Monday, 1 April 2019


We had a visit last week from the Year 1 children of St Mary's at Dalton, who have been learning about Sir John this term. Dan gave the children a tour if the cottage and the garden, and they all did some great work in their new sketchbooks. Ellie Chaney dropped in with a copy of her book, which has lots of information about Sir John's wife the artist Ann Truter.

After a snack-break and a look at Ellie's work on the cottage walls each of the children wrote and drew a postcard describing their visit, before setting off for the Sir John Barrow Monument .
A really nice morning, see you all again, we hope.

Monday, 21 January 2019


We are winding down at the end of a successful first project at the Sir John Barrow Cottage, and already talking to supporters, schools and artists in order to plan the next.  So, here are some updates, and some comments from audiences, participants and supporters, leading with a review of Ellie's book from "Ulverston Now"...

‘Unique’ is an overused word, yet this individual work is like no other recently published local book. Although it is described as ‘An exploration of the stories and wildlife from Sir John Barrow cottage to the Irish Sea’, it is far from being a dry guide book.

Talented artist Ellie Chaney has over time closely observed wildlife in Dragley Beck, and produced striking illustrations of some its fauna, from microscopic protozoa to the grey heron. However, this is more than a collection of artwork, since Ellie brings together different historical and current strands to create a satisfying whole.

While Sir John Barrow sent expeditions to the far ends of the earth, she demonstrates that there is still so much to explore and discover on a smaller scale closer to home. Similarly, just as the vast frozen polar expanses probed by Sir John Barrow’s explorers are threatened now by climate change, she warns how much of the wildlife in our own little ecosystem is put at risk by our activities, from dredging to using insecticides.

She was also inspired by the often overlooked life of Sir John Barrow’s wife, Anna Maria nee Truter, born in South Africa and a painter of landscapes and flowers, and by the botanic illustrator Anna Atkins, born in 1799. Anna Atkins, regarded as the earliest woman photographer, used cyanotype images to illustrate a monumental ‘Manual of British Algae’. Cyanotype images are always blue, and this has informed the beautiful artwork of a book which deserves a nationwide audience

Clearly, there are still great results coming in. The Oss will walk again,and 
In May we will feature in Radiophrenia the Glasgow based international Radio arts festival with  
"Oss Night ; Short Rising," a 30 minute exploration of the night hours, the currents running through the Oss Ritual and other forays into the cold and dark.
We  are really pleased to be included in Radiophrenia,so listen out for the finished version.

Running down this page is the storyboard for the Oss Night is the animated version.

Thank you to everyone who took part in SJB3, to Green Lane Archaeology and our many valued supporters, to the venues we have worked in and the people and organisations who have met us for the first time, liked what they found and kept in touch. And to the young people we have worked with, Thank you for your skill, imagination, energy and enthusiasm. 
Here are a few comments..

I dont know what this is, but I wish

there was more of it. It's brilliant. 
Oss Night attendee

Was it performance art, mischief, 
Tradition in the making or had I inadvertently walked into an unusual annual ritual??? Possibly all of the above. A creation drawing from Tradition and ritual brought mystery and unreality an enormous ‘Oss, a cymbal for a symbol, a ritual involving some of the bemused audience. What was it? Still thinking and hoping it shows up again next year or who knows what might happen.
Online Oss Night observer.

I have been involved with John Hall on a number of projects over the years and have always enjoyed John’s ability to educate me on a variety of art forms.

I attended another of John’s community events in late December 2018, called “Oss night – short rising”.  It was a well-attended event particularly considering it was a cold, dark and wet winter evening.

For this event to be successful it required; forward planning, music, material construction of a 15 feet tall “oss”, dance, (cavorting by the Oss), community involvement and film.   The event was a great success because John Hall managed to obtain all the ingredients while at the same time providing the local community with an evening of good clean fun, enjoyed by children and adults alike!
Oss Night attendee

From workshop attendees and visitors to open door sessions..

"Had a wonderful couple of hours learning to use lino cutting tools & prInting the results.Ellie and John were so helpful, patient and made me feel that I could really achieve something. 
Such good fun and would definitely recommend coming down & experiencing their workshops. Looking forward to the next one."

"Lovely relaxing afternoon. Great to be given space to get back into drawing with no pressure."

"A very enjoyable time spent observing in the garden. Very tranquil."
"Fascinating. Definately taught me to look at plants in more detail."

Called in The John Barrow Cottage this morning to find John Kenneth Hall  and Alex Blackmore beavering away at the
table... managed to persuade them to pose in another room next to one of Alex's creations, It's fantastic to see the cottage being put to good use at last,

Wonderful atmosphere and a real treasure trove of things...

Just a passing idea to visit today and so glad I did... just not what I expected, much much more.

Excellent project...a great resource for the town,

From our schools projects....
"This is a lovely reminder of a project with Year 3 pupils in Ulverston back in the summer. It culminated in them telling stories to a packed Supper Room in the Coronation Hall. fab experience for the young tellers and a lovely addition to the festival!

 it was a lovely project and a real pleasure.

 As i said, I’d love to work further with the children and be involved in  second phase. Great idea." Dominic Kelly Commissioned Performance Storyteller.

Brilliant project and proud that Furness Traditions could be a small part of it.
Gordon Jones,Furness Traditions Festival

"The children learnt several new skills which they would otherwise not have experienced.

The activities were suitable for all children and no one was left behind or found they were struggling to keep up.
There was no part of the project that the children did not enjoy. All were actively engaged and wanted to learn. I could not ask for more really. 
School Staff, Sir John Barrow School

..Thank you for your kind words and for your time – the kids LOVED doing art and as we said at the end of the week, it was brilliant to see them being given the freedom to express who they are and enjoy what they do.
Hopefully there’ll be another project as both of you have been welcomed into the SJB family and I know that staff and pupils would love to work with you both again.
School Staff, Sir John Barrow School

Just to say how much i enjoyed seeing the cottage today and I thought the video (Oss Night) was great,
Keep up the excellent work that you do  SLDC Councillor

The project gets better and better....Thank you for all that you do .. 
SLDC Councillor

And some responses from readers of “Tiny Voyages Of Discovery”

Each of us has our own way of getting our nature conservation message across to others -  be it delivering power point presentations, giving a community talk or leading a guided walk. 

Ellie Chaney has chosen to convey her nature conservation message through a fabric of women, research, art and story, in the publication of a simply beautiful book called; “Tiny Voyages of Discovery”.

I love how Ellie chose a small river next to her office (Sir John Barrow’s birthplace) in which to undertake her research as it is an area that many locals will know first-hand and therefore gain more enjoyment from reading such a book.

Ellie’s book, is a joy to read and the drawings are brilliant!

I find myself wishing that my simple guided walks or talks could have as much positive impact on my clients has Ellie’s book has had on me! 

What a delightful and inspiring book! I was particularly chuffed by the early encounter with a caddis fly. ‘

an outstanding little book’

Just to say many thanks for the book, it arrived over the weekend and is a lovely illustration and story of the beck. I’ve passed it round the office and they all think it is fantastic too. So much so that Kath who works on our Coniston and Crake project, said that if you were interested there may be some opportunities as part of that project. (Jayne Wilkinson, South Cumbria RiversTrust)

Friday, 21 December 2018

OSS NIGHT : SHORT RISING / "Who knows what is going on in the past?"

1 Where are we?

December 19 2018. Publicised with surreptitious fliers and a last minute Short Notice, the Short Ritual and its participants muster in a light drizzle under the Christmas lights.
At 6.10 the oss raises its head and launches itself into the available space of the season.

Throughout the year whether suspended from the workshop beams and caught in the sunlight under the low cottage ceilings, the skull has aquired the look of something unearthed, awaiting notice of its 

12 feet plus of occupied hollow, A Tower of muslin, backpack, poles and modelling material, the oss soon attracts a crowd. Others are drawn out from the pubs by outriders. 

A harmonica, caught in the same wind that caused the  oss to sway, makes the pace and calls the Human Organs Pipe band to order at 6.30 with a tune that has made its own slow progress from Derbyshire, via Staffordshire, the East Coast and the West Riding to Ulverston.

2 Who knows what is going on in the past?

I mean, the oss. What is the oss? 
Those hollow eyesockets, full of animating shadows waiting to be read.
Stare them down, and you find familiar undirected energies and well- seasoned imaginations at work.

Rituals. Routines. Manners and amusements..stuff we do because we do it, and because we always have. But why do it at all? Why do it that first time, on a spring day or a winter evening? In a white shift or a mask?

Countless Demeters have loosed their cargo on the shores of our imaginations in recent years . Fears of the Other, traceable back to the Eisenhower years side with techno savvy folk devils of northern Europe and Japan.

Hallowe'en is infused with suburban dread; the glint of metal under streetlights,neighborhoods under lockdown, houses not quite big enough to hide in.

These are just the ripples on the surface of a deeper, shared vocabulary; a dark pool of imagery to draw from in order to confront and deflect fear. For all their current prominence, cinema, tv and netflix are newcomers.

What floats on the surface is only the most recent manifestation of what occupies the depths. The calendar cant contain this stuff; it shows up when it is ready. 

Tradition is habit and routine in costume. It grows in the cracks. Gangs, groups, working units all build their own mythology from the mundanities of their downtime; confirming and reinforcing their identity. Significance is visited on the inconsequential details of the journey between explosions of expression and activity.
When the time for such explosions is long gone they provide a link between the past and the present.

Anyway. The 'Oss.. Just last week, unannounced, while Storm Diana drew its breath after midnight, the 'Oss went walking.

Passing the library, it was accused of dogging, and drew an apology from a couple in a car.
Down New Market street the oss was met by a rising shield of iphone screens. Slowed down and shared east, it was seen in Poland before it swung into Market Cross.

The pubs were shaking off the last drinkers after the folk session; the songs and stories tailing off as the oss approached. It bowed and they patted its muzzle and wished it well.
The Stretton 'oss song isn't very old. Its blend of
 English Dance tunes and comic absurdity place it at mid 20th Century. Outside its native Derbyshire the song has showed up in North Yorkshire,South Yorkshire, and Staffordshire. In Cumbria it's ghoulish implications echo local legends of bestiaries, circus parades and elephant burials on Quaker land. 
In the 21st Century ,sans lyric and miles apart a Notts Folk fiddler doubles up on guitar and reinstates its charm...

The lyric – where it is used - is absurd. In other branches of its family the oss may be a memento mori, or a screaming street drunkard, or a vessel for a generalised rebirth clad in overtones of mischief. In the Stretton song it is malevolent; it is a killer.

This brutal version comes from an audience tape made in Scarborough in the 80's.


It's menace is belied by the cartoonish appearance of the Ostler and the players. In Derbyshire their heads – as distinct from masks - take on the primary school colours and dauby 
aesthetic of the mischievous oss, their fixed stare equally dumb or maniacal.

Where is St George?”
Not here.

There is none of the sunshine and fresh enamel that light up Mayday; no dazzle of crisp white shirts and no red ribbons dancing in and out of summer shadows. The oss cavorts in the bounceback of whitelight from the wet pavements. His bleached fabric billows like a ghost ship sail against a winter sky.

Where May Day rites call for the oss to parade and charge with energy and gusto , here his stage is contained. His progress is slow; his revels are the stamping feet and frosty breath of cold rnornings and colder nights. Rather than rebirth there is a sense of  a challenge ; if these sticks can stir, then why not yours? 

3. Where were we?

Tonight the roads are busy. Traffic passes around and behind the oss, supermarket staff on breaks watch from ginnels, works do's spill downhill from the railway station, the oss is a meander to be negotiated.

Children join in at the Ostler's invitation. Cymbals clash and roll true. He delivers his headmasterly final address and then the tune begins again.
Ritual is an act of affirmation: nether celebration or commemoration. Just a reminder that we are still here and that we know what it is that has kept us here.

Thanked by the Ostler – who has accompanied the Oss on his journey into town, and will see him home - the crowd inspect the oss, and festoon him. As he turns to leave, a hollowed, glowing onion bounces against his skirt.

Large Photos: Lindsay Ward Photography

"What benefit can historians derive from the study of invented tradition? First and foremost, it may be suggested that they are important
symptoms and therefore indicators of problems which might not
otherwise be recognized, and developments which are otherwise
difficult to identify and to date. They are evidence."
Eric Hobsbawm, "The Invention Of Tradition", Hobsbawm/Ranger

"It appears that the need to define one's community as valid -- by reference to an historic past -- is most acute when that community is only just established or is in decline."
Judy Koren, Amazon review of Hobsbawm/Ranger

  Alistair Anderson - attrib on reliable authority- "you've no traditions? Make some up"

Tuesday, 11 December 2018


More from the launch morning of "Tiny Voyages of Discovery" at Ulverston Library and the afternoon at the Cottage.

Photos by Lindsay Ward Photography 
After such a successful morning it was good to have more visitors at the Cottage to show them the book and also give then a whiff of the Oss's  clammy breath.  We set up a projector in the attic and showed the video from the thursday Oss Night and talked a little about its provenance and future appearances, and the roots of Ellies' book and Alex's Oss in Sir John Barrow's fascination with the Manners And Amusements of the people he encountered.
On the walls of the cottage are prints from Ellie's book, and Lex Blakeways' interpretation of Ann Marie Truter's work. We'll be opening the cottage again in the spring, and if you haven't yet you'll be able to see the work for yourself.
In the meantime, we are scattered around the town..Ellies book is available at Suttons Bookshop and The Tinners' Rabbit Framers,and at Ellie's Etsy site.
And the Oss will rise and walk  again soon. Watch the usual spaces. 

Sunday, 9 December 2018


A quickly assembled thank you to all who came to the launch of "Tiny Voyages Of Discovery"  and to Hannah and colleagues at Ulverston library for letting us in. Here are a couple of pics of early customers...frankly, copies flew off the table. Proper Black Friday stuff.

More (and better) pictures from Lindsay Ward to come, documenting the morning and our afternoon sesh at the cottage.

Meanwhile, the book is on sale at Suttons' Bookshop and the Tinners Rabbit in Ulverston,and will be soon available online at Ellie's Etsy page.

All proceeds will help to support the next project,which is currently in development with SJB school
and  a number of excellent artists..fingers crossed.

 Thanks from all concerned, and to Ellie for a marvellous piece of work.

Monday, 3 December 2018


The night was dark, and the moon was yellow and even Storm Diana had taken an hour off for Oss Night.

The Oss took to the streets at midnight,  testing its staggerlurch and sway under the Christmas lights.

The pubs were chucking out. A folk gig at the Coronation Hall had  nourished eyes and ears; the Oss was the port and stilton. Elsewhere, teenage Eurohoppers loitered in doorways and looked up to find themselves beneath the looming Oss: Clickclickclickpost.

The Oss toured the slumbering town, moving past upstairs windows, casting crisp shadows and measuring out its ground.

Its' time is coming.

Video here. Stills by Lindsay Ward.