England is No Longer Alone

“England is no longer alone” so reads a warning statement in the 1895 book Cotton Spinning and Weaving by Herbert E. Walmsley.  The warning of the rise of competition.

This was the age of steam, the industrial revolution, where workers became part of the machine.  Lancashire cotton was said to clothe the world.  Fast-forward to 2012 these mills are relicts in the landscape, derelict on their own edgelands or ‘revamped’ as gentrified flats.  Or in the case of Queen Street Mill, part of the industrial heritage trail, a museum, a visitor attraction, and today part of the Arts Council Cultural Olympiad project Stories of the World – Global Threads.

At the peak of production Burnley’s mills housed 120,000 looms all clattering away under the power of steam, some working 24 hours per day.  Queen Street Mill’s weaving shed accommodated 1000 looms, the sound was literally deafening.  Communication was by sign-language or lip-reading.  Gossip talk had to be guarded behind an obscuring hand or your comments would be read from a distance.

Competition from abroad increased from the first world war onwards.  Gandhi received a heroes welcome as he expressed solidarity with the workers by visiting Lancashire mills, despite calling for an Indian boycott on Lancashire cotton as part of the fight for Indian indpendence.

The mill’s history is complex, opening in 1895 and closing in 1982.   There are a myriad of paths I could follow in producing work in response to the mill for May.  Keep posted!

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