The last Home of Holgate

It’s hard to think that in twenty-first century England there are still places which can be considered to be truly remote, when for many of us it may seem such a small and over populated island. But once you venture beyond the main dales roads of the Pennines into the deep folds and hollows that make up its vast hinterland of fell and moorland you can still find abandoned cottages and farmsteads where the changing world, with all its economic pressures, has made it impossible to scrape out a living within this harsh environment. Holgate is one such place, what was once a busy little hamlet is now a collections of broken barns and houses left to the mercy of the elements.

Locked Door

The Locked Door. Fomapan 100 5×4 90mm Angulon lens, Salt Print.

The settlement of Holgate like many others in the dales was always a community on the edge. It existed within a marginal environment and to make a living the farmers had to scratch their fields and pastures from the moorland around them. This practice of enclosing and improving parts of the open fell was known as Intaking and it was the endeavour and hard work of farmers and labourers of Holgate and similar upland farmers that kept the wilderness beyond their dry stone walls at bay. But this was a working community and the farmers were supported by a host of professional people. Records from 1841 show that 26 people called this little hamlet their home including a schoolmaster,  shoemaker, mason, labourers and a dressmaker. Holgate together with Helwith and Kersey Green made up the New Forest township in the parish of Kirkby Ravensworth and in 1822 the parish records state that there were 67 people living within the 2,000 acres of common land and moorland, now only 10 people live and work in the whole area and Holgate itself is completely abandoned.

Broken glass

Broken Pane, Fomapan 100 120 6×9. Salt Print.

When you visit this lonely place in its advanced state of decay it’s hard to believe that it has been less than 25 years since the last resident locked their door and said farewell. It hasn’t taken long for nature to take its toll on the building. As you peer through open doorways and windows, as we did back in April, you can still see the remains of home comforts, a few sticks of old furniture, the fire places and kitchen stoves. The last house to be inhabited was Holgate house itself, built in 1741 the initials of its first owner the wealthy yeoman Leonard E. Spenceley are still proudly carved into the lintel above the front door, and until the 1990’s it was still a working farm. But now the roof slates have fallen rain water has seeped in and brought down ceilings. Moth-eaten curtains now hang in tatters from broken window panes, and soon it will be impossible for anyone to gain shelter in what was obviously once a grand little house.

The last Home

The Last Home. Fomapan 100 5×4, 90mm Angulon lens. Salt Print.

It was fascinating to visit and explore Holgate and soak up the gothic atmosphere of the decay, but always in the back our minds was the thought that this was once someone’s home. These places are time capsules showing us a glimpse of the past. But who knows how long they will remain until the elements finish the work they have started and reduce them to a pile of stone foundations.

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A Journey into Mirkwood

mirkwood stream

It wasn’t until late March that I finally got the chance to finish the double exposures which began life on my makeshift kitchen table studio. By then the late winter darkness had started to open up to the beginnings of spring and a weak sun shone through the bare branches of my chosen location. I had nicknamed this place Mirkwood (the title I also gave to one of my Stag Skull pictures that began this series of work), not only as a nod to the dark woods of  J R Tolkien’s Middle Earth, but also to William Morris’s anglicised term for Myrkviðr the mythical black forest of Norse poetry. It’s a strange, sombre kind of place, tucked deep into the side of the dale and divided by a clattering moorland beck, while the high sided fells cut out most of the sun light. The ground has always been damp when I’ve visited, centuries of fallen leaves have turned the woodland floor into a marsh which sucks at your boots. The little direct daylight and the sodden ground has forced the trees to grow gnarled and twisted, hung with lichen and scarred by past winters, their knotted boughs creaking in the gentle breeze. The wood has proved inspiration for a number of my pictures and I never tire of the myriad of shapes the branches form, every corner provides something new, it really is a place that envelops you and takes you out of modern world.

As with the other pictures in the Dain Series I had taken multiple exposures in the studio to experiment with in the wood. So armed with four pre exposed film holders I spent the afternoon exploring the different contorted shapes of the ancient trees while all the time surrounded by the sounds of running water and early spring bird song.  Hunting around the wood it didn’t take me long to find some possible backgrounds to compliment my fox, but one of the things I love most about this double exposure method is that no matter how much I try to envisage what my final picture will look like, it is not until the film is finally developed when I really know what I’ve managed to accomplish. But thankfully once again Mirkwood did not let me down and one of the negative compositions turned out just how I hoped.

Fox Wood Blog

Fox Wood. Fompan 100 5×4 sheet film. Double Exposed in Camera and then developed with Tanol 1-1-100, printed with Foma Liquid Silver Emulsion.

 

New Paths

In my last post I spoke about the new Gallerina HQ opening it’s doors to the public and how I had pushed myself to create some new work for this special occasion. Well so far the response from the public for my latest pictures has been tremendous, it’s been so great it has inspired me to expirement more and see where it takes me.

One of the most daunting aspects of these multiple exposure pictures is choosing to work in a studio (as you can see it’s a very make shift one on my kitchen table) for the first time in a decade. It’s been a long time since I had to deal with the complications of lighting and I’d almost completely forgotten anything about compensating for extra bellows expansion or the dread Reciprocity Failure. The memories of my student days, and the boxes of beautiful Polaroid film I would waste, send shivers down my spine, trying to get my lighting and exposure right, it would cost me a fortune now!

But as an artist we should challenge ourselves, it can be so easy to stick to what you know, to follow the well worn path that you have created for yourself, mostly because it feels safe. Any artistic process involves putting a certain amount of your own emotions and personality into your creation, so there is always an irrational fear of it failing and being criticized, and you with it. But these fears are irrational, artistic expression will always be open to interpretation and we should fight against being stuck in that rut! Because that is often when we achieve something we are really proud of! Oh and I still haven’t remembered how to compensate for bellows expansion and Reciprocity Failure and I’m not sure I ever did, I think I may have always been working on intuition..