Life of the People

Stories of rural life and work by Chip Colquhoun

Chip Colquhoun with open arms against a background of archive images of craftspeople

Written by Chip Colquhoun, storyteller and author

Last summer I was invited to the MERL to take part in a workshop for the Museum of the Intangible project, and was asked to produce a creative response to the collections. This project is all about exploring the potential of intangible cultural heritage (ICH) and creative and digital practice to think about the collections at the MERL in new ways. In the workshop we looked at objects relating to the traditional skills of thatching, bodging and lace making. These had been chosen for their relevance to the work of artist Stanley Anderson, writer H.J. Massingham, and artist-writer Dorothy Hartley.

Front cover of Lost Country Life by Dorothy Hartley

It was my first visit to the MERL and it was great to meet lots of interesting people and look at such interesting things. I’m a storyteller and author, and was really inspired by the story of Dorothy Hartley, who travelled the country in the 1930s and 1940s and documented the rural people and practices she encountered along her way. She wrote a regular column for the Daily Sketch newspaper and many of her pieces were about traditional craft skills. I’ve been following in Dorothy’s footsteps to create the Life of the People, a series of vodcasts based on traditional folk tales which celebrate heritage craftspeople and their practices. Watch a short introduction to the project.

The series gives you a fabulous farrier, a cunning carpenter, a ballsy blacksmith, a rich reaper and a bold burner – and answers such questions as ‘What is the oldest folk tale in the world?’, ‘How does a horseshoe help ward off witches?’ and ‘Can a carpenter visit heaven for just one day?’

In the Stories of the People episodes, I share some traditional UK folklore involving a heroic craftsperson. In these episodes you can discover what the people of the past got up to, and pick up canny tips on how to defeat witches, demons and would-be love rivals. The vodcasts will be going out every Tuesday at 7.30pm. The first episode, The Witch and the Farrier, where a heroic craftsman takes on a supernatural hoard, is available here.

In the Work of the People episodes, I’ll be meeting the people who are still working in some of these crafts, and these episodes will have live interactive interviews, with the chance for viewers to ask their own questions.

On Tuesday 22 May, I was with blacksmith Peter Cronshaw of Worcestershire. Watch the recording.
On Tuesday 12 June, I was with charcoal burner Alan Waters of Sussex.

To find out more and watch the vodcasts, visit our YouTube channel and follow us on Twitter @MERLLife

The Stories of the People series is one of several creative responses commissioned by the MERL for the project Making, Using and Enjoying: The Museum of the Intangible. The project is funded by the Arts Council England (ACE) Designation Development Fund.

The Arts Council England logo.

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