Spinning wheels, muffins and hedges in repeat (2019)was presented at ‘Peterloo: Bolton Textile Works and the Fight for Democracy’,Bolton Museum and Art Gallery, 3rd August – 30th September 2019.Two hundred years ago (on 16 August 1819) there was a huge demonstration on St Peter’sField in the centre of Manchester. The mass meeting was part of a wider campaign in support of parliamentary reform including voting rights for working people. Many of the protestors had come to hear the radical reformer Henry Hunt.Shortly after he had begun to speak magistrates ordered the local mountedmilitia, the Manchester and Salford Yeomanry to arrest Hunt and break up the meeting. The volunteer militia, supported by regular cavalry, charged into the peaceful crowd, slashing them with sabres. 18 people were killed and around 700 injured. In the months following the Manchester tragedy, ‘Peterloo’, as it was quickly called, crystallized into a powerful symbol of the struggles for greater freedom and democracy, a fight which continues around the world to the present day.

The demonstrators at St Peter’s Field included men, women and children from Bolton. The exhibition commemorates the names of 23 local people, mainly spinners and weavers, who were injured at the meeting. It also explores the issues that motivated them to make the long march to Manchester. Spinning wheels, muffins and hedges in repeat is a series of digitally printed handkerchiefs presented in the exhibition which record my response to the story of a 15 -year old boy called Isaac Entwistle, and the journey he took on 16 August 1819 from his home at Affetside near Bolton to St Peter’s Field. Through the use of procedures of archival research to create new ways for the public to engage with the heritage in their local area the exhibition calls for are-assessment of the legacy of Peterloo to be confronted. The handkerchief has become a means to do this in capturing my response to the physical features of thelandscape that Isaac would have passed through on his long walk to Manchester,features he would have known with ‘an implicit tactile understanding’ since childhood. This led me to think about Samuel Crompton, the Bolton-born inventor of the Spinning Mule. He would have been receptive from a young age to the inner structure of the short fluffy staples of cotton fibre, testing theirconstituency and lightness as they were rolled, pulled and spun into yarn. I was able to discover more about Crompton through his hand-written letters held in the Bolton Archives. I traced the ripped and curled lines of an ‘I’alongside the feathery characteristics of a ‘t’ next to a sloping ‘o’. Words copied form the page were placed side-by-side and understood as a structural,rhythmic formation almost woven in appearance. My absorption in the process led me to think about the physical tactile side of hand-production that Bolton weavers were in danger of losing with the shift to machine production.

Through the use of procedures of archival research to create new ways for the public to engage with the heritage in their local area the artwork calls for a re-assessment of the legacy of Peterloo Massacre to be confronted. The handkerchief has become a means to do this. Looking back at the original handkerchief produced and sold following the Peterloo Massacre, I hope to provide a reassessment of its commemorative capacity to engage in questions relating to the purpose of eye-witness testimony in conflict situations that continue to have relevance today.

This work has been supported by Activist programme, a collaboration with Greater Manchester Combined Authority, GM Libraries &Archives, and Manchester Histories. For further information see https://peterloo1819.co.uk/projects/artivists/

Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 3 Aug 2019


Dive into the research topics of 'Spinning wheels, muffins and hedges in repeat'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this