“Industry and Arts must walk hand in hand” – Mr Duce (1)
And so to Muriel Spark’s The Ballard of Peckham Rye an absorbing book where the central character Dougal Douglas is engaged as “Arts man” in the factory firm of Meadows, Meade & Grindley. He researches his fellow workers and the residents of Peckham gaining their confidence so they revealed things about themselves they didn’t seem to initially want to. With its situation in a factory (although Douglas spends very little time there) there are numerous references in the book which have intrigued me: time and motion studies, pecking orders, human research and feeding the line (the assembly line), industrial relations and trade unions. In the book Douglas describes “Industry as a great tradition”(2) . And I’m wondering about this word ‘industry’ a coverall word for so many different aspects of manufacturing, engineering, trade, business and work contexts and I’m wondering where its stands now. As for ‘tradition’ the idea of handing things down through the generations, ways of doing things, patterns and procedures have now been infiltrated and altered by the digital. During my early Secondary School education I used a computer in maths to ‘draw’ an image of a house using a set of typed commands, these were the days before the graphics interface (mouse) which has since its invention and mass dissemination revolutionised digital use. We are now in a place where the digital is now both tool of work and tool of leisure.
Reading this book coincides with my having to leave my studio in a former shoe factory (Bally) where I have been documenting the manufacturing (trade) marks on the fixtures and fittings (amongst other things) and the communication connections (and disconnections) of this making space. So many of the factories components have makers marks clearly proclaiming county of origin, now so often overlooked, hidden away or completely absent. Of the examples I found I am interested to see one Tamlex http://www.proteusswitchgear.co.uk/about_tamlex.asp is still based and producing in the UK where as the other Matter & Platt has been through many changes (http://www.gracesguide.co.uk/index.php?title=Mather_and_Platt&printable=yes). Set up in 1845, it developed to such an extent that in the 1940’ and 50’s it opened subsidiaries in India with the company eventually transferred its registration there. The company milestones can be seen on the Wilo / Mather & Platt website ( http://www.matherplatt.com/milestones.htm ).
Now the Bally building is almost empty of its current tenants, (as we were all given notice to quit) I’m left reflecting on both the objects made there and the people who made them which reminds me of I’m alight Jack – more of that next time.
1. Muriel Spark The Ballard of Peckham Rye London penguin Books 1999 (first published 1960). P. 15
2. ibid p. 17.