My research from the cotton mills has taken me back to my hometown of Ashton Under Lyne, which I must say has changed a lot and not for the better.
The ladies in the Local studies and archive center at Thameside central library were really helpful uncovering lots of interviews for me to listen to and written archive material full of facts and info.
Ashton was one of the biggest and most industrial places for the cotton mills, but it also had some of the worst poverty during the cotton famine post World War Two.
Women back then used work in the mills as children from the age of 8 to begin with then that went up to 13, schooled for only half a day if they were very lucky.
Working over 40 hours a day, then going home to help in the house or on the farm, food was scarce as was clothing, and sanitation.
Quarry Bank was a working Mill and family home at one point in history and is now a National Trust property and working museum. They had an exhibition on about the working women within the workforce. As mills go I think this is one that you would have wanted the choice of working at, as the master of the house took children from the workhouses, re-homed them clothed them, provided food at mealtimes they could eat as much as they wanted, doctors and schooling. He also built a small village on his grounds to home all his workers, although there were ulterior motives to all of this.
Bread and dripping (beef fat) was a treat, as was melted cheese and bread, which sometimes had bacon fat in. This was a food my nan used to cook and I loved it, she called it cheese dip, not once did I think as a child to ask her where it came from or why did she have it every weekend. Now I know that lots of my family worked in the mills, so I guess it was just one of them things that became a tradition.
My mum was a seamstress and worked peace work in factories when we were young she also made all our clothing; this is where the original patterns came from for my first crit show. This is what got me thinking about the area as it was just outside of Manchester, which was an area of clothing factories as well as mills.
The kind of work available to women post-industrial revolution was either domestic or mill work only later, post-war it did become slightly better as shop work and sewing became popular.
The mills were also places I remember playing in when I was young, so the two just seemed to fit together. From start to finish the journey of the cotton was prevalent in Lancashire. It is this journey that is also prevalent now in contemporary society today. All that has changed is the country that is happening in.
Many developing countries such as India and China slowly started to take over the production of cotton, as labor was much cheaper, and still is. Exploitation of women and children still goes on today in these countries. We haven’t just passed on our traditions and trades we have also passed on the need for mass production at any cost.
I am looking at creating several pieces of work for this exhibition to go along side the ‘Trade’ piece, one being a sound piece and the other being tableau.
The tableau will be part of my research into the holidays the workers got called Wakes weeks, these were once a year where the mill closed for a weeks maintenance, those who could not afford the holiday would then go and work in a different mill. I will be juxtaposing a caravan representing the northern seaside holiday, which you either loved or loathed, and the mass of people that would descend on these places.