The life of objects

We were looking at objects and how some objects can have more than a visual attraction but include life stories, memories, hidden value.

I started making a list of all the ‘things’ I possess that hold hidden meanings and stories… my first love doll that I searched 20 years for, my £250 Barbie doll bought as a long term financial investment. I have letters to my dad from Catherine Bramwell Booth, my nanas commissioning sash. I started to realise just how many objects I horde and to tell their stories would take a long time, so I’ve chosen two, one physical and one virtual.

My parents are retired Salvation Army ministers, they moved around the country throughout their lives and retired in Morley, a place they’ve never lived in.

My mothers parents were also Army ministers, again moving around the country, as was my Aunty and Uncle.

My dad’s family are pretty much unknown. I wasn’t adopted, but recognise the feeling of not knowing my roots. Born in Bristol I moved to Birmingham, then Scarborough before I was 6 months old. Then Leeds, Manchester, Rochdale before returning to Leeds to attend Music college. I call myself Yorkshire because I lived here the longest, but my inner voice mumbles… But I wasn’t born here.

My mum doesn’t seem to feel this loss, she’s not a hoarder probably because she’s had to move regularly her whole life. Her mum came from Stockport and dad from Darwin. She has a cousin living in Stockport so has a connection to a place.

My dad (a bit of a hero to me) was born in Bridgwater. His mum died when he was 4 and he grew up in extreme poverty eventually going into the workhouse as a child. As one point he stole food because of hunger and ended up in a young offenders home, this began years of life in and out of youth centres, Borstal and eventually prison. His family disowned him so we’ve had little contact although I believe I have a cousin in Bradford. My dad left prison, went into a Salvation Army hostel where he learnt to read and write and later became a minister. He worked with some of the most destitute people, often seeking out men rather than waiting for them to find him. He later gained an honorary degree from Manchester Polytechnic and freedom of Manchester, perhaps you understand where he gets his hero status from.

My upbringing has been in hostels with homeless men, my home in Manchester was a Victorian workhouse turned into a men’s hostel, even the Leeds home dated back 100 years, both since demolished. I don’t even have a building I can point to to say I came from here.

With nothing to point to or family members to claim as roots I have a box of objects that I keep as my roots. On my desk I have a pair of clogs.


One of the few things my mum has kept is these pair of shoes made for her when she was born in 1940. They were made in Lancashire because her mothers family came from there.

One of the things I am passionate about is keeping the old crafts alive. At University I like seeing the new machines that make things in a fraction of the time and am looking forward to using them, but I really enjoy coming home, getting out my spinning wheel or my lace bobbins and trying to perfect the skill of making something in a traditional way.

These clogs represent a family root I miss and craftsmanship I strive for. I love the hammer marks on the metal nails, the rough chiselled wooden sole and leather that’s still hard in places.

The other object is a virtual one.

Several years ago our family went on holiday to Somerset and took a day trip to Bridgwater. My dad’s never said much of his childhood but as we crossed a bridge we came across a row of houses, my dad pointed to one and said, “that’s the house I grew up in”, 2 Salmon Parade, then pointing a few doors down he said, “and that’s where my Grandad lived”.

I have gotten into a habit of making a regular google search of my dad, just in case something comes up.

Some time ago I found this image.


The image was dated 1902 and shows a man Salmon fishing on the river. The bridge in the background was the same bridge my dad took us over those years ago, the small white houses on the right are the homes of his family.

I knew my grandfather came from a line of fishermen but assumed Dad meant sea fishermen. The man on the boat is my Grandfather, he was a Salmon fisherman and boat builder. The image said the boats were Pocock boats, all of those boats were hand built by my family.

Two items, both with a family connection and history and both linking to a skilled craft.

Published by bettyvirago

Betty Virago is an award winning textile designer. Based in Yorkshire, England, and known for her Northern Folk dolls and the Quilts of Hope project.

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