canal, the stream was diverted through pipes. Anyone walking or cruising along would be unaware of all the work that went into this hidden brickwork. The site of Hill End swing bridge may go unnoticed, but the towpath edge was replaced by volunteers though the bridge itself is lying redundant on the towpath.

Restoration includes preserving features like this sandstone, reminding those who look more closely that horses once pulled boats along this waterway.

33. Porters Mill Bridge parapet
Here’s the sandstone parapet of Porters Mill Bridge, complete with rope marks and carvings.

John Burman, who was Chair of Droitwich Canals Trust for about 10 years, said this about the parapet of another bridge:

When we did Linacre Bridge, a nice bit of work, the coping stones were donated by Cadbury’s. When they were put up, we went to a local farmer and asked for buckets and buckets of slurry – which he was very happy to let us have – and we poured the slurry all over these coping stones for two reasons: One, so that moss would grow and two, more importantly, the vandals won’t try and write their names in it because they don’t want to get their hands dirty. So you don’t get people scratching their names into clean sandstone thereby damaging it.

The canal was officially abandoned in 1939 at the start of the war. The old bridges were too steep and lightweight to accommodate tanks, so this provided an excuse for an act of parliament giving the government official permission to let it fall into disrepair. Gradually over time, sections were built over and some parts were incorporated into people’s gardens. Nick described  vividly how the workforce collaborated to clear the canal of “years of debris” and I will be writing more about that soon. I’ll end with a story he told me.  In one section, a local man had erected a fence along the middle of the canal bed and planted a line of willow trees. When work began to remove the willows he protested. “They make cricket bats out of those you know!”

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Weavers’ Cottages up for an award

WEAVERS’ COTTAGES SHORTLISTED FOR A HISTORIC ENGLAND ANGEL AWARD

You may remember that I wrote a song-cycle in celebration of these beautifully restored cottages. Please will you vote for them to receive an Angel Award? Click here to listen to the songs and see below to find out more.

  • The Weavers’ Cottages in Horsefair, Kidderminster have been shortlisted as one of three finalists in the Best Rescue of a Historic Building category of the Historic England Angel Awards 2017
  • People are urged to vote for the public choice award here: Best rescue of a historic building
  • Annual awards supported by the Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation celebrate heritage heroes who have made a lasting difference to historic buildings and places

Worcestershire Building Preservation Trust is celebrating their successfully completed project to conserve the Weavers’ Cottages in Horsefair, Kidderminster being named one of three finalists in the Best Rescue of a Historic Building category of this year’s prestigious Historic England Angel Awards.

Weavers' Cottages completed

Long before Kidderminster was known for producing carpets, it was famous for spinning and weaving cloth. The three neglected Weavers’ Cottages on Horsefair might not have looked much to passers-by, but the modest buildings have always held an important place in the town’s history as a centre of the cloth industry. Their rescue has replaced a thread that connects Kidderminster with this distant way of life.

Kidderminster Civic Society successfully campaigned for the cottages to be given Listed building protection and after years of endeavour their rescue has been realised following sensitive repair and modernisation works carried out by Worcestershire Building Preservation Trust.  They are now for sale, with the proceeds to be used to repay some of the costs of renovation.

Bob Tolley, a son of Kidderminster and Trustee of Worcestershire Building Preservation Trust expressed the Trust’s delight: “We are thrilled to have been short-listed for a prestigious Angel Award, and grateful to National Lottery players and other funders, in particular the Architectural Heritage Fund and the Pilgrim Trust, whose support enabled us to carry out this project to save these cottages that were close to collapse.  They have been made fit for modern use, are now on the market and can serve again as family homes for present and future generations to enjoy.”

David Trevis-Smith, Project Organiser for Worcestershire Building Preservation Trust said: “The cottages are located on a busy road and even passing motorists have said how it lifts their spirits to see the transformation. Hopefully, that will encourage other ‘eyesore’ buildings to be looked at differently and refurbished rather than demolished,” and he added: “This project could be a model for abandoned buildings in other places to be refurbished to modern standards to help tackle the housing shortage.”

Andrew Lloyd Webber said: ‘I’m delighted to champion the people who protect the precious buildings and places around us. Everyone who has been shortlisted for an Historic England Angel Award has made a significant difference to our landscape and built environment. Congratulations to all of them! This year I am especially pleased that we are crowning an overall UK winner for the first time, showcasing the crucial work that is being done across the country by local heritage heroes.’

Duncan Wilson, Chief Executive of Historic England said: “I am always impressed by the tireless commitment shown by our Angel Award nominees working together to care for our shared heritage. The variety of this year’s shortlists proves there are so many different ways to engage with our rich legacy of historic buildings and places and as ever, the judging panel will have their work cut out to choose the winners. It is essential that we champion the volunteers and heritage professionals whose work ensures we can continue to enjoy England’s wonderful historic sites for generations to come.”

Please vote for the cottages! Thank you.

Update on The Ring project

Years ago I went on an organised walk along the then disused Droitwich Canal. Following the course of abandoned waterways can be quite tricky as they are often hidden under roads and buildings. Walking the canal again recently, so that I could write about its restoration, as I walked down the locks from Hanbury I had no idea that the canal had been moved over, the original route being hidden under people’s gardens. Alongside the locks, there’s a hedge between the towpath and a very busy road. That hedge separates two worlds – the ‘rat race’ and the ‘slow lane’. I chatted to a volunteer lock keeper who told me that working on the canal is his “safety valve”. You can see him on this photo standing by the top gate.

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In order to fulfill my writing commission with The Ring Project, I am doing a series of interviews with people who became involved with the mammoth task of restoring this canal. I have memories of my own of what’s involved in canal restoration, and I’m learning a great deal about the Droitwich Canal from doing these interviews and reading various documents, in print and online, including fascinating canal guides produced by Droitwich Canals Trust at intervals during the restoration process.

Having read in this article by Max Sinclair https://worcestervista.com/index.php/boats/droitwitch-barge-canal/ about a barge kettle which was found during the dredging process, I wondered if anything of value was found in the undergrowth or canal bed. So far, the answer is no. Here’s an extract from an article, again by Max, in the 2001 Guide: ‘After we cleared the mud out of lock 4, we started on the paddle holes …. Secretary, Nick Grazebrook saw what he thought was a silver cup under the water and put his hand in to retrieve it. Suddenly he let out an enormous yell when a four-foot eel leapt out of the water and the whole pit was writhing with smaller eels. As it was getting dark we left it to next morning only to find they had all migrated across the towpath into the Salwarpe.’

Volunteers did however find buried treasure by way of a historic hinged gate that Brindley had fitted in the bed of the canal, which would rise in case of a breach. The pressure of the water remaining in the canal would keep the gate tightly sealed and stop the water escaping. This old swing bridge (see below), no longer required, was not discarded, but placed on the towpath. When in use, it revolved on bearings made from cannon balls, said to be the first recorded use of ball bearings.

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I was amused to find accounts of visiting journalists who were reporting on the project. In 1978 John Noakes was invited with his dog Shep to help volunteers clear mud from Mildenham Mill Lock for his BBC programme Go with Noakes. (See above link.) He arrived in new overalls, wellington boots and a hat. Having persuaded him to enter the lock, the producer was not happy with his pristine appearance and ‘after a whispered word with the navvies it was arranged for someone to slip and fall on him so he emerged the right colour’. This photo was taken by Max that day.

In the 2001 Guide, Max describes how the BBCs Tony Francis, then a young reporter, ‘stood on the bed of the newly cleared canal, in a three-quarter length suede coat, conducting an interview as he slowly sank to his middle in mud.’

Behind all these stories there are a huge number of dedicated and hard working people. For example, the first big dig held after the formation of Droitwich Canals Trust in October 1973, known as The Droitwich Dig, attracted a thousand people! Through exploring various aspects of the canal – bridges, hedges, locks etc – I would like to bring to life the activity that went on to turn the dream into reality. Here’s a page from one of Max’s photo albums:

IMG_1786

Finally, here’s an extract from a conversation I found in an online forum:

Many years ago I went to the Droitwich Dig. I had great fun felling larger trees than I had had to tackle before, but what struck me most was the large number of navvies wielding shovels and digging away for two days in the bed of the canal. I remember thinking that if they had all contributed a small sum to hire one machine much more would have been achieved.”
T

Yes, sometimes this is the case, but people go navvying for FUN – group activity, socialising, and lots of fresh air and beer.  Compare this with 22 or so people pursuing an inflated pig’s bladder up and down an almost equally muddy field, when a result could as easily be obtained by tossing a coin. Or driving boats down a muddy channel, when they could get there more cheaply and quickly by bus.”
P

Very well put!

Heather Wastie

Songs and poems for historic cottages

Having written a song cycle for the historic Weavers’ Cottages in Kidderminster, I’m keen for these unique houses to be owned by people who care about the heritage as much as I do. 

The three separate properties will be sold by auction on 12th September – click here for details. The one on the right, No 22, is a rare example of a cottage specifically built to house a weaver. The top floor is light and spacious, designed as a work space which contained the loom. We know that the middle property was once a sweet shop because of the sign which is faintly visible above the ground floor window. 

Not many people can say that a song cycle has been written about their home! Here’s a link to recordings of the songs, together with poems and stories written by 4 other writers after a workshop I ran as part of a series of activities organised by Worcestershire Building Preservation Trust. 

There’s a poem version of one of my songs which you can hear in this interactive film by James McDonald. You can move around inside the cottages using your computer mouse. The film is one of several made by James which I find quite addictive. 

The songs will be available soon as a resource for young people, linking them to their own local history. There will be an online publication with the song lyrics, poems and stories, and the songs will be on a CD. This was a hugely rewarding project to be involved in, with a truly lasting legacy. 

Take A Look At This…

Thanks to Polly for sharing my post she saw on Facebook #TheIdleWomen

Polly

A good friend of mine, Heather, whom I haven’t seen in far too long, says ‘I have performed this piece so many times now! Getting on for 40 this year alone. Here is the original recorded version by request. The live performance has developed and I take more time over it now – CRT commissioned a 6-minute piece and it turned out to be exactly that length without me having to edit it. It’s good to hear the real Emma and Nancy, and the lovely engines I recorded, and see photos of some of the ‘Idle Women’. The next time I perform it will be at the Barley Mow, Newbold on Monday. See www.alarumtheatre.co.uk for the remaining tour dates.’

Watch this YouTube of the poem, it’s amazing!

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Stereotypes

I’m nearing the end of a project with Birmingham Poet Laureate, Matt Windle (‘Poet with Punch’) working with NEETs (young people Not in Education Employment or Training) from Nova Training, Kidderminster. The project was initiated by the Museum of Carpet with funding from The Clore Duffield Foundation

Today we did some evaluation with the group which took us back to the first session, in November 2016, when the young people were asked to say what they thought about Matt and I, based on our appearance and what they knew about poets. I had fun writing the poem below which describes what they said about me. Here I am wearing the same top I had on that day:

zebra-photo

Stereotypes

I’m a poet
a know-it-all nose-in-the-air kind of person
like Shakespeare, it’s quite clear
I should have a beard and make notes
with the quill of a feather,
but wait just a minute,
I’m Heather.

You think
that you’ve seen me in Sainsbury’s,
my arm pushing produce from right to left,
or I could be the woman who shuffles
the stock in a charity shop,
but stop!

I’m a zebra,
a horse dressed in stripes
and I’m crossing the road
between two different
stereotypes.

© Heather Wastie
November 2016

And what did they say about Matt? That he ought to be bald.

Until I Saw Your Foot again

Recently, an artist friend of mine who, like me, uses Twitter to advertise his work, complained in a tweet that the number of interactions he received was too low. There’s lots of advice available on how to get noticed on Twitter, but my first thought was this: more people notice you than interact with you.

This leads nicely into my latest story of a poem I published in 1997 which has been interacting with people across the world ever since. I only know about these interactions when I do an internet search, or when someone contacts me to ask permission to reproduce the poem. I know full well that Until I Saw Your Foot has been shared without my name attached to it, and this annoys me, though I’m delighted that people enjoy it enough to want to pass it on. (In fact I’m waiting for the day someone comes up to me and says, “Hey I know this great poem ….” gleefully brandishing my own work.) 

From time to time, an email appears out of the blue from someone asking permission to share the poem in some way. (Bravo to those people!) In December I was contacted by a wind player in Norway who wanted to reproduce my poem on a website. I said yes, that would be fine, as long as he acknowledged me as author, and please could he tell me how he found out about the poem. (I always ask.) His response led me to a Norwegian conductor by the name of Helge Haukås who I immediately emailed. Here’s his reply:

So you excist! What a big pleasure..

I was complaining to the players of the Nordic Wind Orchestra, Iceland 1999, because so many was tapping their feet during playing. I said, as a conductor I wanted to be the pulse maker in the room.. or something like that.

One of the horn-players, I only remember his first name Kjartan, from Iceland, said he knew a poem about this and mailed it to me. This must be five computers ago so I cannot find the original mail.

But I so much wanted to recite this poem spontaneously that I immediately learned it by heart and still knows it.

Next time I recite it I will happily enough be able to share with my audience who the author is!

Helge Haukås

The moral to this story is …. your creativity is working for you, even when you’re off doing something completely different, and it’s always worth putting stuff out there – you never know who might be watching, or even memorising your work!