Nicola Wheeler

Nicola Wheeler

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TONY WRIGHT: This is Tony Wright, it’s the 21ST of August 2012 and I’m interviewing Nicola Wheeler. So the first question would be, what’s your full name and where and when you were born?

NICOLA WHEELER: My full name now is Nicola Elizabeth Wheeler and I was born in Worthing in Sussex.

TW: Right……….and when?

NW: When? 1954.

TW: Right. What was Sussex like in the fifties…..sixties then?

NW: …….in the fifties and sixties………what was it like…….well in the fifties obviously I was just a child; I went to…..a little, very old-fashioned school, Victorian school……quite similar to the school that’s just been…..renovated up here……..knew everyone at the school………..and it was quite a kind of villagey atmosphere, although obviously being on the south coast……it was quite built up, but we had the seaside and we had the countryside and it was a good life really……..and…….yeah, that was all……okay……..and….sixties obviously it was the swinging sixties; probably a lot more swinging, possibly, than other parts of the country being that it was quite near London…….and…….yeah, that you know, kind of evolved into……..being a teenager and so I was probably in a good place to be a teenager; went to art college in Worthing……and did a Foundation and……then tried to get into college in London unsuccessfully……stayed on at West Sussex College of Art and did a year’s Theatre course which was what I’d decided I was interested in……..joined the National Youth Theatre…..for a season, thinking I wanted to be a Theatre Designer……..and ended up in the Wardrobe department because I could sew, that’s what I’d done at school [laughing]….. and my family….my grandfather who I’d lived with as a child because my mum died when I was very young, was a ladies’ tailor, so……there was that heritage and apparently, I’ve just discovered that my nan who obviously was living there too, also helped him in the……workshops in Bentalls……and so I had that kind of background and…….yeah, so I ended up in the…….Wardrobe department…..very luckily, and I don’t know quite how I had the nounce to say it, but I said to the lady, just before I left, ‘if you ever need an assistant, let me know’ and she came to me…..well wrote to me when….just when I wanted to get out of art college……and said would I like to go and work for her, and so I did which was the second season of The Bankside Globe in London…..and so I worked there and that’s how I kind of started working in theatre really.

TW: Right. So did….did you have aspirations to be an actress and that

NW: No I never ever ever wanted to be an actress; always wanted to be backstage and basically came through an arts background; my father would have….well, he’s a watercolourist, he would have loved to have…..well did go to the same art college as I did, and started doing Graphics when he came out of the army but unfortunately he couldn’t carry on doing that…….and my sister of course did Fine Art eventually and Graphics, and I have a long line of art in the family, basically on both sides of the family. My mother was Dutch and there’s a long line of Dutch artists and that…… no, never ever wanted to act and……..although I’ve got a daughter now that does love acting; always looked at her when she on stage as a young girl and thought ‘what is this? What is this love of being [laughing] in the limelight’ [laughing] but……

TW: Right. So was this the National Youth Theatre?

NW: Yes, the National Youth Theatre…..I was in the London National Youth Theatre

TW: Right. And so The Globe Theatre, that’s the Shakespearian one?

NW: Yes, yeah……which is now being….yeah, it was……well……the brainchild of Sam Wanamaker, and there was an American who had apparently come over here to act…….and obviously kind of had the nounce to kind of think ‘God they’ve got this amazing person called Shakespeare in their heritage in England that no-one’s ever [laughing] thought of reincarnating his theatre’ so actually did it, but I was as I say there in the second season and in those days it was just a tent on the bankside…….and a great season with Vanessa Redgrave and various other famous people…….heart of the season…….and recently I’ve been to the now proper theatre and discovered that the season I was there supposedly was flooded out, although I don’t remember it actually been flooded out, although there was a lot of water!


But it was a great….it was brilliant…..a bit too good really because Sam Wanamaker was very generous; we had amazing…….first night parties and end of…… performance parties and we were given flowers and treated as if we were actors and actresses…….but it’s never happened again


I’m afraid…..but the….the lady that was Wardrobe Mistress…..was an American too and she was brilliant and we kind of worked together. In fact she left….she went off to America for the last month of the season, and left me in charge which was a little bit scary but I survived, being that it was my first ever job and….yeah, it was great.

TW: Was that the same woman who wrote to you then and asked you to come back?

NW: She…..yeah, well she didn’t…..she didn’t ask me to come back; she was…..she’d…..obviously worked with the National Youth Theatre and then it was a year…….or was it the next summer…….yes it may have been the next summer or the year after that that she was then working for The Globe

TW: That was your second season, yeah.

NW: Yeah.

TW: Yeah, okay.

NW: And….yes, that was a proper job though; that wasn’t the Youth Theatre, that was

TW: But that’s a good thing to put on your CV to get new work isn’t it?

NW: Yes, yeah, oh yes, yeah, yeah…

TW: So how did you progress after that?

NW: Well I went from there and……now this is a bit….cos I seemed to do so many things in such a short time and I’m not ever quite sure exactly how, and I haven’t looked it up I’m afraid…….but I worked……..I went up to Manchester first, that’s what I did, which was the connection with the north of England of course…..and I worked at Watt’s Costumiers in Manchester which was……which has now gone….on Princess Street…..and…….so worked there for a while; it was a three day week and the wages weren’t very brilliant; it was okay but a good learning experience but very bad wages, and I used to work in the evenings as a dresser, so I worked at the Opera House and Glyndebourne came and toured actually while I was there, as did various ballet companies etcetera, but I had to do that to be able to make enough money to live on, and…….when the three day week came along I realised that I was actually getting more dole money [laughing] for the two days I wasn’t working than I was……..anyway so I was basically kind of looking for another job maybe, if I was lucky enough, and I got an interview for Glyndebourne Opera Company and was successful with that, so then I went back down south and worked for a season at Glyndebourne…….which was amazing, and the best place that I’ve ever worked for from the point of view of the quality of the work etcetera……and…..then….as with most theatre jobs of course, they’re seasonal; they don’t go on for ever, and so when the end of the season came from that I came back up to Manchester and I……eventually got a job at the….what’s it called….Contact Theatre Company in Manchester

TW: Was it The Library was it then?

NW: No it’s a different theatre…..there’s still….The Library Theatre and it’s actually The University Theatre now

TW: Oh right

NW: So I worked there for a bit and this is the bit I’m not quite sure exactly how it worked out; I worked for them but then I…..then got a job at Crewe Theatre……and went down there; there were people that were connected with both basically and so we kind of interchanged……The Contact Theatre is….an all-round through-the-year ….company; Crewe Theatre was seasonal again, so I went there, obviously lived there while I was working there…..did a season there…..and met my husband there; my husband-to-be….who was also working there as Stage Manager……and then came back again to Manchester and carried on working at the……well The Contact Theatre had……..a kind of studio theatre called The Brickhouse, and worked for that too…..and…….carried on there for some time…..she did a…..which wasn’t paid….an Arts Council film called The Chartists for someone called John something or other, from Granada……but my now husband and I both worked on that and did all the wardrobe; he did the props and was the Stage Manager, and……..then…….. then…..we…….well because I’d met Duncan we were…..I’ve been told that what actually happened….the reason I’ve ended up where I am now, in Heptonstall, [laughing]….I’ve been told that you could buy property very cheaply round… this area in those days and I basically lived in a bedsit of course, and theatre wages weren’t good……and so I’d started looking in this area for a property, but when I went to the bank they wouldn’t lend me any money, you know, to buy a property; I found one that was like a thousand pounds or……in the Todmorden area, and…..but my husband, who had an overdraft at the time, went to his bank, because he’d been with the bank for quite a while and he was a man


I think which had clout in those days…..said ‘oh yes’ you know ‘we’ll lend you the money’ so we ended up buying a house in Sowerby Bridge, which was £2750 I think, or thereabouts, and……so that was back in 1976 I think………so we came to live there and….I started working..…I’ve worked at Yorkshire Television, so we were……Duncan had been living in Leeds so I was living in Manchester, he was living in Leeds and it was kind of in between the two really….Sowerby Bridge was in between the two, and so then I worked for Yorkshire Television. Some of the time I did some work for the BBC in Manchester……and I…..because of working at Yorkshire Television, and because I’d always……loved antique clothing as well as….you know, making clothes, I had some original 1920’s dresses and someone was going to a 1920’s ball and I hired some 1920’s outfits to them, madly, because they were fragile….and that was the start of me having a costume hiring fancy dress business which……so I started from art and…..a house in Sowerby Bridge and then I got premises in Sowerby Bridge and we eventually ended up in Halifax, and that was North Props Costume Hire…..which I had for about ten years and….by then….by the time….so we moved from our original house down to what is now the Health Centre which was the old Police Station in Sowerby Bridge, and then to Halifax and all of that I had the business……and……by then we had a son who was about four years old and was coming up to school age, and so we were kind of looking to…..cos I had this idea that I would like him to go to a village school like I had gone to…….and so we started kind of looking for something very very cheap again to live in because we obviously had the property in Halifax…..and we actually bought a house in Northowram and sold it because we couldn’t afford to do it up, but we ended up….by then my sister and her husband had moved to Heptonstall and we found a house in Heptonstall that fitted the bill and so we bought that, and hence that’s how we ended up ion Heptonstall…….and…..we’ve been her ever since really…..and because by then I had a son and was soon to have a daughter, I was not able to go and work somewhere because my husband as I say was originally a Stage Manager and then became a Property Buyer so was working in film and television, so he….when he was working he was having to go wherever he was working, and I basically made the decision that we couldn’t both be doing that cos it was too unsettling for the family, so I decided I was gonna work from home…..and…..again really, by……fluke almost I……started up my business which is working for museums making costumes, just basically by leaving cards wherever I went……..and…….have done that ever since then really, and I belong to The Museums Association which is another way of getting work really, so I’ve always made costumes for museums, for the last twenty-odd years….and obviously that’s for museums wherever they are all over the country…..and…….because of obviously having links with the school I also work as a support in schools etcetera, but that’s not the kind of arty side of things…….and…….so…..and then, because I had never finished my arts course, I eventually started doing an Open College of the Arts course in my spare time [laughing] and so that’s where I……and I also joined a weaving group so, which……originally was……you know, a group that we went to, run by Sue Lawty, but when Sue Lawty stopped doing the course then we all decided that we were going to carry on, meeting in each other’s houses and we did that for ten…….twelve years or whatever, so……so I have weavings and I have textiles because I did Textiles and Fine Art for the Open College course…….and through doing that and the Hebden Bridge Arts Festival I started having an open studio……..and I did…..I also did a bit of photography, so I’ve sold various things from the open studio and then in the last couple of years I thought……well I made a wedding dress for a musician that lives in the village……and I made the wedding dress because she wanted something that was in the style of Jane Austen………clothing and I had to be kind of cajoled into doing it really because I thought ‘well no’……you know, wedding dresses are a scary thing to do, most people say ‘oh no no no’ but she was a lovely lady so it was a great….it was really nice making it, and I realised that I could combine the kind of historical aspect of the clothes that I made and……you know and kind of make for people that wanted something different to the normal wedding dresses that you buy in most large… dress….outfitters and there’s a vogue for vintage at the moment so that’s what I’ve started doing, so that’s what I’m doing at the moment and I gave up my school job [laughing] a few months ago and I’m busily working towards…..they’ve got a….in the new Town Hall in Hebden Bridge they’ve got a wedding dress…..not a wedding dress, but a wedding fair in October so I’m working towards that at the moment, and I’ve got various commissions for people that want something different.

TW: Right…..right……in a way I’d like to jump back to like the…..your earlier days, sort of Youth Theatre and early Manchester and Glyndebourne and all like that, when you were kind of like in Wardrobe, and ask a little bit about what do you…..what do you actually do when you’re in that kind of a job?

NW: Right…..well it depends where you’re working really, very much, I mean……at… The Globe it was pretty much hands on, obviously an assistant most of the time to…..the Wardrobe Mistress and we mainly hired in most of the costumes which obviously was one way of doing things……..there…..each production was very varied and some were in modern dress and some were in period dress, and so we hired from whichever………company, you know, was appropriate to that type of clothing……so it was……maintenance…..repairs, and making sure everything was where it should be, helping dress whoever was in the production etcetera……we did make…..trying to think, it’s such a long time ago, we did make some of the costumes because I remember there being two trainees that I suppose came on termship from Central School because they had a Theatre course there, that came and did some sewing with us so we must have done some sewing [laughing] and…..yeah, so that’s kind of how that one worked, but Glyndebourne was all making; it was a totally different kettle of fish….there were…..there was a different department for each area, and so I was in the Wardrobe department but they had separate people that just cut the costume, separate people that made – did the hand sewing, basting etcetera…….even people that did the embroidery, and they were…..the costumes were beautifully made and literally kind of couture style costumes

TW: Kind of specialism

NW: Very much specialised, I mean the….obviously the lead opera singers had the best costume and then as you went down the ranks [laughing][ they weren’t quite so good……but…..and I remember doing… of the performances was Idomeneo, which was Greek, and so there was a lot of kind of drapery involved, so…..doing a lot of drapery on the stands for that……and then there’s La Calisto which was also a very ancient opera…….but there was a separate wig making department there and a separate laundry, so we didn’t have to do any of the upkeep of the costumes; we were literally just making costumes in the Wardrobe department, whereas when I went to……when I was working at Crewe, we did everything obviously and there was the maintenance and the……..

TW: All hands to the deck so to speak

NW: Yes, very small Wardrobe department [laughing], about a third of the size of this room


and everything had to be done, so……so yes it depends, and at Crewe we did do a bit of touring too so you were also kind of……moving costumes from place to place etcetera.

TW: Yeah….okay… now onto like the museum work. If you’re making costumes for museums, do you make them from scratch or do they give you, you know, part of them and do you have to research at all? How does that work?

NW: Yeah…..generally….well it depends exactly what type of costume you’re making. On the whole I tend to make costumes for children to actually wear when they go to the museums and if they’re kind of…….you know, to get them into the spirit of whatever they’re learning about…….but I have also made costumes to be displayed and sometimes the costumes are replicas so that you know, to replace originals that the museum have got but can’t put out because they’re too delicate and sometimes…….they’re replicas to show what something would have been like originally, and then they might show the original one that’s kind of……now no longer in a

TW: Moth eaten

NW: State, yes


I mean I made some for the Grace Darling Museum and they were…… know, they’d got little bits of the original clothing that she wore so they sent me photographs in those days……you know, a piece of the fabric of her dress, a piece of the fabric of the shawl, you know, so basically what I ask for…if it’s a replica costume like that then I ask for any information that the museum has got, that they can kind of give to me to give me an idea of what…..what they want……and then I do designs generally; put everything together and create a design and send it back to them, and then they okay it and obviously, you know, there’s finance involved, especially with museums…..and…..then go ahead and get the fabrics. Sometimes with the Grace Darling dress I had to……striped… and yellow striped dress… you’re not very likely to be able to find a fabric that is exactly like the one that they want, so I actually got blue and white striped fabric in the end and then dyed it to kind of make as close as I could get to the fabric, as the original. I actually had some….for her shawl I actually had some…..fabric woven in Scotland; I found……a weaver that’s still there making Scottish plaid……..that could actually weave you know, kind of an appropriate type of thing……but obviously that very much depends on what their budget is etcetera as to how much they can afford to… pay and you know, whether there is the skilled craftsperson there to be able to create…… yeah, so I mean, and some other costumes that I’ve made in other places…..sometimes they say need a knitted pullover and I’ll outsource that, so I’ll get all the wools and so on and then find a knitter to knit it for me it…..that’s necessary……but yes generally, basically, it’s getting the information then I research if, you know, if I haven’t got all the information from the museum then I’ll research. I’ve got thousands of costume books and obviously nowadays you’ve got the internet to research, and then do the designs, I mean I made one set of costumes for The Wordsworth Museum and…..found, much to, because everybody says ‘oh don’t you just look on the internet?’……and it’s not always there


so…..yes you have to go a bit more deeply into research to it because I made some…….nightdresses, you know, they wanted various pieces of clothing that might have been worn….they were actually for display rather than for wearing, but it looked as if, you know, Wordsworth was still there etcetera……and…..yes, then research, obviously……sometimes I’m researching different techniques; I made some costumes for Shibden Hall in Halifax and what the museum wanted for those was…….they wanted very detailed costumes that children could try on, but they were trying them on as part of the…..almost like a performance that they put on and…..what it was was the museum actually….had like a little play that they told the children about the people that had actually lived in the house through the generations because it’s a very old house, so obviously there were different generations, and then they……had various pieces of clothing that they asked someone, one of the children, to come and try on, and then……you know, asked the children what they thought about the clothing; how it was different to the clothing that people wear nowadays and how they felt and whether they would have liked to have worn that type of clothing, you know, etcetera, so for that I did quite a lot of research into different types of fabrics because obviously, you know, in times past the fabrics would have been different, and I also generally have to research obviously local fabrics to the area……and….the… these costumes were Tudor costumes I also kind of researched how…..because it had a kind of hooped…..underskirt, so I actually got reeds, well reeds to use in the… had a corset and I used reeds for the boning in the corset, and I used willow….because I researched and discovered that apparently obviously they’d use anything that they could do locally, and so one area of the country wouldn’t necessarily use what another area of the country would use for a similar garment, so I used willow because there seem to be a lot of willow trees in the area, for the…..for the farthingale, so….yeah, so those are quite complicated costumes but then I also make kind of much simpler costumes, say you know, there’s a lot of costumes that might be like a…..mill worker’s costume so….and if all the children in the group are gonna try on costumes, then I’d make like twenty smocks and mop caps for the little girls, and waistcoats and caps for the boys etcetera, and mufflers so

TW: So you did do different time periods, so you did Tudor stuff and

NW: Oh yeah, oh from……from…..I think probably the oldest…..Roman; I’ve made Roman costumes for the City of London Museum and for Manchester Museum up to 1970’s and 80’s I think [laughing]…..made hippie costumes for Rochdale


Oh and no actually, Marks and Spencer’s, last year I made some for their new archives in Leeds; they were even later; 1980’s

TW: So you reproduce some Marks and Spencer’s from

NW: Yes, yes

TW: From a few decades ago really

NW: Yeah, yeah, which was a different type of challenge because it’s quite difficult to make something that would have been mass produced in the first place [laughing]

TW: That’s amazing that


NW: But it’s now vintage! [laughing]

TW: So when you had your business, your hire business in……Halifax and then…….did you just go out and buy a load of costumes or did you make things?

NW: Well again a mixture really; I didn’t get to make as many as I would have like to and in fact that’s one of the reasons why I gave up in the end, because I was obviously always running the business rather than making anything……but we bought the……. Berman’s’s and Nathan’s in London, closed down, not Berman’s and Nathan’s, sorry, ……a costumier in London, closed down, and we went and bought some of….they had various sales obviously over the…..months that they were closing down, and we…but we were lucky enough to buy some of the costumes and then we actually finally cleared the last……..costumes that they had, so that was part of our stock…..we also bought a whole batch of costumes from an old private school that had a drama department down south that was selling up the costumes that they had – all sorts of amazing costumes – quite a lot of which were actually original…….oriental costumes and so on that they’d been donated over the generations basically……some of the costumes, because obviously I mean an awful lot of it was used for fancy dress rather than theatre costume, and were things that I adapted so I would buy dresses that looked a bit like 1920’s dresses and then made them into… know, added trimmings and things like that…..put them together, and some of them were made, and so…..yes, just basically wherever I went I was looking out for anything that might be usable, and I made…..what I did make, I made an awful lot of gorilla costumes and panda outfits and pantomime horses and things like that!


TW: You said you did some work for television…..I was just thinking that if you made costumes for TV, because of the camera being so close up, you know, if you’re in a theatre you’re some yards away from the people on the stage and you don’t get to see the detail, but on film it would be very close up. Did you….was that a problem? Did you have to kind of like be especially careful with things you made for television?

NW: ……..well I remember one tale the other way round I’m afraid…..from….because it’s a special technique really to make for theatre, and you have to be aware of the fact that it’s……not worth doing something in huge detail because you’re not going to see that, but you also have to be aware of the fact that you’ve got to basically make everything bigger and more amazing you know, so that you can see it on stage, and there was a lady at Glyndebourne who had done some beautiful embroidery, absolutely beautiful embroidery on a costume, but then the Director said ‘oh but we can’t see it’ when it was the dress rehearsal, so someone there actually went round it with a pen and [laughing] which must have been the most awful thing possible for the poor lady that had done it, and wasn’t in Glyndebourne’s normal standard of doing things, but……yes I suppose you know, things obviously are made in a different way and certainly…….yes you can kind of look at things and think ‘well okay that wouldn’t show up on stage but that would work close up in a film’ but……I suppose basically the….the costume that I was making at Yorkshire Television was more, you know, kind of modern and not period costume whereas the costume I was making at Glyndebourne was on the whole period and the costume that I was making for The Globe was on the whole contemporary…

TW: Did you ever work with Freda? Do you know Freda Kelsall?

NW: No I didn’t…..I do know her [laughing] and I do know all the people that did work for them but…..I know Bill Cawton who worked as a designer…..but no

TW: No I just thought there might be a link there.

NW: Yeah, no, no.

TW: Okay…….now you’re doing the wedding dress sort of aspect of things and it’s fairly new, it’s just a few years going I think it sounds like….can you see that carrying on or have you got another little

NW: Project [laughing]

TW: Something in the background?

NW: No I hope that will carry on……I mean it’s got a lot of potential design wise which is good because……you know I always intended to be as creative as I possibly could, and the only thing in the way with making museum costumes is you’re basically making a certain period of costumes, so you’ve got to more or less, you know, kind of stick to the

TW: There’s a pattern and you have to do it

NW: Yes, to the brief. I mean this costume over here actually in the corner was one that I made for my Open College of the Arts course, and that is the type of, you know, more creative thing that I enjoy making

TW: That seems very oriental in inspiration

NW: It kind of is but it’s actually the idea of it was that it was…..there’s an amazing painting of Queen Elizabeth the First with a beautiful dress, with lots of different exotic animals on it, and obviously the idea behind the costume for her was that it was showing the she……basically wanted to rule the world, and that all these exotic animals were animals that she knew about and because it was all part of the……..her Empire, and that dress is really a kind of modern day take on that, and it’s about the fragility of the world and the……how we need to look after all the different…….you know, kind of animals and it’s made with recycled fabrics on the whole, so… you know, it’s to do with the fact that we now need to….you know, protect our universe rather than exploit it [laughing]

TW: A sort of environmental message within your creativity.

NW: Yes, yeah, it’s got ‘costing the earth’ round the top of it and it’s……made with recycled plastics and the bodices are made with recycled plastic, and the sleeves are made with……sweet papers which was quite a nice recycled thing to use, and it can be worn and it has been worn but it is quite fragile, but I wanted that to be part of it because….

TW: It’s part of the message, how fragile it is

NW: Yes, yeah

TW: Oh right, yes.

NW: So… I enjoy doing that type of thing and you know, I would like to do more of that really, but

TW: Well I was gonna ask you what….I mean you’ve done all sorts of work really. I was just gonna say what was your favourite thing that you did really?

NW: ……..well everything has its own…….interest…..but I do like designing I suppose and putting things together, researching and designing and putting lots of ideas together to create something, and then experimenting with those really with……and obviously I like fabrics and textiles and……..different media, you know, using different media

TW: So would you take it out of the…….I don’t know…, museum, wardrobe box and turn it into the art box?

NW: Yes, yeah

TW: So you’d like to go more in that direction?

NW: Yeah, well I mean I… know, I have done… I say, because I……the Open College course as quite late on in life and that was as, you know, they say, it’s you know, ‘something you’ve always to do’ – that allowed me to…….think about textiles in a creative way which before that, I’d only ever obviously fulfilled the brief of whoever I was working for rather than just thinking about it…..for myself….. and….yes, you know, it would be nice obviously to have more freedom to do, you know, what I, you know, like to do but……I mean one of the… of the things that came up as a possibility was making a story-telling tent for….a group of people but at the time unfortunately I couldn’t do it because I was working elsewhere and it didn’t fit in with the timetable, but something like that where you could kind of use other people’s ideas but also put it together yourself and use your…..expertise, so yeah, anything that’s

TW: There is….his name’s gone out of my head, a story-teller, he’s the actual story-teller Laureate of the country; he lives in Staveley up in the Lake District and his name’s just gone out of my head…….when he does his story-telling he has a big chair, it’s all carved, but he also has this coat which has…..animals and scenes and all sorts of things, and he will have about….you know, four or five stories about each of those images, so his coat isn’t…’s a remarkable coat of many colours but it’s also a coat of many stories, so this idea of turning it into story-telling as well could be quite fascinating I think.

NW: Yeah, yeah…..yeah, yes I mean there are so many, and in fact my daughter’s kind of doing that with her….she’s kind of continuing the textile theme into her Performance Art because she…..her company is called The Little White Dress, a theatre company, but it’s…..and it’s kind of….instead of the little black dress it’s….because of it being white, you get marks all over it and it tells a tale and it’s [laughing]….and it’s wearing which is quite interesting, so yes, and there is…..there’s a lot of…….Fine Arts textile, you know, more arts based work going on, especially I suppose with females that are……..because of the heritage of women always…….you know, making clothes for their children or you know, for the family…….and then they do a Fine Arts course and then they’re interested in telling the tale of textiles, because there is a huge tale of textiles, a huge heritage. I do really like traditional dress too and the different you know, kind of……traditional costume from different countries, so at one point I thought it would be fantastic to have a kind of museum of different……traditional dress but…..but sadly in England there isn’t really a traditional dress because we became civilised I think far too quickly [laughing]……everybody wore what was the fashion of the day rather than their traditional dress.

TW: It’s a funny way of thinking cos……I mean various countries have like traditional dress, and it’s proudly shown off as such, but quite often it’s a period frozen in time that we’ve picked it and said that’s it, in a way, and I mean what the English haven’t done is that they haven’t done that

NW: No, no

TW: I mean the Welsh have and the Scottish

NW: Yes the Scottish have, although you know, it didn’t really, as you say it was….well, in Wales it was reincarnated apparently….you know, in Victorian times which it often is, and of course…….to the benefit of the tourist industry now [laughing], which I mean it was then wasn’t it

TW: I think it probably was really yeah

NW: But I think it’s gone a bit too far……towards…..well, the Industrial Revolution, although of course it’s very much part of this area and of course another reason why I came to this area was that I was fascinated with the whole textile industry when I learnt about it at school because I did history at school, so I learnt about the mills and…..everything and then came up here and went ‘oh!’ [laughing] ‘here they are!’….it’s all still happening here

TW: Yes, yes

NW: And because I live in the area of course I do try and source local fabrics and so you know, the woollen industry and the cotton industry etcetera.

TW: Is there a young textile industry? I mean not just the old mills that most have closed down now, but is there a newer version of creative people doing textiles in this area now?

NW: ……….

TW: I don’t know

NW: Yeah

TW: I thought you might because

NW: Well…, I mean I think one of the sad things in a way is that people as a whole don’t make their own clothes…..because… know you can buy things so cheaply now, so you know, I mean the…..the fashion obviously is to adapt and change and….customise - that’s the word – customise clothes isn’t it? But…….whether there’s any more of that going on; there’s certainly a vintage…….theme running through everybody’s lives now, and that’s obviously sourcing old clothes and reusing them etcetera…….but I don’t know that there’s any more of that, I mean obviously Hebden Bridge is very creative so there’s more going on there from the creative point of view than there is in other parts of the country, but I don’t know whether there is any more going on in the north than the south nowadays, and in fact it’s probably no easier to find fabrics…….around here on the whole although I do have, you know, some sources…..but……than it would be in any other part of the country now, sadly, because as I say most of the mills have gone, although there is Denholme Velvets and Whaleys Fabrics and……..I go to Bombay Stores in Bradford which is brilliant…… and… I have different sources for different types of fabrics.

TW: Right…..I suppose really I’m gonna ask you, is there anything that I haven’t asked about that you would perhaps like to talk about or mention?

NW: …….no we’ve probably covered most things [laughing]….I can’t really think of anything

TW: Right, okay, well in that case, cos it’s getting very near…..near to an hour now….I’ll just say thank you very much for letting me talk to you

NW: Okay, that’s alright.

TW: and we’ll stop.

NW: I hope it’s useful [laughing]

TW: Well it’s…’s…’re the first real person I’ve talked to about textiles in this area

NW: Oh right

TW: and I mean I’ve talked to people who have worked in the mills who did cutting or did sewing or did weaving, and it was very much factory orientated

NW: Yeah….yeah

TW: and it was also quite a long time ago

NW: Yeah….yeah

TW: but there is that side of it, but somebody who… yourself who’s been creative and in lots of different….

NW: Yeah, areas, yeah….yeah so I suppose……as I say you know, what has happened was that I, you know, I was interested in the connection with the north, and I happened to come up here……..because of a costumier which wasn’t a traditional as such mill, but it did have traditional elements to it because we had to clock in and out and it was very much run as a factory……..and so I did, you know, and a lot of the women that worked there; it was mainly women although there was a male pattern cutter……were people that probably would have otherwise worked in a traditional mill……but….so I had that experience but I also kind of came up through….as I say my family heritage of….being, you know, kind of involved in tailoring etcetera……and people go where the work is, which is [laughing] which is what happened to my family because in fact I’ve recently, I mean I suppose in a way that’s quite interesting; I’ve recently been researching my family history, part of which was from Wales, and I’ve discovered that they were woollen manufacturers in Wales [laughing], which I never knew, you know, as a young…..girl, and so there’s a total link actually to….and in fact, from Wales in Llangollen and……some of the people in this area literally went to Llangollen to try and keep the woollen mills going in the era when my relatives were there, so it kind of….what goes around comes around .


They went from…..from Llangollen to Oxford…..when of course the woollen trade wasn’t, you know, kind of doing very well in the area that they had lived, and then my grandfather was born in Oxford and as I say he eventually went to London and then to Worthing, in the tailoring trade, and then I came up here, so [laughing]

TW: It’s almost full circle

NW: Yes, yeah

TW: That’s really interesting.

NW: Yeah, yeah, but I know….you know, it’s interesting history and the interesting tailoring that’s combined I suppose in this creative….

TW: Right then………


About Us

Wild Rose Heritage and Arts is a community group which takes it's name from the area in which we are located - the valley ("den") of the wild rose ("Heb") -  Hebden Bridge which is in Calderdale, West Yorkshire.

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Pennine Heritage Ltd.
The Birchcliffe Centre
Hebden Bridge

Phone: 01422 844450
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