Can You Find Lost Words of the Washerwomen of Glasgow Green?
If you walk along Glasgow Green this week, from Doulton Fountain towards Templeton, then you will (weather-permitting) notice a long-lost sight – white sheets flapping lazily in the wind, pegged to string and hanging from poles which are always there, but scarcely used.
However, centuries before the opposite could have been true. The washerwomen of Glasgow Green spent their lives here, watching history unfold, gossiping amongst themselves, and telling stories that they probably never imagined would one day be stitched into the muslin they tended so carefully in the very spot they’d first told them.
Local artist Penny Anderson, armed with a sewing machine, expert embroidery skills and a little help from Creative Scotland, has brought the detail of tiny stitched words to the big scale. ‘The women here saw all the tumultuous events that took place. Nobody asked them, and nobody cared, but they witnessed the Templeton fire, the aftermath of the weavers massacre, the suffragette movement. I didn’t just look for big events, though. Even simple things like salmon fishing and saw grinding would make their mark on the story of the women’.
She has told stories real, imagined, and even those which have made the leap into legend. A sheet is dedicated to Pretty Clem, the supporter of Bonnie Prince Charlie who would have washed clothes for the revolution. Another is woven with the memories of Margaret Connor, a local woman who told Penny about keeping an eagle eye on the washing during World War Two, for fear of it being stolen and costing too many coupons to replace. She also recalled the beautiful smell of fresh washing brought back to the tenements, and the lasting impression it made.
Penny will be keeping watch over her own sheets until Monday 29th August, and hoping for more stories of the Glasgow washerwomen to come to her. ‘It’s really lovely to talk to people, and they’re really interacting with it. They say things like “Oh, I remember my grandma doing the washing here”, or some even remember it themselves. It stopped in the seventies, but people still have memories. My great grandma lived in the Gorbals so she would have walked right by it. I love putting my work where people can see it, and engage with it’
You can find out more about the installation here, and see the work for yourself at Glasgow Green. Don’t forget your washerwomen’s tales!