Carpet factory memories

During my time as Writer in Residence at the Museum of Carpet, I ran some writing workshops. Margaret Green came to one of these workshops and talked about her memories of life in Kidderminster when she was a young girl. I wrote a poem using what she had told me. When I asked her for permission to publish the poem on my blog, she sent me the piece below which describes vividly what it was like for her as a young girl working in a carpet factory at the height of the industry. She wrote it after visiting the Museum with a group of poets who meet in Bewdley – the Bewdley Bards. My poem for Margaret appears first.

Sitting on the step
for Margaret Green

I’m sitting on the step,
my step,
the one with the cigarette burns,
cold because the sun never reaches it

I shuffle my dress
to cover the backs of my legs
and hug my knees

This morning
I woke to the call of Brintons Bull
and pulled on yesterday’s clothes

and now I’m sitting on my step
waiting by the factory doorway
waiting for the weavers
to give me sweets

© Heather Wastie
October 2015

Visit to the Museum of Carpet in Kidderminster
by Margaret E Green (McCormick)
July 2015

Nostalgia sweeps over me, as I recall my first day at work, in Brintons Carpet factory. I was so young, at fifteen, but I soon fitted in to factory life; I was no longer a schoolgirl, but I was proud that I “worked!”

Memories came to me, remembering unfamiliar places to a young girl; the noise of the weaving looms, frightening at first; later on, I could easily identify the different sounds in the weaving sheds.

I smiled, thinking of the fun I had, and the young men, creelers, that I quickly became friendly with. The jokes that they played upon me. I was put in a basket, which was used to carry bobbins up the side of the loom, but they put me in one of them, and hoisted me up the loom, then left me, laughing at a safe distance.

I remember two young creelers, holding me in a sitting position in a chair, then painting my legs with size, the latex liquid, used on the backing of carpets. Of course, in the fifties, we were wearing stockings and suspenders; when I arrived back home from work that evening, I had to peel my stockings off my legs, painful, but funny.

Brintons was opposite the fire station; when the siren sounded, we all stopped what we were doing, and watched the retained firemen, who worked at Brintons, race along the side of the river Stour, which ran through the centre of the factory. It felt very exciting to me, to see the men running; well, I was only fifteen years old.

I experienced nostalgia again, when touching the carpets, feeling the yarn and remembering some of the patterns of carpets. Reliving the days when I had progressed to the mending department, then on to be a qualified carpet picker; remembering the sore fingers, from the large needle with which we mended the missing shots in the carpets. We all worked at a fast pace; piece work meant the more carpets we repaired, the greater the pay packet. I worked hard, and earned good money by the time I was only sixteen years of age. The best job was the picking and I enjoyed the company of friends. I still had fun, even though I wasn’t in and out of the sheds any more, talking with the young men, and wandering about the factory, sometimes where I shouldn’t be wandering!

Happy days, good memories, of my first job, in Brintons carpet factory.

Weaving Yarns in Bristol & a poem about Floors

Photo of carpet forestDuring last year’s Kidderminster Arts Festival, some of my Weaving Yarns work could be heard in a forest made of carpet which transformed Kidderminster Town Hall. The forest was such a beautiful and relaxing place to be that people spent time sitting under the trees, even taking in picnics. It was magical. Here’s what Loz Samuels, whose idea the installation was, said about my contribution:

Having Weaving Yarns as an element of our Carpet Forest installation was a gift, and in turn gave a fantastic environment to showcase a taster of this work. The recordings on mp3s hidden in bird-boxes gave the public another element to interact with and on listening a sudden insight into the real heart of the work.

There’s now another chance to experience the carpet forest, this time in Bristol as part of the Easton Arts Trail at All Hallows Hall, 13 All Hallows Road, Bristol BS5 0HH from 6th to 15th June. See http://www.eastonartstrail.co.uk/pics/EAT-MAP-BACK-2014-jpg-A4.jpg for further info.

Here now is a poem which has no carpets, just floor boards. I wrote it after chatting briefly to a couple who were sat on the doorstep of their small, old house drinking tea.

Floors

We’re having a party
to celebrate
having floors.

Before today
we had windows,
walls and doors

and a roof
(though the sky
is our limit)

a house
that was empty
apart from our dreams

(the two of us
sitting on chairs
slipping off shoes)

We’re having a party,
drinking tea,
looking through doors
admiring our lovely new floors.

© Heather Wastie

Kidderminster

Kidderminster has had some bad publicity over the years because people have a habit of abusing the name for no apparent reason! When I moved to the town in 2006, I began searching for other poets by googling “Kidderminster Poetry”. This is what I got:

Kidderminster Poetry
from E. Cobham Brewer‘s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. 1898

Coarse doggerel verse, like the coarse woollen manufacture of Kidderminster. The term was first used by William Shenstone, who applied it to a Mr. C., of Kidderminster.

Thy verses, friend, are Kidderminster stuff;
And I must own you’ve measured out enough.”

Doggerel from Wikipedia

A derogatory term for verse considered of little literary value. The word probably derived from dog, suggesting either ugliness, puppyish clumsiness or unpalatability (as in food fit only for dogs).

Sylvia Herbert, who was Public Relations Officer at Brintons, tells me that in the 1990s, comedians Punt and Dennis famously derided Kidderminster as ‘carpet town’ so the Mayor invited them to switch on the Christmas lights! He asked Brintons to make a little commemorative rug for them. I like Punt and Dennis but they were deservedly on the carpet here.

I recently heard that Olivier award-winning playwright Alan Ayckbourn has called one of his latest plays The Kidderminster Affair. It is one of two short comedies written and directed by Mr Ayckbourn called “Farcicals”. When asked why he chose the named Kidderminster, Mr Ayckbourn simply replied: “I just liked the name.” I’m a fan of Ayckbourn but I think it’s unfair of him to name his play after a town just because he likes the name. The Kidderminster Affair is described as “a frivolous comedy of fun, infidelity and food fights”.

Next year, Kate Wragg and I plan to tour show Kidderminster Stuff, and most people I have spoken to feel we should change the name to give it wider appeal to promoters and audiences outside the area. After all, it could be the story of any town which grew and revolved around an industry and then suffered when the industry declined. Though we want to share the stories of Kidderminster people, it seems you have to be Alan Ayckbourn to get away with using the name in a title.

Wishing you all a very Happy Christmas!

Threading into a forest of carpet

After a couple of weeks on holiday, I have been frantically preparing for Kidderminster Arts Festival which starts on Saturday! (See link to Festival at the bottom of this post.) Part of the Town Hall is, right now, being converted into a forest made up of carpet donated by Brintons. There will be special lighting and an ambient soundtrack, created by Andy Edwards, which includes birdsong mingled with recordings of the looms at the Museum of Carpet. Planted in 3 bird boxes (how sweet!) will be recordings I have made combining interviews with poems and songs so that you can hear how I used the words spoken to create pieces for the people being interviewed. These recordings represent all of the places I have worked in so far on this project – The Tulip Tree Centre, Among Friends, the area where I live, the Museum of Carpet and Kidderminster in general.

I took a few snaps of work in progress on the forest this morning. It has been designed by Jo and Kate DeBurgh who are working like crazy to get it finished. It already looks amazing!

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I have also been very busy preparing for performances of “Kidderminster Stuff” of course. There’s just over a week to go to the first show on Friday 16th. See the Performances page for details.

Here’s my latest poem, written for Ben who I met at a party! You will be able to hear me reading this in the carpet forest, followed by a recording of a Polish man sharing his memories of having to leave his beloved country.

Threading

Threading
Tedious
Time passed slowly

Six till ten
First day
Bell went at 7.30 thought I’d finished!
Couldn’t believe it
An hour and a half felt like four

Threading
Yarn on a long spool
Slotted into the tube frame

Finish a spool
One end left over
Realise you made a mistake
Right at the beginning
Go back and do it all again

Bangladeshi bobbin boys
Ill treated by many
Why are you talking to those w …
Polish and Italian
No problem

Threading
Colours in sequence
According to the pattern

© Heather Wastie
July 2013

Finally, thanks to Polly Robinson for sending me a poem she wrote after one of my workshops. You can also find it on her own blog https://journalread.wordpress.com/

“A wonderful workshop with Heather Wastie, the Poet in Residence for the Kidderminster Carpet Museum, led to this poem about the building and the way the effluent from the carpets flowed into the river in times gone by.”

Reeking Dyes

Carpet dust motes in sunlight
dapple the floor through the flights.
My nose itches, snitchily tight.
A glass-topped room and loom below,
while underneath reeking dyes flow,
a myriad of colours, a rainbow
– ten pence a yard –
resting on the river; the ever-changing
river,
red and
green and
yellow and
blue.

Polly Robinson © 2013

Kidderminster Arts Festival link
http://www.wyreforestdc.gov.uk/cms/leisure-and-culture/arts-and-entertainment/kidderminster-arts-festival/kaf-13.aspx

Brinton’s Bull

Thanks to Museum volunteers Mick Lowe and Sandra Ash for giving me the idea for this poem, which also includes words from Garry Hooper and Amanda Barrie who I chatted to on Facebook, and Carol who I met at Sight Concern. The photo is ‘Home Time’ at Carpet Trades 1960 which was the nearest I could get to the image described to me!

Home time, 7 Nov 1960Carpet Trades (Berrows photo)

Waiting for the Bull

The starting line is set –
a formidable arm-in-army,
eyes fixed on freedom
beyond the force field.

Rollers fixed at tea break,
bursting to escape,
Elsie Tanner, Ena Sharples lookalikes
combine into a deep sea of heads,
a Pavlovian tsunami
released by the sound of the Bull.

And they’re off!
Setters, winders, pickers,
fearless of traffic,
flood Corporation Street
engulf Exchange Street,
while those in the know
have steered clear of the tidal wave
of single minded women
whose time is now their own.

© Heather Wastie
July 2013

 

Having asked for stories about Brinton’s Bull, which used to sound in the town 5 times a day, I was really pleased to get lots of responses on a Facebook group called Kidderminster Past. I have combined these comments into the Brinton’s Bull Blues which I will be performing with Kate Wragg at Kidderminster Arts Festival, both in the Museum of Carpet and in the Boars Head pub. Thanks to all those who responded and all those I have interviewed so far. Much of the material I have written from these interviews will be included in the performance.

Kidderminsterstufffrontkiddermisterstuffback

Brinton’s Bull Blues

I’m sitting at the window
and I hear that whistle blow,
sitting at the window
and I hear that whistle blow,
seven twenty in the morning
and I hear that whistle blow.

Dot’s on her way from Cookley to Kidder,
pedalling as fast as she possibly can.
John’s in a panic but knows ten minutes
is plenty to get on his bike and clock in.

Mal and her mother have jumped in the car,
her Mum starts at half past, it’s not very far
to Quayle and Tranter on the edge of town,
the fabulous Bull never lets them down.

Creeler Brian is standing beneath it
watching the day workers coming in.
Chris is in Sutton Road doing his paper round
timed by the Bull, so he’s listening.

I’m standing at the gate
and I hear that whistle blow,
standing at the gate
and I hear that whistle blow,
seven thirty in the morning
and I hear that whistle blow

Eric’s in Worcester Street on his dad’s bike,
just started work at the age of sixteen.
Woodward Grosvenor’s gates will be locked,
he knows he won’t get to the clocking in machine.

Michele is sauntering on Hurcott Lane.
Bazz leaving home knows he’s going to be late.
Michele on her way from Land Oak to Lea Castle.
Bazz being clocked in by his mate,

Alan, who’s thinking “He’ll get me in trouble!
He’d better show up or we’ll both get the sack!”
Bazz thinking, “Al, I’ll be there in a jiffy”
jumps on his bike without looking back.

Mike knows it’s time he was getting up,
if he doesn’t he’d better look out for his dad
who’ll be threatening him with a glass of cold water
and so he groans and gets out of bed.

The streets are all deserted
but I hear that whistle blow
The streets are all deserted
but I hear that whistle blow
The afternoon is ghostly
and I hear that whistle blow

Mandy’s out playing, it’s lunchtime at school.
Phill’s having dinner at home with his dad.
“Come on! The buzzer’s gone! Got to get going!
From Wood Street to Mill Street and drive like mad!

Later there’s Rachel who’s waiting impatiently,
stood with her mom at the factory gate,
the sound of the Bull makes her so excited,
she knows that she hasn’t got long to wait.

There’s a crowd building up at Brinton’s gate,
Garry is running to catch his bus,
Amanda is happy her dad will be home soon
like hundreds he’s part of the five o’clock rush.

I can see a revolution
when I hear that whistle blow,
see a revolution
when I hear that whistle blow,
I can see the town revolving
round that whistle when it blows.

I can see that steam a-rising
and I hear that whistle blow,
see that steam a-rising
and I hear that whistle blow,
it ain’t nothing but a memory
cos that Bull don’t blow no more.

© Heather Wastie
June 2013

2nd verse based on a 4 line poem by Mal Ballinger, slightly altered to fit.

Knotting frames and hand spinning

This afternoon I performed a selection of Weaving Yarns poems and songs at a local residential care home where I met a Setter, a Weaver and a Picker (who started out during the war working on munitions in a carpet factory when she first left school). It was very rewarding seeing the responses to my performance, and the knowledge I have built up over the past year or so enabled me to have meaningful conversations with carpet industry experts!

When I first visited the Museum Archive well over a year ago, I came across a photo which intrigued me. It was a long line of girls seated at a very wide hand loom. I didn’t know exactly what I was for a long time until on June 6th I went to one of the regular “Meet Melvyn” events to hear Melvyn Thompson talking about hand knotting.

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Part way through his talk, the photo in question appeared on the screen and it all made sense! It’s a Brintons 40 foot loom for hand-knotted carpets (second photo below). The talk was fascinating, and at my workshop following it, I started a poem. The finished piece is below.

Oriental Knot40ft loom

Knotting frames
for Melvyn Thompson who solved the mystery

There’s a line
from Turkey to Kidderminster
girl after girl after girl

tucking tiny fingers
between the warp threads
posed and squashed on solid planks

buckled legs preserved in knots per inch
following a pattern
to last a lifetime

© Heather Wastie
June 2013

During another of my workshops, I watched Elizabeth sitting at her wheel and spinning. Sadly I didn’t take a photo of her.

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I listened to what she had to say and wrote a poem for her:

Hand Spinning
for Elizabeth Gelhard

Lazy Kate wraps wool around a bobbin
sitting in the garden chatting to a friend.
Spool to kate to spool to niddy noddy.
Pull it, run your finger, don’t think about your feet.

Take the whole day to fill up a bobbin
clockwise, anticlockwise, spin it twice.
Spool to kate to spool to niddy noddy,
Pull it, run your finger, don’t think about your feet.

She washed the wool, carded it and rolled it,
hung it out to dry, now it’s soft in her hands.
Spool to kate to spool to niddy noddy,
Pull it, run your finger, don’t think about your feet.

An act of meditation loved by Queen Victoria.
Niddy noddy maidens, mother of all.
Spool to kate to spool to niddy noddy,
Pull it, run your finger, don’t think about your feet.

© Heather Wastie
June 2013

Lazy kate, bobbin, spool, maidens – parts of a spinning wheel
Niddy noddy – a skein maker

Many of my Weaving Yarns poems and songs can be heard in performances as part of Kidderminster Arts Festival, on Friday and Saturday August 16th and 17th. Details will be on my website very soon!