Stitch-craft and the Scottish Diaspora

Hello All

A couple of days before we were due to visit Carlisle for two more Women of Cumbria displays – yesterday’s post – I got an email from a friend in that fair city drawing my attention to another exhibition which she thought would be of interest. Thank you JO without you we would have missed something absolutely outstanding, the Scottish Diaspora Tapestry.

Here’s the story: in 2012 an invitation to share their history went out around the world to communities with Scottish roots. Millions of stitches and more than seventy thousand hours of embroidery later these communities have created a tapestry of over 300 panels. It is flippin’ amazing. With no permanent home as yet we were soooooo lucky to catch it at the Church of Scotland (where else!), Chapel Street Carlisle.

Thirty-four countries took part in the project and their work shows Scotland’s global legacy. If you get chance please go and see it, you will not be disappointed. My little old phone camera was not really up to the task (neither was I) nonetheless I think the best I can do is let the pictures give you a teeny-weeny, itsy-bitsy flavour of the tapestry’s breadth.

The hall was heaving with visitors and many of the voices were Scottish (not surprising as we are right on the border … no one mention the Reivers…). The panels sparked discussions ranging from the historical through the social and political to those around the method and skill of the embroiders. All this wonderfulness was supported by a venue that obviously felt truly privileged to hold such an event. All combined to make this a very special place to be.

The Tapestry has now moved on but if you go to the link above there are details about where it can be viewed. A must see.

Before I forget we did manage to sneak in one last exhibition while at Tullie House Museum, Carlisle. Something very dear to Carlisle hearts. The story of the Cracker Packers told in their own words. ‘Cracker Packer’ is an affectionate term given to a factory worker at the Carr’s Biscuit factory in Carlisle. It is such a strong female workforce and a major employer in the city so it is a fabulous snippet of social history to read the stories of these workers. As one of the contributors, Elsie Martlew simply put it ” It’s a Carlisle Story, and it’s a women’s story”.

The tales of these workers inspired sculptor Hazel Reeves to create a statue which stands in front of the factory. The statute shows two workers one from the past the other from the present and manages to capture the humour, warmth and camaraderie of these hard-working women. A rare statue of workers and of women to boot and a jolly change from a general on an horse.

Supported by artist Karen McDougall local Girl Guides also paid tribute to their city’s women. Their textile banner would have been incomplete without the lovely Cracker Packers.

Strangely I really fancy a plate of cheese and ….

Until next we meet,

Moke xxx

Left right left right… the Women of Cumbria trail continues…

Hello All

I am culturally replete. Wednesday 14 March 2018, what a day! Three exhibitions, a bookshop and a castle all in a whistle-stop visit to Carlisle. To save your eyes and my sanity I am splitting the exhibitions et al into two posts. Today I am concentrating on the Women of Cumbria exhibitions currently on view in our lovely Border city.

“Sit up straight you ‘orrible little blogster you…” oh dear better get typing.

Trusty companion J and I went first to Carlisle Castle to see the ‘Follow the Drum Women’s Stories from the Regiment’ at Cumbria’s Museum of Military Life.

Carlisle Castle deserves a blog post all of its own but that will have to await a further visit – perhaps for the Poppies: Weeping Window display running from 25 May to 8 July 2018 – as I need to move on quick smart…yes sa-ah. Suffice to say the Castle has an incredible history which stretches from the 10th century to today. It has even been the headquarters of both a Scottish and an English King, although not at the same time!

‘Follow The Drum’ gave us a glimpse of life for the women who either followed their men to war or more latterly have joined the military themselves. The exhibition concentrates on the changing relationship between women and the army focussing on the period 1800 to the present.

Most amazing to me were the women of the early 19th century, those that followed their husbands to the Peninsula War (think Duke of Wellington, think Napoleon). While being regarded as camp followers or prostitutes these valiant women kept the men’s clothes clean, tended the injured and risked their own lives and health. Nonetheless they worried the army hierarchy who sought to regulate them by making their husbands responsible for their behaviour…. 21st century woman biting her tongue here.

The stories of women like Catherine Exley who followed her husband in the early 1800s to the Peninsula War are astounding. Having gained permission to join her husband Catherine was witness to the battles of Salamanca and Vittoria and in ever present danger. She notes in her memoirs that she tore the linen off her back in order to bind wounds and was used to fetch water to quench the thirst of the dying. Her story is both harrowing – she lost her son by following the regiment – and inspirational: it was the support of the other women and wives that kept her going. This mutual support is a theme that runs throughout the military women’s history.

Primitive paintings exist of women like Catherine,

But I don’t think the reality of nineteenth century military life is truly reflected in the strangely charming pictures of these families. This sweet and colourful portrait of the Dollery family certainly belies the truth. Having outlived her husband poor Mrs Dollery was ‘rewarded’ by life and finally death in the workhouse.

But these women soldiered on. Later in the 1800s another stalwart was Mrs Skiddy – Biddy Skiddy to her friends. Biddy was remembered for washing the men’s clothes and supplying tea but she also carried her injured husband, complete with his rifle and kit, on her back for half a league (about a mile and a half) until she could lay him down in a bivouac. A tough cookie.

Thankfully the army came to realise that the military wives were assets, a steadying influence and good for the soldiers’ welfare. In fact for the Victorians the family image fostered by the military’s better treatment of the women improved the army’s poor reputation. Even so orders is orders and the Standing Orders of 1896 made it clear what the army expected of soldiers seeking to marry:

Despite the wars and dangers one thing survived, love. And this collection of cards sent by Private Wood to his wife and daughter during the First World War made my heart melt.

The final sections of the exhibition moved to the twentieth century and the active role of women in the military. With up to date accounts from serving female personnel like Private D J Ferguson. Her comments on military life brought an interesting insight into a woman’s perspective of life in the army today.

But before we knew it we were “Dis-missed” and off to our next Women of Cumbria port of call. Quick march!

Tullie House’s exhibition is a contrast to most of those we have seen so far. Instead of sighting the exhibition in one room (except for the Cracker Packers*) Tullie House has used the Women of Cumbria motif as an opportunity to highlight 10 objects around the museum and allow us to discover the stories of the women behind them.

Honestly I went to corners of the museum I have NEVER visited before! What a brilliant idea. Carlisle has had such a varied history the artefacts cover women’s history from the Romans up to the twentieth century. Sadly incompetent photographer that I am I have failed to transfer several of the objects that we looked at …. I can only offer up a few highlights. Drawing a veil over the Roman era – I know whatever next?! – I move swiftly to the Vikings and the beautiful ornate brooches used to pin a Norse woman’s clothing,

This grave good is one of a pair but I decided to edit its partner brooch as the photo was too wobbly. It reads ‘must try harder’ on my photography homework. I used to call these tortoise brooches but I notice that no such nomenclature was mentioned so I wonder if this is a new naming protocol (bit like the Brontosaurus vanishing in favour of the Brachiosaurus). These open work brooches are sizeable things not dissimilar in size to an adolescent … tortoise…. And while beautiful they are certainly strong enough to support clothing together with chains and jewellery strung between them.

Moving swiftly on before I get over fanciful there were a couple of exhibits I think particularly worthy of attention. One seems humble enough.

This dinner-sized porcelain plate painted with enamel is the work of Ann Macbeth. Ever heard of her? I certainly hadn’t yet not only was she (take a deep breath) a renowned embroiderer, artist and writer, member of the Glasgow Movement, associate of Charles Rennie Macintosh, lecturer at The Glasgow School of Art she was also an active suffragette imprisoned for her beliefs, a banner maker and also a proponent of women being able to earn their livelihood through craftwork. Born in Bolton she moved to Patterdale in the Lake District in 1920 and died in Cumbria in 1948. All round someone I would have loved to have met.

Finally – thanks for staying with me soooo long – another role I hadn’t considered much in relation to women (although my yarn stash should have taught me better) is that of collector. One of Tullie House’s most important artefacts was generously donated by talented musician and instrument collector Miss Sybil Mounsey-Heysham. Along with a number of wonderful antiquarian stringed instruments Miss Mounsey-Heysham gave the museum the Amati violin.

The father of violin-making Andrea Amati is thought to have made this violin around 1566. It forms part of the earliest (older than Stradivari by almost 100 years) and most famous set of stringed instruments. Amazing in itself but what I liked best was learning that Miss Mounsey-Heysham had probably played the instrument herself and that occasionally – for the good of it’s health – the Amati is still played. Like a teddy-bear that is hugged rather than kept pristine I can’t think of anything that would be more appropriate for this rare and beautiful instrument. Wherever they are in the universe I hope that Miss Mounsey-Heysham and Mr Amati enjoy the performance.

Until next we meet,

Moke xxx

* I haven’t forgotten the wonderful Cracker Packers. Watch this space. Mx

Short walks and flying visits

Hello All

Funny little week this one with a veritable variety of small delights. The weather and remnants of the ever-lasting flu bug has limited my walking recently. With yet another forecast of f-f-f-f-reeezing high winds accompanied by a deluge (think BBC Weather marks it with charming two raindrops under a too fluffy cloud, its a deluge to me) the intrepid three J, JF and me decided that perhaps meeting for a cuppa would be enough for this week’s walk day. But we are not intrepid for nothing and decided on a short walk before the luxury of a warm coffee shop.

When I say short I mean short. Today’s walk was along one side of Kendal’s main shopping street Stricklandgate. For a Kendal walk we of course turned to Mr Nicholls and in this instance his Exploration No.1 Around Stricklandgate. To reduce the need to refer to Arthur Nicholls’ book in the everlasting downpour I made a quick (ie not very good) sketch of our half-a-street walk with all the highlights jotted down which I could preserve in a waterproof ‘envelope’.

For such a diminutive amble Stricklandgate (one half) packs a historical punch. Kendal Town Hall is presently being restored after the damage wrought by Storm Desmond (2016) so a little interior shot is all I have to give to an idea of its grandeur.

Passing up the opportunity to burst Maria-like into song we girded ourselves for a walk on the wild side of Cumbrian weather (I begin to wonder if there is any other type!).

We quickly trotted to the top of Finkle Street.

There has been much conjecture about the name Finkle. I like the old Kendalian story that it is from the Norse word meaning elbow as it does have a dog-leg as you walk downbank. My extensive research (I Googled it) is not entirely supportive of this theory and whatever you do don’t look up the definition of ‘finkle’ in the urban dictionary …. you have been warned.

Moving on. What has always intrigued me is the fact that Stricklandgate was lined with buildings on both sides (remember we are only looking at one half…) and the Pump Inn which lay across the top of Finkle Street fascinated me. I was imagining something grand like the Pump Rooms in Bath but the reality appears to have been a far cry from this. The fact that a fish market ran down Finkle Street behind it should have given me a clue. We are lucky that there are archive photographs of the Pump Inn. Here is my representation of one of them. I am afraid as it was all grey even my grey-heavy palette gave up.

Doesn’t that fish-wife look familiar?!

Tootling on we wistfully wandered on past Farrers Tea and Coffee. Ahhhh the smell of freshly roasted coffee that comes from this old coffee house is amazing. If you are up this way it is a must to visit Farrers with its wobbly timber floors and stairways. The coffee and tea are tasty as are all the home baked treats. You can also pick up Farrers’ goodies to take home. The building is fronted by the iron doorway which was put in when the building was refronted in the 18th century. Prior to this Farrers was a hostelry called the Waggon and Horses Inn.

Farrers had whetted our appetites but we carried on paying our respects to Kendal’s historic past: the buildings that survive – like the Working Men’s Institute and Globe Inn – and those long gone – like the Corn Market Hall with its grim prison named the Black Hole underneath. Further down the road (but not much further) we gave a nod to the old yards and burgage plots that now lie long forgotten under the modern Westmorland Shopping Centre which at least has hung on to our old County name.

Almost at our destination we skirted Blackhall Yard which originally housed a 16th century mansion for the first mayor of Kendal Henry Wilson and later became Hodgson’s Black Hall Brush Factory. There is a replica of the hog with bristles sign still hanging near the yard but one of the original wooden hogs can be seen at the Museum of Lakeland Life at Abbot Hall.

Finally Charlies and that long (er-hum) awaited cuppa but before we could enjoy the delights of an Earl Grey tea or three there was one last historic footnote. Charlies cafe is sited in the old house that Bonnie Prince Charlie is reputed to have stayed in on his retreat from Derby in 1745 and is where he was cared for by the Misses Thompson (make of that what you will). Ironically the house is said to have provided the same bed to the Bonnie Prince’s pursuer the Duke of Cumberland the very next night. Hope they changed the sheets … were there sheets…?

Amazing what a short walk can reveal. The same is true for a flying visit.

Yesterday I was in Carlisle to meet up with friends at Tullie House museum. I love this museum and the fact that I picked up a season ticket for £6.50 on my last trip has helped me appreciate it even more.

Having had a super catch up and lunch in the museum cafe I enjoyed an hour looking at the Percy Kelly retrospective. The work of this amazing artist is right up my street. Driven to draw everyday he generally had a linear and angular style with all those clean lined edges I find so satisfying. In addition to the drawings, paintings and prints I discovered textile prints and multi-media examples of his work. All wonderful but for me the most beautiful exhibits are his letters. He was an inveterate letter writer writing in a clear copperplate hand around the drawings he incorporated into his correspondence. His letters are erudite and incredibly illustrated how fortunate were his friends to receive them. No wonder so many survive they must have been treasured. If you have a chance to see this exhibition (which I hear is now staying in Tullie House until mid-February) I would thoroughly recommend going.

Understandably no photos were allowed of the Percy Kelly exhibition however elsewhere in Tullie House you are generally allowed to take snaps and I grabbed one of Tullie House’s latest acquisition, Driggsby.

Sadly Driggsby a rare Fin Whale was found in 2014 by a dog walker at Drigg in West Cumbria. The young whale had already perished but has been kept in the county to illustrate the wonderful sea life we have around our shores and to act as a reminder to care for the environment that sustains these amazing creatures.

Lest I leave you on a sad note here is something that made me smile. Having completed our walk down Stricklandgate J, JF and myself trotted into Kendal Library and popped our heads into the colourful children’s library where we were bowled over by our talented friend AW’s fabulous display.

Hope her hard work leaves you smiling too.

Until next we meet,

Moke xxx