Charity shop tales

Kelly is a volunteer at Hive where she helps with our fundraising. She has also worked in charity shops for the last 16 years. As part of the Worn Stories project she has recently been an interview subject as part of our oral history project. Here she writes about her experience of charity shop work and also of being interviewed for the project. The full interview will be transcribed and published on this blog. Many thanks Kelly for your contribution.

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Rag pen, Cancer Research UK shop

‘I have worked on and off in charity shops since 2002, working for three major chains.  This has given me a broad knowledge of the industry, both chronologically and the variances between different charities in their business models.  From the pre-Ebay days to the ever-increasing pace of fast fashion.  From the gradual phasing out of selling video cassettes to now, the decline in the sales of DVDs.  I have covered most roles in that time, from till to sorter and have, to partly quote Rutger Hauer in Blade Runner, seen things…  Some good, some utterly grim (most charity shops don’t have washing machines and not every donation contains washed clothes…).

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Sorting desk and hanging rails, CRUK

The charity shop remains one of the most inclusive elements in society.  Everyone, regardless of skill set is welcome to work there.  Everyone, regardless of personal wealth is welcome to shop there.  They provide an affordable, ecological and personality-focused (rather than being one of the herd) environment in which to shop.  They provide skills and a network of support and companionship for the people who volunteer there.  We take pride in our shops and want them to be a vital part of the communities in which they trade.  I would love voluntary work to be a part of the curriculum in schools for 16-18-year olds – no two days are the same and there’s always something new to learn, be it “Is this artfully distressed or just ripped?” to “What’s this gizmo for?!”

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Checking garments, CRUK

The [oral history] interview experience was lovely – everyone was really welcoming and put me at ease.  The questions were good – a broad range of topics.  I hope it gives a glimpse into the world of charity shops – from the treasure trove of donations to the cut-throat pirate attitude of some of the patrons.  From the people who will put a bit extra in the rattle tin to the sorts that would think nothing of ripping them from the chain on the counter.  From the woman who ran from the shop with an armful of babygros she had stolen under her arm – a example of disheartening, yet prevalent thievery – opportunism brought on by a lack of budget for security tags or a guard – to the gentleman who picks up pennies off the ground and presents them to us in a washed out coffee jar once it’s full.  The charity shop is where all walks of life pass through.  My life, certainly, would be poorer without them.’

 

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Kelly’s oral history interview
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Using our skills

 

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Our popular Talking Textiles groups meet on Mondays at Hive and have been working on projects that explore a variety of creative textile techniques. These have all emphasised textile recycling, repair and reuse themes. They include traditional patchwork, creating and using t-shirt yarn (for crochet, knitting, rag rugging and weaving), using heat activated interfacing to create new textiles, printing and darning and mending skills. We have also encouraged discussion about the various  contemporary textile recycling industries and businesses in the city and learned about the heritage of the industry and workers from the 1880s onward. As well as these practical skills and heritage stories we have used the stories of significant textiles in our lives to reminisce. These stories evidence the power of textiles as a tool for community-based conversations about our own lives, the lives of our ancestors and the relevance to our community heritage.

We’ve recently challenged the group to use the many textile skills they have and that they have learned during the project to make a personal piece of work. The parameters of the challenge are that the piece is worked on a square of recycled blanket and that all the materials used must be reused or found in the Hive Textile Recycling Hub. Here are examples of some of the work in progress:

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Lynda’s work focusses on the wellbeing benefits she gets from attending the project and the beauty to be found in broken or repaired textiles.

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Lila is using a collection of crocheted, embroidered and tatted doilies donated to the recycling hub. She wants to celebrate the hours of work women put into these domestic items during the early and mid-twentieth century.

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Muriel has been inspired by a collection of floral pieces of fabric from her own scrap bag and is working on a patched and appliqued mini-quilt.

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Tess has challenged herself to make a patchwork using the English paper piecing technique with a sample of every piece of cloth that has been donated to the recycling hub since the beginning of the Worn Stories project.

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Deb is exploring her new embroidery skills and is using yarn and fabric strips from the textile hub to create a densely worked ammonite on a wool background.

The Ballad of Ellen Tring

As we head into the final six months of the Worn Stories project we are collating and gathering together the findings from our research and community-based projects. We will be delivering some one-off workshops as part of this. First up is ‘The Ballad of Ellen Tring’ on Tuesday 17th July 1-3 pm at Hive. Ellen Tring was a rag worker and her story emerged through the work of our research project. We will be exploring the history of the industrial ballad through the story of Ellen and creating our own ballad, to be performed at our end-of-project events in November and December. Volunteer researcher Tracey has been researching Ellen’s life and shares some of her story below:

Where do you start with Ellen Tring? What about her name? Ellen Tring was also known as Ellen Cameron and as Ellen Quinn. Her date of birth varies between 1846 and 1850 and she was born in either County Armagh or Glasgow, depending on the alias she used! Varying in height from 5ft 1inch to 5ft 3 inches, she was easily identifiable with a scar on the right side of her forehead and a tattoo on her left arm above her elbow. A Roman Catholic, she was married to John William Tring but was also described as living with Robert McMillan. Her profession varied too as she worked as a rag picker, rag sorter, a weaver and a common prostitute. She didn’t just reside in Bradford either, as Barnsley, Dewsbury, Halifax and Lancaster are listed as her residences, among others. However, one thing is certain, it was her criminal convictions that brought her to the attention of the courts and the newspapers. Described as “a woman of notoriously bad character,” “well known to the police,” “a wretched looking woman,” and “an imbecile,” she had approximately nineteen criminal convictions between the years 1879 and 1886. Her sentences ranged from three days to twelve months hard labour for drunkenness, stealing, prostitution and assault (including that of a constable). As an old woman, of no fixed abode she was sent to jail for seven days for drunkenness despite being “a poor creature” and “destitute”. Was she really as bad as she appears or was she a product of her time? 

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If you’d like to find out more about Ellen please contact claire@hivebradford.org.uk to sign up for the workshop.

 

Stitching to remember

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At Hive we have recently begun the task of embroidering the names of 160 Bradford-based female rag workers onto strips of recycled woollen cloth. The names were collected by our research group who have discovered these women through census information, creed registers and prison records 1880-1911. Thirty members of our Talking Textile group have stitched the names of these forgotten workers as part of their weekly talking and making session. We have been able to share some information about some of these women, small biographical details that tell us more of their story, rather than just their work history.

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Leanne Prain in her book ‘Strange Material: Storytelling through textiles.’ writes of ‘stitching overlooked stories’. The women we are recording using needle and thread experienced severe hardship in their lives and their stories have been untold before now. Using textile to commemorate and remember them has been an interesting process for our participants. One commented, ‘As I am stitching her name I am thinking about the things we may have had in common. It’s like a conversation across the centuries.’ Another, ‘I feel more connected to the women. Having researched them it was then good to think about each one as I sewed. I wondered too, if many of them had been able to write their own names.’

Annie Elizabeth Uttley: Born in 1889. In the census information from 1911 we learned that she was living in Gracechurch Street, Manningham with her husband, Frederick, a rag dealer and their two daughters Emily and Alice. A third child was born who did not survive. She entered Bradford Union Workhouse in 1915 with another child born in October 1914, who died in 1915.

Bridget Needham: Born in 1841 in Ross Common Ireland. In the 1891 census she is a widow living with her son Thomas, a labourer, and is working as a rag sorter. In the 1901 census she is an unemployed rag sorter lodging in Granby Street, Bradford. She enters the workhouse in 1903.

We also discovered that one of our rag workers, a ‘strong looking woman’ Margaret Mullarkey, was involved in an organised protest against workhouse food in 1901.

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Yorkshire Evening Post, 28th March 1901

The embroidered names will be on display as part of our exhibition at Bradford Industrial Museum in November this year.

 

 

The Economy Quilt

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One of the books we have consulted for use in practical textile sessions during the Worn Stories project is ‘Needlework Economies: A Book of Making and Mending with Oddments and Scraps.‘ by Flora Klickmann. Many books and pamphlets on this theme were published during and after World War Two so this, from 1919, is an interesting addition to our bookshelf. Our ‘Talking Textiles’ group meets weekly and was particularly taken with Klickmann’s description of an ‘Economy Quilt’, a method that makes use of ‘…every scrap of material that would otherwise be wasted.’ She describes saving any bits from dressmaking, mending and darning and cutting them into snippets, ‘everything comes in useful, even the fragments of darning wool, ravellings and basting threads!’.  Using these snippets to create a substitute for an expensive eiderdown, she suggests that, ‘Any woman who has an elastic family and a non-elastic purse, is glad of one for a gift.’ The quilt is formed of small cloth bags that are stitched together like patchwork with each bag containing a certain amount of saved scraps of fabric.

At the end of each workshop session at Hive and at our community projects we have been gathering our own snippets and clippings. Our groups contain a minimum of 12 participants each session so we are generating quite a collection. Our Talking Textiles participants are beginning to build their own economy quilt, evidencing our zero-waste approach to practical projects. This will be on display at our exhibition in November at Bradford Industrial Museum.

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Cotton scrap from a patchwork session, New Start group, Community Works, Undercliffe.

 

Archive gold

Our blog today has been written by Caroline Perry, a member of our research group. Her research focus has been on a business operating as rag merchants, wool extractors and mungo manufacturers. Many thanks Caroline for this insight.

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Raglan Mills, Leeds Road where William Baxter & Co. was based.

‘Today I found a nugget of gold. Admittedly a small nugget but pure gold. As a member of the Worn Stories research group I have been looking into a company called William Baxter & Co.  and the families involved in running this business from the 1850s to 1918. I have been searching through trade directories, census and electoral roll records, property and land transfer and registration documents, newspapers and have spent hours searching on google. Trying to piece together a story about this business is like doing a jigsaw without the picture on the top of the box and with half the pieces missing. I have a timeline, I know when the business started, I know the families involved and have facts relating to these families; when they were born, who married who, where they lived, when they became involved in the business etc. so I can join together pieces of my jigsaw to give me a timeline. But who were these people, what did they believe in, what drove them? That’s where we come to my nugget of gold.

In 1918 The Bradford Daily Telegraph was celebrating its 50 year jubilee. The paper offered a £50 prize for the best suggestions to improve the City during the next 50 years. They received hundreds of submissions and through a rigorous selection process, chose the best 100 contributions. Contributions were judged on originality, literary merit and, most importantly, the improvements suggested had to be for “the joy of all”.  These 100 winning submissions were then published in a little booklet. This booklet is now held by the Bradford Local Studies Library and thanks to the help of a wonderful member of staff I was given access to this and was able to read through it. It makes fascinating reading and gives a real flavour of the thoughts of people living in Bradford at this time and their aspirations for its future.  But the nugget of gold is entry XLIX – J. B. WARING, 983 Leeds Road, Bradford. John Brooksbank Waring was the eldest son of Denton Waring and ran William Baxter & Co, with his brother Frankland Waring, from 1902 to when they sold the business in 1918. This little article gives me a first taste of John Waring as a real person. He called first for a more extended use of electricity in both industry and the home which would abolition the emission of black smoke and result in pure air and extra hours of sunshine for every man woman and child in the city, and as a result “Consumption, the dread scourge of mankind, will not find it so easy to claim its victims ..”. He talks of improved methods of production brought about by more scientific ideas in the application of power to output which would give men time to enjoy the good things in store. He wanted art to be encouraged and for the city “to be dotted by patches of green sward where men enjoy a brief rest from the whirl of machinery”. He ends by calling for the erection of many hundreds of pretty cottages “… each with some artistic feature and the day is coming when neighbours will enter into friendly rivalry in the beautifying of their home and surroundings”

There were so many practical, imaginative and ideological ideas for improving Bradford. However, my first prize goes to Mary Handby, 28 Northdale Road, Bradford, obviously a lady with a strong sense of humour. Mary starts her submission “One of the best ways of improving Bradford in the years to come would perhaps be to rebuild it on the top of Ilkley Moors.” ‘

The Creed Register

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Worn Stories volunteer researcher Tracey Williams has written our latest blog post. She has been using Bradford Local Studies Library and West Yorkshire Archives in both Bradford and Wakefield to continue research begun during project sessions. Thank you Tracey for this fascinating contribution.

‘I was first introduced to The Creed Register during a visit to Bradford Archives. Established in 1869 to record the religious creed of workhouse inmates, it also lists their occupations. I set myself the task of finding any rag sorters, pickers and gatherers living in Bradford during the years 1898-1915. The register is available on microfiche but I prefer the real thing.

A huge tome arrives wrapped in brown paper, tied with ribbon. Once released its dirty and crumbling binding rests upon grey foam, seeming at once out of place. I open the register carefully, stopping to admire the coloured end papers. Haddon Best & Co Printers and Publishers have done a magnificent job.

Turning the pages, I scan the list of occupations and begin to wonder what was involved – clay chopper, yeast hawker and harness cleaner among others. In incredibly small writing, “widow of Jason Egg & Batter Agent”, another “wife of William Lee Ogden (13 years apart) Mason” What was their story?

The writing is truly beautiful but I know how people must feel when they read my own hand, as one in particular is practically illegible. It is often very faint with blots, mistakes and crossings out, together with occasional use of red ink. I think back to handwriting lessons, seeing if, by working out the joins, I can decipher particularly difficult words.

The names of inmates crop up several times a year, others over many years. I start to care for them and wonder what their lives were like. Dates of birth vary and last known residences change with regularity. Patterns begin to emerge. Captain St, George St, Adolphus St – do they still exist? I make a note to look out for them on my travels. Religious denomination varies – Church of England, Wesleyan, Baptist, Salvationist, Congregationalist and huge numbers of Catholics.

In the column “name and address of nearest known relative” I am always sad when I read “no relations or friends”. Sometimes, there is another glimpse into their lives – orphan, mother unfit, mother deserted, parents unfit.

The last column is always very final. Inmates are either discharged, sometimes with a note “To Holbeck”, “To Settle”, “To Menston”, other workhouses and asylums but often it just says “Dead”.’