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  • Interviews and Storytelling: Mary Loney

     

    [TRACK 1]

     

    TONY WRIGHT:

    This is Tony Wright, it’s the 26th of June 2012 and I’m talking to Mary Loney. So Mary, can you tell me your full name and where and when you were born?

     

    MARY LONEY:

    Mary Loney; I was born in South London, 1943.

     

    TW:

    Right, so you were born during the war.

     

    ML:

    Yes I was, yes, yes.

     

    TW:

    And do you remember any of that time?

     

    ML:

    No, not really, very very little, no.

     

    TW:

    Whereabouts in London were you from?

     

    ML:

    Merton, South Wimbledon, yes.

     

    TW:

    Right.

     

    ML:

    I lived around that area, around Kingston, for the rest of my childhood.

     

    TW:

    Right. And what was it like around there at that time?......It’s nearly into Surrey isn’t it?

     

    ML:

    Yes it is in Surrey actually really, Kingston is part of Surrey. I mean very pleasant really……quite a lot of community feeling at that time, although I think that’s changed quite dramatically since I left…..yes it was a very…quite a happy childhood really, yes.

     

    TW:

    So were your parents creative in any way?

     

    ML:

    My mother….my father was a musician; he was actually killed in the war. My mother…..danced and did all sorts of things; they were very interested in the Arts obviously, and I can remember being taken as a very young child to Regent’s Park to see the open air production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream; I thought it was magical, absolutely wonderful [laughing] and then eventually I went to Art college, at Kingston College of Art and enjoyed it enormously, and then did a year’s Teaching degree at Reading University which I absolutely loathed – I thought it was really boring and I didn’t like it [laughing]………had a very good time really, moved……obviously then left home and moved to…..where did I move to…..the top end of Gower Street; I got a job in……it was a stage school in the middle of London at the end of Piccadilly; it was mostly ballet school and stage, and I became Head of Art there to my total astonishment after I’d left Reading University……so, that was quite an amazing place to be

     

    TW:

    So what kind of art did they do

     

    ML:

    All sorts – it was generally sort of things like GCSE and A Level Art – they had to do a certain amount of normal schooling as well as doing their creative bits

     

    TW:

    Oh right

     

    ML:

    And I met some fascinating people; I met Yehudi Menuhin, I used to teach his son and I met…..I made coffee for Rudolph Nureyev [laughing]……he’d be leaping around in his…..in the dance studio, and lots of the kids were on television…..but they had quite hard lives some of these children; they had celebrity parents and……I remember Shirley Bassey’s daughter very well, a very unhappy little girl who I believe later committed suicide

     

    TW:

    Oh really?

     

    ML:

    So it was quite sad, yes…..so it was an extraordinary school…..I had an art room overlooking…….well Piccadilly really…..

     

    TW:

    Circus?

     

    ML:

    Yes, yes, and it was a rackety old building, but quite interesting. I used to take the kids out into Green Park you know, they had no playground or anything……so

     

    TW:

    What was the name of the school?

     

    ML:

    Arts Educational Trust. They’re now in The Barbican

     

    TW:

    Oh right

     

    ML:

    They moved to The Barbican

     

    TW:

    I see. So how long were you there for?

     

    ML:

    About four years……and then I met my husband…and we moved to Kentish Town…..we lived in a basement flat next to a pub, that was quite interesting [laughing]…..and I had a lot of friends in London, and then we had this idea that we’d moved northwards, and I’d never been higher than

     

    TW:

    What reason was that then?

     

    ML:

    We just thought it would be interesting to move north.

     

    TW:

    It wasn’t because it was cheaper or you thought it would be better for children?

     

    ML:

    No, not really. We actually did think it would be a much better environment to bring children up and we had two by then; we’d been foster parents in London as well; this is bit garbled, but we had been foster parents for a while, and we had one two year old, a foster daughter, and our own son who was about five months, and we decided we’d look for work up here, and Derek got a job with the Commission for Racial Equality in Halifax, so working with mostly the Pakistani community in Halifax, and we moved up…..I don’t know whether you know the housing estate up at Illingworth

     

    TW:

    Yes I do

     

    ML:

    White Lee….we moved up there; it was a cultural shock I can tell you……couldn’t get all our stuff in the building, and overnight a lot of it was nicked, so that was my introduction to Yorkshire [laughing]……and we moved up there and we’d two small children, one aged two, one five months, one dog, three cats and eleven kittens in the back of our Morris…..was it a Morris Estate, Morris Thousand; I didn’t like it very much! We used to go and stand in Marks and Spencer’s because it reminded me of London; it was the only thing I had any sort of connection with

     

    TW:

    So you were homesick really?

     

    ML:

    Oh definitely; it wasn’t that far to go…..but we did put down roots and then we moved to Parkinson Lane in Halifax, not too far from the college and I got a job in the college, and we lived there for about four years, and……then started…..decided we’d live out in the country, and we had a look at this cottage and then dismissed it; there was an old man in here; he’d been breeding Bulldogs in these rooms, in sort of cages; it had an outside loo, and that was about all. But then it came on the market again and we……foolishly or not decided to buy it…….and…..it was bloody hard work I can tell you

     

    TW:

    And how much did it cost?

     

    ML:

    One thousand four hundred.

     

    TW:

    And what year was that then?

     

    ML:

    19……early 1970’s……about ’72 or ’73 I think…….but it was not easy. We had no loo so we had a Nelson upstairs; we had no bath, and because we were trying to renovate this place, we went to quite a famous pram and baby shop called Liley’s in Halifax, and Derek went to ask them for the biggest baby bath they could find, because he needed to get in it at night [laughing]…….nobody around, and he’d walk down the stairs stark naked and tip the water out over the track……we had three children by then and I remember one of them saying ‘couldn’t we live in a proper house?’ when some of the ceiling fell down upstairs…..so it was…..it was very, very hard.

     

    TW:

    Well it’s a lovely house now. How old is it?

     

    ML:

    It is. It’s about two hundred and fifty years old I think, and in those days you got a grant for building a house, so you had to do certain things like take the stairs down, which were stone stairs, and Derek got a book out of the Halifax Library How To Build Yourself A Staircase, and he built one in five weeks before we moved in, and even the removal people felt sorry for us [laughing]……but we moved in May and it was…..it was lovely.

     

    TW:

    Do you know any other history of the house then, I mean

     

    ML:

    Yes, we’ve met odd people who’ve stopped and asked us about it. It was two houses obviously, so it had been knocked through downstairs but not upstairs, and we were absolutely sure it was haunted when we first came because we all never admitted it to each other, but there was somebody went through from what was the back kitchen and disappeared through the gate and the dogs would rush to the door, and it happened many times, and nobody admitted it, that they’d actually…..just an impression, and a very benign spirit, but I think we’ve driven her out now, there’s been so many of us [laughing]……so I got a job at the Art College part-time

     

    TW:

    That’s the one in Halifax

     

    ML:

    In Halifax yes, yes, at Calderdale College of Art, and I also got a job at…..with Adult Education Calderdale in Todmorden, so I had these two, you know, work going, and then we had two more children so we had five by that time, and the house was getting quite small for us, so we knocked through and made sort of extra little bedrooms, as I said before, like cells for them each, but wonderful community, you know, it’s the sort of place you’d come back from shopping and I can remember, some neighbours all sitting in the garden waiting for us to come back because the children wanted to play, and it was very much in and out of each other’s houses, and helped each other a lot; it was…..it was lovely

     

    TW:

    How many other families lived around here then?

     

    ML:

    Oh there were quite a few; quite a lot of children surprisingly enough. There’s one two three…..oh there’s about five or six quite close, and we did become very good friends all of us, and looked after each other’s kids when we were working……very lucky really. Snow was a bit of a problem…….they couldn’t go to school because…..which they thought was wonderful, you know

     

    TW:

    Well you would wouldn’t you? [laughing] as a child

     

    ML:

    Calder High’s not that far…….what else…..yes, as the children were growing up they had a huge amount of freedom, and four of them live in London now and they remember it with great fondness – digging dens, going out, they used to tie a string across the track to the big tree, the sycamore tree, and they’d do plays for us and all the neighbours; we’d sit and wait for hours while they prepared and got costumes on……lots of bonfires and picnics and….it sounds idyllic; it was hard work, and I didn’t drive when we moved up here, so that was quite a problem….bribing children to walk up the fields from Mytholmroyd, and there was always one that wanted a wee half way up you know [laughing]

     

    TW:

    Well there’s always a bush somewhere!

     

    ML:

    [laughing] There aren’t many bushes down that track!

     

    TW:

    So I mean, Foster Clough is the next one on isn’t it?

     

    ML:

    Yes it is, and you can walk down a track down to Mytholmroyd, to Banksfield Estate, so that’s the way they used to go, and they moved to Old Town School which was…..yeah, they loved that, very happy there.

     

    TW:

    Right. So, the Art School work that you did…….in Halifax….cos you basically, the one in Todmorden , you basically built up from nothing yourself.

     

    ML:

    I did, I did. There was an access – you’ve probably heard of Access courses running for mature students in Halifax, so I worked on that for a little while, and then I was also working with Adult Ed at Todmorden and I realised I was sending people to Halifax to do the Access course and Todmorden, all that area, they tend not to go to Halifax; they tend to go to Burnley or Rochdale, and they’re more sort of orientated towards the Lancashire side, and they’re quite remote from Halifax, and I sort of said ‘could we not start an Access course in Tod?’ and they said ‘oh it won’t run’ but they let me have a go, and I started off, I remember this vividly, with seven students - Eileen was one of them - seven students in a classroom and we did six hours a week; we had to clear it all away again, but after the first year it grew and it grew and it grew, and at that time……Calderdale College came under the blanket of Local Education Authority, so there was no dispute about pay or rules or anything like that, and there’s some big…..in Todmorden College there’s some big engineering rooms and woodwork rooms and they were all empty; they’d all disappeared, all the apprentices, and we sort of infiltrated really, and gradually took over one huge room, and I remember one workshop we had……what was it…..eleven Minis and a motorbike, and we sort of worked round it, and the students did installations on top of one of the Minis; it was extraordinary……but there was a huge sense of ownership from the students, and I remember one student – I didn’t even have a desk - got me a desk for a fiver out of a farmer’s barn and we sort of built it up ourselves, and….got furniture, and Bradford College gave us easels, so it was a very good time those years…..and then we started a pre-Access course called Routeway, and then we got a Higher National Diploma, HND in Fine Art, and so it was getting much much bigger, and then eventually…..it was partly the students, Betty Ward, who died a few years ago who was the Mayor, she and Harry were on the courses, and they got a petition up from students, asking for Todmorden to be allowed to offer a BA Honours Degree in Fine Art; it actually materialised and Leeds Met was the college who

     

    TW:

    Who sort of underwrit it…

     

    ML:

    Yes, yeah, so that was very exciting and it meant that the students could stay in Todmorden, and they came from Littleborough, some from Manchester, Rochdale, Burnley, so a huge area, and it was very very exciting, and of course they had to employ more staff, and we got very involved with the local community which I very strongly believe in; we had exhibitions in empty shops and mills and Hebden Bridge, down at Hebble End we had quite a lot, Melbourne Street where there was a big mill, it’s now converted into mills, Unitarian Church, we had many many exhibitions there, so it was an exciting time……and being twelve miles from the main campus actually served us very well I have to be honest, because I mean I just took decisions for the students and it worked well – very exciting.

     

    TW:

    So…….you’ve finished there now then?

     

    ML:

    I finished……three years ago this summer, yes, yes.

     

    TW:

    And the course is still running though?

     

    ML:

    Alas, with all the cut backs, Leeds Met axed all their Outreach courses so they don’t have a BA course which is really sad, and it’s shrunk….a lot of the courses are much smaller than they were, and it’s just a cost saving exercise.

     

    TW:

    Do you think that perhaps because you’re not there anymore and all your drive and energy really kept it going?

     

    ML:

    I don’t know, it’s very hard to tell…..I’m not sure. They’ve got some good stuff but they’ve cut back dramatically, I mean we had a purpose built ceramics room, print room, we did textiles, we offered sculpture – all these things – and a very very good guy who’s since moved south called Mike Walker who I worked with, I don’t know if you know him

     

    TW:

    I do

     

    ML:

    Yes, Mike….

     

    TW:

    Williams you mean?

     

    ML:

    No, Walker. No Mike Williams was sculpture; it was Mike Walker who did

     

    TW:

    Oh yeah, yes, I know him as well, yes.

     

    ML:

    Yes, so he was excellent, and brought a lot of sort of academic back up to the course as well, so he was very good

     

    TW:

    Because he was a librarian originally wasn’t he?

     

    ML:

    Yes he was, yes, yes, interesting guy

     

    TW:

    And then he became a kind of painter and print maker

     

    ML:

    That’s right yes, and he’s moved down; he’s in Chichester now, and Tony O’Keefe, I don’t know whether you know him – a painter – quite a dynamic sort of guy, but it’s changed and it’s very sad really; it’s shrunk…..put it like that.

     

    TW:

    How did your own work change over all those years then?

     

    ML:

    I didn’t do a huge amount while I was working; I think all my own ideas dissipated; they were used with students you know……I think you give so much at the end of the day you’re knackered when you come home; I did have a studio in Northlights and I kept that up, but did very little, but before I retired I decided I needed to get my act together so I did an MA at Bradford Uni over two years, and that got me working again, and yeah….doing a lot of work at the moment

     

    TW:

    So what kind of work are you doing?

     

    ML:

    It’s……it’s figurative work……quite big, and really based on the things that I see around me; like I had a very big painting of a couple eating fish and chips in Rochdale, and I had that short-listed for the John Moores, so I was quite proud of that; I actually haven’t got in, but I’ve got it short-listed, so that was good, so…..yeah, it’s……it’s fascinating, I’m having a wonderful time. Still teaching; I teach at Northlights…..Back Door Project

     

    TW:

    Oh yes

     

    ML:

    That’s a co-operative by the way

     

    TW:

    It is indeed, yes. Well I was one of the original members of Northlights.

     

    ML:

    Oh were you? I didn’t know that.

     

    TW:

    Yeah I was there……well I had a studio in there

     

    ML:

    You had a studio, yes, when we were at……was it Brunswick Street above……

     

    TW:

    On Melbourne Street

     

    ML:

    Melbourne, yes, yes, that’s right

     

    TW:

    At the top

     

    ML:

    Yes, up the top, yes I did for a while

     

    TW:

    Above there……well we started it and then we left that for about…..six years and we went and started Linden Arts in Linden Mill

     

    ML:

    Oh right

     

    TW:

    And then did that….

     

    ML:

    Yes I remember that

     

    TW:

    And then I

     

    ML:

    Because they’re at the top of Artsmill

     

    TW:

    They’re at the top, yes

     

    ML:

    Yes, yes I know

     

    TW:

    Well about Mike Walker – when I moved out he took my space when I moved out there

     

    ML:

    That’s a lovely space; they’ve turned that into a print area…..yeah, so it’s good, and they’ve made lots of sort of studios on the first floor…..there’s about twenty-two of us

     

    TW:

    Well the architects moved out didn’t they

     

    ML:

    They did yes

     

    TW:

    And they’ve taken over that whole space

     

    ML:

    Yeah, but the building’s been divided.

     

    TW:

    There’s the health bit at the far end

     

    ML:

    That’s right; that’s David Fletcher’s and Philip Bintliff has got…..owns this space, yeah….so it is quite interesting, and I’ve got space to work now.

     

    TW:

    Do you know of the other……creative like studios or spaces in Hebden Bridge?

     

    ML:

    Yes I do, I mean a lot of them actually are run by my ex-students, which is very nice; it’s sort of got this ripple effect…….there’s the mill behind us; what the hell’s it called…….Brooklyn, Brooklyn, Brooklyn behind us…..and there’s just one opened in Todmorden now called Todmorden Studio and they’re all e-students; there’s a pottery down in Mytholmroyd – Brearley – that’s a lot of ex-students of mine as well, so it’s rather nice to see all these little spaces filling up with people, and I’m in contact with a lot of them as well

     

    TW:

    Oh that’s great

     

    ML:

    Yeah it is, it’s really nice how it’s carried on

     

    TW:

    It must be kind of fulfilling for you

     

    ML:

    It is….it is

     

    TW:

    You know, to see all that out there

     

    ML:

    Yeah, and I’m actually getting ex-students coming back enrolling on my courses in Hebden Bridge because they feel they need something to get them going again

     

    TW:

    Oh right

     

    ML:

    So that’s quite fascinating. They’ve got degrees a lot of them you know but that’s quite…..yeah it is very satisfying really, and there’s little……there’s another one in Todmorden – Platform One – that’s ex-students, that’s run by my ex-students as well, so they’ve sort of spread out.

     

    TW:

    Well it sounds like you have been a big influence on the creative scene around here.

     

    ML:

    I just pushed it a bit I think, and I didn’t take no for an answer…..and although I shouldn’t say it, I probably ignored some of the things from the main college…….or I did things and I told them later, that worked well!

     

    TW:

    Well it obviously worked out, so I mean how could they complain?

     

    ML:

    I know, I know, but maybe my record keeping wasn’t perfect and my paperwork

     

    TW:

    Well most artists are a little bit like that

     

    ML:

    Yes that’s true, yes, yes.

     

    TW:

    So what do you think, I mean all of these art studios and potteries and what have you are thriving by the sounds of it, what makes Hebden Bridge such a good place for that creative activity do you think?

     

    ML:

    I think any place could be a place for creativity; you need to give people the chance, and a lot of the students I had in Todmorden, they were the non-traditional learners; they were the mature students who wouldn’t naturally perhaps go an enrol, say in Halifax, because they felt overwhelmed by the people there, and very unsure of themselves; there was a lot of people had addiction problems, mental illness, people with physical disabilities, but we tried to make all of them feel welcome and give them….I think it was a very safe environment; all these people who weren’t sort of the more natural entrants perhaps to go to an art college, and they, I think we nurtured them, I think that’s what it was, and it grew by word of mouth; there was very little advertising when we started, and it was word of mouth. I had one guy who joined and he said he only came in to clean the windows, and I persuaded him to [laughing] the course, and a lot of them said ‘it’s your fault Mary, you persuaded us!’ I’d go ‘go on’ and of course a lot of the courses were free then, and that makes a difference…….and now if you’ve got a degree in anything, no matter how many years ago you took it, you’re not eligible, even if you’re willing to pay your way, to study a, you know, to go for a degree again. I think that’s grossly unfair.

     

    TW:

    Oh right I didn’t know that

     

    ML:

    Absolutely. When you think when you were eighteen and a lot of people got pushed by…..perhaps ambitious parents or….you know, to do a degree. I had one who did a degree in Theology; it’s not what you want to do at all, and you know, when they’re older there’s a….people are living much longer aren’t they and I think they need to be given a second chance, people, and I think that’s how we…..that’s how I thought about it anyway.

     

    TW:

    But in this era of cut backs……like humanity shall we say, are ignored really aren’t they?

     

    ML:

    They are, absolutely, and maybe the studio groups are sort of trying to nurture that, I mean very difficult because you’ve still got to pay, even if you have half a space in a studio, you’ve got to pay something…….I would love to open……an independent art college……that’s a dream for quite a lot of us I think who’ve been in teaching probably.

     

    TW:

    I know a few people like that myself I must say. It is an ambition

     

    ML:

    I know colleagues of mine, yeah, absolutely. If you could find a building big enough…..

     

    TW:

    But there are still art schools at the universities, or what used to be polys or what have you

     

    ML:

    Yeah, yeah

     

    TW:

    And they must still take students in……maybe on more of a limited basis than previously

     

    ML:

    Absolutely

     

    TW:

    But there will be a kind of……..mentality about the kind of people they want to do those particular courses….

     

    ML:

    They’ve been far more selective.

     

    TW:

    What is it? What makes a…..prospective candidate to an art school these days good? Why would they accept somebody

     

    ML:

    Probably somebody without any obvious problems, and a good portfolio of work, but then we used to sort of…..I looked for the potential in people, and some of them….they hadn’t done art for years and years and years, and you’ve to think ‘if you’re motivated’ and it was amazing how people progressed…..and you know, I learnt not to make assumptions about people when they came for interviews because people constantly surprise me. Give them a chance…..and so many of our students had never been given a chance at school, ever…..you know, that little voice in their head ‘well you’re no good at that’ – it stays with you for years and even students I’m teaching now, who are actually paying to come on some of my courses, very, very unsure of themselves……and they were told they couldn’t do it, and I think we all know that…..by art teachers, absolutely

     

    TW:

    Well what do you think those kind of art teachers are looking for then? Are they looking for a student who

     

    ML:

    An easy ride I think – I’m being very cynical – but I do, I do, and it was very limited, the art they did in some schools; it was copying things, being sort of academically good, and I’m sure you’ve found that as well.

     

    TW

    Well….I……I was lucky in the sense that my foundation was based on the Bauhaus

     

    ML:

    You were lucky

     

    TW:

    And that was a very good introduction to…..to art, and then when I went to art school it was…..the first year…..it wasn’t a degree, it only became that later on in the third year, and so in our first year we were taught how to mix our own paint and to makes sized and stretchers and all of that, although it was very much life drawing from nine to five every day practically, but after a term of that I got up and said ‘I want to study colour’ and they allowed me to do that

     

    ML:

    Good……good

     

    TW:

    So they were open minded in that sense….but I think an awful lot of art schools are very prescribed really

     

    ML:

    Absolutely, and they have to fit within certain criteria; it’s a box ticking exercise isn’t it? And you have to sort of twist it round to make it work for some of the students.

     

    TW:

    But I’m thinking that an area like…..you know, Hebden Bridge, Mytholmroyd and Todmorden, this Upper Valley area, it seems to attract so many different kinds of creative people, not just artists, but musicians and actors

     

    ML:

    Yes and lots of writers, yes

     

    TW:

    And I’m still trying to pin down why that is, and it’s not just because……it’s a cheap place to come because it isn’t any more

     

    ML:

    It isn’t, it’s expensive

     

    TW:

    It might have been when you first moved here but it’s not anymore, but it still attracts those people and I’m just wondering whether it’s just the landscape or the…..the community spirit that there is, I mean how

     

    ML:

    Yes it could be that, I mean originally there was a lot of hippies wasn’t there? And I knew a lot of them too you know, up and down on this hillside and I don’t know, maybe that attracted people; I mean it is visually, it’s interesting to look at isn’t it? And you’re within easy reach of Leeds or Manchester and all sorts of sort of cultural activities, yeah

     

    TW:

    I’m just wondering whether the sort of non-conformist kind of attitudes of local people were born and bred here…..rubs off on non-conformists who are trying to get away from something and finding this place; I’m just wondering whether those kind of like attract like, kind of thing

     

    ML:

    Yeah it could be, and a lot of people have come up from the south haven’t they? I mean we were…..long before anybody else, we were one of the early incomers, because I do remember telling someone, we lived in Ealing for a while and we said ‘we’re going to live up north, up in Halifax’ and she said ‘oh I am sorry’ [laughing]….people were commiserating with us because we were coming up here, and it was black and dark – no stone cleaning, no shops open on a Saturday afternoon; it was a bit dour…..but the landscape is fantastic. I like that greenness.

     

    TW:

    It’s changed quite a lot since……in the forty-odd years you’ve been here

     

    ML:

    It has yeah, oh it’s totally, totally changed. Even since you’ve been here it’s changed hasn’t it?

     

    TW:

    Well is that just the physical side of it?

     

    ML:

    No it’s the people as well, you know, and the type of food they’re selling

     

    TW:

    So everything’s changed really; the whole lifestyle has changed

     

    ML:

    It has really I think, yes, yes. I mean we’re some of the oldest residents on this hillside…….now you know, we’ve lived here for a very long time, and we look at these incomers……and it’s changed; they’ve bigger cars…….farmhouses are renovated at a huge cost which makes our minds boggle you know, considering how we did ours bit by bit and living in it…..very different.

     

    TW:

    Right……okay……so why have all of your children gone to London then?

     

    ML:

    They went to college and they stayed…..you know, that happens a lot. You put down roots, but……my eldest daughter……they’ve been together for about eight years and they’ve got two young daughters, and they’re going to get married up in Hebden next year and they’re hoping to move up, but it’s finding jobs, housing’s more expensive. My youngest would quite like to move back up with his partner , but again it’s finding work……and the house property, I mean it’s cheaper than London but it’s still quite expensive, so and they did music; two did music, one did art, one did astrophysics, so….and one is a journalist actually; he’s been a journalist, so, you knows?

     

    TW:

    Well all of those…..categories of work are limited with these cut backs again; I know journalists who’ve lost their jobs and it’s hard

     

    ML:

    Yes, yes, it’s just, I know – you’ve got to be realistic haven’t you? I mean they’ve got quite interesting communities where they live in London; I’ve been down the last week, so it’s very different from up here, but they love coming back and the children, the grandchildren, just love the freedom. They cannot believe you can walk out of your gate and you are allowed to, and you walk along the track, and they’ll pop down and see Linda and Bob; you don’t do that when you live in Tottenham or Lewisham, you just don’t…….which is a shame, and my kids say they would love their children to have this freedom.

     

    TW:

    Right. Are you involved in Arts Festival in any way?

     

    ML:

    Open Studios I am, yes. I’ll have an open studio next week and I have done for the last few years; and we’re trying to decorate, I’m going there today actually, the basement gallery; we’re hoping to just get a little bit sorted out at Artsmill, so some of us are having work showing there

     

    TW:

    Where the carpets used to be made at the hole

     

    ML:

    Yeah the big hole, yes

     

    TW:

    Is it still there, the hole?

     

    ML:

    It’s still there [laughing]……it’s sort of been boarded up; there’s a huge amount to do to it, but I think we’re just gonna go ahead with it even though it’s……a bit piecemeal….be good though, be interesting, yes.

     

    TW:

    You said you had this…..a picture……short listed for the John Moores

     

    ML:

    At Liverpool yes, I was quite surprised

     

    TW:

    So is that still like one of the big things in the art world?

     

    ML:

    It is, it is, for painters anyway, yes it is. The first time I’ve gone for it, so……and they have about three thousand entries so it’s quite nice to be short listed. Unfortunately I didn’t get into the final thing, but it’s given me a boost!

     

    TW:

    So I’m just wondering about the art world really, I mean there used to be like John Moores and the Royal Academy Open Summer Show and those….there are other ones about, but

     

    ML:

    There are

     

    TW:

    I haven’t been involved in the art world for……nearly fifteen years now

     

    ML:

    Really? Yes, yes

     

    TW:

    I’ve been in teaching and doing this, and I’m just wondering if it’s changed in that time, I mean it sounds like it hasn’t really

     

    ML:

    Not really, no I still feel it’s

     

    TW:

    So it’s quite static

     

    ML:

    Yes it is, it is, and very difficult to sell any work at the moment…..and quite hard to get exhibitions; I’ve had joint…..I’ve had joint exhibitions with people, but you don’t……my work certainly wouldn’t sell. I think everybody thinks it’s slightly sinister, so…..[laughing]

     

    TW:

    Sinister in what way?

     

    ML:

    Well there’s a lot about childhood and…….the way children are treated in our society, and that’s what I did for my……my MA, for my dissertation, but I’m quite interested in elderly people, really old people, so…..you know, it’s social realism possibly, I don’t know

     

    TW:

    Right. So have you got any….artists that you look up to in that…..sort of field shall we say?

     

    ML:

    ……yes…..you know, you take little bits from artists don’t you? I went to the Lucien Freud Exhibition in London the other week, and found that quite amazing, and there’s all sorts of, Marlene Dumas, there’s a whole range of artists that I do look up….I manage to get down to exhibitions, and I’ve always run loads of coach trips down to London, and when I was up Todmorden we used to run European trips every year for the students, and take them…..first trip for a lot of them…Paris and Barcelona and Madrid and Prague, we had a wonderful time. It’s getting more expensive now.

     

    TW:

    Yes it is, yes

     

    ML:

    It precludes some people which is a shame, yeah.

     

    TW:

    Do you think art should have a message then, you know, this social realism kind of thing

     

    ML:

    I think it’s everybody according to what they believe in you know; mine has changed, like it does when you’re working…..it changes doesn’t it? And I’m very moved by the…..the things I see around me.

     

    TW:

    Right. Well it’s more people that you’re interested in

     

    ML:

    Yes I am, very interested in people and their lives and…..how they survive and…..they’re amazing.

     

    TW:

    That’s very interesting……so you paint?

     

    ML:

    Yes.

     

    TW:

    I mean, you were teaching sculpture and print making and all of this

     

    ML:

    Oh I teach anything, yeah, I don’t mind [laughing]…….you can usually…..yes, I mean, I’ll admit to students, this isn’t really my forte but I know so-and so and so-and-so and I can take you so far, but painting’s my main…..and it always has been

     

    TW:

    So that’s the one that you enjoy yourself

     

    ML:

    Yeah

     

    TW:

    So what would be the basics to teach somebody to paint then, if…..like I said I haven’t done any in fifteen years and let’s say I came to one of your courses at the back door and said ‘right, I haven’t done it in years Mary, where should I start?’ What would you say to me?

     

    ML:

    Yeah, do you know what it is – it’s giving people confidence, so you give them something – they need to have an early success with what they’re doing, so I’ve discovered; give them something that you know they can achieve and they go ‘oh, I didn’t know I could do that’ and it’s lovely to see that, and then you bring in the nitty gritty, some of the drawing skills they need, how to mix paint; I do an oil painting workshop and that’s quite interesting……and I find students really enjoy that once they get going. It’s all sorts of things – basics of design, look at other artists, take them to galleries, give them a sort of very rounded view of art.

     

    TW:

    Right. And how do you…….after, you know, a term or a year even…..it sounds like you push them in the right direction and you give them knowledge……technical knowledge they need to know, and then they kind of go on their own journey as it were

     

    ML:

    No they keep coming back and you make it more challenging for them, I think that’s what you do, within their limits, and what they’re interested in as well, and I think you have the luxury when you’re not working for a college that you can listen to students and actually what they want to do, and what knowledge they want to acquire, and that’s very important. You can’t always do that when you’re working

     

    TW:

    Within a system

     

    ML:

    An establishment, yeah…..yeah.

     

    TW:

    And when they come to you…….their aspirations shall we say, not just to learn how to do art, but where to take that and either try to sell or make a career of it – do a lot of them have those sort of aspirations as well?

     

    ML:

    Well surprisingly they still do, although this is not in a college with me, it’s just…..you know, the studio setting. Yes some of them, I mean some of them I have directed up to Todmorden to do perhaps an Access course…..and encourage them you know, to build up a portfolio, but they’ve all got different needs all the students…..very very different; different ages, different abilities, so you go from like this, you know, you’ve to be very aware and very sensitive to their needs as well.

     

    TW:

    I’m just thinking about comparing like Northlight and Linden Mill, Artsmill……and the studios and the people that are involved

     

    ML:

    Yeah

     

    TW:

    Are there any kind of comparisons or are the spaces the same, or are the people different

     

    ML:

    Oh yes there are……I mean Northlights is a co-operative, so they…..everybody’s expected to help to a certain degree, and the studios, they’re much smaller, it’s a much more open system. Artsmill which I do like, I’ve got my own door, I can shut it; I’ve got a lovely big space, not particularly good light but you can’t have everything for the price, and that works very well for me. The other one, Northlights, has done brilliantly but it’s very open, there’s a lot more noise, it’s much more…..it’s much harder to concentrate on what you’re doing. I do like to sort of be away and have some music or something going.

     

    TW:

    Right. So in….in the open studios, do you think there’s more of a mingling of ideas between the artists?

     

    ML:

    Not……sometimes……yes, not always….sometimes. I think open studios is quite good because people do tend to mix and wander round, and I think my present students are very curious, and my old students are curious to see what I’ve been doing, you know, they come and have a nosey round [laughing]…..and see if I really am any good at all, after all these years of telling them what to do! So it’s hands up, this is what I do…..I’m under no illusions, don’t worry!

     

    TW:

    Do you think more could be made…..of the arts in Hebden Bridge then? Not from a teaching perspective, but of a more emotional point of view?

     

    ML:

    Yes I wish we had a really…..a really big space where people could exhibit, because it’s very limiting in Hebden. Whether the new gallery at Linden Mill will answer that; it will be…..will have ground floor access eventually when it’s made which will be brilliant, because there’s no access for people with disabilities, no wheelchair access at the moment and that’s really not on, and neither does Northlights, not upstairs anyway.

     

    TW:

    No that’s true…….so

     

    ML:

    I think the whole thing needs to be more accessible.

     

    TW:

    So…..if you had a magic wand

     

    ML:

    I would have a big space in Hebden

     

    TW:

    Would you like…….for example, instead of building flats and shops on some of those empty spaces, would you like to have like an arts centre or

     

    ML:
    It would be absolutely wonderful, a big arts centre…..minimal costs, where people could come in, perhaps a sort of drop-in centre, and like many of the things in this Upper Valley, word of mouth – I know it would work. You’d have loads of people coming in; give them a chance….give them a paintbrush, some colours, you could offer all sorts of things…..ceramics and textiles and print making……you could fill it, I’m absolutely convinced of that

     

    TW:

    Well that sounds like you’d like it to be….a new art school so to speak

     

    ML:

    Absolutely…..well yes, yes

     

    TW:

    Well what about just a promotional space, like for exhibitions and that sort of thing

     

    ML:

    Yes that would be…..yes that would be excellent, but it’s gonna be new flats isn’t it?

     

    TW:

    Ah well, who can say? On Brown’s field are you talking about?

     

    ML:

    Yes I was, I just think what a fantastic space

     

    TW:

    Well there’s all the goits underneath it so that’s gonna be a lot of time and money to sort out

     

    ML:

    That’s true, that’s true, I mean it is on the flood plain isn’t it?

     

    TW:

    Oh definitely yes.

     

    ML:

    So maybe that’s not a good idea. Plan B! [laughing]

     

    TW:

    We’ll have to see, yes.

     

    ML:

    Well we have wandered round and looked at places; we found a fantastic place, Unit 8 on Valley Road; it’s now been….it’s owned by Setbrays and we actually, we actually called ourselves The Big Shed and we tried to get funding and to persuade Setbrays to let us have it, but unfortunately they turned it into offices. We worked quite hard for nearly a year doing that, had a lot of….the first meeting had sixty-five people came so they were so interested; it would have been fantastic

     

    TW:

    Well you’ve got your audience there

     

    ML:

    There is, yes, yes I know, but it’s quite sad; it would have been wonderful that place, and there’s one or two places down Victoria Road, those…..the egg packing places

     

    TW:

    Yes the old places

     

    ML:

    Heated and we went round those, had a look at those, but it’s money basically. It’s trying to get some funding which is almost impossible at the moment

     

    TW:

    It’s difficult, very difficult

     

    ML:

    Arts Council funding, you know, it’s a no-no. Yeah, it’s a shame. I don’t give up – I keep

     

    TW:

    Maybe in a few years

     

    ML:

    You never know, I keep saying to people ‘if you see anything let me know’

     

    TW:

    Yeah [laughing]

     

    ML:

    Like these students in Todmorden of mine, they’ve got the upstairs of….I don’t know what…..Iron Gates I think, the actual factory, and he’s let them have the upstairs spaces, no heating yet, that could be a big drawback in the winter, but…..but it’s a nice space and he seems to be quite a good landlord, so they’re just opening up now

     

    TW:

    Whereabouts is that?

     

    ML:

    Stansfield Road; you go past the bus station and it’s the first road on your…..right, and it’s right down the end on the left with iron gates, and they’re beginning to fill up so I’m so pleased about it

     

    TW:

    Yes that’s good

     

    ML:

    I think they’d quite like me to offer one or two classes – I’ll think about it.

     

    TW:

    You’d have to fit it in

     

    ML:

    [laughing] yeah, exactly! What else would you like to know?

     

    TW:

    Well, I’m just wondering whether there’s anything I haven’t asked about, that you might like to speak about really

     

    ML:

    I don’t think so….oh I did get an MBE for all this work once

     

    TW:

    Oh did you?

     

    ML:

    In the year 2000, yes.

     

    TW:

    Have you got an MBE?

     

    ML:

    Yes, believe it or not. For services

     

    TW:

    Have you got it now?

     

    ML:

    No I don’t know where it is…….well

    TW:

    Did you meet the Queen?

     

    ML:

    No I met the other one…..her son

     

    TW:

    Her son…….Charles

     

    ML:

    Charles, yeah.

     

    TW:

    Oh right.

     

    ML:

    He looks as if he’s got a lot of problems, and very inhibited I think, poor guy.

     

    TW:

    Oh really?

     

    ML:

    Yes. It’s very shabby, the Palace.

     

    TW:

    Oh well I wouldn’t know, I’ve never been there myself [laughing]

     

    ML:

    I felt slightly guilty about accepting it, but the students

     

    TW:

    Well you should have given them some tips on how to do it slowly over time [exactly]

     

    ML:

    Yes exactly! It was a very bizarre, totally surreal experience, quite funny actually.

     

    TW:

    Is there a very formal way that you have to do everything? Are you told how to act?

     

    ML:

    Oh yes, yes, yes.

     

    TW:

    Really?

     

    ML:

    Absolutely. It was hilarious. When you’ve received your medal you’re supposed to walk backwards – I thought buggar this, I’m not walking backwards. I just said ‘Bye’ [laughing] and you could have three people with you, so my two daughters and my husband were there, and they were just killing themselves laughing, and there was the Band of the Royal Irish Guards and they were totally out of tune, and the loos smelt, I mean it was……a bit like Monty Python [laughing]…..I’m sorry about that, but it’s true actually; it was not impressive…..at all, and I felt slightly guilty you know, about accepting it

     

    TW:

    So who put you up for this?

     

    ML:

    The college I think, yes, the main college

     

    TW:

    What you’ve done is amazing you know

     

    ML:

    Not really, just happened – it grew organically and that’s the best way for things to happen, and I acquired things; I’m quite good at that.

     

    TW:

    Well it’s having…..the kind of personality that you have, that engages with people

     

    ML:

    You have to persuade people don’t you? And I’m quite good at twisting arm too

     

    TW:

    Are you?

     

    ML:

    Yes I’m quite good [laughing]…..oh dear

     

    TW:

    I’m thinking…..this…..this house that you live in……really it’s……I’d like to try to get a bit more…you know….do you care a lot about this house? Was it a farmhouse?

     

    ML:

    No no, just two cottages.

     

    TW:

    Right. And you don’t know why it was built? Was it built for farmers or was it built for weavers or

     

    ML:

    No not specifically, no no, it was just two cottages. Probably farmworkers I would imagine lived here. There’s a little study through the sitting room and buried inside was a tiny clog, but that was to keep the evil spirits away, and unfortunately when we brought it out, it just sort of disintegrated. Derek did take it to Banksfield Museum, they had a look at it, and it was absolutely minute, and you bury those in the foundations

     

    TW:

    And how did you learn that then? How did you learn that that’s what they did?

     

    ML:

    I don’t know, read it, read it in a book, probably in the museum as well, would have told us, and you have holly and rowan you plant and that keeps witches away, so we’ve kept it

     

    TW:

    I know about that, but the clog – what symbolism is there of the clog?

     

    ML:

    I don’t know. It was a child’s clog; it was absolutely minute, and it is to sort of to ward of bad luck I think

     

    TW:

    You haven’t found a cat buried in the walls yet then? [laughing]

     

    ML:

    No we haven’t, not yet. We’ve had loads of cats, but [laughing]…..just one disappeared, but I think…..yeah…..and we’ve had hens and somebody in Todmorden gave me peacocks and they use……you could hear our peacock Arthur miles away; we had a pair which was quite interesting

     

    TW:

    Did you really?

     

    ML:

    And they used to roost up in the trees, but so they wouldn’t get caught by foxes I used to have to knock them out with a drainpipe at night, and we had a shed with a high perch, and try and get them to go inside to protect them; we had ducks, we had geese, Shetland pony, donkey, all sorts of things over the years you know, never made a penny out of any of them; it was sort of the good life, it didn’t quite work! [laughing]

     

    TW:

    What happened to these peacocks then?

     

    ML:

    Eventually they…..we think they got caught by foxes. We had them for quite a few years, and my friends over the valley in Mytholmroyd could hear them at night, and every now and again they’d take off and roost up in someone’s tree or on a roof you know – fascinating

     

    TW:

    I didn’t know peacocks could get that high.

     

    ML:

    Oh yes, they’re amazing.

     

    TW:

    Right. Were they a couple then?

     

    ML:

    Oh yes, Arthur and Muriel, yes.

     

    TW:

    You didn’t have any baby peacocks?

     

    ML:

    She did lay some eggs, but they’re not very clever and the eggs got eaten by something; they’re not very bright actually – they’ve got quite small brains. And Arthur, I don’t know whether you’ve seen them, you know, when they display, and they make this ‘sshhhh’ with all their brown feathers; he used to do it to cars coming down the track, and you’d hear cars driving down and they’d stop, and we’d say ‘that’s Arthur’ [laughing] – he just wouldn’t let them go! He displayed to dogs, to cats

     

    TW:

    What, blocking the road do you mean?

     

    ML:

    Yes, oh yes, absolutely. ‘Oh look at me I’m lovely!’

     

    TW:

    You don’t need a guard dog – a guard peacock! [laughing]

     

    TW:

    We had guinea fowl and they sound like football rattles. They used to make that noise if people came down, and we had geese that used to chase people, so, you know, very different for someone born in south London; we learnt a lot.

     

    TW:

    Well I mean…..going on to the other theme about the environmental side of things

     

    ML:

    Yeah

     

    TW:

    Why did you have all those animals? Was it for the children, or were you thinking about

     

    ML:

    No we were interested – we just liked animals – we wanted to keep them; we had a lot of goats for years and years and years and I did used to milk them, except the children didn’t like the milk so that was a [laughing]…..never mind…..no we did…..I mean we have a sceptic tank and spring water so we’re fairly self-contained up here, which is good. I mean it’s hard work; you have to maintain things and look after them, but…..it’s a huge sense of satisfaction I think, and my husband Derek’s very good, I mean he put the electricity in, he put the plumbing in, and built everything, but it took a long time……and we had to dig up the stone flags in the sitting room because that was one of the conditions of getting grants – it was a shame really, but we found all these little marbles from a game called Nur and Spell under the, under the

     

    TW:

    Oh I know it

     

    ML:

    That’s right. We kept some little…..yes that’s right

     

    TW:

    Have you got some?

     

    ML:

    Yeah, somewhere packed away.

     

    TW:

    They’re ceramic aren’t they?

     

    ML:

    Yes they’re little ceramic balls which are called nurs and spells, that’s right

     

    TW:

    You hit them with a….like a…..a bit like a golf club

     

    ML:

    There were quite a few, and there were mouse runs underneath the flags and all these little ceramic balls, and we discovered what they were.

     

    TW:

    Why did they make you take up the flags?

     

    ML:

    That was one of the conditions; you had to lay a concrete floor

     

    TW:

    Oh really?

     

    ML:

    A shame really. I regret that bitterly but we didn’t have a choice. We had no money, and we were reliant on a grant, and we’ve got concrete down….and then one of the cats walked across the concrete in the hall I remember; I saw this cat come flying out of the door, and Derek had kicked it……great big feet…..[laughing]…..oh dear!

     

    TW:

    Left its signature

     

    ML:

    Yes, absolutely! We have done some silly things probably over the years, but it’s been good….I think the children, they look back and say they had a fantastic childhood, and it was so free; they’d go out and we didn’t worry about them really

     

    TW:

    What do you think about people these days, who have this sort of ecological tendency – everything you know, green this and green that, and everything…..what’s your take on that?

     

    ML:

    Bit over the top probably…..a bit more of a realist I think.

     

    TW:

    Right. So are you in favour of wind farms or not?

     

    ML:

    I don’t know. Derek doesn’t like them at all; I’m not sure. I don’t know how much electricity we actually get from them. I personally don’t mind them; they’re quite sculptural sometimes, but the noise is quite intrusive. I wouldn’t want to live near one at all, and I don’t know how much it disturbs the birds – I’m not sure about that. I’m very undecided.

     

    TW:

    I’m just wondering, like you have your own water and all that sort of thing. If you had one of those, would it generate enough electricity for your household?

     

    ML:

    I don’t know; I’ve no idea. A lot of people, they are springing up; they are quite obtrusive some of them. Intrusive I mean….yeah, not sure…….what do you think about them?

     

    TW:

    I’m a bit like you….I find them…..I’m not sure because……in theory I think they’re a great idea because it’s sustainable

     

    ML:

    Absolutely

     

    TW:

    And I’m really quite in favour of that idea, of any kind of, you know, sustainable. Having said that, I don’t know how much they actually produce. You hear a lot of contradictory argument about ‘oh they only produce this much’ and ‘the wind only blows at a certain time of the day’

     

    ML:

    Yes I don’t know actually how much they really, really produce

     

    TW:

    And then of course they can….some people think they’re a blight on the landscape, and again, I see them as being quite sculptural

     

    ML:

    Yes they are aren’t they when they’re sort of turning round

     

    TW:

    What….eighty years ago or ninety years ago when they put up all the electric pylons

     

    ML:

    I think the pylons are far uglier and intrusive

     

    TW:

    We would have complained about all of that, but again, you look at them as sculpture, I think of them as totem poles

     

    ML:

    I know I know, I know and you think actually……yeah, interesting

     

    TW:

    And people don’t even notice them now because they’re more interested in the electricity that we get out; I’m just wondering whether

     

    ML:

    I don’t know, I really don’t know

     

    TW:

    I wonder if wind farms will become like that eventually, I don’t know. I’m a little bit up and down about it really.

     

    ML:

    Yes I am as well; I absolutely agree, yeah.

     

    TW:

    Right, okay.

     

    ML:

    Anything else do you want to know?

     

    TW:

    Well I’m sure we could carry on talking for ever

     

    ML:

    For ever, yes!

     

    TW:

    [laughing] but I think that’s…..

     

    ML:

    I’ve probably left out enormous chunks but it doesn’t matter

     

    TW:

    Well that’s alright; it’s……..what you’ve said has been quite fascinating really

     

    ML:

    Good….good

     

    TW:

    Just let me have a look at this

     

    ML:

    Go on

     

    TW:

    Yeah……I think that’s it really

     

    ML:

    Good

     

    TW:

    I’ll turn it off and if we think of anything else I’ll turn it back on again

     

    ML:

    Yes just turn it back on again, okay

     

    [END OF TRACK 1]

     

     

     

     

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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.

Get in touch

Pennine Heritage Ltd.
The Birchcliffe Centre
Hebden Bridge
HX7 8DG

Phone: 01422 844450
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