Restoring our Local Stories

Since we first started out, promotion of the Arts in the wider community has been at the very heart of Settle Stories own 'story'. Which is why our recent award of £49,900 of Heritage Lottery Funding will make such a fantastic difference to the way in which we can restore local stories, local (hi)stories, to the forefront of our imaginations where they have always belonged. Stories, even 'old' stories, are living entities, they often burn within us because they are a part of who and what we are, even when we don't hear their whispers. When Charlotte Brontë wrote of resurrecting ghosts of memory in her novel, The Professor, she knew that to ignore their voices was to leave these revenants to be 'absorbed in mould, recalled to urns, resealed in monuments'. We ignore Charlotte's intuition at our peril.

Local languages, dialects, connect us directly with our ancestors, but they also form a part of our own discourse. If certain of our words and expressions are not directly attributable to old dialects, they may yet declare the resonance of a former life in sound pattern or timbre. Like Latin in modern English, such words are present even though they go largely unnoticed.

Because we rarely hear it spoken we often think of the Craven dialect as dead, but to do so distances us from a treasure trove of stories, of ways of seeing, even of what it meant to live in our corner of Yorkshire at the time of our forebears. Language tells us about the context, the circumstances of existence of people of earlier generations, and in so doing restores them to life.

One particular of these 'ghosts' is the farmer and dialect poet Tom Twisleton who lived in, and wrote about, the Dales, and spent many years describing, in written form, the lives of Craven people whilst preserving the vernacular of those lives for posterity. A look now at Twisleton's life's work - Poems in the Craven Dialect - still yields expressions and cadences which wouldn't sound out of place in a Settle pub, and although most of the dialect has disappeared, it is heartening to reflect upon the sense of historical continuity.

Tom was born in September, 1845 and spent much his life farming at Winskill, above Langcliffe. During his lifetime he became a leading regional poet of dialect verse and gave 'penny readings' of his work throughout Yorkshire and Lancashire. He was also a committed supporter of the then prominent Temperance movement and it is instructive to note the number of poems in his volume which gently chide the 'perils' of drunkenness by painting vivid, and witty, pictures of alehouse antics.

A legend in his own lifetime, the farmer poet died in 1917 and in this centenary year Settle Stories will be commemorating that life with an exciting array of projects, funded by the Heritage Lottery award Young Roots Programme. In conjunction with our friends at the Museum of North Craven Life, the various projects will be devised, led and organised by young people across the Craven area under the direction of Settle Stories. Alongside yielding an invaluable opportunity to connect, in a direct way, with their own pasts, the Tom Twisleton 100 programme will enable young people to exercise and develop their own researching, archiving, curating, presentation and promotional skills, in the creation of a lasting and durable memorial to the poet, and by association, to their own collective heritage.

Settle Stories have appointed Hazel Richardson as Heritage Project Officer with overall responsibility for supervision of the programme, and we (and she!) are expecting an enjoyably hectic 2017. I caught up with her recently to establish what exactly the project will mean both for participants, and audiences:

Q.  Hi Hazel, and thank you for taking the time to talk to us. First of all, can you tell us a little about your own background in the Arts and education. How important is it for Settle Stories to promote and encourage an appreciation of our literary heritage in schools and youth groups ?

A.  I taught in Further Education for many years.  My subjects were English, literacy and English for Speakers of other languages (ESOL). My interest led me to take a Masters in Linguistics, where I could indulge my own love of the beauty and variety of language.  I still dip into education myself, taking Open University courses in Creative Writing.  So i’m familiar with the joy of finding a way of expressing one's feelings and emotions through prose and poetry, as not only have I encouraged that throughout my teaching career in others, but also pursued it through my own interests.

Settle Stories aims to help young people to develop their creativity in a number of ways. The learning programme in schools is already established in the area; the future Summer School will extend the opportunities we offer young people.  One of the mission statements of Settle Stories is to increase access to Yorkshire stories and heritage.  The Tom Twisleton project is an exciting opportunity to bring these two aims together, helping young people to find out more about their local heritage, whilst developing their own creative skills.  

Q.  2017 promises to be an exciting year in our calendar with several events running concurrently.  Has work on the Tom Twisleton 100 programme already begun ?

A.  Yes it has!  My post commenced in December. The steering group for the project meets next week and one of our valued young volunteers will be in that group, so I have to be prepared for some detailed questioning!  We are planning a launch party, to which we will invite those who may be interested in either participating in the project or are working with youth clubs or other youth groups in the area. We have several brilliant workshops planned over the next few months. These will include interviewing skills, public speaking, creative writing and research skills, all offered in a fun, light-hearted way. Young writers will also be offered one-to-one mentoring. We are delighted to be working with The Folly and Settle Sessions, as well as other professionals, to provide all who take part in the project with the best training and support we can give. We are also pleased to be working with John Twisleton, a descendant of the poet, who is offering his support.

Regular meetings will be held in Settle on Mondays and Thursdays from March onwards, for young people to drop in and participate in the areas of the project which interest them.  

Q.  The commemorative aspects of the Twisleton project are obviously key to its success as a popular venture, but the aim, thrust and direction of the project must necessarily be mindful of our Heritage Lottery funding, which will play such a significant role in facilitating an enduring outcome. What does the Lottery's 'Young Roots' dynamic mean in terms of getting young people actively involved in such a stimulating experience ?

A.  In Yorkshire, we are proud of our heritage, but there are only about 350 Craven dialect speakers left and it would be a tragedy if this rich language were to be forgotten. The Young Roots funding gives young people a chance to plan and deliver their own heritage project. They are in the driving seat and are encouraged not only to celebrate their achievements but, just as importantly, to share what they have learned about local heritage with the wider community. There will be a lasting legacy in the sense that young people will have learned more about the dialect and the lives of people from many years ago, how the landscape was farmed, and how the area looked in those times. The recordings of the interviews with Craven dialect speakers will ensure that the language lives on in digital form in our podcasts, as well as in conventional written texts.

Q.  Aside from helping to develop their own creative skills, what will young participants take from their own interpretation of local history, and the language in which that history was communicated ?

A.  They will hopefully have a much greater understanding of how life used to be here, how much has changed, and how much remains the same. Although Tom died 100 years ago, the issues reflected upon in the poems – chatting up members of the opposite sex, going for picnics, a day out at the fair, getting drunk, arguing with your brother, wanting to protect the landscape, wondering  how industry will change lives – resonate with people’s lives today. This work will also give them an insight into the study of language which may help to inspire them in their existing studies, as well as in future ones. It will certainly help them to create a good CV!

I would hope that the new skills they develop in organising a touring exhibition, or planning the celebration weekend at the end of November, will be useful in their future careers. All participants have an opportunity to gain an Arts Award and have a lot of fun along the way!

Q.  And finally, Hazel, can you give us a flavour of what our audience, the public, may expect from the culmination of this year's hard work ? Can we look forward to general exhibitions of the Tom Twisleton 100 project, alongside ongoing audio-visual archiving and media involvement ?

A.  There will be an exhibition in the Folly during the autumn, which will be designed by our project participants. The exhibition will subsequently tour the Craven district through libraries and other community centres. Young writers may have the chance to share their poems at a meeting of Settle Sessions in November, held in the Folly.  There will be talks, podcasts and a Heritage Trail. There’s also going to be a wonderful book aimed at all ages, due to be published in time for the Tom Twisleton Celebration Weekend on November 25th and 26th. If there are any young musicians in the area who would like to join the project, we would welcome a musical offering !

Descendants of the poet from all over the world are hoping to join us to celebrate this local lad from Settle. Tom Twisleton wrote poems full of fun and rich language; he captured a particular time in history and now local young people have an opportunity to share that rich heritage with the whole community.

We hope readers will join us for the Launch Party of the Tom Twisleton 100 project. Find out more, click here