Basque Children in Salford 1937

I am embarking on an interesting project to find out more about a group of Basque refugee children who came to Salford following the bombing of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War. I am particularly interested in memories of local people who would have been children at this time. Now, I know it’s a bit different to ripples and erosion, and pristine white velvet snow so I’m going to try to explain how someone who found history boring at school has suddenly started to research the Spanish Civil War!

As a teenager I watched the film “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie” and was struck by reference to the Spanish Civil War because I wasn’t really aware that there had been one, although I had heard of Franco.  I bought the book but didn’t learn any more. Something resonated with me, though, and I had a gnawing sense that I wanted to dig deeper. I didn’t, of course!  Then around 2006/7 I saw Guillermo del Toro’s film “Pan’s Labyrinth” which is set against the back drop of the Civil War. This stirred that old romantic interest in the subject and I followed it up by watching his “The Devil’s Backbone” set in the same period.

File:Panorama Cerbère depuis le col des Balistres.jpgPanorama of Cerbère seen from the French/Spanish border (July 2008) photo: Christophe Marcheux

A trip to Barcelona by train stirred this feeling again, particularly when at  Cerbere, the station on the border where many of the International Brigade entered Spain, the Border Police got on and searched the train!

On my return I taught a printing class and used paintings by Jean Miró as inspiration for print designs. By learning about Jean Miró I became even more aware of the devastating impact the Civil War had on the nation and people of Spain, and how he was affected by it. Picasso too, whose painting Guernica  is a visceral depiction of the horror that civil war can lead to.

So, gradually, I have been building up my knowledge.  For me, the best way into reading “proper” history books is via fiction and biography.  I received Javier Cercas’ “Soldiers of Salamis” (slow start, nearly put it down, but glad I didn’t, really good), Laurie Lee’s Trilogy “Red Sky at Sunrise”  and George Orwell’s “Homage to Catalonia” as gifts, so I had a cracking start to my research.  I then saw a review of Peter Day’s “Franco’s Friends: how British Intelligence helped bring Franco to power in Spain” and put it on my Christmas list! A very interesting book, if a little dry, based on recently released documents from the National Archive, the Imperial War Museum, British library and Private Collections.

At a local festival as Nana Knitwit, I took a quick break during a quiet spell to look at the stall next door – the Working Class Movement Library – and amongst their publications was a little book called “From Manchester to Spain” by Bernard Barry, so of course I bought it.  It was reading this that alerted me to the Spanish children and the Salford connection.

In June 1937, 4000 Basque children arrived in Southampton as refugees and were dispersed around the country in “colonies”.  One of these colonies was in Salford at Harold’s Memorial Orphanage, now demolished but only five minutes walk from my home, and they were taught at the Local Quaker Meeting House, now a British Legion building just a little further on.  I realised that it is exactly 75 years since they arrived. Did anyone remember them? Somebody should organise a celebration I thought!  I mentioned the children to my friend’s mum (age 83) and she was delighted to be asked. She remembered being 9 years old and leaving hospital after a bout of mumps. She went with her friends to look at the refugees because “we thought they would be exotic but were dead disappointed because they looked just like us!”

The former Friends Meeting House (now The British Legion) on Langworthy Road, Salford

I felt I should let people know about this 75th Anniversary because it’s a little bit of Salford history that was overtaken by the war and forgotten, and that maybe someone should do something about it.  I then met a really great guy called Lawrence at the opening night of the Cow Lane Exhibition. He has set up the Streets Museum, an online archive of the 1000 lost streets of Salford – streets that have been demolished over the last 60 years – and their fragmented and dispersed communities, inspired by The District Six Museum of South Africa. He basically did it because it needed doing and it needed doing now before all those memories were lost.  So, inspired by Lawrence, I have decided to make a piece of art based on the Basque children in Salford. Anyone who remembers them will be in their eighties and nineties, and I need to tap into these memories sooner rather than later.

And! After talking to artist Julie Foley an artist at Cow Lane Studios, it does fit in very well with my investigation of memory and the way it changes and fragments over time. I’m just approaching it from a different perspective…

Opening Night at The Cow Lane Studios Open Exhibition

I had the most amazing night at the opening of the Cow Lane Studios Open Exhibition on Friday night.  I didn’t win any of the prizes, but what I got from it was far more important and sustaining than any prize could be.

We arrived early, so the gallery was almost empty, and it was easy to see how well curated it was. The space itself was a form of artwork: an impeccable spatial collage of unique pieces put together in a truly pleasing way. And that was just my first impression!

As I started to look around, the quality of the work selected shone out – a beautiful display of outstanding contemporary art. Then it dawned on me (and this is the bit that is better than any prize) that my piece of work had been selected too!  I cannot explain how stunned I was when I realised that my work was holding its own amongst artwork of this quality.

I have been in a bit of a no-man’s land creatively. At college, I had lots of crazy ideas that were passively discouraged because of the need to follow the syllabus and because of lack of time (it was a practical design/fashion course after all!), and I also have a sense that I stand more chance of earning a living by making contemporary craft products that people understand more easily. And, of course, an absolute lack of confidence in calling myself an artist.

“Why would anyone keep a broken gravy jug?” as installation at         The Cow Lane Studios











Seeing my work placed in a contemporary art setting and how well it sat with the other pieces at the Cow Lane gallery has been a real revelation for me.  It was the only textile there, yet not one single person asked me how I had made it. They wanted to talk about the concept behind it and their understanding of it! What an eye opener.

So thank you Cow Lane Studios for selecting me…

Having a Washing Line Moment

When you work the way I do, which is to put hours and hours of work into a piece and then add a destructive process that could effectively destroy the lot, there is a point at which you let go of it and leave it in the hands of fate, and then a point when you claim it back.  For me, the point I finally let go is usually when it goes into the washing machine, either at a high temperature to felt it or, more recently, with an old rough towel to drag and scratch the last bits of devoré devoured fabric from it.

I take it from the machine as a crumpled mish mash, still not sure whether the end results will be what I imagined, better than I imagined or a disaster.  It is only when I hang it out on the line that I get a feeling whether it has worked or not.

Today I finished preparing three pieces that I dyed, printed and used devoré paste on, using techniques learnt on workshops with Dionne Swift. Then the moment came when I had to relinquish control and put them in the machine.  Hanging them out on the line I had a “washing line moment” and realised how pleased I am with them, even though there is still work to do.

The problem with a “washing line moment” however, is that the pieces are surrounded on all sides with natural light, and look far more ephemeral and transparent than they ever will when finished and mounted. In fact, un-ironed, incomplete and with clothes pegs: to me they are at their most beautiful!A previous “washing line moment”, panels for the IAS Forum Meeting Box. I love the industrial landscape created by the shadows!

DIY Theatre Company

On Friday I went to have lunch with the members of DIY Theatre Company  at The Angel  in Salford. Last year I worked with them to create an exhibition to showcase the end of a project they were working on, and they had some photos for me that I had forgotten to collect.

They had received funding to take their play “Ellie’s Story” to schools within the M60 boundary and run Arts Awards projects with the young people. Working with the Friday Group (their outreach team), we designed, printed and sewed banners and cushions to represent the different aspects of the project. We made a banner out of net and sewed comments and photos of the group to it, saying how they felt about the project.  The children had used giant music notes for feedback so we used a roller to print lines of music to display them on, and for the third banner we printed school buildings and made a border of tarmac coloured minibuses to represent the M60.

The photographs below were taken by DIY and are published with their permission. They show Anna, Cathy, Tracey and Joan sewing and printing.  It was a lovely way to work, discussing and making decisions about the practicalities of the event while keeping our hands busy.  I really enjoyed meeting everybody again to catch up.

Do check out their website They really are a professional and innovative outfit, and if you live locally to Salford, try to catch one of their plays if you can.

Cathy, Tracey and Joan with M60 banner, and with Anna sewing and printing.