Saturday, 27 February 2016

‘How should decisions about heritage be made?’

A few weeks ago the Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art (MIMA) had an exhibition called “Localism,” telling the story of art in and around Middlesbrough, it including New Boosbeck Industries, a project that revisits designs and furniture making from the Great Depression of the 1930s. Boosbeck Industries was part of a fantastic story called Heartbreak Hill.
The above picture was taken in 1932 in the grounds of Ormesby Hall, it can be found in the book Heartbreak Hill by Malcolm Chase and Mark Whyman and some of the people in the photograph had their stories told at MIMA. Wilf Franks was the first Englishman to attend the famous Bauhaus art school in Germany and Bernard Aylward who later became an important national figure in secondary school craft and design technology, were both involved with Boosbeck furniture making - a project Prince George was told about when he visited the region in 1933. Jasper Rootham later worked with Chamberlain and Churchill. James Roberson became director of the Saddlers Wells. David Ayerst was a writer for The Guardian. Michael Tippet who later became one of England’s major composers and a giant of opera. Also in the photograph is Frida Stewart who later made a name helping orphaned children in the Spanish Civil War, perhaps she speaks for the rest of the group when she later wrote. They certainly made a lasting impression on me; the visits to Boosbeck, the squalor of the little houses, the poverty and deprivation of the unemployed were unforgettably. And so were the people themselves, standing up to the insult of a society which had thrown them on the scrap heap with an independence of spirit and a sense of humour that amazed me. Ormesby Hall was owner by the Major James Pennyman, chairman of the Cleveland Conservative Association and his communist wife Ruth. Ruth Pennyman and David Ayers wrote the words for the Robin Hood opera. Oh God he made the cottager, he made him strong and free, but the devil made the landlord, to steal from you and me. An important figure, not in the photograph, was Rolf Gardiner He was a friend of the writer D. H. Lawrence and involved Germans in the project. A talk was also given about the unemployed Cleveland ironstone miners and their families (there was 91% unemployment at the time)
Mike Benson (centre) and I were asked to speak at MIMA about how we and the rest of the Iron Awe volunteers tried three times to produce a film about Heartbreak Hill and also produce the opera Robin Hood associated with the project. I first met Mike in 2002 we were both volunteers storytellers at an ironstone mining museum in East Cleveland, together with other volunteers we started taking our stories into the communities and some of our work can be seen below. The important museum decisions were made by just two people, they didn’t understand or support our pioneering community work so we formed Iron Awe and in September 2004 we left the museum. At the end of the year Mike was asked to leave the steelworks, and turn around Ryedale Folk Museum, a museum bankrupt of money and ideas. Case Study - Ryedale Folk Museum. In 2011 South Tyneside Council asked him to do the same at Bede’s World and a few weeks ago he became Director of the National Coal Mining Museum of England. Mike lived a few miles from me and I have worked with him as a museum volunteer for fourteen years, but the NCMME in Wakefield is a little too far for me to go.

Film making and music are a small, but important part of community heritage storytelling and Mike Benson has worked with the communities in East Cleveland and Ryedale to produce over a dozen films, a film we made about whaling included a folk opera. .
Young actors in "The Reskue" and on stage with The Moorland Whalers. I made the harpoons and talked at MIMA about how this fitted in with secondary school craft and design technology and how my school woodwork room was just five miles from Boosbeck.

The Pitmen Painters were formed in 1934 and in the same year Cleveland ironstone miners performed Tippett’s first opera Robin Hood. North East coal miners have used the Pitmen Painters to tell the world their story, why were East Cleveland ironstone miners and their descendants, denied the same?

Mike and I have attended many meetings over the last six years with people who are trying to make heritage decision making more democratic, I often use Heartbreak Hill as an example. The volunteer group Iron Awe had hundreds of people, including several schools, funding officers and the BBC supporting our attempt to produce the film Heartbreak Hill and the opera Robin Hood, yet a small group of unaccountably people given the money and power to define our heritage, including one who broke the rules, stopped people in East Cleveland from putting their heritage on the world stage. This example is from my home region, but I tell similar stories from other parts of the country.

Do you want to be involved with making decisions about your heritage, or are you content handing over money and power to a few unaccountable people and let them decide which part of your heritage is saved and which part is lost? The unaccountable few will not give up their power easily; we will only get control of our heritage when we demand it, or as I said at a meeting in York a few months ago "is it time to start a revolution?"

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Iron Awe

Iron Awe has never disbanded, but we have become disillusioned with the way decisions about our heritage are being made.

I started working at a volunteer run, storytelling museum at the start of this millennium. The museum wasn’t attracting many local people, so I joined some of the other volunteers in taking stories out into the community, unfortunately the few people responsible for making the important decisions at the museum didn’t support our work, we formed Iron Awe and four months later we left the museum.

Some of the Iron Awe team have worked at several museums outside the district of East Cleveland and found undemocratic heritage decision making is a national problem.

My definition of heritage is anything that was built, made or happened yesterday and heritage belongs to us all. If you can accept that, why should a few unelected, unaccountable people be making decisions about what heritage is saved and what part of our heritage is lost?
About eight years ago groups of people started looking at ways of getting communities involved with their heritage, particularly with museums and because we had spent several years at museums working with communities, some of the Iron Awe team were asked to get involved. “Whose cake is it anyway?” and “How should decisions about heritage be made?”

Although these worthwhile projects will make some difference, I believe major changes will only happen when communities in this country treat heritage the same way as they treat education, health and crime prevention and demand politicians look at how public money can be better spent on saving our heritage, by involving the public in heritage decision making.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Teesside Troubadour

In September 2004 as the Iron Awe team premiered "Demonstration Day" in Middlesbrough Town Hall, across the road outside the local cinema, hundreds of people were ignoring the new Harry Potter movie and queuing up to see Craig Hornby’s film "A Century in Stone" A film about the Cleveland ironstone mining industry

Craig Hornby’s latest film "Teesside Troubadour" tells the story of Vin Garbutt, who for over forty years has been using music and song to tell the world about the people and places of Teesside. Vin now lives in an old farmhouse near Loftus, half a mile from Cleveland's first ironstone mine.

Both these films are available on DVD and are both highly recommended.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

The Cleveland Ironstone Mining Family of Kate Middleton (Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge)

At the wedding of Prince William & Kate Middleton on the 29 April 2011, much was made of the fact that one of Kate’s Great-Great-Grandfathers was a coal miner from Durham, there was no mention of Kate’s ironstone mining heritage. Below is a part of Kate's mother’s side of her family tree, surprisingly it shows a Middleton.

There were over eighty ironstone mines in Cleveland, the first one opened in 1847 and the last one closed in 1964; there were several mines in Brotton, and several more five miles away in Guisborough. Brotton ironstone miners organised the first union in 1872 and the same year the first Demonstration day or gala was held at Skelton, halfway between Brotton and Guisborough. Kate’s Great-Great-Grandfather Thomas Temple was an ironstone miner in 1871 and was living in Brotton in 1874, he would have been a member of the union and attended several of the yearly Demonstration days.

On a personal note, my great grandfather William Lawson, an ironstone miner, married Mary Robinson on Christmas day 1875 at Brotton Parish Church, a year after ironstone miner Joseph Temple’s Daughter Elisabeth was born in Brotton.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

The King's Ear

In 2006 St. Joseph's School, Loftus celebrated its 100th birthday and made a film about life in Loftus in 1906, the children did all the acting, all the filming and helped write the script. The film was made in just two and a half days at eight different locations around Loftus and cost nothing to make; unfortunately we had little time for editing before the premiere, so the sound could have been better.

In 1906, our MP Herbert Samuel was also the Home Secretary, he was at first against giving women the vote, but after the Great War he changed his mind, he later gave woman the right to become MPs. (From the book People of the past in Loftus by Eric M. Jackson.)

Friday, 22 October 2010

Reviving Robin

It a year since Iron Awe assembled a choir in the Station Hotel Boosbeck, and sang songs from Sir Michael Tippetts first opera Robin Hood. We are still trying to get funding to complete the project.  BBC Radio 3 are repeating Reviving Robin on Saturday, October 30th at 12.15pm
This photograph was taken at Boosbeck in the1920s, it is said to be of a soup kitchen?
The photograph was kindly contributed by Margaret O'Shea. Her grandmother Sarah Robinson (nee Armstrong) is third from the left in the front row in the dark dress with the white collar. Margaret thinks her Grandfather George Robinson, who was a mines deputy, could be also in the photo but unfortunately she doesn't know which one he is - can anyone help?

Friday, 23 July 2010

Boosbeck and Lingdale

Boosbeck and Lindale are two old ironstone mining villages a mile apart, they were both involved with the land schemes of the1930s. (Heartbreak Hill) Two days ago some of the Iron Awe team took some of the film props from Demonstration day to Boosbeck and supported the opening of a new playground on the old pit yard. Three years ago we did the same thing when they unveiled a sign in the village.
Last year we went to Lindale when they opened a new playground with an ironstone mining theme. That's the way to keep children interested in their heritage.