Music on Nature: Finding A Language For Landscape.

Every year in November, Kendal hosts a Mountain Festival – four days of of films, talks, exhibitions and events covering all aspects of mountain and adventure sports culture. It’s probably the major gathering of outdoor enthusiasts in the UK and I’ve never been – although I did buy a ticket to watch the talks which were shown on-line during the Pandemic. Now I have more free time I was thinking of spending some time there, but the weekend events clashed with the Rugby League World Cup final which took place on the Saturday. However, I’d spotted an event on the programme on the Friday evening – Music on Nature: Finding A Language For Landscape – “tracing the connections between nature and sound, … (and exploring) the landscapes around us through music, prose and poetry“. 

The publicity for the event told us that

In this new and exciting event, we welcome you on a sound journey to explore what the landscape means to you, how to tune into and unlock its hidden tracks. Set your ear to the earth and travel through its layers. Join us as we travel through deep time and sing the songs of the Anthropocene – enter a sonic world encompassing a nature rhythm to capture the visceral tones of our world – and dream of a history of things to come.

It sounded interesting so I booked a couple of tickets. I thought we might travel over and experience the exhibition and free events in the Base Camp and at the Brewery Arts Centre before the concert. A well intentioned plan didn’t work out quite so well as the weather that day was appalling. It was chucking it down and windy too so we delayed leaving and driving up the M6. We were lucky and managed to grab a space on the packed Parish Church car park, as someone was leaving just after we arrived.

It was only a short walk to the Base Camp which was on the park near Abbot Hall (we’ve missed our visits to the gallery while it’s been shut for over 2 years for refurbishment – crossed fingers it opens soon) so we were able to have a look round the various stalls and grab a coffee before crossing over the river and walking the short distance to the venue at The Barrel House. We went back to Base Camp after the event and had a bite to eat in the Food Court before setting off back home.

So, what about the event? We didn’t know quite what to expect.

First up was Amy-Jane Beer is a biologist, nature writer and campaigner, based in North Yorkshire, whose book , The Flow, was published earlier this year.

a book about water, and, like water, it meanders, cascades and percolates through many lives, landscapes and stories. From West Country torrents to Levels and Fens, rocky Welsh canyons, the salmon highways of Scotland and the chalk rivers of the Yorkshire Wolds, Amy-Jane follows springs, streams and rivers to explore tributary themes of wildness and wonder, loss and healing, mythology and history, cyclicity and transformation.

She read passages from her book about swimming in a chalk stream in the Dales and the Severn Bore, accompanied by Jack McNeill a local clarinettist, composer and maker who created a soundscape of computer enhanced sound effects and clarinet tunes

Zaffar Kunial is a poet who was born in Birmingham. He has a connection with the Lake District having spent 2014 in Grasmere as the Wordsworth Trust Poet-in-Residence. Again accompanied by Jack McNeill, he rad selections from his latest collection, England’s Green has been shortlisted for the 2022 T.S Eliot Prize. One of the poems, Ings, was inspired by Zaffir receiving points on his licence having been caught twice exceeding the speed limit near the said village. Anyone who has driven to Windermere from the M6 via Kendal will be aware (or needs to be!) of the speed camera on the A591 where it passes through the small village and where the speed limit suddenly drops from 60 to 40 mph.

Ings. The name came to mean: Now. Slow. Down. And little
else. A splash of houses cut by a dual carriageway, a petrol
station, a lane with an easily missable church.

It’s a long poem which takes in a subsequent visit to the village where he goes into the church and graveyard and reflects on what he sees and feels.

Zaffar Kunial

The final act paired the writer and Patron of the festival, Robert Macfarlane, with the musician Hayden Thorpe, former lead singer with Wild Beasts who grew up in Kendal

They performed together, Robert reading extracts from his slim volume of poems, Ness, accompanied by Hayden on guitar, the latter singing a chorus in between the verses.

Finally Hayden performed a solo set of songs to complete the concert.

Compton Verney Part 3 – David Batchelor

 “Colour is universal, but at the same time no one really knows what it is; it’s very familiar yet also entirely strange.”

The main temporary exhibition showing at Compton Verney during our visit was Colour is, the first large-scale survey of work by Scottish artist and writer David Batchelor, featuring 40 years of painting, drawing, sculpture, photography, animation and tapestry.

The Gallery website tells us that

Including work in a wide range of media, from sculpture, installation and drawing, to painting, photography and animation, Colour Is will take visitors on a journey through Batchelor’s career, starting with his pre-colour works from the 1980s. These give way to his earliest experiments with colour and found objects in the ‘90s, and vivid multimedia installations during the 2000s. The exhibition culminates with recent work, including a glowing animation, in which sentences beginning with the words ‘Colour is …’ are projected in a continuously changing colour-saturated space.

Colour is, is certainly a good title for the exhibition – the later works, in particular are very bright and colourful with primary colours dominating the paintings and 3 D works.

In the first room we entered there were giant balls of electrical flex on the floor, looking like enormous balls of wool – a work entitled Dog Days (2005-06)

Dog Days (2005-06)

Most of the paintings on the wall were misleadingly simple brightly coloured “eggs” sitting on pedestals. The simplicity was misleading as a closer look revealed a complex textured surface. To create these, the artist had poured household gloss paint on metal panels allowing it to dry while being gently tilted by the artist, forming interesting wrinkled patterns as they dried. I though they were very effective

Colour Chart 38 (orange) 04.08.11, (2011)
Colour Chart 38 (orange) 04.08.11, (2011)

This painting reminded of the molecular models we used to construct when I was studying chemistry at University

Multi-Colour Chart 34 (multicolour), (2011)

On his website, the artist tells us that

In almost every city I have visited, I have at some point come across a mid-height wall topped-off with shards of broken coloured glass set in concrete. That observation was the starting point for these sculptures.

https://www.davidbatchelor.co.uk/works/sculpture/concretos/

In the next room we visited there were a number of these works on show, made of punctured perspex, all bright primary colours

Works from the Inter-Concerto series – perspex on concrete bases

I liked the way they cast complex shadows on the wall enhancing the 3D effect

There were several works from his Covid Variations series of paintings made during the pandemic

I liked this tapestry

Covid Variation Tapestry, (2022)

The remaining photos show some of the earlier works

A large selection of early works
Two Fold (1990) – not much colour on display here in this simple, but effective painting where the artist has created a 3D effect

Compton Verney Part 2 – the Chinese Collection

Entering the gallery we were “greeted” by these two fearsome Gilt bronze warriors

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect of the Chinese collection on the first floor of the Gallery. It turned out to be absolutely fascinating. Our appreciation of the exhibits was certainly enhanced as just after we’d started to look at the exhibits the guided tour arrived. We latched on to it and benefited greatly by the knowledge and expertise of the guide who was an excellent communicator, explaining the history and context of the works she highlighted.

There’s also a very good online guide to the collection. This tells us that

Sir Peter Moores, founder of Compton Verney, began collecting a small number of Chinese bronzes in the 1990s; and in the years since, Compton Verney has amassed one of the largest and most important groups outside China.

The core of the collection are bronze ritual vessels from the golden age of Chinese bronze production between 1200 and 221 BC. However, there were some pieces on display even older than this. I don’t know how they date the vessels, but assuming that the dating is correct, the quality of the castings, and the intricacy of the design of the vessels and the details of the ornamentation is incredible demonstrating highly developed casting and metalworking technology, the skill of the craftsmen and the sophistication of the Chinese civilisation.

Here’s some more background information from the downloadable guide

Vessels made from bronze for use in rituals were among the most highly prized and technically sophisticated objects manufactured in early China. As important to the Chinese as stone temples and sculpture were to their contemporaries in Egypt, Mesopotamia and Greece, these vessels have had a
profound and continuing influence on Chinese art.

The spirits of ancestors were seen as a powerful force by the ancient Chinese. Their help was sought by offering food and wine served from bronze vessels at elaborate ritual feasts. When members of the elite died, sets of bronze vessels were also put into tombs, further strengthening the bond between life and afterlife.

The vessels on display were not everyday objects and their ritual use no doubt meant they were carefully looked after and, hence, were preserved in excellent condition,

Here’s a few photos of some of the pieces from the extensive collection that particularly took my eye

Ritual wine vessel c1200-1050 BC

I loved the colouring of this vessel – a rich textured marbled green patina

Ritual wine vessel 1200 BC – 950 BC

This was the oldest item in the collection – it’s thousands of years old – Neolithic or early
Bronze Age

Tripod cooking vessel c 4000 – 1000 BC
Ritual water vessel 770-221 BC

The next two pieces are ‘cocoon’ or ‘duck’s egg’ vessels. Their shape is based on traditional leather vessels.

Pottery cocoon shaped vessel 220BC – 9 AD
Bronze cocoon shaped vessel $75-221 BC

Besides the large number of wine vessels, the collection included other items.

This bronze representation of a horse made for the tomb of a nobleman. It was probably part of a team of two or four pulling a chariot for the deceased to use in the afterlife.
It was made in nine close-fitting sections which were then riveted together. (Information from the collection guide booklet)

Heavenly Horse 202BC – 220AD

This tiny bronze bird is a finial that would have been “perched” on top of a pole during the funeral procession of a respected elderly man.

Bird shaped finial 202 BC – 202 AD

There were also several bells and mirrors – this cabinet contained some examples of the former

A collection of bells

These warriors on horseback were from the tomb of a nobleman. Smaller examples of the funeral goods used in such tombs, the most famous being the “Terracotta Warriors” (examples of which I saw in Liverpool a few years ago)

Another look at the two warriors from the entrance to the gallery. From the Ming dynasty, 1400-1500 AD, they represent two of the Four Heavenly Kings (si tianwang) who watch over the earth from the four directions.

The Guardian of the West with his sword
the Guardian of the East holding a stupa, used to contain holy relics

Compton Verney – Part 1

The last day of our holiday and the offspring decided they didn’t want to go ot, but I was ken to visit Compton Verney – another 20 or 30 minute drive away – an old Stately Home and its grounds that’s been converted into an art gallery. I’d heard about it, the first time quite a few years ago, and have been keen to visit ever since. The trouble is its on the wrong side of Birmingham, but here was an opportunity to see it that I wasn’t going to miss.

The weather was beginning to change. Cloud was coming in covering over the blue skies we’d had for the rest of the week, but it was still pleasantly warm.

Arriving at the site we parked up and then paid our entry fee – £17 each. Memberships cost less than double this and allow entry for a year, but it didn’t seem an extra sensible expenditure for us given its location as regular visits aren’t an option.

To reach the house we walked through the grounds along the drive, crossing the old bridge (this view is from the other side, nearer the house)

There’s been a manor house here since the 12th Century but it was extensively remodelled for the owners, the Verney family, in the then fashionable Neo-Classical style in the 19th century by Robert Adam together with the grounds which were designed Capability Brown.

Stable block
The main entrance hall designed by Robert Adam. Having been in a very poor state it’s been restored to its former glory and is now used to host wedding receptions and other events.

The Verneys it financial difficulties and sold the house in 1887. It passed through a series of owners and was requisitioned by the War Office during the Second World War. It wasn’t occupied after the war and started to deteriorate. It was rescued by Peter Moores Foundation who bought the house and grounds in 1993  which restored the house, which was in a dilapidated state, turning it into a modern art gallery. It’s now owned by Compton Verney House Trust, a registered charity.

Next to the house there’s a Georgian Chapel which has also been restored and is registered for weddings

The chapel, which was completed in 1780, was designed by Capability Brown and replaced an older church that stood on the other side of the house and which was demolished to open up views from the house over the lake and grounds.

Very little of the original Medieval stained glass which was taken from the old church, is left; it was sold in the late 1920’s and some can be seen in Warwick museum and at the Burrell Collection in Glasgow.

The tombs of earlier Verneys were moved to the new chapel and still remain

We eventually found the right door to gain entry into the main building and sussed out what there was to see. There are 6 permanent collections

British Folk Art
British Portraits
Chinese
Northern European
Marx-Lambert collection of of English popular art
Naples

and galleries for temporary exhibitions. During our visit there was a major exhibition showing of works by David Batchelor, some loans from the National Portrait Galley, an exhibition of photographs by Magnum photographers of artists at work, and a couple of installations in the grounds. Unfortunatley we didn’t get to see the Folk Art and Marx-Lambert Collections. We’d left it to the end of our visit and due to staff shortages they’d close these two galleries early. However, we were starting to feel “arted out” by then so weren’t that disappointed.

These rowing boats on the lake were one of the installations – Crossings by Luke Jerram. Visitors were able to take out a boat to row on the lake while listening to one of a number of 30 minute audio recordings of stories, created by Luke Jerram in collaboration with BBC Radio 4 producer Julian May, all related to the sea from around the world.

It looked like fun, but, unfortunately, we didn’t have time to have a go!

The other installation was effectively a playground for children in the Old Town Meadow,, a sort of colourful fantasy village, by Morag Myerscough. Children were certainly enjoying themselves running through, in and out and on to the colourful structures.

We started by touring the ground floor to see the art from Naples, Northern European Art and British Portraits (including the National Portrait Gallery Loans) which were all on the ground floor. We revisited some of the works after lunch when we tagged on to a guided tour. (I should add that the room guides were all very friendly and helpful and very keen to tell you about the exhibits)

The gallery claim to have” “one of the richest collections of Neapolitan art in the world outside Naples”, with paintings, sculptures and other objects from the 17th and 18th Centuries. This Baroque isn’t my favourite style but there were some interesting pieces and the explanation of a couple of them during the guided tour definitely added interest as their creation and context were described by a very informative and knowledgeable guide.

I didn’t take any photographs on the ground floor, which is rather remiss of me, but there are plenty on the Gallery’s website, of course (click the relevant links in the above list).

The Northern European art was of more interest and I enjoyed the British Portraits, including the loans from the National Portrait Gallery of celebrities from the West Midlands celebrating the recent Birmingham Commonwealth Games (including a video work of Julie Walters).

We’d taken in a lot so it was time to get something to eat. And after that we went to have look at the upstairs galleries. But I think I’ll save them for another post – this one has gone on a bit!

A visit to Windermere Jetty Museum

Leaving Blackwell we decided to drive over to, another Lakeland Arts site, the Windermere Jetty Museum, a short drive away on the other side of Bowness. We’d visited before, just before the first lockdown, but though we could spend a little time there revisiting the exhibits and enjoying a brew on the lakeside.

As it turned out we spent longer there than we expected as there were a couple of art exhibitions – normally they would probably have been shown at Abbot Hall but with that still be shut for refurbishment I guess Lakeland Arts were taking advantage of the facilities here.

First, though, we had a look around the main displays

One of the exhibitions, shown in the main building in a room with a view over the lake, featured large scale abstract watercolours by Barbara Nicholls, an artist from Cheshire.

Her technique used to create these works involved laying out large sheets of heavy weight
paper on the studio floor, which were then wetted before applying the pigments which would then begin to spread out by capillary action – just like ink dropped onto wet blotting paper. The skill of the artist is then to manipulate and control the pigment. The finished works being made up of sections from several of these sheets cut and then collated to form a whole.

These monumental watercolours emerge from a process of manipulating coloured pigment in large quantities of water. The pigments behave in a variety of ways; some gather in dark, opaque pools, others are translucent, lapping at the paper to form gentle tidal marks.

Lakeland Arts Website

It was quite appropriate for paintings created by the movement of water to be displayed in a room with a view over the Lake.

The second exhibition was in the old fire station that had been relocated from Bowness village to the grounds of the museum

Dovetailing is an immersive installation by Sculptor Juliet Gutch in collaboration with composer and viola player Sally Beamish and filmmaker Clare Dearnaley inspired by luthiery (the making of stringed musical instruments). 

Entering the small building we encountered a darkened room with wooden mobiles suspended from the ceiling with a film being projected onto a screen.

The mobiles were made up of wooden shapes resembling shavings produced during the planing of the wood used in the construction of a violin or viola. The film, with the soundtrack by Sally Beamish, included natural sounds, the workshop process during the manufacture of a violin and the movement of the mobile forms.

Then it was time for a brew. It was a pleasant day so we sat outside looking over the water (there are good views from inside the cafe too)

I liked the wooden shelters that had been built by the museum staff using boat building techniques

Leaving the museum we weren’t ready to set off for home so we drove into the village centre, parked up and went for a walk along the lake.

There is very little of the east side of Windermere where it’s possible to walk along the lakeside. Most of the land is privately owned and access isn’t possible for the hoi poloi – reflecting the theme of the exhibition we’d visited at Blackwell that morning. The main exceptions are Fell Foot, at the south end of the lake, and Cockshott Point, a stretch of parkland where we were walking at Bowness. Both of these are owned by the National Trust. Cockshott Point was bought by the Trust with the help of a certain Mrs Heelis (better known as Beatrix Potter) who sold some paintings to raise funds for the purchase. Without this intervention it would have been likely that the land would be sold to a private buyer who would have prevented access.

There’s more of a “right to roam” on the west side of the Lake (formerly in Lancashire!), but, again this is due to the intervention of the National Trust. I think a lot of people think the NT is all about preserving manor houses, but their original vision was about opening up the countryside and without them large area of the lake District and other parts of the country wouldn’t be readily accessible.

So our say in the Lakes ended as it started, with us reflecting on how access to the countryside and the lake shores is still limited and how we need to continue to campaign for the “Right to Roam”.

“Something in Common” at Blackwell

A couple of weeks ago we decided to drive up to the Lake District to visit one of our favourite places – Blackwell, the Arts and Crafts style house near Bowness. We hadn’t been there for over two years (yes, you know why) but we were keen to see the latest exhibition there – Something in Common – featuring the works of James Fox, a textile artist from Glasgow, now living in Lancaster. His recent work delves into the history of land rights and land ownership, posing the question – Who Owns England? – and the Blackwell exhibition takes up this theme, exploring the “right to roam” and is part of their ‘Year of Protest’ programme, featuring artists who use craft as a form of tool for social change and revolt.

I spend quite a lot of my leisure time out walking on the moors and mountains and kind of take it for granted that I can do that. But that wouldn’t always have been possible. In many areas landlords forbid the hoi poloi accessing their estates on the moors that they used for hunting and shooting. But as working people started to have more leisure time walking and hiking became more popular, leading to frustration where they couldn’t gain access to what they saw as open land. This led to protests and mass trespasses, the most well known being that on Kinder but there were others, two examples being the trespasses on Winter Hill in 1896 and Latrigg, near Keswick, in 1887. We’re free to walk on all of those hills now, but despite the  Countryside & Rights of Way (CRoW) Act of 2000 the Right to Roam only applies to “open access land”, which comprises about 8% of the mountains, moors, heath, and coastlines in England and Wales. (Scotland has a different legal system and the The Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 allows everyone access to most land and inland water in Scotland for “certain purposes”.) People campaigning and fighting for the Right to Roam have never gone away, including veteran campaigner John Bainbridge, who sometimes comments on this blog 🙂 – his book is worth a read.

Of course, there’s a balance between access and respecting people’s property and in Scotland exempts land where there are buildings, private gardens, land where crops are growing, schools and school grounds sports grounds.  The legislation also requires the right to roam to be exercised “reasonably and responsibly” and I’m sure that the vast majority of people would respect this. I can’t see any reason why the same approach shouldn’t be applied to England and Wales. Yet many wealthy landowners think otherwise and resist any extension of the Right to Roam.

During lockdown, where travel was restricted, James Fox started going out exploring the countryside close to his home in Lancaster. In particular, the Abbeystead Estate in the Forest of Bowland. the estate is owned by the Duke of Westminster and before the CRoW Act access to many parts of the wild moorland was restricted. I experienced this 20 or so years ago I used to go walking in Bowland regularly and know that I strayed off the permitted track more than once.

The works on display were created by a combination of hand stitching, machine embroidery and digital media. A small number of works from the Lakeland Trust’s collection, including paintings by Lowry, Ben Nicholson and Sheila Fell were included in the exhibition and there were two “soundscapes” playing

the Political Soundscape

a series of speeches by protesters and politicians who thought for the Right to Roam, Political Soundscape reflects the deeply emotional relationship between people and the land throughout history. Together, the readings are a testament to the ability of everyday people to affect positive social change when their voices rise as one.

and the Bucollic Soundscape

Featuring a series of poems by writers who were inspired by the landscape, Bucolic Soundscape reflects the enduring and affectionate relationship that people have with the land.

A two sided quilt A Patchwork Quilt (2021) illustrates the two different sides to the gouse shooting on the Abbeystead estate,

the front displaying images associated with grouse shooting

while the reverse highlands the “hidden” aspects of the use of the land for this leisure pursuit – restricted access, eradication of predators and “unwanted” wildlife and vegetation, burning of the land and other environmental issues.

One of three videos running on a loop showed how this banner had been created

The Rewilding Plinth (2022) raised questions about how the grouse moors impact on the ecology of the moors. He also raises the question of what impact “rewilding” – returning the land to it’s natural environment – could have on tenant farmers

and how, depending how it’s done, could have other adverse effects on the land.

The frieze running along the wall is part of the exhibition and symbolises how the land is “fenced in” to prevent access. The frieze design reminds me of some of the wallpaper designs by Morris and Co., particularly “trellis
Sheila Fell – “Cumbrian landscape” (1967)

It’s a small exhibition, but inspiring and thought provoking, and we felt it was definitely worth the visit. Of course, we also took the opportunity to revisit the house and have a light meal in the cafe, after which we took another look around the exhibition.

And I never tire of the view from the gardens over Windermere towards the Coniston fells.

It was still early afternoon as we left the house, but we felt that we weren’t ready to return home. So what to do next?

The Dark Horse – Belfast

A couple of weeks ago I was in Belfast attending a conference – the first one for a few years. Being good, sitting through the conference sessions and catching up with people I hadn’t seen face to face for some time, I didn’t have much time for exploring the city. However, on the second night of the conference one of the major equipment suppliers traditionally hosts a free shin dig and this year was no different, so with just about everyone one else attending the event I made my way to the Cathedral Quarter and the Dark Horse.

Inside it’s a very traditional Irish pub with lots of glass and polished brass.

But one of the main attractions is the courtyard behind the pub where all the walls are a gallery of street art depicting scenes of Irish history and culture – with a good helping of Irish humour too.

Art and Shadows

Mesh sculpture (1961) – Katsuhiro Yamaguchi

It’s a while since I’ve been to see an art exhibition. Covid resulted in galleries being closed and since they reopened a reluctance to be in an enclosed space with a large number of people meant that I lost the habit. But during May I’ve started to make more of an effort to get back into the habit and I’ve visited both the Manchester City and Tate Liverpool galleries.

Something I’ve always found interesting is how some sculptural works cast shadows which add another aspect to the experience. While I was visiting the Tate there were a number of works where the interplay of light and shadows were part of the artist’s intention. The sculptures were suspended from above, creating effects that changed as they turned and moved due to the air movement. In some cases, the materials used were translucent, allowing some light to pass through projecting an image made of light and shadow light on nearby surfaces.

Linear Construction No. 2 (1970-71) – Naum Gabo
Spatial Relief (red) REL 036 (1959) – Hélio Oiticica 
Lekythos (1962) – Lenore Tawney 
I didn’t note the details of this work – doh!

If you go down in the woods….

A few days after my return from the Peak District I took advantage of a break in the miserable weather to get out for a walk through the Plantations. Following one of my regular routes I was surprised to see a large photograph printed on waterproof material hanging from a couple of the beech trees. As I continued along the path I spotted several more,

including a photo of someone I often see walking his little dog when I’m out annd about along the Dougie and in the Plantations.

It transpired that the photographs were an exhibition, displayed as part of the Wigan Arts Festival.

Commissioned by Wigan Council and Open Eye Gallery, the photographs by Mario Popham, a photographer of Japanese and English descent, based in Manchester, are of people he encountered in the Woodland Park. In most cases the protraits are paired with trees, palnts and “found objects”, in some cases the images being blended and merged.

I enjoyed viewing the photographs which added some interest to a familiar walk. And it was good to seesome art, too. It’s been a while.

The Wigan Mining Monument

WordPress blogger Wednesday’s Child has been very quiet in recent months. Not suprising given that she’s a doctor working in a hospital in Manchester. I hope she’s keeping safe and healthy.

I enjoy reading her posts and particularly like one of her themes – statues and monuments in Manchester, Glasgow and other locations. Wigan, being a bit of a cultural backwater, has rather a dearth of public art works, but in recent years the local council and other organisations have made some effort to install some sculpture and monuments in and around the town centre. The most recent, installed last year celebrates the mining heritage of Wiagn.

Despite Wigan once being the “capital” of the Lancashire coalfield, there was nothing to mark that and celebrate the heritage of an industry that used to dominate the town. It took a group of volunteers -the Wigan Heritage and Mining Monument group, WHAMM – a registered charity formed by two local women Anne Catterall and Sheila Ramsdale, which raised the funds to provide a statue in a prominent location in Wigan town centre.

The project came to fruition last year but, unfortunately, the planned unveiling ceremony couldn’t go ahead due to you know what.

The statue, created by sculptor Steve Winterburn, depicts a man, woman and child, probably a family, all of who worked in the pits. They’re wearing the traditional footwear – wooden clogs with clog irons and as the sculpture doesn’t have base or plinth so that they appear to be walking on the cobbled street.

The woman, carrying a sieve or screen, would have been a “Pit Brow Lass“, one of the women who worked on the surface (women being forbidden to work underground by the Mines and Collieries Act 1842) at the coal screens on the pit bank (or brow) picking stones from the coal after it was hauled to the surface or loading wagons.

Coal has been mined in Wigan from at least the 16th century, and the industry grew to dominate the town, peaking around the end of the nineteenth century. According to local history records, in the 1840’s there were over 1000 pit shafts within a 5 mile radius of Wigan town centre. 

Source: Wigan World

The Northern Mining Research Society has compiled a list of colleries in the area that were opened in the 19 Century. There aren’t any left now – the last pits in the Borough and Lancashire coalfield closed after the big strike of 1984.

Over three centuries, more than 750 million tons of coal were mined from the vast Wigan coalfields, which over time had over 1000 pits, large and small. It would be difficult to overestimate the contribution of the town to the industrial revolution and the wealth it brought to Britain. However, this was achieved at great cost to local people. Hundreds of people died in accidents, and countless thousands were maimed or left with diseases caused by the working conditions. Two huge mining disasters are still remembered and commemorated more than a century after they occurred. In 1908, 75 men lost their lives in the Maypole pit near Abram.

WHAMM Crowdfunder website
Unemployed Wigan miner in the 1930’s Source: Wigan World

There are few traces of the industry around the town these days. So the monument is a very welcome addition to the town to remind us of a proud heritage and tradition, and, more importantly as a tribute to the thousands of local people – men women and children – who laboured in awful conditions in the pits