Just a couple of miles from Bury in Lancashire is a place that I’ve been exploring for over a decade: Cheesden, a valley that time forgot.
It’s a deep cut thrutch, a gravelly, wooded vale of a few miles in length, embracing the industrial and agricultural remains of a generation at risk of being lost in memory.
My time there has been spent capturing and photographing the decaying constructs of working lives - the early lodges and wheel pits, the scouring becks and chimneys - suspended in a landscape more akin to agriculture than industry.
A hundred years ago, there might have been the sporadic sounds of industrial occupation devoted to the recycling of cotton. Today, the only aural affinity to textiles is the ribbon like shrill of the Curlew.
Or perhaps not.
If you listen carefully, there are nooks that still echo the sounds of people that toiled here once. They are sounds that reside within the nominology of place. It is a prose wrenched from the ice, grit and shale of the vale.
Without doubt, the trials and tribulations of this lost generation can be caught within the receding water-shot walls of the valley, but their vibrancy and warmth is best found in the names that they have peppered the landscape with.
If you flip through the maps of the valley chronologically - some of these names evaporate with the passing of time: a gradual dislocation of our deep-seated association with place.
When I read through them, they tell not only of people and place, but also their interactions with it. For a brief moment, I’m transported not only into lives rooted in an environment saturated with meaning, but also into realms given the reverence of rhythm by entrenched association.
As they roll off the tongue, a connection is made with something which doesn't evaporate after the silence of their telling - and yet the feeling is vaporous itself. It holds within its brew: people, history, language, location and identity.
Birchen Bower, Birtle Dean and Blue Scar; Moulding Moss, Midge Hill and Fecit; Silen Hurst, Cinder Hill and Herculist; Cokshouse, Pigden and Bird Fields; Shepherds Hey, Deep Moss and Dunham.
It’s a language that reflects the natural order of things. Unlike our sterile naming patterns today, their words have no intent to encourage a transaction.
Practically phonetic and poetic, the dialect rises from the very nature of the land, from minds that formed a grammar of association. A lexicon which is deeply revealing of the ingress of place on person, the ingrained correspondence with landscape.
It’s a vocabulary that’s on the verge of being lost to my generation.
I come across a place called Cuckoo Narr. I ask on Twitter for the meaning of "Narr". I’m told it’s a meadow or a Germanic word for fool. But it’s only when I summon up the ghosts of my childhood, the words of my grandparents - the Lancashire twang - that I fully comprehend: Cuckoo Narr - the place ‘near’ where the cuckoo resides.
And how many generations will it take for somebody to question the meaning of the word cuckoo?
Digging deep into the words of place has given them purchase on my person. Words without meaning are brittle in my memory, but those that unravel the lives of the people that lived here before me, not only tend to linger, but ignite a profoundly nourishing connection.
And if this kinship rising from the phonetics of place isn’t enough, then imagine the joy brought about by the accidental discovery of the material expressions of their lives suspended in a midden - exposed by the meandering Cheesden brook.
Here I’d discovered a pattern language which conjoined with the warmth rising from the places that they had named.
To be continued...
If you'd like to listen to...
the beauty and complexity of the Lancashire accent, listen to Polly Morris from Harwood talk about a ghostly sighting in 1954 - here
is an architectural and interiors photographer based in the UK.