Farsley poet 'telling the incredible stories of ordinary people' as part of LEEDS 2023 partnership

Matt Abbott, poet and leader of the Hidden Stories workshops at Sunny Bank Mills in Farsley, talks about the importance of sharing local stories.

By Alex Grant
Sunday, 3rd April 2022, 11:45 am

I’m Matt, and I’m a poet. Which essentially means that I love a good story.

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I’m one of ten artists working on Hidden Stories, a project in partnership with LEEDS 2023 which is putting artists, communities and heritage organisations together to explore the history of Leeds.

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It’s all about telling the incredible stories of ordinary people who have lived in our city over the years - the tales that we don’t often get to hear. Picture: Mark Tighe.

It’s all about telling the incredible stories of ordinary people who have lived in our city over the years - the tales that we don’t often get to hear.

My research has centred around Pudsey and Farsley. I moved to the area in lockdown and I wanted to feel a deeper connection to the place I now call home. I think that history connects us to a place and its people in a way that nothing else can.

It’s really special if you can point to a building and talk about who used to live there, or tell an amazing tale about something that happened in your town hundreds of years ago. You have a direct link back to the people who used to walk the very same streets, and they don’t feel as distant, or as different, from you.

I started my research at Sunny Bank Mills in Farsley, diving into their archive to look back at nearly 200 years of local history. I was fascinated by the stories I found about the people who worked in the mill, who lived around it, whose lives played out with its smoke and noise in the background.

Then I moved on to the Pudsey Civic Society archives, and of course I spent time speaking to people in the pub. I really wanted to hear local people’s first hand accounts too, the ones that haven’t been recorded in archives or written down in newspapers.

I’ve heard some unbelievable tales. One of my favourites is the story of Cider Annie, a local Pudsey legend. She ran a cornershop in the 1960s which doubled up as an unlicensed pub serving her homemade cider. I also discovered the Pudsey Pudding, a ginormous pudding made in 1846.

Twenty local women made parts of the mixture at home, then brought it all together in a giant dye pan at Crawshaw Mills to be baked. It was so heavy it had to be hoisted out on a crane before it was served up to a huge crowd of people.

And I discovered that nearly eighty per cent of the protective tank plates used in WW1 were made in a factory in Pudsey, and the factory workers would test them with Nazi bullets.

The next part of the project is where I think it gets really interesting. Over the last week I’ve been leading creative writing workshops where I’ve asked participants to respond to the stories in their own way - through poetry, writing new stories about the characters, anything.

They also brought their own tales with them, so I found out even more hidden stories to add to our research.

The beauty of this project is that it keeps on growing as more and more people get involved. I’m hosting a sharing event on April 10th at Sunny Bank Mills where participants will share their writing.

It’ll also be interactive, so people can come and contribute their own stories and add them to a map of tales from the area. Come along, I can’t wait to hear your story.

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