Library photo exhibition to remember Bailiff Bridge landmark
The Landscapes of Loss exhibition is the result of a study by Dr Lisa Taylor, Principal Lecturer in Cultural Studies and Humanities at Leeds Beckett, who has spent the last seven months gathering the memories and experiences of Bailiff Bridge residents and former workers of Firth’s Carpets. It will open for a private viewing for participants on Thursday 14 July before opening to the public on Friday 15 July, running until the end of October.
Lisa explained: “From my own experience of growing up in Bailiff Bridge in the 1970s, there was a great sense of community through the shared experience of setting up life in the mill village and of making carpets. The mill was a central physical object for the people and my parents worked there for most of their working lives; its presence in the village crossroads made the possibility of life for the village.
“Clifton Mill was demolished in 2002, leaving an empty space in the heart of Bailiff Bridge. To this day there remains a piece of spare land containing rubble and overgrown weeds.”
Lisa’s research aimed to understand the effect of the demolition of the iconic Mill on the village and community. She invited participants – those who live in Bailiff Bridge, in villages nearby or even who used to live there - to a focus group in Bailiff Bridge, followed by individual ‘walk and talk’ interviews around the village. During the interviews, the participants shared their memories and discussed their ideas about how they see the town post-demolition.
Lisa explained: “People have very fond memories of Firth’s as a paternalistic, generous employer, a company which ‘looked after’ people. During the years when Firth’s was productive, people have sensuous memories of the town – the siren that indicated workers would spill out of the street at the end of the day and fill the pavements, the smell of wool which pervaded the air in the village, for example. Ex-workers say that the company was a community - people looked out for each other and pulled together to do a good job for Firth’s.
“People were also fiercely proud of the high quality of the carpets they produced – Wilton and Axminster woven carpets, which were internationally-renowned for their fine quality. Largely people enjoyed their work; but there were times when the work became monotonous: people told stories of ‘having a laugh’ and playing pranks in the weavers’ sheds. People also told stories of shared experiences – like the flood of 1968 when the mechanics workshop – right at the corner of the cross-road in Clifton Mill was flooded out. There was also the time when the woman taking the wages across the park (all in cash packets) was robbed, allegedly by the chauffeur. Many of the photographs we intend to show document a thriving Mill town and a productive connected workforce, fastened to a strong sense of community.
“Today, for those who took me around the town, the predominant feeling is one of sadness and loss – of the purpose and pride of making carpets, of the loss of a local community that was once based on people making carpets.
Walking around the town, you are struck by the sound of traffic – of people going somewhere else and passing through rather than coming to Bailiff Bridge for a purpose. The ‘hole’ where the Mill used to be is a site of particular sadness for the people of the study: one person said to me, ‘that’s history gone’.”