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.

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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:

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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

More shows for #TheIdleWomen

After our successful 50-show summer tour, Kate Saffin and I have put together a short run of performances of Idle Women of the Wartime Waterways in and around Oxford at the end of this month. See below for dates. Here’s a review to whet your appetite:

“Both women are exceptional storytellers, their performances brimming over with personality”   London City Nights

OXFORD CANAL & THAMES October 21st-29th 2017  Tickets £10/£8

Sat 21  7.00pm  Shipton-on-Cherwell Village Hall, Kidlington OX5 1JP
Tue 24  8.00pm  St Margaret’s Institute, 30 Polstead Road OX2 6TN
Thu 26  7.30pm  Rock of Gibraltar, Station Road, Enslow OX5 3AY
Fri 27   7.30pm   Wolvercote Village Hall, 1 Wolvercote Green OX2 8AB
Sun 29  6.00pm  Unicorn Theatre, Medieval Abbey Buildings, Checker Walk, Abingdon OX14 3JB

Advance booking via https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/o/alarum-theatre-9882552992, email admin@alarumtheatre.co.uk, phone 01865 364095 or pay on the door. See also www.alarumtheatre.co.uk

IWWW Oxford tour 2017 flyer v4IWWW Oxford tour 2017 flyer back v4

After my time

I regularly take my poetry and songs to dementia cafés organised by the Alzheimers Society. We chat about a whole range of subjects – gloves, cooking, vinegar, hair – you name it! And often I go away and write something inspired by what we talked about. Sometimes the poems are humorous and sometimes serious. Here is a serious poem I wrote last week based on words spoken. It started to form in my head as I walked round a park near where the sessions are held:


After my time

No more buzzing of bees
No more rainforest trees
Ah, that was after my time

We can’t see the sun
And the ice has all gone
Ah, that was after my time

No more footprints, no more sand
No more green and pleasant land
Well, that was after my time

We traded earth for speed
We didn’t see the need
Well, that was after my time

No fish or polar bears
but I ask you, who cares?
I don’t know, that was after my time

No more rivers, only flood
We would stop this if we could
But you see, that was after my time

No more us and no more them
Though we know that they’re to blame
No more time

© Heather Wastie
October 2017


3 Poems on Freedom

National Poetry Day will take place on Thursday 28 September 2017 and this year’s theme is “Freedom”. Click here for a whole page of Freedom Poems. Here are three of mine:

 

High Rise Artist

I knew a man
who filled the only bedroom
of his twentieth floor flat

with wild horses,
huge canvases
depicting freedom,

they wouldn’t fit through the door,
let alone get as far as the knackered lift.

In the sitting room,
along with his bed,
was a new piece,

not horses this time
but a woman who had jumped
from her window

trapped forever mid-air.

© Heather Wastie

 

Mistaken identity

You seek happiness
and thought you saw it
in my eyes

but it was not
happiness, it was
freedom.

Find freedom
and you will find
happiness.

Understand freedom
and you will understand
happiness.

No matter how hard you look
into my eyes
you will not find happiness,

my happiness
or yours.

© Heather Wastie

 

Breaking the surface

Now that the heavy sheen is gone,
eroded by tears,
I am no longer afraid to
let the wild wind splatter my face,
lose my grip on rocks slippery with seaweed,
feel the freedom of floating
in a salt sea.

© Heather Wastie

Heritage Open Day performances on Saturday

The annual Heritage Open Days are free events in September designed to celebrate heritage, community and history. This coming Saturday, September 9th, I will be part of Kidderminster’s contribution to this nationwide festival, giving performances of songs I have written about the newly restored Weavers’ Cottages and others which tell the stories of people who worked in the carpet industry. Click here for a recording of one of those songs, Tying the Knot.

Here’s the schedule:

10.30 outside Town Hall 15 minutes
11.00 inside Town Hall (Corn Exchange) 30 Minutes
12.45 outside Town Hall 15 minutes
2.00 inside Town Hall (Corn Exchange) 30-40 minutes

All performances inside if it’s wet outside!

There will be lots to see inside the Town Hall too.

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.