In June, I was on the ‘Finding Samuel Morley Photography Project’ based at Backlit Gallery. As part of this project I went out in Nottingham with the group taking photos of old places and buildings associated with Samuel Morley, some of which had changed over time, but some of them had stayed the same. There were moments that I’ll never forget.
Samuel Morley was a renown victorian social reformer, abolitionist and philanthropist, which was considered radical during his time in the 1800’s. He was also known as a successful industrialist, he inherited his father’s business I&R Morley in 1860, which was based in Sneinton selling hoisery and textile work, produced by home workers who lived in the Nottingham area. When Samuel Morley died he passed his business on to his children who continued to run the family company for many more years to come.
When I visited the old building on Newark and Manvers Street in Sneinton, once owned by I&R Morley’s, who used it as premises for their textile and hosiery factory, I cautiously descended the hard concrete stairs, which led me into a cool, dimly lit basement.
I looked up towards a soft shining light and I felt a sense of nostalgia, which seemed to be spilling from the warmly lit shade, which was hanging from the high ceiling above. It had a beautiful tapestry design with a muted floral print, this lampshade looked like it could have been here in the days when it was a Morley factory.
I became transfixed by the light and as I stared into the weaved shade, I remembered that this building was bombed during World War II.
I wondered did the textile workers seek shelter from the air raids down here?
Everything seemed motionless and deadly quiet, except for the sound of a local band rehearsing grunge metal through an adjoining wall in the basement. The heavy bass line manoeuvred through the thick black walls, whilst the grinding rhythm resonated in my mind.
Then I became aware of an eerie red light, seeping through a wooden panelled door next to the bottom of the stairs. I pushed the door open, which creaked in the dimness and there in the shadows of the past, I discovered a small fusty washroom with a hand basin, which seemed murky and unclean.
When I glanced in the mirror, I couldn’t see my own reflection. I think this might have been because I felt anxious, as the red light made me feel really unnatural.
Things had certainly changed since Samuel Morley had owned these premises, but I’m not sure what and exactly how much.
The sight of the alluring light shade, hanging in the industrial basement, with the amplified sound of grunge and the dirty washroom, all appeared so surreal, I felt sure that I’d walked into a scenario from a time gone past.