|Jan delves into the history of Armley Mills|
I was packing envelopes in the dining area at Armley Mills. The place was empty except for a family sitting 5 tables away, snacking and chatting. “You should tell them.” “Why would anyone be interested? I only lasted half a day. I couldn’t take the noise.” I started eavesdropping…
As a teacher, I’d learned to tune out low level conversation so it was pure chance I picked up on the very person I was looking for - my first success in locating the elusive former employees of Armley Mills. Sandra’s daughter was looking at one of our flyers: “Did you or someone you know work at Armley Mills?” I had to interrupt. “Excuse me, did you just say you worked here at the mills?” Success at last. I had a name and a phone number to pass on.
The Memoria Project
Memoria is an exciting, innovative project combining the arts with local history. We’re a team of 5 volunteers led by Hannah, Assistant Curator, with local artist David Bridges. We have the task of locating as many people as we can who were associated with Armley Mills and uncover their history. Unfortunately, somewhere between the mill's closure in the early Sixties and its acquisition by Leeds City Council a few years later, all employment records vanished.
So, we have distributed leaflets, put up posters, trawled social media, cold-called local residential homes, tried to reach teachers in local schools, visited local organisations… all in the hope that we can locate more people with a story to tell. Stories David can translate into ethereal porcelain and light, ready for exhibition in September.
Memories of Armley Mills
We have 2 cardboard boxes of surviving documents – a fascinating assortment of photographs, accounts and correspondence covering the first half of the last century. Two of us sifted through with carefully gloved hands, looking at invoices, petty cash expenditure and photographs in the hope of tracking down any useful name. We learned of the flood. We read about spigots and valves and machine maintenance. We speculated about the shareholders and directors and their use of petty cash but we didn’t find any hint of anyone who might still survive to tell their tale, apart from the Tempest family, who David is already working with.
Laura and I sat in the dining area, warming our hands on our coffee mugs, surrounded by the buzz of excited children attending the Victorian School. Another idea! Why not ask the children if they have elderly relatives or neighbours who worked at the mill? I created a leaflet to give to the children from local schools who visit the mill. Several hundred have now been distributed. Surely one child will take it home and ask the right questions of the right people. Surely one great grandparent will come forward.
The search continues!
It’s such a shame people don’t recognise that their everyday lives are an important part of our social and industrial history and deserve to be recorded.
For more information about the Memoria project, read David Bridges’ blog, or see the Past Exhibitions at Leeds Industrial Museum.
Could you share your memories of Armley Mills or Leeds' Industrial Past? Get in touch with the team at Armley Mills.
By Jan Brown, Volunteer, Leeds Industrial Museum at Armley Mills