Updated: Saturday, 22nd February 2020 @ 5:50am

Stockport: Looking back to go forward

Stockport: Looking back to go forward

By Liam Barnes

As Stockport looks to a possible future as a modern city, an exhibition is maintaining memories of the town’s monumental manufacturing history.

Stockport Council have combined local photographer John Darwell’s powerful photos of industrial decline with the pick of a century of archive footage in a thought-provoking display.

Originally taken in 1986, Darwell’s images capture the end of Stockport’s manufacturing period in stark monochrome detail.

“I was a young photographer at the beginning of my career,” said Mr. Darwell, who took these photos for Stockport Council, his first ever commission.

“For me it was a huge thing: to be given the funding to go out and produce a body of photographs, on a subject essentially of my choice, was a huge boost to my confidence and career.”

The exhibition shows the immediate impact and the lasting legacy of the dismantling of the manufacturing industry, and the loss of a way of life in Stockport.

“I am very proud of what I produced and of the fact that the work still has a life and that has continued long after many of the locations have disappeared,” said Mr. Darwell.

“Looking back over the 25 years at the images is like looking into a long forgotten world, where such characters and locations have all but disappeared, to be replaced by mechanisation and Health and Safety.

David Goddard, Stockport Council Leader, said: “The Council decided to display the Working Lives exhibition now as a timely representation that the world of work and industry is ever changing.

“Stockport is moving with the times to continue to thrive into the future, whist remembering and acknowledging the importance of its past,” he added.

Only two manufacturers from Mr. Darwell’s pictures or the archive images remain in business: TW Bracher’s hat-makers on Royal George Street, and Kershaw’s Leather on Water Street.

Indeed, TW Bracher still has four members who featured in the exhibition, and incredibly features machines that have worked since the hatters opened 130 years ago.

“TW Bracher has continued to play its part in hat production,” a spokeswoman said. “We have been supplying headwear manufacturers all over the world.”

The exhibition has received over 2,500 visitors since opening last month, showing its evocative nature and current relevance.

The stirred memories has stoked the debate over what should be done in modern Stockport as local authorities nationwide face anxious decisions and budget cuts.

“It’s very interesting,” said Paul Walker, who has lived in nearby Romiley for over 40 years. “They’re all local companies – it’s an important exhibition.”

Steven Walker, Paul’s brother who now lives in London, added: “It’s a good record of industrial decline.”

“It brings back fond memories,” said Daljit Singh, a historian living in Stockport who worked in a cotton mill in similar conditions to those pictured.

He said: “It’s a fantastic source of information – my only disappointment is it’s not more multicultural.”

Mr. Singh agreed with the Walker brothers in the importance of the exhibition, particularly in keeping children engaged and aware of local history.

“We should make more investment into it – it should be like going to the cinema,” he said.

Mr. Singh, who brought two of his grandchildren to the exhibition, added: “It’s very, very important you start them young, so they begin to understand and appreciate, they get a sense of belonging.”

He also backed Stockport Council’s city status bid as a way to boost interest in the exhibition and industrial heritage of the town.

“It’s done in the right way, it’s an investment. City status would highlight this.”

Paul Walker disagreed with this assessment, saying he felt Stockport was unlikely to obtain city status and was wasting its money.

“The money would be better spent on local services and manufacturing,” he said, noting how Bolton, Reading and Milton Keynes were more likely winners.

Mr. Goddard pointed to multi-million pound projects such as the refurbishment of the Grade II Listed Market Hall and the Hillgate Conservation Area as testament to the Council’s comitment to heritage.

“We are a forward thinking, progressive borough,” he said. “The city bid is a great opportunity for the borough, which we will use to make everyone proud of Stockport and it will put us on the national and international map.”

The exhibition runs at Stockport Council Art Gallery until March 31. Admission is free.

BROUGHT TO LIFE: The working lives of clog makers and textile workers from the Stockport area