A community stitching and heritage project about the River Lugg
Author Archives: jackiehmorris
I am an artist maker researching the folklore of the rural area in the UK where I live. I have completed a BA(Hons) Fine Art and MA in Contemporary Dialogues (Textiles) and am now studying for an arts practice as research PhD at Manchester Fashion Institute, Manchester Metropolitan University. I am Australian born to British parents and have lived in both countryside and cities of Britain. I am drawn to understanding the makeup of British people, their lives, loves and their landscape.
In my work in the main I use print and textiles to explore ideas and theory, which then resolve into art objects or installations. Recent work has researched community aspects of place, attempting to demonstrate how the human action of bellringing weaves sound across the British countryside.
I worked at Sidney Nolan Trust, a local rural arts charity, assisting to facilitate artists camps, the learning programme and creative programme including supporting artists, teaching printmaking, documenting workshops and events for social media and assisting with setting up exhibitions. I have worked on collaborative projects and am in an art collective Fold which investigates our shared rural place.
On 10th, 14th and 16th March the three community groups heard a retelling or two of the legends of the River Lugg. I was lucky in that two of the stitchers kindly chose to re-tell the stories.
First up was Mary with the story of the Dragon of Mordiford, and I told about the stories of dragons generally in the Marches and the litle girl Maud who nurtured this wyvern (a dragon with two legs only). Mary then elaborated on the Dragon of Mordiford story with props, including some felted ones, see images below:
Then Chris retold the Mermaid of Marden, drawing on material from a wonderful project she had completed with Marden schoolchildren when she was teaching.
The stitchers at Rose Tinted Rags loved hearing this recording of Chris’s story, we listened to it an extra couple of times! One stitcher had also brought in a beautiful mermaid she had previously made and we took its photo against all the iridescent fabrics surrounding us in this wonderful workshop/shop, here by Hereford Bus Station.
On 7th and 17th March we listened to several readings on a theme of water whilst we stitched.
First up, please listen to the two wonderful poems by our stitcher Maggie Crompton. The first is called A year beside the river and she has put it together from twelve of many haikus she wrote during 2021. Haikus are the Japanese poetry form that require a poem of 17 syllables in three lines of five, seven and five, and traditionally conjure images of the natural world. Her second poem is a treat, ‘The Water of Life‘ summing up I think all the things we have been talking about in these stitching sessions. Maggie is a wonderful wordsmith and we are so grateful for her sharing these amazing poems.
Maggie also read a poem about snowdrops which Jill had brought in, having had it framed with a picture on the wall for years but not really noticing it.
On the Monday evening I demonstrated the phosphate and nitrate tests currently used by CPRE in their Citizen Science Project. I drew up some Lugg river water in a jug at the Priory Bridge next to the Community Centre where we are stitching.
I showed the detailled drawings by English social historian Dorothy Hartley (1893- 1985) in her book published in 1964 ‘Water in England‘ documenting the smallest details of water management in our country through the ages. Her drawings and observations notice everyday details through to larger management schemes.
I read Dorothy Hartley’s passage called ‘The leading of water over the hills’ which tells of the water diverting skills of the agricultural hillside workers that they took with them in the Industrial revolution to hep drier lands.
I re/introduced the work of Rachel Carson in her book Silent Spring, now sixty years old and her writing ‘A fable for tomorrow’.
I have lots of blog posts to catch up on from the past few sessions, but am posting some images below of the exhibition that has been on for the last 3 days, and de-installed this morning. I have posted a lot of images as not all the stitchers have been able to visit the exhibition but may want to spot their snowdrop/s in the installation.
It was exhibited alongside other artists work on a theme of nature, at Birches Farm Nature Reserve Visitors Centre, which is owned by Herefordshire Wildlife Trust.
Here are the 158 snowdrops stitched by 42 stitchers, displayed in strewing baskets
Starting at the lowest basket and working upstream….
and flowing back downstream…
Close ups of baskets….
Details of individual snowdrops
The exhibition was visited by many of the stitchers and a book of visitors comments collected. On the last day there were 77 visitors, and about another 100 across the previous two days.
Each snowdrop was numbered on its back, embroidered in a corner, and a display board detailled the stitcher behind each numbered snowdrop.
On 28th February, Marsha O’Mahony kindly came to talk to the Monday night stitchers about her project capturing the stories of people along the River Wye, which the Lugg flows into just below Mordiford. She has written a book and shared some snippets from this too.
I didn’t record this talk as Marsha often gives talks locally about Herefordshire stories that she has gathered from its people and it is ell worth hearing them in person. Her background is journalism and she demonstrated her passion for following leads to unearth these hidden histories.
What I found most surprising were the stories of the River Wye teaming with salmon in the past and the overfishing that took place in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. Additionally the size of the fish caught was unexpected.
The River Lugg itself is more associated with brown trout (Salmo trutta) and grayling (Thymallus thymallus). Both are species of freshwater fish from the salmon family.
We were also introduced to the role of the unsung Ghillies on the river who helped out on fishing expeditions and were guardians of the river.
The Embroiderers at Rose Tinted Rags stitched snowdrops and composed a charm to help alleviate the floods across the county. One stitcher took the words home and wrote out the words in white ink on black card with enchanting illustrations reminiscent of the Mappa Mundi (image to follow).
A week later Artist Kate Green joined us and played and sang the words to the tune she had composed for it, with the stitchers permission.
The following week later, Poet Robert Crompton read the words to the Thursday Leominster group, and we were all pleased to find that the charm had worked its magic; the floods waters had subsided!
The stitchers at Rose Tinted Rags were delighted to hear their poem read and we listened to it a few times, playing it again to a visitor that day whilst we stitched.
On 21st February, one dark Monday evening, Jason O’Keefe, historian and battle re-enactment specialist kindly came to talk us through the Battle of Mortimer’s Cross which took place in 1461 flanked by the River Lugg, somewhere, it is thought, between Kingsland and Mortimers Cross. He spoke of the main protagonists and historical evidence for what is known of the battle.
Below is a recording of the talk, with Jason’s permission to share it, although obviously you cannot see the slideshow. The talk ends with his description of the 15th century helmet found in the River Lugg just below Mortimer’s Cross; this is now in Hereford Museum.
One of the Lugg embroiderers, Susan Stevens-Jenkins is a printmaker and I spied this linocut of hers on social media. I have purchased it as a personal momento of this project with its new connections made with people in the community and special times spent stitching together. Each colour layer is separately printed one over the other so you can imagine how diffcult it must be to keep an image so crisp and clear as she has done here. I love the sweeping curves throughout.
Sue will also be showing her work at our first exhibtion on 30th April – 2nd May as part of the Marches Makers Festival. This will be held at at Herefordshire Wildlife Trust’s Birches Farm Nature Reserve Visitors’ Centre, HR5 3EY.
The exhibtion is called Heart of the Matter II – Responses to Nature from the Marches‘ and is curated by Michael J Hancock. As well as showing this projects work by The Lugg Embroiderers (us) and printmaker Susan Stevens-Jenkins it will also show works by: Nancy Frost (ceramics), Nick Clarke (furniture), Lorenzo Gavarini, Jane O’Connor, Rose Tinted Rags (paint), Michael J Hancock, Graeme Hobbs (print), Inga Sipcenoka (textiles).
The address is Birches Farm Nature Reserve Visitors’ Centre, HR5 3EY. Open Sat, Sun & Mon 10am – 5pm. Please be aware there is a small step and some rough ground.
Robert Crompton kindly offered to attempt to read the Seventh Song of the Poly-Olbion poem by Michael Drayton. I had been alerted to it by Pete Blench, Leominster’s local Historian who said there was a 1600’s long poem about the Marriage of the Lugg and the Wye. It was written in 1612 and as a whole, is a topographical poem decribing England and Wales.
It has thirty songs completely, each describing between one and three counties. It was also a collaboration with William Hole who added illustrated maps of each county, with places depicted by applying human and non-human traits and emotions. It was also accompanied with work by John Selden in the form of summaries of history and text.
Even the Poly-Olbion seventh song itself is very long, so Robert tried to find a natural break and ended up reading one part of it today and the second part two weeks later. However to warm us up he first read a lovely poem by E.V Knox that he had found that mentions the River Lugg called Hell in Herefordshire. It was written as a riposte to the Bishop of Hereford who had been bemoaning the evils of cider. Knox was the editor of Punch at the time and lived in Herefordshire. it especially made me laugh as each year my husband gathers as many apples as possible to press and brew sparking cider in the garden, or ‘quider’ which is his mix of apples and quince donated from a neighbour’s tree.
Hell in Herefordshire
The wild white rose is cankered
Along the vale of Lugg;
There is poison in the tankard;
There is murder in the mug.
Through all the pleasant valley
Where stand the pale-faced kine,
Men raise the Devil’s chalice
And drink this bitter wine.
That shame the summer sky
Take place in little houses
That look towards the Wye.
And near the Radnor border
And the dark hills of Wales,
Beelzebub is warder,
And sorcery prevails.
For, spite of Church and chapel,
Ungodly folk there be
Who pluck the cider apple
From the cider apple tree,
And squeeze it in their presses
Until the juice runs out,
At various addresses
That no-one knows about.
And, maddened by the orgies
Of that ungodly brew,
They slit each others’ gorges
From one a.m. till two,
Till Ledbury is in shambles,
And in the dirt and mud
Where Leominster sits and gambles,
The dice are stained with blood.
But still, if strength suffices,
Before the day is done,
I’ll go and share the vices
Of Clungunford and Clun
But watch the red sun sinking
Across the March again,
And join the secret drinking
Of outlaws at Presteigne.
The feeling of stitching whilst being read this poem was extrordinary. It felt as though we were travelling in a hot air balloon looking down on the landscape of the Marches; its almost a conversation between the mountains and the valleys, connected by the rivers. Robert did well to read the Old English and brought it to life for the stitchers. The place names acted as place holders, orientating us in the flight.