Saturday, 28 July 2018


I put a mic under the velux last night and woke to find  a recording of screaming gulls and the first hours of a storm. Towards the end there's just a series of oddly rhythmic bumps and shuffles that made me wonder if I'd just subjected a sensitive mic to several hours of sustained abuse.

The mic is fine though, so it could be the response of a fading battery, either way it made for interesting listening for Alex and me this morning while the next few gallons poured down onto the cottage.

Between deluges we still had visitors. Some have become regulars. Others have been drawn by stories of renovation and a feel for period detail, or are curious about the open door into a childhood mystery.
A camper wandered up from Bardsea; liked the building and the 'obby 'oss but declined a look into the attic...

Ah yes, the 'oss.  The 'oss has grown a jaw, and will soon be up and about on poles.  Nine feet plus of occupied hollow, set to bend and sway  under drapery and a winter sky.

Thursday, 26 July 2018


It's been a sunny day in Ulverston and the cottage was the best place to cool down, chat and make something sweet, colourful and nut-free if required with Lindsay Ward and her assistant Emily.

Our neighbours brought flowers to brighten the room, Iain was on hand with the introductions and the local knowledge, and soon one half of the cottage was buzzing with talk about Sir John, the Ice Age, The Isle Of Man and the the Roman occupation while in the other half our visitors sat down with Lindsay and Emily and got to work..

There is something very pleasing about making a small pear from marzipan...I had first bananas weren't quite as successful...

We'll be in the cottage again on saturday (July 28th), this time with Alex. The plan is to walk his 9ft high 'obby' 'oss around the garden.
Iain will be on hand next thursday with his books, artefacts and arcane  knowledge, and on August 11th, Ellie Chaney will be hosting a drawing session.
Look out for more information.

So, plenty going on at The Sir John Barrow Cottage.

Luckily Emily provided a visitors comments book for today..

"an unexpected surprise for us to take part in some wonderful marzipan fruit decorating. Thank you."

" tuition from Emily Ward and Lindsay, Emily's mum."

Come and see us.

Saturday, 21 July 2018


Well, that went well.
Many thanks to all who took part in Lexi's felting session today, and to Ulverston Library for hosting this and the exhibition of her work.
Hopefully we can do some more of these sessions.. there's clearly plenty of interest and skill
out there.

Great work Lexi.

Thursday, 19 July 2018


Lots of Ulverston people remember the Sir John Barrow Cottage as a sweet shop, and for one day only, on Thursday July 26th, it will be again. Kind of.

Lindsay Ward and her junior assistant will be running a Marzipan Fruit Sweets kitchen, where visitors will be able to make tiny sweets with marzipan and food colouring as part of our shared open day with Green Lane Archaeology and Historian Iain McNicol.

Iain opens the cottage to visitors every thursday. Last week a group of Year Three boys and girls from SJB school arrived, and Iain says some have made return visits, and acted as Guide to their little brothers and sisters.

On Saturday July 28th John and Alex will be in the cottage, where you'll have a chance to see how  Alex's 'obby 'oss is progressing. More on that to follow.

Iain will be in the cottage on thursday from 11am till 4pm, and Lindsay will be on hand to make sweets with you from 11am till 2pm, for as long as stocks last.
A warning though; marzipan contains nuts.

Alex and John will be on hand on saturday from 10 till 2.

Monday, 16 July 2018


"A medley of bags from the Year 6 class I worked with at Sir John Barrow, what a fabulously creative and determined class they were."

This is the last week at SJB  and as Lexi's project ends we hear that the children will be loading up their new Drawstring Bags with souvenirs of their time in Year Six.

I called in today to catch what was Lexi's final session, and the last of our whole programme. 

The plan was to demonstrate new skills  that could be revisited and re-applied as the children progress through school, and to provide the school staff with some thorough and process-based  lesson plans that can be used, re-used, adapted and re-adapted. 

Alex, Lexi, Dominic and me have all enjoyed our time at SJB enormously. We all believe wholeheartedly in the value of the arts at all levels of education and we will do anything we can to support our local schools in their efforts to introduce and develop art and craft skills in our young people, along with the early signposting that might just set someone out there on a career path.  
We hope we can keep the relationship going; we will be meeting soon to discuss how it can be done. 

In the meantime, show off those bags, soon-to-be erstwhile Year Sixers, and get some use out of them. Lovely work.

Wednesday, 11 July 2018


Dominic Kelly and the Year Three children have been working hard on their Stories and their Story-Telling techniques, and at 10.30 on Saturday morning this weekend they will be in the Supper Room at Coronation Hall as part of the Furness Tradition Folk Festival, sharing the bill with internationally renowned musicians, dancers and other storytellers...including Dominic himself who will be performing in the afternoon.

We are also happy to be able to pay for two tickets to our show for the families of each of the children who are performing. If that's you, the school will be getting in touch.

The festival is in its 2Oth year now, and it's one of the highlights of the year...we are all very proud to be involved. Here's the festival website, where you can find full details of the weekend programme..

And here's a message from Dominic...
"Over recent weeks the children have been storyboarding their tales and this last week we’ve opened up a little toolbox of techniques for bringing the storytelling to life in front of an audience: how to go in and out of characters, play with the speed and volume of their telling, and use their physicality to make it even more fun.

The children have divided into groups and each group has decided for themselves how they would like to split the storytelling between themselves. They’ve been rehearsing - and also filming to evaluate how their own storytelling performance is progressing. On Friday we’ll have a last rehearsal in the Supper Room of the Coronation Hall, where the groups will get used to how we’ll run our ‘storyfair’ event the next day. And then on Saturday morning they’ll be performing their stories in front of live audiences for the first time!"

Exciting business....we shall see you there.

Tuesday, 10 July 2018


Just back from a visit to SJB and Lex Blakeway's latest textile session with Year Six. There was a real sense of concentration and thoughtfulness in the room, with the children  caught up in the rhythms of the job in hand.  Every now and then you heard someone singing to themselves, sometimes a hand would go up and Lex,
Ms Davison and their supporters would move around the room offering advice and help on cutting patterns and fixing the children's designs to their bags.

The work looks lovely; we have the personalised needle books with their combinations of stitchcraft, beadwork, colour and surface and now the bags are on their way, with motifs ranging from initials, hearts, a pair of octopus and a few World Cup inspired combinations of red and white.

This isn't an easy process, and as we've said elsewhere during these sessions, if the process isn't followed then the work won't hold up. These children understand that, and are combining important crafting skills with decisions on colour and texture and applying them to a practical end.

No wanting to disturb, I took my photos from  a distance, but when anyone got up in search of beads, buttons or pins I asked how they
were finding the project and if they were having fun..some had found it easier than others,but were pleased with their progress, some  beamed with delight
in what they were doing and at what they had produced.
All were engaged, sure of getting help when they needed it, all getting the time to work through the process and find pleasure in it.

Saturday, 7 July 2018


John here, me and Alex have been working with Year Four this week on some colour exercises. The children have been looking at mixing and applying colour, they've made colour wheels, used wet on wet techniques, produced gradations and combined them with stencils and acrylics. The accent was on exploration; looking closely at the way colour and waterbased paints behave, and at colour for its own sake.

We closed with an experiment from Alex's notebooks, looking at the effect of water on felt pen inks and coffee filter paper..a nice way to conclude.
We were really pleased with Year Four's response, and with the way they carried on working during the change-over periods...after our colour wheel work there were some lovely personal departures into other colour combinations that combine serious intent with a delight in the space in which to experiment.

We have plans to develop this work further, to apply what has been learnt to a study of the natural world, with what Ellie Chaney has shown us about the work of Anna Maria Truter  (aka Lady Barrow) as the spring board.

These few days and the sessions led by Lexi and Dominic- and the work at the Coro with Croftlands Juniors- are a reminder of the value of building sustained relationships between artists and schools.
We get to know each other a little: we, the children and Mr Emms  have had interesting conversations around the work in hand, we looked at a battered old 70's lp cover whose design resembles their own work from the day before..(gasps of recognition..) and in the time between sessions we heard about the way art and creativity impact on the children's lives out of school... this lad paints with his Gran and so he knows about working from light-to dark in watercolour. This girl goes home and draws her own colour wheel with her coloured pencils. This boy loves LS Lowry, this one is interested in stencils and graffiti; this girl's Dad is a sign writer, she knows the difference between water colour and acrylic and wants to know if our experiments will work with them.
They ask when did we start learning this stuff and where? How do you get to do this as a job?

And we have a laugh; we remember the pleasure that can be taken in serious work, and in the moment when you clear up the newspaper and palettes and have a look at what you've made.

Monday, 2 July 2018


Alex's 'obby 'oss continues to acquire substance and exudes a weird authority.
These fine photos from Lindsay Ward catch the skull after receiving a few layers of Worbla, a  modelling material made up of wood dust and glue in sheet form. You heat it, and mould it around a template or armature.

Sat alongside Alex's masks, with the sunlight creeping through the cottage windows, and caught under the low ceilings, the skull has the look of something unearthed, awaiting notice of its purpose.

See more of Lindsay's images here..

The cottage is rarely quiet, even at night.  Traffic constantly rolls by, but every now and then a hidden mic can pick up the cottages own voice...a creak, a rumble or the movement of some tiny occupant. I played these and a few recordings of Ulverston after-hours through a vibration speaker on the cottage writing desk.

Our visitors again included photographer
Dennis Metcalfe, who wrote some kind words on social media and supplied some more photos..this has helped to introduce our work to a lot of people, and we'll be including their comments here, so thank you Dennis.

Called in The John Barrow Cottage this morning to find John Kenneth Hall left and Alex Blackmore beavering away at the table, the bright sunlight slightly spoils the photo, managed to persuade them to pose in another room next to one of Alex's creations, took one photo with the light on which shows the reflection of the window on the wall. It's fantastic to see the cottage being put to good use at last, and though only small really is worth visiting as there's a lot of material and information about John Barrow there, besides the fact that it's a really interesting building

This is Dennis' photo on the left. Other visitors included Human Organist and Blast Furnace member Neil Wade , and our Dragley Beck neighbour Estelle who kindly brought us a  cold jug of cordial, as the day was so hot.
Thank you Estelle, that was just the job.