New Photography Exhibit to Celebrate Bailiff Bridge’s Industrial Heritage and Community
The exhibition is the culmination of the Intertwining Threads project – led by Leeds Beckett University media lecturer Dr Lisa Taylor, in collaboration with artist Catherine Bertola and a group of former employees of Firth’s Carpets and d inhabitants of the local village. Lisa and Catherine are former residents of Bailli Bridge.
Using a range of activities including talks and workshops, the project dug into the local history of Bailiff Bridge – through the memories of those who worked at Firth’s – and the experiences of people who now live in new houses built on the sites of the old mill buildings.
Dr Taylor explained: “The Intertwining Threads project aimed to bring together different components of the Bailiff Bridge community through the story of Firth’s Carpets. For decades, Firth’s has been at the heart of the village and its community. In 2002, it closed its doors for the last time. After nearly 20 years, most of the old factory buildings have disappeared, giving way to new homes and establishing new communities.
Earlier this year, Catherine Bertola brought together former employees and local residents and photographed them re-enacting and sharing how workers used their hands in the factory.
Photographs taken by Catherine will be displayed in Firth’s former paneled boardroom, located in Clifton House – the only building in Firth still standing. The exhibition will be open from Monday 25 to Friday 29 October, from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. Free entry and open to all.
Dr Taylor said: “It all fell into place in the workshops. About 18 former workers came to join relatively new residents in Bailiff Bridge. What was extraordinary was how Catherine was able to unravel the hand gestures of carpet making – simply by getting people to talk about the work they did.
“The weavers and winders started using their hands to describe their work and sometimes they would refer to the tools they were using. The atmosphere was so friendly – it started a conversation about rug making and passing down these lost skills. It felt like even the community was being remade in the room!
“Around 16 million people in Britain live in deindustrialised towns and villages. Coal and steel – heavy industries – are more often mentioned. But textiles should also be remembered and celebrated! What we cannot afford is to let the history of hard work, pride, community and the beautiful rugs made by Firth fade into oblivion. Using the rhythms and practices of the hands of skilled workers, this exhibition insists that we remember.
Catherine added: “The exhibit sparked a number of conversations and workshops with former workers and local residents. People were asked to share stories about their memories of Firth’s, and it was fascinating to me to see how people began to use their hands and bodies as they recalled their experiences working in the plant.
“This inspired the final photographs, which focus on the hands of people from the past and present community of Bailiff Bridge, demonstrating how hands were used to perform various jobs, in particular the making of weaver’s knots, an essential skill in the manufacture of carpets.
“The knot is used to securely tie two ends of yarn together, which has become symbolic in thinking of the project as uniting this ancient industrial community.”