Mythical Rothwell

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The images that you see here are inspired by the local history of Rothwell, as told to me by local Rodwellians. They are taken on film, using a 1930s vintage camera.

The three themes of boar, dolphin and whale are to be found in some of the images – they are used as symbols or gateways into a more mythic or magical sense of the past. They are both remains and signposts into a history that is almost forgotten and that is richer and more colourful than many currently imagine.

“John O’Gaunt’s jack” is referred to in the abandoned jacket found hanging in a tree on the site of his old hunting lodge or ‘castle’ (- also where Rose Pit once stood, when Rothwell was a mining town). All that is left of that castle is a stoop, which is depicted in a late winter sunset.

The apple tree grows in an old orchard immediately opposite Trinity Church (also featured in a double-exposed image) – it too is in the grounds of the disappeared castle, and the fruits may well be from ancient stock.

The Dolphin is the name of the beck that runs through the pastures where once Rothwell had its famous millpond. (I have traced its source in two of the images, to an industrial park near Middleton – there is a pool and a container above it.) It was on these waters that the conurbation’s wealth was centred: the millpond enabled the village to mill its own corn, grown in the surrounding highly fertile fields (as it witnessed by today’s thriving rhubarb industry), and sell this value-added product at a profit.

In fact, at the time of the Domesday Book, Rothwell (or ‘Rode-well’ – named after its springs) was richer than its inconsequential neighbour, Leeds. It had Anglo-Saxon longhouses and was self-governing. As the Normans took over, lands around Rothwell were given away in favour to noblemen and later to the monasteries (Nostell Priory lies close-by to the South); slowly, Rothwell’s sense of itself as a proud centre of independent wealth and autonomy faded away. In recent, industrialised times both Leeds and Wakefield have claimed top position and siphoned the workforce from Rothwell, even if replaced by incoming mining families from the Midlands and Wales.

Several of the pictures explore this sense of water being at the root of Rothwell’s very existence as a town, and as a symbol of ongoing history and memory – they say that water never disappears, it just changes form. Today the natural spring water has been channeled down sluices, pipes and run-throughs. In draining the millpond a couple of decades ago, did the town lose an essential link to and reminder of its source and history?

Finally, there are a couple of pictures of people who I met in the pastures while photographing. These too are double-exposed images, which means that two photographs have been taken one after the other on the same bit of film. It is done in camera, not in Photoshop afterwards.

The whale of course is visible in the jawbones image, also double exposed to highlight its otherworldly presence at the site of the Leeds-Wakefield road junction with Rothwell.


Prints Available

  • Archival pigment prints: 35cm x 35cm, edition of 5 with 1 AP
  • C-type prints: 70cm x 70cm, edition of 20

Made from digital scans of medium format film negatives, taken with a 1937 Zeiss Ikon camera



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