Monday 13th & Tuesday 14th
I’m still blindly making lists and groping in the dark trying to find a method to my searching. I’m thinking about the bigger picture; what is the bigger story I’m trying to tell? There is the story of Ellesmere Port itself, it’s history and it’s building from early on as bathing house, to crux of the Shropshire Union, in leading industry and business place, to the fire, and loss of industry to the building of the museum, to where we are now. Those stories are known, by locals and the volunteers that I speak too. How do I tell these stories from the outside? (That is an open question, one I could be willing to try and answer, not an excuse not to do it). And of course, The Manchester Ship Canal. Still see those huge ships rolling past like they are moving the country itself. Sailing along behind the museum. Strange feeling seeing those large structures moving so close. Like standing at the bottom of a wind turbine, a gracefulness that feels closer to nature than a man made object should.
And there’s that over arching narrative for the whole of canal system. Which follows a similar trajectory in rising up, and being left, re-discovery and new sense of purpose. Perhaps.
And people come in and out of the archives and in each moment I’m given new strands and things to think. A women who worked as a tour guide, 30, 32 years before. Terrible at controlling the kids she was. Looks at me with steely eyes, oh aye an artist, ay? Soft manchester tones, despite having lived in Ellesmere for all this time. I try to give myself credit with my granny from Warrington. She talks about the pub that lay on the banks of the canal before the basin. Famous it was, The Canal Tavern. And I start wondering if this could be a key. The things that pub will have heard. The things that pub will have seen.
I’m hurried to meet Di, a women that is part of the crochet group. She’s been here since this all started and knows a man who worked in Ellesmere Port has his view of boat life from dry land. Another lead.
Meanwhile… looking through the list in the Archive I came across The Robert Aickmann Collection, letters, manuscripts, magazine articles. Robert Aickmann was the man who co-founded the Inland Waterways Trust also writer of ‘strange fiction’ as he described it.
What I find is boxes and boxes of papers and letters and notes, scribblings on the back of envelopes. All in an order, of sorts. handwritten front sheet of a folder packed with letters wrapped in plastic wallets. This is box 1, of perhaps 20 or so boxes. Things that were saved by him of his grandfather’s. A manuscript, handwritten on both sides, held together by a rusting pin, words so small and tight together, I wonder if it was written when paper was scarce. And expensive. Delve in deeper to discover that his grandfather was also an author, Richard Marsh, (a quick wikipedia search and I feel like I’ve stumbled on the holy shroud) letters and letters of publishers buying the rites to his stories. Germany, Italy, America, Receipts for cheques for monies paid. Mixed up with more modern letters typed out pink carbon paper from Robert, his grandson, chastising the expense of modern railway travel (1961) to Railway Magazine. He was also, head (chairman) of The Railway Development Association
‘If we could visit Aunty in Blackpool for £1 return we should go monthly instead of yearly; and if a proper service is provided the railway habit grows by what it feeds on‘
A sentiment that is still relevant today. There is an expression of receiving a sympathy card with a return address, a road in the area I live in, in Birmingham.
A pile of love letters from Richard Marsh to his soon to be wife. Some not opened properly, envelope still stuck down. Letters from farms in 1910, somewhere you can walk for 100 miles and see no one, stories of shooting through the cheek ‘a fleeing human who I had reason to believe had been assisting in killing & stealing stock of mine’
Back to typed letters from Robert, critiquing an american poet ‘One simply cannot write for ever about nothing but oneself, even if one sometimes disguises oneself as a hawk‘
(A sentiment for me to retain, a warning to the artist).
But too late already, because in this box I see the things that I collect and hide away, I cannot throw my own archive away; notes on the back of envelopes, every notebook I have ever used, copies of scripts, receipt for a futon I haven’t seen since 2004, Train tickets. Lots of train tickets. Who I’m saving this for- I’m not sure who… I can see how I’m summarised in things I’ll leave behind. A whole person’s life and some of his grandfathers stored away in The Inland Waterways Archive.
I dull down the excitement and discovery in me. It would be easy to get swept up in these people’s lives. It’s nothing much to do with the Waterways. Another project, perhaps another time, before I start making up coincidences and seeing connections that aren’t there. I put the papers away in the box, in the shelf, in the bay, in the archive. I walk around the back of the museum and see a group of men in the car park, door open, stood around a crate. The scene it doesn’t look right, then they release a door and a flock of homing pigeons fly off and round and away, to the men’s small cheers. They get back in the car.
Its a warm day and just in the distance is a pebbled cove aside the shore of The Ship Canal , two young lads are running in as far as they can go in shorts, a dog jumping around them. Still a place to play by the water.