Restorying Riverscapes explores the history of the textile industry on the riverscape of the Churnet at Leek, Staffordshire.
This project is taking place during Spring and Summer 2022, bringing together Fashion Revolution and scientists from Keele University and Loughborough University alongside local community groups. We will be examining historical changes in the Churnet riverscape as a result of textile production in the area.
Citizen science will be a vital part of telling a different story about the history of the textile industry on the Churnet and its environmental impact. We are inviting people to get involved by taking sediment and water samples for analysis, examining local archives and more.
As part of this project, we are training the local community to take sediment cores and water samples from lakes and riverbanks. Our sampling sites will be located downstream from the historic sites of textile mills and dye factories. Citizen scientists will collect samples, filter them in the field and use microscopes and visual aids to identify and quantify the presence of natural and synthetic textile fibres. Once collated, this data will highlight trends in textile fibre pollution relative to the past, complementing data that will be analysed in our laboratories at Keele. Here are our aims with these activities:
A team of residents from around the Churnet Valley will become local archival researchers and interviewers to unpick the social and environmental impact of dozens of mills across Leek that pumped dye and chemical waste into the water throughout the industrial revolution.
This will include reviewing archives from textile firms, scoping existing histories on the thousands of Leek men, women and children who worked in the industry, as well as the migration and settlement of Huguenot families descended from textile workers. We will be also be collecting and compiling narratives of the post-industrial river and lake recovery in the area.
The project will collect oral and photographic histories of the riverscape to map the historic locations of mills and dyeworks and bring to life Leek’s textile heritage narratives. All this will help uncover the now-hidden industrial history of the Churnet.
The textile industry dominated industry across the English North and Midlands during the 19th century. Textile fibres, dyes, and mordants polluted water bodies as a result. By taking sediment cores from lakes and reservoirs downstream of mills and factories, we can reconstruct the environmental impact which will have shaped the local communities and post-industrial recovery. At the same time, we will learn about the arrival, work, and eventual fate of the textile industry workforce and how they would have experienced the pollution and ecological change attached to their industry.
The Churnet has been shaped by the rise and fall of the textile industry which degraded the river and then shaped its eventual recovery. At one time, the river was said to be the most polluted river in Europe. This is a story of community resilience and integration, underpinned by cultural, linguistic and religious diversity, with Huguenot refugees adding to the large number of local textile workers in Leek’s dyeworks and mills. Our community team will visit archives and historic sites, interview residents, and sample mud on riverbanks and lake bottoms for traces of this history.
Our project addresses the lived experience of community building in a hands-on way, involving people in innovative activities that explore local history, migration histories and the impacts of industrial heritage on their environment, developing a more detailed and inclusive account of environmental history, one which includes refugee and migration stories as well as potential ongoing environmental impacts. We will draw parallels between the resilience and recovery of the rivers and lakes and the resilience of the local community in the face of deindustrialisation.
Together, we will reinterpret historic Leek in parallel with the experiences of other textile-boom regions, such as Bangladesh, where migrants have settled and helped shape the culture and where rivers are filled with wastewater carrying dyes, fibres and mordants that accumulate in their sediments.
Dr Antonia Law
Lecturer in Physical Geography, Keele University
Professor Deirdre McKay
Professor of Sustainable Development, Keele University
Dr Tom Stanton
Research Fellow, University of Loughborough
Research Assistant, Keele University
Rudyard Lake Trust
Would you be interested in helping us to carry out sediment cores and water samples, or with archival research looking into the history of the textile industry on the riverscapes? If you live near the River Churnet and would like to get involved in this project, please get in touch. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.orgJOIN US
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