Where Things Are Different’ By Stephen King and St Helens communities

25th January to April 2018, 

Sankey Canal, St Helens.

Commissioned by Heart Of Glass and in conjunction with Open Eye Gallery’s socially engaged photography programme Culture Shifts.

Culture Shifts is based around embedding 11 national and international photographers within the daily lives of communities across Liverpool City Region.

Where Things Are Different’ is a photographic project that is built upon the space shared by the post industrial communities of St Helens today.

Generations of workers live their lives together, gathering memories, telling stories and creating folklore. Through the act of sharing these anecdotal places are simultaneously physical and mental and now take up real space within the social experience.

This project attempts to illustrate overlapping anecdotal fragments from close-knit St Helens communities - the tall-tales that emanate from the shop-floor and the hearsay that is inevitable from living tooth-to-jowl. Focusing upon the experiences that aren’t documented in books or curated in museums, but ones that only exist upon the lips of the people, Where Things are Different is a project that places equal credence between the logic of fiction and the logic of fact within the context of community.

King worked closely for several months with members and groups of St Helens post-industrial communities (Beechams, Pilkingtons, Historical and restoration societies, Miners and labour club entertainers) to unearth the shared experience that resides within these now displaced workforces. Taking the form of social get-togethers, many hours of informal conversations were recorded and then transcribed to create sources for unpicking accounts and imagery. Many of these same participants and community members went on to collaborate and perform in these constructed representations.

The final photographs took the form of large scale lightboxes set upon the banks of The Hotties, just above the water level of the Sankey Canal. Located at the back of Pilkington's Glass Works, for decades these pipes pumped out warm water from the glass making process into the canal and - according to folklore - for many years supported a thriving eco-system of tropical fish which were discarded by a local pet shop owner. 

The pill was black and from what looked like a big block of tar, but yellow was seen to be more appetising. Spun 12lb a time, in a large drum until the coating left the pill coloured with a high shine.

With no previous experience, three of us took three and a half years constructing two football fields, a cricket wicket and a rugby pitch... we hand-dug a heated swimming pool and finally got a large wooden Pavillion. We had dances, weddings, retirements and significant birthdays, all upon our tiled floor.

Problems began and most evenings and all-day Friday, we’d walk in line, buckets collecting the emerging glass fragments…the old Corporation Tip prevailing. I returned to the factory and the Pavillion burned down.

As a little girl the truck passed-by with all these convicts, I was so upset and then another with devils on. Dad would say “If you do that again” the Devil would come and get me. It stays in your mind... A man carried a ball, running a distance and standing on it statue still until the procession caught up and then off again. Communities came together with ideas and elements of where you worked for carnivals and street processions. If they had a talent, or even just a bit of a talent, anyone could join in.

Singers, comedians, strippers, magicians, you name it… clubland was a career path for some. Barlow turned up, 17 years old in a little dickie bow and a smart shirt… nice lad, couldn’t sing to save his life though, so far off pitch it was painful.

A guy swallowed things and then regurgitated them in a different order and finished off with the snooker balls. He’d just swallow them down.

“what order do you want me to bring them back up in?”

Roy Rivers adapted his turn for clubland on this unicycle,

“what’s the round then?”

“clear the path”

His tray filled with beer… he went for hours, he never spilled a drip.

Lady Pilkington - the wife of Harry - bore the brunt of the workers’ anger. She made an unannounced appearance. Blue fitted coat, nonchalantly strolling unnoticed for half an hour, but as soon as the gathering began to disperse, she was spotted and drama began to unfold… Rank and file swarmed.

“would your old man work for £12 a week?”

Mavis calmly exited through the crowd.

“A dynasty in glass, residing in unity, celebrating collectively. Hearing the gathering and the roar the young girl watched the crescendo of the allied effort to protect the woodpile. Doors bubbled under the intensity and panes cracked in their frames with the proximity. Never any trouble.

Within the shadow of the Ravenhead Works, a boy and his friends would play in the claypits off Elm Road. The site of long-gone industries and the dumping ground of the recent, the clay would often give up its wealth of treasures. Gas masks dumped after the war, yellow pottery Lemon Curd pots from the original Clay and Brick Works and glass marbles - a bi-product from the quenching of spillage in plate glass production.

On Friday, once the rest of the Colliery had gone home, only two factions from the same camp remained, The Fitters and The Electricians. It was a race to the top, whoever got to that horizon first had the strategic ground, the barriers would be down and with The Dambusters March crackling over the Tannoy the fire extinguishers would be let off on to the emerging counterparts.

For four years a bonus scheme to produce more coal that couldn’t be sold created a surplus. Stockpiling, stockpiling, stockpiled... and then they went on strike. We were digging our own graves and we didn’t even realise. Wreaths were sent through the post to fit young men. It was strange going back to work, strange.

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