“There are places, just as there are people and objects and works of art, whose relationship of parts creates a mystery, an enchantment, which cannot be analysed.” Paul Nash
This is a tale conjured up by a magical quirk of nature, told by a babbling brook that skirts its way through a wooded valley, where out of the dishwater-grey water, came dishes.
The valley at Cheesden lies on the northerly edge of Greater Manchester. It’s a moorland vale flecked with industrial melancholia, host to a muddle of Georgian and Victorian mills dotted along its three mile descent into the Roch Valley.
It all began with a walk through a part of the valley called Deeply Vale. Here, a mill thrived to such an extent that, for a brief period, a terrace of houses sprang from the valley floor.
Whilst the ruins of the mill remain, the houses have gone, replaced by tussocked, tree lined lumps and bumps. Records are scant of the people that lived here, but there’s talk of a makeshift pub and a reading room lodged within a parlour.
This is a sparse place, and it takes some imagination to try and summon up the brick facades. It’s difficult to garner any vision of the warmth of the people that lived here.
Their masters are much better documented. Their stories are captured within the newspapers of the day. Their portraits hang in the galleries. They tell of fortitude and philanthropy, of civility and enlightenment.
The people from the valley were rarely recorded, their trials and tribulations only surfacing in the places they named, court records, marriage and death certificates.
It was to be a chance discovery by my wife, Charlotte, that allowed the veil to be lifted on their lives.
Her discovery was along a part of the brook that had been straight-jacketed in former times to regulate the flow of the watercourse.
Whilst walking along the bank, she had seen chalky flecks of white. The brook had broken its shackled course and cut into a midden, which had spouted forth onto a kidney shaped sandbank, a scattering of fragmented pots and glass.
At a later date we returned with a camera to photograph our finds, but things had changed - the selection of ceramics on display had been refreshed. The brook, after a heavy bout of rain, had washed away the original booty and brought us new offerings.
We photographed shards of floriated china, earthenware jars with truncated words and stoppered bottles with fluted sides.
The urge to pocket the artefacts was overcome by a greater want. The need to supplicate this reviving rindle of water by returning the offerings, so that it might conjure up new delights.
A few weeks later I visited again on my own. The brook had been in flood and brought about a collapse of the river bank, and once again, our sacrificial offering had been supplicated by another curation of patterned bliss.
This distillery of design had infused the bank with a moonshine mix of ornament, symbol and metaphor. Tastes of former times were embalmed in encaustic, trammeled in metal, embossed on glass.
Although the great washing of the bank made the past seem more soluble and transient, its grip on the present remained in the magical re-incarnation of tokens from lives gone by.
In certain moments, when I stepped upon the slip between earth and water, I felt washed up myself, disconnected and unplugged from the present.
And so my visits increased, and the babbling brook kept telling its story, each chapter replenished by its ebb and flow.
It told me that in this solitary place, they had hearths to go to, drank pop and beer and tea...
and washed their hair.
More visits revealed a pattern of taste spanning several decades from the Adamesque to Art Nouveau to Art Deco.
It’s times like this that offer the chance to step through the thin veil, a momentary glimpse into a hidden past, proffered up beneath the shale by a shape shifting karst.
“They were just like us.. “, I remember mumbling to myself whilst thumbing over a muddied cup; and for the first time in a decade of visiting this place, I could see the heat of their lives beyond the robbed out walls at Deeply, burning like an embrasure in the night.
The Babbling Chronograph
I'm making more visits to the Midden and will keep updating the site below with the latest finds.
Link to: The Babbling Chronograph
loves posing with bikes in country locations. He's also an architectural and interiors photographer based in the UK.
Why am I photographing this site?
Unlike finds set within the context of a dig, these artefacts are transient, they are regularly washed away by the brook. If I come across an object set into the river side in context - I leave it. It has a story to tell for another day.
The immediate feeling is that I want to capture that which might never be seen again, and honour the people behind each object.