|Birdswood at the Wharf|
A conversation on radio Derby with Andy Potter ended with him asking ‘What’s your next project?’
Thinking off the cuff I said ‘The A6 has some nice views! I may paint that!’
At the time I had no plans as to what I was going to do next having just finished 40 Ripley rattler paintings for DH Lawrence museum I quite fancied not doing much at all.
But then at the end of my street I noticed a big Protect Belper sign draped across two houses a protest about new builds on land within the World heritage zone.
I went to look at said field and took a photo this led me to wonder what happens next in Belper and indeed the corridor that is the world heritage site along the Derwent Valley.
Which led me to wonder why world heritage what’s that all about?
Completely new to the area in a way although a lifelong visitor Id not given much thought to the tea rooms and pleasant canal sides and views of mills it’s all kind of a pretty back drop to spend a weekend I’d been a tourist. Indeed, my sons school Long Row I chose for its aesthetic appeal!
So I decided to do some research and look into the past and present use of the Derwent Valley. I attended some Discovery day events in Belper nosed around some houses in Long Row and some Chevin View back to backs my sons had a go at mangles in the wash day exhibit.
I went to a talk by Adrian Farmer and bought his book looking at the then and now photos. I went to the library and in the local history section I discovered another artist in the 80s had painted the whole of the Derwent from lady Bower to the Trent junction a fantastic book.
I wanted to approach my paintings from a different perspective rather than pick the prettiest views I wanted a comprehensive collection of work showing the breadth of activity that has taken place in this small valley.
The choice of what to paint and how many was quite logical I had room for about twenty paintings, so using another book Id bought I looked at the valley as a whole and tried to divide it up to include firstly all the mills, then the housing and finally the vistas showing the setting.
All of them are painted on box canvas in acrylic for a unified look and each was created in the studio but the two below were started as a demo in front of an art group.
All are from photographs so getting some of the images has resulted in some twitching of net curtains wondering what the crazy art lady is doing photographing their street.
Before each painting there had to be a day trip planned or lucky for me the school run provided many chances to get the correct light effect needed for Long Row and The East Mill.
My children have unwittingly been walked and educated along canal sides stumbling upon aqueduct cottage which is devastingly beautiful as a ruin but hopefully will be restored.
Ice cream promises got them into the silk mill where they were fascinated by the rolls Royce engine and land line telephones with dials!
A walk along a wet path with a slight naughty deviation to get the view of Peckwash mill resulted in youngest son falling flat on his face in mud and the resulting car journey was smelly and traumatic but I got my image!
There have been good days for my kids Christmas trips to Gulliver’s Kingdom and birthday treats to Heights of Abraham resulting in great vistas.
What I discovered was the rate of building work undertaken throughout the Industrial revolution Arkwright and Strutts changing the way we work and live at a monumental pace. The river powering the changes canals bringing in and out the goods the coming of the railway cutting through Belper in a spectacular fashion, paper mills, silk mills, textile mills and workers dwellings that have been copied around the world.
But time moves on the Industrial Revolution has long since been replaced by the technological and digital advances of our age and it no longer makes sense to be manufacturing alongside a steep sided river far better to use cheap labour from overseas and create mega warehouses alongside the new Motorways.
So what have we left? A landscape scared with what we see today canal architecture, huge factories, pump houses, with their respective workers housing and boss’s mansions.
It may be scared by its past but it’s beautiful my journey from the protect Belper sign to now has led me to conclude that it must be protected for everyone it is an outstanding and unique place a preserved time capsule but one that is ever evolving and its great to see the buildings open and being used for new industries and leisure.