The Idle Women Summer 2018 tour

Kate Saffin and I (Alarum Theatre) finished our Spring tour of Idle Women of the Wartime Waterways last Saturday in Calf Heath Marina, Wolverhampton. We’re now preparing for the Summer tour which starts at the beginning of June. The first show is in Stoke Bruerne, then we’ll be on the Chesterfield Canal in West Stockwith. Click here for the full schedule and to book:

https://alarumtheatre.co.uk/2018-tour-dates/

Here are a couple of audience comments from the Spring tour to whet your appetite!

“Wonderful show – beautifully and compassionately performed.” – Sarah & Tony

“A wonderful performance – it brought the whole situation alive.” – Sue & Geoff

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Updates to my Privacy Policy

If only I could just send this poem to my mailing list to satisfy the new data protection laws.

Brian Bilston's Poetry Laboetry

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Broad Street Canal Bridge, Wolverhampton

I’m delighted that my poem Histrionic Water has been published on Writing the Black Country, a website buzzing with Black Country atmosphere.

Writing the Black Country

Untitled drawing (7)Histrionic water

By Heather Wastie

In Wolverhampton,

fish take me by surprise.

 

Looking down from Broad Street Bridge,

then from the towpath edge

 

I need an explanation

for such unexpected clarity,

 

a long exposure of minnows,

lush reeds and sulky sediment.

 

It’s ironic, says the cut water,

I have been cleansed

 

by a vandal-induced stoppage.

Tearfully the water speaks:

 

It was you who saved me

from oil slick, effluent, blackened

 

polystyrene icebergs, mattress tangled

shopping trolleys, half inched bikes,

 

malicious metal spikes,

contents of living rooms tipped.

 

I was soap sud soup with beer bottle croutons,

peppered with cans and the odd chunk of meat.

 

You saved me from scum,

from smothering polythene,

 

wire running red, the callous garrottes

of those who would see me dead.

 

I fear the onset of duck weed.

You saved me to be…

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Not so Idle Women

It was really good to see the current Worcestershire Poet Laureate at our show on Saturday. In her exceedingly busy schedule she even found time to blog about it ….

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On Saturday night I finally managed to catch the Idle Women Tour, this is a project Heather Wastie has worked on since 2016, I missed the 2017 performances and have been meaning to catch a show ever since!

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The show gained financial support from Arts Council England, which enabled the employment of a Tour Manager, Zoe Hunn and Director, Milla Jackson.

Last Autumn Idle Women featured on BBC Country File, which aired November 12th as part of Remembrance programming.

https://alarumtheatre.co.uk/broadcast/bbc-countryfile/

The Spring Tour started last week with a performance at The Chestnut Inn,  Worcester on Tuesday 3rd April.

idle women chestnut inn© 2018 – Alarum Theatre

I knew the basic content of the show and have been aware of Heather’s work and some of the poetry. I purposefully didn’t look into the Double Bill and had no idea what to expect from Kate Saffin (other than half the show).

Photographs taken in the first week of the…

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Tell-Tale Colours by Heather Wastie

One of my Weaving Yarns (Black Pear Press) poems has been published on the Celebrating Change blog. Here it is with a photo from the Museum of Carpet archive.

Celebrating Change

Tell-tale colours

In the carpet capital of the world,

Brian is studying the Stour,

today’s mix of colours

from a multitude of dyes.

His dad would make the joke

that if Jellymans dumped a yellow

and Carpet Trades a blue,

Brintons would get green.

Every day the smell of wet wool

would arrive in the kitchen

on his dad’s hessian bag

of weaver’s “bits and bobs”

dumped loudly on the table,

the same scent clinging

to his mother’s coat as she rushed in

to get the dinner on.

Brian is thinking now of Uncle Ted

weighing out powder in the dyehouse

wearing a makeshift hessian apron

to save his clothes.

In Brian’s imagination,

the river is now a steaming wooden vat.

Suspended hanks are lowered in,

boiled and cooled, boiled and cooled

then hauled out with the lifting gear

to be spun in the dryer,

coming out clumped into quarters

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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!”

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.