From Mill to Mall

Trowbridge Museum entrance
in Fore Street Mall in The Shires Shopping Centre

In the middle of a modern shopping mall in darkest Wiltshire is a small entrance to the Trowbridge Museum. It caught my eye because there were weaving shuttles in the window of what I assumed was a shop, until I looked up and saw three sheep and the word ‘Museum’…  Now anyone who is aware of my other work will know that I can’t pass up the whiff of wool, so off I went to investigate. Leaving the crisp whiteness of the coffee and grease-infused mall, I found a steep staircase of red brick and metal rails in deep contrast to the world I had just left behind (there is a lift too, for staircase-challenged individuals). Two floors up, you find yourself on the top floor of an old woollen mill and the home of the museum. There are looms aplenty, and a history of the area’s involvement in the wool trade and all aspects of weaving. There are pieces of fabric created on the historic looms in the museum, available to take away for a donation to the museum’s coffers. And there are some amazing images of workers in the mill from the days of yore – which as a picture researcher and social historian, I was very excited to see. Now often when you see images of this nature you’ll see a credit to Mary Evans Picture Library or Getty Images, but not here. These aren’t generic mill pictures from an image library – they are packed with local interest, from local sources, showing the actual exhibit in front if you being worked in sepia by Victorian and Edwardian men and women.

For a small museum, it manages to give you plenty of interesting facts. I’ve heard the term ‘burring’ but never really thought about its origins. Well bugger me if it isn’t just that! Burrs (dried teasel pods) were attached to a small wooden frame, like a hand-sized paddle, and used to comb the fabric to raise the nap. After the industrial revolution numerous individual combs were attached to a huge frame to cope with the demands of mass cloth manufacture. As the pods wore down, the combs would be reversed – a strangely primitive looking tool when compared to the amazing advances in technology that had taken over other areas of weaving. Eventually they were replaced in the napping machine by combs of metal hooks – though, apparently, they were generally considered inferior to nature’s offering.

The staff at the museum were really helpful, and when I mentioned the contrast between the mall and the museum, they pointed out that the cafe in the mall downstairs was actually housed in the original entrance to the mill. So I had a look on the way out and realised that the entrance which I’d mistook for a Disney-style addition to the new mall, was actually old stuff. Very pleased that the developers were able to keep this amazing piece of history.

sj_trowbridge2Samuel Salter & Co Ltd (est. 1769), now Boswell’s Cafe

The museum has recently won lottery funding to expand. I’ll look forward to revisiting and experiencing more historical gems which are no doubt currently in storage.

Brian Griffiths at the Baltic


Brian Griffiths’ Bill Murray exhibition at the Baltic messes with your head. It is a lovely, witty and warm-hearted interpretation of Murray’s life using ‘found objects’. One man’s rubbish is, after all, another man’s treasure, and Brian Griffiths elevates foil packets and lampshades to a status well beyond their original purpose.

A number of dolls houses and architectural models entice you to peer through the tiny windows to get a better glimpse of the actor’s real or imagined interests – drawing you in so that you can experience the classical music issuing from one exhibit or the aroma of coffee from another. Each building sports an oversize image of Murray pasted across an external façade, echoing the huge photo of Murray taken at the Cannes Film Festival which adorns the riverside façade of the Baltic.

The exhibition toys with scale, using oversize pots atop a tiny commode, or a stack of pennies to prop up a miniature chair, or a full size digital radio balanced on top of a scaled down grand piano. Reminds me in parts of the Joseph Cornell’s work I saw recently at the Royal Academy, but on a much larger scale!


But it’s not just the individual exhibits that display this contradiction of scale – the whole exhibition is curated in the huge space in the Level 4 gallery with only a portion of the space being used to house the nine individual buildings, some displayed on office or dining tables.
Small it may be in terms of the overall space in the gallery, but it’s large in terms of content and humour. As an admirer of creative recycling and ad hocism, I couldn’t miss out and it was well worth the journey up to Tyne & Wear.

The exhibition Bill Murray: a story of distance, size and sincerity at the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead ends on the 28 February.

There’s not much time left – don’t miss it!

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