Going through the Mill


3020, Woman counting reams at Barrow Papermill. Edward Sankey, Early 20th Century.

Going Through the Mill is the resulting exhibition from Signal Film and Media’s Artist commission ‘Unwrap the Image’. It has been created by Nicky Bird and two local groups as part of Seeing the North with Sankey – Signal’s three year heritage project that explored the Sankey Family Photography Collection.

Nicky was commissioned shortly after the launch of the show Sankeys: Extraordinary & Everyday (The Dock Museum, 16 October 2021 to 9 January 2022). Taking inspiration from that show and the work of Signal’s Sankey Volunteers, she identified these starting points: Sankey’s haunting photograph of a woman standing alongside a monumental pile of wood chips; an index of women’s names, addresses and ages (mostly in their teens) under the theme ‘Working Lives’, and an example of Edwardian female dress.

The highly crafted early 20th century photographs of women in their workplace acted as a catalyst for a series of collaborations with the Sankey Volunteers, a new Women’s History Group and former Paper Mill Workers. The remains of the Paper Mill, which opened in 1888 and closed in 1972, can still be found today at the edge of Salthouse in Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria. From November 2021 to February 2022, each group visited the present-day site where former Paper Mill workers shared their memories. Different stories, photographs and themes connected to the former Paper Mill emerged during this time: documenting the site, graffiti art, family history, paper-making processes, personal memory and even rare flora.

These are now included in this exhibition, alongside life-size photographs of the original portraits. The Sankey Volunteers and the Women’s History Group have each created individual artworks that include audio interviews, a botanical poster, costume, personal memorabilia, photographs, poems, memory maps and research portfolios in response to their own discoveries during Nicky’s commission.

Going through the Mill, 2022. Full List of Contributors and Works

Former Paper Mill Workers: Interviews, 2022

Jean Naylor, Sorter from 1960-1966, 12 minutes, 59 seconds
“…Paper actually cut you, it cut all your clothes. That’s why we wore felts. We made them ourselves…”

Terry Heseltine, Fitter and Turner, from 1955-1960 and 1963-1972, 13 minutes, 01 seconds
“…the best job I ever had…”

Other Related Resources

Kay Parker, Paper Mill Researcher: Interview Extract, 2022, 1 minute, 47 seconds
“…My family go back to the beginning of the Paper Mills…”

Maggie Harrison, Women’s History Group Member: Interview Extract, 2022, 2 minutes, 55 seconds
“…just as we were about to leave, the sun came out and all the buildings that are built of local red brick, and it glowed…”

The Sankeys: Extraordinary and Everyday, 2022. Published by Signal Film and Media, Barrow-in-Furness

TOP IMAGE: 3020, Woman counting reams at Barrow Papermill. Edward Sankey, Early 20th Century.
©The Sankey Family Photography Collection.