Angela Wright graduated from London College of Fashion in the eighties and went to work for Liberty’s of London. She has since worked on art installations after doing a degree at Camberwell College of Art, London from 1992 to 1995. Mainly working with textiles, the latest instalment of Wright’s work is a giant 75kg collection of suspended 3ply wool threads.
The wool came from Bingley, near to the heart of the British wool industry, in Bradford. The Wool Marketing Board still auctions all British wool from its headquarters in Bradford, which was once a world centre for textiles and the wool trade.
“189 miles: Wool Installation” has been produced with the support of the National Lottery through Arts Council England and will be shown for the first time outside of London.
The art installation will be preceded by a talk at the Cathedral. The former Master of the Worshipful Company of Woolmen, Elizabeth Peacock, will give a presentation on the history of the wool trade on Friday 21st May 2010, at 7.30pm.
Mrs Peacock, who is a former Conservative MP for Batley & Spen, took the time to speak to The Global Herald about her career in politics and the wool industry.
Mrs Peacock has lived in the West Riding for 48 of the last 60 years. She attended St Monica’s convent school in Skipton, which is no longer open. She gave up work to care for her children and then became involved in charity work. This led to helping with a by-election in Cheshire and appointment as a magistrate in 1975.
After winning a national award from the Business and Professional Women’s Organisation, Mrs Peacock went on to speak at the UN Food and Agricultural meeting in Rome. She continued to speak at events and write articles following the award, eventually being asked to stand for Cheshire county council in 1978 at the May election. She said “Yes” but withdrew after her husband was head hunted for a job in Yorkshire and the family moved away.
The experience had set a spark and Mrs Peacock got involved in local politics, council voluntary service in York and became a County Councillor. The former MP delayed her foray into politics as, she says, “it is not good with younger children. It takes you away a lot”. She waited until the youngest child was just under 16 and the eldest had left for Oxford. Eventually, she was advised that to wait any longer might make her “too old” to make a start in Parliament. She then stood for Parliament in the ward of Batley & Spen.
In the House of Commons, Mrs Peacock had a lot to do with the textiles industry, chairing the All Party Textiles Group for eight years. She also set up meetings between ministers, the textiles industry and Yorkshire water who had not all previously seen eye to eye.
She later joined the Worshipful Company of Woolmen as a liverymen. The guild is exceptionally old, dating back to 1180. Originally, wool merchants in City of London formed guilds and to set trade standards and regulate prices. The wool guild was especially important as taxes on wool were lucrative, allowing successive monarchs to fund lavish projects such as London Bridge. The Lord Chancellor used to sit in the House of Lords on a woolsack, representing the wealth it brought to Britain.
The guild has a lot of tradition but is also involved in raising money to support students studying wool technology and gives out prizes for sheep shearing. The Company engraves medals which are given out at the Royal Ulster Show, the Royal Highland Show, The Great Yorkshire Show and the Royal Welsh Show. Winners are presented with cheques, whilst runners up get training vouchers for sheep shearing courses a the British Wool Marketing Board in Huddersfield and elsewhere. The guild spends about £25,000 per year on such activities.
HRH the Princess Royal was the first female liverymen and the first lady master. There have been eight female liverymen and Mrs Peacock said “It’s been a great honour. I devoted a year of my life to it”.
Mrs Peacock admitted that the wool industry had declined over the years but pointed out that the survivors are the most innovative. Not many contemporary producers are “vertically integrated, where fleeces come in at one end and carpet goes out at the other. There is one such firm in Huddersfield. they’re working hard to keep going.” Many other wool merchants are maintaining themselves through diversification. Mrs Peacock has seen woollen coffins, woollen insulation and even woollen slug pellets, which are apparently “great for protecting hostas”.
Elizabeth Peacock will present a talk on the past present and future of wool at Bradford Cathedral on Friday 21st May 2010. “189 Miles: Wool Installation” by Angela Wright will be shown in the Cathedral Artspace the following day. Entry is free, donations to the Cathedral are gratefully received.