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