Today I made my first visit to Sir John Barrow Cottage for the Soft Drive project to look at the objects in the attic. The mark the beginning of the project and the research process each artist will be selecting a few objects from the collection that are of interest to them to display in a micro exhibition in the cottage in Autumn 2019. My exhibition will be from Saturday 12th October - Sunday 20th October. I will be delivering a creative workshop on October 20th inspired by the objects I have selected.

I went up and down the ladder to the attic many times while working on last year’s ‘Manners and Amusements’ project, and always wanted to have a bit more of an investigation into the boxes of unknown objects, newspaper articles and local historical artefacts. However, when faced with the opportunity it was a little bit daunting knowing where to begin.

I’ve always been a collector of various things, and have aquired a fairly high number of vintage suitcases, boxes and tins, so I was drawn to these. Many seemed to be from the Second World War era and contained medical equipment, and were accompanied by two gas masks. Although obviously very interesting objects from an important period in our history, I decided not to work with these.

There was a moment of great excitement as we discovered a nice, non-descript suitcase contained a beautiful piano accordian decorated with gold embellishments, which seemed like it had been left there for John Hall to find and reanimate through music.

First to catch my eye were some large wooden panels. ‘Ulverston Hospital Saturday Parade’ has the date and amount donated for each year, documented using sign writing. I would like to learn more about what Ulverston Hospital Saturday Parade was - I’m wondering if it’s Carnival. I also love that this information has been painted on to wood by hand, whereas these days it would probably be a printed piece of paper, possibly laminated if it was considered really important.


Moving some papers aside on a bookshelf I found an old embosser, a little but rusty but decorated with guilded foliage. Below this I then found a second one! Eager to see what they were for, I tried to stamp with them. The first worked perfectly and said ‘Sankey’s Stores Limited’. The second was much more rusty and hard to make out, but after a few attempts we could read…. Later I found a third much larger embosser, but this is so fused together with rust that it no longer works.

Photograph by Lindsay Ward

Photograph by Lindsay Ward


I also found a large copy of ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’ with a beautiful decorated cover and a chunky metal clasp. It looks as though it may possibly also have had decorated or gilded page edged at one point.


This led me to thinking that books were also one highly ornate, created in a time where their production was slow and labour intensive, and much less of the population could read and therefore their engagement with books was as a visual object. I have collected vintage books for a long time, and am very interested in the methods that were used to bind, print and decorate them, so I would like to look into this more.

I intend to spend some time researching embossers, papercut tributes and 19th century book production, in the hope that these lines of enquiry will lead me to the themes I want to explore in this project.

Eleanor Chaney