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. 

Loom in the loft (finally)

Yesterday was the culmination of a wonderful collaboration between many different people to restore and celebrate the Weavers’ Cottages in Kidderminster and turn them into homes again. I was commissioned by Worcestershire Building Preservation Trust to write a song cycle about the cottages. A few months back, I met the Site Manager & others working on site during an inspiring tour of the cottages when the buildings were taking shape. I subsequently watched 360-degree films of the interior made by James McDonald who also inspired me. Site Manager Andy told me yesterday that the poem I wrote and recorded in response to all this had had quite an effect on him. He came up to me after one of two performances of the songs (plus evocative poems and stories written by people who came to my writing workshop) and said how much he had enjoyed them. I will treasure the special connections like this which I have made through this project. It was also very moving to see Roger at the loom in the loft – the final time we would ever see a hand loom being used there. 

The title of this post refers to the first line of the chorus of one of the songs:

Loom in the loft / Silk on the loom / Wool in the shuttle / Give the shuttle room

Performing with me were Sue Pope (Project Organiser) on ukulele and poets Margaret E Green and Sharon Cartwright. 

For further details about the cottages, which will be for sale very shortly, see http://www.weaverscottages.info/

Kidderminster Shuttle & the Weaver Poet

In the midst of preparing for a private performance of Kidderminster Stuff next week (for the Museum of Carpet Friends), I have just seen an item in the Kidderminster Shuttle about some new audio dramas which will shortly be available to listen to at the Museum. The project to create these ran in parallel with my residency and I’m very much looking forward to hearing them. Here’s a link to the newspaper article http://www.kidderminstershuttle.co.uk/news/10834259.Weaving_looms__tell_their_story__at_Kidderminster_carpet_museum/

In the nineteenth century, there was a poet called Noah Cooke living in Kidderminster. Born in 1831 in very poor circumstances, he became a draw-boy in a carpet factory at the age of nine and eventually became a weaver. He was known as the Weaver Poet and wrote many a broadside ballad. His poem A “Quill” for The Shuttle was written for the first issue of the Kidderminster Shuttle, February 12th 1870.

Here are the first and last stanzas:

Clear the way ye sons of labour
Toiling at the busy loom!
Make a passage for the Shuttle,
Let it have sufficient room ….

…. Wisdom, like a well-fill’d shuttle,
Nicely wrought in every part,
Leaves behind as it progresses
Works of usefulness and art.

In our show, I perform the poem and Kate sings a song she wrote in response to it, juxtaposing the past with the present.

Knives

I have wanted to write about this for ages and have finally got round to it. Val and Jane told me about this particular aspect of working on a loom and I have combined what they told me into one poem.

Knives
for Val & Jane

They were big knives,
as wide as my outstretched arms.
They had to be sharp
to cut through the wool
and when they cut,
fluff would settle on the blades.
As they were parting,

you cupped your hand
to sweep off the floats,
cut and sweep, sweep to the right,
cut and sweep, sweep to the left.

I was taught by a lady,
been on it for years.
I stood and watched
till it was my turn.
At first I was shaking
but she said relax,
do it quickly, don’t dab,
wipe, don’t dab,
cut and sweep, sweep to the right,
cut and sweep, sweep to the left.

Can do it with my eyes closed.

© Heather Wastie
October 2013

The Tuner’s Eye

I’ve been busy arranging my Weaving Yarns poems and songs into a draft script for “Kidderminster Stuff” with Kate Wragg (August 16th and 17th – see Performances page).  There are a few pieces still to write after interviewing people, including one person I met at a party! We start rehearsing next week.

If you’re interested in a sneak preview of “Kidderminster Stuff”, do come to LOAF at The Coach House Community Arts Centre, Rectory Road, Oldswinford, Stourbridge DY8 2HA on Sunday 7th July at 11.15 when I’ll be doing a half-hour set, followed by Kate Wragg 12.00-12.30. I will also be singing “Tying the Knot” at Mouth and Music, Boar’s Head, 39 Worcester Street, Kidderminster DY10 1EW on Tuesday 9th July 8.00pm.

On Saturday 6th July I will be talking about the Weaving Yarns project at a Writing West Midlands Writer Networking Morning at the Light House, Chubb Buildings, Fryer Street, Wolverhampton WV1 1HT 10.00-12.00. For further information about all of these events see http://www.wastiesspace.co.uk/Wasties_Space/DIARY.html

I’m grateful to my local District Councillor, Chris Nicholls, who gave me some funding to interview people where I live in Cookley. One of the people I interviewed was Geoff Perks who worked as a tuner. He lives in a nursing home and last week I visited him to read the song lyrics I had written about him to check he was happy. He wasn’t at all well but he listened intently as I read and at the end he smiled a broad smile and said he was very impressed. This was so rewarding for me, and I’ve sent the piece to his family. Years ago I edited a bo0k of reminiscences after interviewing people in Tipton and the daughters of one of the people whose memories appear in that book came up to me at the launch and expressed their gratitude. Oral history is so valuable.


The Tuner’s Eye

for Geoff Perks

There’s more to making carpets
than meets the casual eye,
so said a canny tuner
and then he told me why.
He spoke of cops and shuttles
and how he tuned the loom.
This is what he told me
one day in his living room:

CHORUS
A cop is like a sausage,
a sausage made of jute,
jute inside a shuttle,
watch the shuttle shoot.
The sausage will unravel
as the shuttle flies across.
The tension must be perfect
for the weaver, he’s the boss.

Hold your finger up
and put the jute around,
turn it round and up
then turn it round and down,
enough to fill a shuttle,
that’s the time to stop,
that’s how machines would do it,
that’s how they made a cop

CHORUS

The shuttle’s double ended,
its points are very sharp,
you keep your wits about you
as the weft speeds through the warp
A shuttle can be dangerous
and blood has been spilled,
shuttles have shot out
and weavers have been killed.

CHORUS

The weft keeps on going,
at the end of a cop
another piece is tied to it –
seamless, doesn’t stop.
His dad was a weaver,
his grandfather too,
from bobbin boy to tuner,
he’s seen a thing or two.

CHORUS

© Heather Wastie
May 2013

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!

Peg-boarding and “Tying the Knot”

Last night my project was featured on Radio Wildfire, a streaming radio station which has included my work many times. It’s an excellent organisation promoting spoken word at http://www.radiowildfire.com. This morning I was delighted to receive a response to the broadcast from Charles and Jean Talbot of the Carpet Museum Trust, saying “It was very moving to hear the stories that we have all been determined for so long to celebrate by creating the museum.”  It is thanks to the Talbots along with other determined volunteers that the Museum opened last October after 30 years of hard work!

On Thursday morning I’m running a writing workshop which will respond to a talk by Melvyn Thompson, one of the band of determined volunteers mentioned above! He’s a mine of information and a very entertaining speaker. It’s not too late to book for the workshop which starts with Melvyn’s talk at 11.00 and finishes at 1.30. By way of a taster, here’s a 10 minute video which begins with Melvyn talking about how he came to work in the carpet industry before moving on to a song I wrote about a weaver who married a picker, all filmed in the Museum of Carpet by White Raven Films.

There’s another writing workshop on Sunday too which will begin with a tour of the Museum. Further details can be found on the Workshops page of this website.

Here is one of the poems which was broadcast on Radio Wildfire last night.

New designs – a secret job (Peg-boarding)
for Mollie Smart

Four ladies
doing secret work
up in the loft
up above the weaving sheds
with two young lads
to fetch and carry

Two young lads
with two heavy satchels
quite a walk
from Park Wharf to New Road
at the bottom of The Butts
up the stairs
up to the loft
up above the weaving sheds

No-one disturbed them
all very quiet
secret work
keep it to yourself

Four ladies
each with a board
full of holes
a board at the side
a pattern in front
a ruler ‘cross the bottom

working sideways
one hand holds a hook
the other round the back
feels the yarns
yarn on bobbins
pull the colours through
and every time
they fill up a row
they move the ruler up
move and copy
till they get to the top
pull the colours through
till the board is full

then the two young lads
take it away
and shear it off

Two young lads
with two heavy satchels
go down from the loft
up above the weaving sheds
down the stairs
quite a walk
from Park Wharf to New Road

If Head Office say
“We don’t like the colour”
one of the ladies pulls it out
and sews in another

They never know
what’s coming in
from day to day

an interesting job
a lovely existence
secret work
keep it to yourself

© Heather Wastie
February 2013

Replacing heritage

I was delighted this week to receive a piece for my blog written by John Moyle who tells me he has recently started to write of his experiences of the carpet industry for his University of the Third Age [U3A] Creative Writers’ Group, and also for the benefit of his grandchildren. You will find his very interesting piece on the Your Stories page.  Many thanks, John.

On May 18th I was inspired to write a poem after a short tour organised by Kidderminster Civic Society. Here it is together with a few snapshots by way of illustration.

Replacing heritage

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(Record of a Kidderminster Civic Society tour led by Nigel Gilbert)

From telling ivyed wall of dyer Watson,
rutted cobbles remembering wheels,
incongruous mountain bike, eyebrowed
by eighteenth century arches,
Church Street chopped,
the congregation stopped,

turned back to Arch Hill rise,
closed eyes the only way to see
the manor house demolished 1753,
the site of the town’s first Spool Axminster loom
and rows of weavers’ cottages
discarded far more recently, their memory lost

in retirement homes. But some remember
Bread Street and Milk Street, and others know
that Orchard Street was very briefly Fish Street,
that Paddock Street was once misnamed as Haddock Street!
That Rack Hill took its name from racks
of dyed and drying Kidderminster cloth.

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And where did all the waste go? Into the Stour.
And where did all the heritage go? Carried away
in a frenzy of tidying, elbowing Baxter from Bull Ring,
bullying listed dwellings to rubble.

And now we grimace and glower
at the grubby “entirely self cleansing” tower
of 1960s strength, and cheer with revenge in our eyes
at the news of Crown House’s imminent demise.

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© Heather Wastie
May 2013

For further information about writer and historian Nigel Gilbert see http://nigelgilbert.co.uk. My poem will appear on his website soon and also in the Kidderminster Civic Society Newsletter – see http://www.kidcivicsoc.org.uk for information.