Emma Bridgewater: 2022

Yesterday’s Blog was about my search for a Platinum Jubilee tea towel at the Emma Bridgewater factory, which was successful, but not quite as I imagined. However, rummaging through the baskets, containing tea towels, I found these. And I couldn’t resist. I’ve never seen them before, beautifully floral, very gentle, lovely colours.

The first one was very colourful and there was a matching oven glove. How could I resist? The middle one reminded us of our holiday in Lancashire, a county full of fields filled with crops, canals and a river which was called ‘English Countryside’. The last was the essence of spring, with daffodils and grape hyacinths, called ‘Little Daffodils’. These are very different from others that I have. I’d seen them in the seconds shop, at a reduced price. Surely, here they couldn’t be at full price? But no, half price. I felt so lucky and could therefore justify buying an additional three.

It was a great day there, even without the tea towels, but with them I loved it and was a happy ending to the holiday.

Plant a tree……: 2022

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As I’ve said before, I wanted to get a few more Platinum Jubilee tea towels. Currently, I only have four. Everywhere I’ve been, I’ve looked for one. Nothing. I knew there were two designers who had each done one: Alison Gardiner and Emma Bridgewater but I didn’t know who their stockists might be. A couple of weeks ago, I was on holiday in Lancashire. On the way home we would pass through Stoke-on-Trent.

“We could stop at the Emma Bridgewater factory for a cup of tea, break the journey” I suggested, knowing, from a previous visit, that they do great scones. Nothing to do with the fact that I can guarantee there would be a shed load of tea towels that I’ll never have seen.

“Good idea” Liz said “I could get a couple of plates that I want.”

That’s what we did. A new development, since Covid, was tables in the courtyard. In fact, few people were eating indoors. It was lovely. We tried the ‘seconds’ shop first. Lots of tea towels but no Platinum Jubilee ones.

“Have you got any Jubilee tea towels?” I asked.

“None in here” the woman said “but try the shop, over the way, they might. We’d probably never get any in here. They go so quickly.” I thanked her and made my way over to the main shop.

There didn’t seem to be any tea towels at all. Silly me, always look for the baskets, low down and there they were. This one was neatly folded, but I could see the word ‘Jubilee’. I was confused because the colour should have been purple and grey, not green. I opened it up. I’d forgotten about the planting of trees to celebrate the Jubilee. I’d seen it on ‘Countryfile’. No wonder it was green. This was something different, loved it. I asked about any, more conventional, Jubilee tea towels, none. I would have to satisfy myself with this, and I am happy (but still looking for some more).

Ayup Miduck: 2021

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19 years in West London, three years in Swansea yet retained no dialectal words, accent, just boring Home Counties. Less than a month in Long Eaton then ‘Ayup’ was my standard form of greeting. I’d show off to my parents with ‘Ayup miduck’, who looked at me as though I was speaking a foreign language. To this day, ‘Ayup’ is my standard greeting, having dropped ‘miduck’.

I bought this tea towel late in 2021, on my first trip to Strelley Hall. Strelley Hall has been one of those places, on a road sign, along the road to the motorway. I’d often wondered what it was, a stately home, a museum, English Heritage? It is actually a managed office space, events venue, weddings and wakes and so much more. It is set in four acres of parkland, on a site that was originally a castle in 1200s.

There is a courtyard with a cafe, a sweet shop, local artisan gift shop, gardening shop, picture framing…….and so much more. I had arranged to meet with Hilary there, someone I’d only met on Zoom, for an outdoor cup of tea and a scone. The Mulberry Tree makes great cheese scones. This is a splendid venue for casual social distancing. I couldn’t resist a trip to the gift shop, and wow, there was a tea towel, this tea towel. And I bought it.

My certificate for the Guinness World Record was framed here too!

After 50 years, I’m not sure I know what most of these phrases mean, however loudly I say them. But it’s good fun. Love it.

Southport: 2022

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Before I start this blog, I just have to apologise for the photograph. Lop-sided or what? When I took it, on return from my holiday in Lancashire, it was windy, I positioned it badly on the washing line, just where the slope in the garden is at its steepest, with the line pole in the way. At that point, I tripped over the line pole and fell. “Sod it” I said, and forgot to take another photo. Sorry.

I went to Southport in 2001, in search of a tea room. I found a nice one, had a cup of tea and moved on. I never explored the town, never walked along the promenade, stood on the pier, wandered around the gardens or even had fish and chips. Last week, I found out what I had been missing.

The reason we went to Southport was to search for the elusive souvenirs relating to ‘Another Place’. I read a notice which said that these can be bought at the Tourist Information Centre in Southport. Seemed like a good way to search for a tea towel. The journey from Chorley to Southport reminded me of my time in Stevenage, the town where a Roundabout Designer went crazy, designing as many roundabouts as he could. Same in Lancashire. I seriously have never seen so many, of all different shapes and sizes, so weird Mrs Google Maps really doesn’t know how to direct you around them. On numerous occasions, we circled a roundabout several times with her “Rerouting, rerouting” until we were back on the correct road.

All the way into Southport, there were signs to the Tourist Information Office, and then, suddenly, in the centre of town, they disappeared. We saw ‘The Atkinson’, seemed to be an art gallery of some description, with a shop. Parked and went in. To the right was the library. I asked at the desk where the Tourist Information was. “It used to be outside but its not there any more” she said. I explained the story of Crosby Beach and Antony Gormley and she said “There’s a shop over there, maybe they have some things”. This was getting ridiculous. I went in the shop. This assistant apologised; they had nothing to do with ‘Another Place’.

“Do you have any tea towels, of anywhere?” I asked in desperation.

“There’s some over there” she said pointing to a basket.

“What’s the image of?” I said, because the tea towels were sealed in cellophane bags.

“I’m not sure. Southport I think. I don’t really want to open the bag”

“I need to see it” said with frustration “to check I haven’t already got it”

She opened the bag and this was it, a traditional touristy tea towel. I love it. Shame they didn’t have it on display so no one would have to go through that rigmarole again. All the way to Southport and I never found anything to do with Antony Gormley. But, the assistant in the shop explained to me about the special art exhibition of trees and what the museum was about. I spent an hour wandering round. Really good.

I knew there were several gardens in Southport. We started with Kings Gardens, behind the promenade. Beautiful. We went to the Botanical Gardens just outside town. Fabulous and finally Hesketh Gardens, another great one. We played Crazy Golf, on a traditional course, haven’t done that for more than ten years. The first place, since March 2020, that said they would only take cash. This was the first time since January 2020 that I went to a cash machine. Good job I had a big hand sanitiser!! We photographed a huge piece of wall art of Red Rum, who features centre-page on my tea towel. And finally we had fish and chips on the prom.

For all the confusion, and lack of a tea towel of Crosby Beach, it was a fabulous day out, totally unexpected and Southport has to be the cleanest and tidiest town I’ve been to in a long while. Didn’t find a single fish-wrapping, paper cup, sweet wrapper, beer can or anything else, lying on the ground. Well done Southport!!

Wigan Pier: Acquired 2018

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This is probably the tea towel I would describe as ‘my ugliest’. It’s creepy, weird and one I might avoid doing the drying up with. I was given it by my Reflexologist, Susan. Her mother had been clearing out a large cupboard and hadn’t realised she had nineteen tea towels in there, unused, acquired over many years. She liked tea towels. She used tea towels but these had inadvertently got stored away whilst her house was decorated. During the wonderful sessions of reflexology, I had talked about my tea towel collection. So when these tea towels emerged, Susan asked her mother if she would like to give them to me (probably afraid that her mother was going to give them to her). It was an exciting gift, tea towels of all sorts, some I’ve already blogged about. And then there was this one!!

Wigan Pier has been an enigma to me. I’d never been there but I’d read ‘The Road to Wigan Pier’, at least I’d started to read it. George Orwell had been to Wigan in 1936, researching for his book. It was about the poverty, poor working conditions and housing of Lancashire and Yorkshire before World War II. In 1943, he was interviewed on the radio, when he informed the country “I am afraid I must tell you that Wigan Pier does not exist. I made a journey specially to see it in 1936 and couldn’t find it”. That was because the original Wigan Pier, in 1929, it was sold as scrap for £34.

I’d seen @FoxesAfloat programme on TV, about their visit to Wigan Pier. I remember the ‘rail ends’ jutting over the edge of the Leeds-Liverpool canal. I didn’t really understand what I was looking at. I wanted to see it, actually I wanted to see if there was anything to see.

My research tells me that there once was a pier at Wigan, not like at Blackpool or Southend, as George Formby will tell you in a song. The ‘pier’ was a coal-loading staithe, where wagons from the coalfields ran down the track and at the end, upcurved rails tipped the wagon’s cargo into a barge for transporting all over England. Women worked at Wigan Pier and were called ‘tipplers’.

Wigan Pier is what? A myth? A remnant of history? A tourist attraction? Who knows? What look to be the rail ends were built by students of Wigan and Leigh College in 1986, and no one knows how accurately they are placed. Now Wigan Pier just refers to the area around the Liverpool-Leeds canal, at the bottom of the 21 Flight of Wigan Locks, the site of some major redevelopment over the next few years which will include a wedding venue, micro-brewery and some housing.

You will note that on my tea towel is a line saying ‘The Way We Were’. I never understood what this meant until I visited Wigan Pier last week. I thought that maybe it was some kind of ‘joke’ or ‘quip’. How wrong can you be? In 1986, a Heritage Museum was established, called ‘The Way We Were’, a Museum of Victorian life in Wigan. It was in an old building near the canal. Sadly, it closed in 2007 through lack of visitors. This would have been amazing, a social history of this area. So now I can establish that this tea towel was bought sometime between 1986 and 2007.

The social history of the lives around the canal is recorded on the Information Boards at significant spots along the canal, a fascinating tale along with some statues of working people. We walked up the canal, for a couple of hours, met a lot of friendly people, found a great cafe in the midst of office blocks and loved it. Then I said to Liz “Can we just go back because we haven’t seen the rails that @FoxesAfloat saw. Retracing our steps we found two lines from the ‘Ballard of Wigan Pier’ carved on some steps, moving on we found the rails, not standing out and felt satified with the day.

I’m never satisfied and yesterday found myself down the classic ‘Rabbit Warren’ of listening to the Ballard of Wigan Pier on YouTube, sung by the Houghton Weavers. It was brilliant.

“So if you are told that there’s a pier in Wigan town somewhere, don’t laugh it off like others do….”

Cartmel, the Home of Sticky Toffee Pudding: 2022

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Another tea towel from my recent Lancashire holiday. Late one afternoon, after a trip to Wigan Pier we went to Haigh Woodland Park for a walk. The Walled Garden had just closed but other paths available were beautiful. I certainly wasn’t expecting to find a tea towel here. As we walked past the Kitchen Courtyard, through a window, I saw a laundry-dryer over which was something in vibrant yellow and pale blue. I took Liz on a detour, only to find this brilliant promotional tea towel. It was a Deli that did actually sell Cartmel Sticky Toffee Pudding.

I couldn’t resist. The trouble is I don’t like Sticky Toffee Pudding, too sweet for my taste yet everyone I know loves it. If we’re out for a meal, it’s the ‘pudding of choice’, especially for men.

For me, its a very unusually coloured tea towel, adds a splash of colour to the Collection.

Chorley: 2022

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Having just returned from a holiday in Lancashire, I can flaunt my new acquisitions. The holiday cottage was delightful, in the heart of the countryside, and farmland, yet only a couple of miles from Chorley. When I had told people where I was going, I could tell that they didn’t think of Chorley as a holiday destination. Chorley could definitely be described as a ‘Market Town’ because it really does have a lot of markets, both indoors and outdoors. I wasn’t sure if this was a place for a tea towel. I’d seen the equivalent of ‘pound shops’ and market stalls selling towelling-type tea towels in bundles of five or ten, a bargain. Good for a photo on Twitter but not for the Collection.

We walked up a quieter street, off the main thoroughfare, and found a gift shop. Blu-tacked on the glass door was a tea towel of Chorley. Couldn’t believe it. Went in the shop but there weren’t any on the shelves. I asked the assistant if they had any. “Oh yes, plenty back here. Display one on the door, so everyone knows about them, but then they don’t have to take up a lot of shelf space.” Bought a tea towel.

We then had lunch and looked at the tea towel, to see if there was anything we should do. It was useful. We made sure we saw all the Chorley Markets, nearly went to Frederick’s Ice Cream Parlour, but the queue was too long. We walked along the canal towpath of the Leeds-Liverpool Canal, went to Astley Hall and Gardens, watched Rivington Pike from our cottage lounge and asked ourselves “What’s a Chorley Cake?”. By the time we were pondering this question in Chorley, all the bakers were closed.

We were determined to unravel the burning question of the day. “We’ll find one” Liz said. The days went past so quickly. On the last day, we went to Astley Hall and Gardens, the hottest day of the year. We sat in the cafe, eating lunch and Liz said “They sell Chorley Cakes in there”. We agreed to buy a couple before we left, as a take-away. Before I did that, I just had to check whether the Deli sold a tea towel. I looked around, nothing but just checked with the assistant “Oh yes, plenty upstairs’ and there were. None of Astley Hall, but when I saw the ‘Chorley Cake’ one, that was it, to celebrate the discovery of a Chorley Cake. I returned to the cafe for two Chorley cakes which, I have to say, were delicious. I’m a big fan of Eccles Cakes; these were similar but not so sugary. I regretted not buying more.

Wonders of the Waterways: 2022

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Last week we were on holiday in Lancashire. We had booked a holiday cottage near Chorley which wouldn’t take too long to get there, hence time for a proper ‘stop’ on the way up. Having been ‘hooked’ on various TV programmes, during Lockdown, about the canals I saw that it would be possible to visit the Anderton Boat Lift on the way. One of only two Boat Lifts in UK, and I’d already been on the Falkirk Wheel, I thought this would make a great start to the holiday.

I knew it was a working, two-caisson lift lock, raising boats, vertically, 50 feet between two navigable waterways, the River Weaver and the Trent-Mersey canal. It’s a ‘scheduled monument’ and described as ‘One of the Seven Wonders of the Waterways’. I was looking forward to this.

It was built in 1875, fully functional until 1983 when it was closed due to corrosion. After a lot of discussion, planning, or faffing as I would describe it, the restoration began in 2001 and was working once again in 2002. This is one of those constructions that is amazing to look at and admire, if only you could get a proper view. The Canal and River Trust have done a great job enabling visitors to be able to see as much as possible, with paths and gardens and a balcony on the Visitor Centre. In fact, we had lunch on the balcony watching two narrowboats get in position, and be transported downwards. It takes a while but certainly worth watching. We walked through the ‘museum bit’ telling the story of the Lift and the changes that needed to be made for the restoration, and out to watch a couple of narrowboats queuing to do the reverse journey. Another wait. I suppose that’s the joy of a narrowboat, the slower pace, time to watch the world go by.

The Visitor Centre had a shop. I know what you’re thinking, tea towels. And that is exactly right. The Anderton Boat Lift deserved a tea towel of its own. There were mugs, coasters, pencils, pens, fridge magnets but no tea towel. There were two others, however. ‘Castles and Roses’ which I already have and this one where the Anderton Boat Lift has a place, but only as one of eleven, plus a map. And here was the problem. I have several canal-related tea towels. Could I remember the precise details of them? No. ‘The Wonders of the Waterways’ looked familiar. In my mind, I was flicking through my tea towels. There were two from the Chesterfield Canal, there were a couple from my friend Jane. Was one this one? There was no way I was actually going to buy a ‘duplicate’.

With another cup of tea, I looked through the photos on my phone, all 3000+ photos of tea towels. I found one of the Wonders…..but it was a photo that someone had sent me during Lockdown, when we were sharing photos to combat boredom. More flicking, more memories, and there it was again. Again not mine, but it was hanging on my washing line for a photo-shoot. It was one of six, that belonged to Pete. He’d brought them across so I could include them in the Virtual Tea Towel Museum. That’s why it was familiar, I photographed it two years ago (that’s the joy of an Apple phone, it dates every photo). It wasn’t mine. So I rushed back into the shop to snap it up.

It was a joy visiting Anderton Boat Lift although I’d have to say, I’m not sure I’d want to go down in a narrowboat on it!!

Another Place: 2022

I have wanted to visit ‘Another Place’, the installation of 100 cast iron figures on Crosby Beach, for a long time. When Liz and I decided on a week’s holiday in Lancashire, the first thing I said was “Can we go to Crosby Beach?”. We’d put off going there for many years, firstly because we knew Liz wouldn’t be able to walk without pain on the beach, then when she used a wheelchair, that wasn’t going to be a go-er. Unless it’s a Beach Wheelchair, wheelchairs do not move well on sand. Medication and an all-terrain rollator were possibly going to make things different. We agreed that if the approach to the beach, or the sand, made this adventure difficult, we would stand on the promenade and admire the view.

Cameras at the ready, we tried. And we were successful. It was a stunningly beautiful day, warm but not too hot. Parking was near. The slope was easily manageable. There were toilets, always useful if embarking on a walk. The tide was in. We hadn’t thought about the time to go. If the tide’s in, there is nothing to see, except the wind turbines, in the far distance. There is, of course, the RNLI but not one of those with an impressive shop and hundreds of tea towels. They had a Land Rover instead.

Toilet visited, we were about to walk along the ‘prom’ when I noticed the tide was starting to turn.

“I think there’s one over there” I pointed at a tiny blob, could have been a statue, could have been a dog in the sea, could even have been a piece of plastic dumped by inconsiderate tourists. As we were pondering all this, the tide retreated across the wide bay. We were like kids, pointing this way and that, seeing some just poking their heads above the sea, others stood for all the world to see. It was amazing. Not only amazing but moving, emotional. This was so much better than I could ever have imagined.

We decided to get organised, rather than randomly roaming the beach, never seeing anything in detail. I knew all the figures were the same, modelled from the naked body of the artist, Antony Gormley. They might have been created the same but the weather, the corrosion by the sea, the marine life had made each statue different. Different height, different colour, different surfaces and each had a loose metal bracelet, padlocked on, with the number.

We spent more than four hours wandering up and down the beach, and during those four hours more and more figures emerged. I’m sure we never saw them all, but we certainly saw many and even had a ‘Selfie’ with a couple.

I’d read a lot about ‘Another Place’, how the statues are spread over a two mile stretch of sand between Waterloo and Blundellsands, stretching one kilometre out to sea, they stand 6ft 2inches tall and weigh around 650 kilograms. They are all looking out to see, staring at the horizon in silent expectation. They were initially installed on the beach at Cuxhaven in Germany in 1997, followed by Stavanger in Norway and then Panne in Belgium. In 2005, they were at Crosby with plans to take them to New York in 2007 but it was decided to leave them in a permanent home at Crosby. Antony Gormley said in 2005 “I loved the way they took their place so well amongst the great drainage pipes outflow pipes, the estuary and passing ships….They are not ideal or heroic figures from history….”

Starting in 2019, resumed in 2021 (a delay because of Covid) some of the statues have been removed so that their supports can be reinforced, a couple had to be turned slightly because over time the sea and sand had caused a realignment.

There had been some disquiet when ‘Another Place’ was first installed, a fear that tourists would wander out into the sea to see the furthest figures, hence the RNLI’s presence together with strong warnings that this is not a beach for sea bathing and people should stay near the foreshore because there are some soft, moving, dangerous sands.

There were some surprises for me. Besides the toilets, there are no touristy shops or attractions along the promenade. There is a sign saying if you wanted any souvenirs of ‘Another Place’ they are at a leisure centre nearby, Southport Tourist Information Bureau and two other places that I can’t remember. Online I have seen a tea towel celebrating the statues, but not to be found in Crosby. I couldn’t believe there were no tea towels. Shock horror, no tea towels but using Antony Gormley’s words also from 2005 “……a poetic response to individual and universal sentiments associated with emigration – sadness at leaving but hope of a new future in Another Place”. And that is what the RNLI have been involved in, rescuing people trying to cross the English Channel in the search for a new future.

Thank you to Pauline who bought me these two tea towels at Christmas with a note saying “Thank you for looking after my baby brov” (referring to Pete who we go walking with every week).

The Hare:2022

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I pride myself on remembering the provenance of all my tea towels.

When I started this Tea Towel Blog in 2015, I owned about 350 tea towels. This was the time of my retirement, and recognising that my memory might fade, decided to blog about the stories of each of them. Some went back to the early 1960’s. The tales flowed. What I didn’t expect was that the Collection would increase to over 1550, by 2021. The more you own, the more difficult it is to identify where a towel might have originated. In fact, when I started on this journey, many tea towels had the name of the place on it; these days there are many more arty-farty ones, which could have been bought anywhere. I do have a liking for ones that identify the place where they were bought, not just for the practicality of writing a Blog but because they celebrate different places.

In April this year, I holidayed in Devon in order to see my friend Fee, who, because of the Pandemic, I hadn’t managed to meet with for three years. Holidays, often the source of many tea towels, have been scarce since the Pandemic. Devon was a treasure trove. Fourteen. But I also had a few at home that I had blogged about. Getting back from Devon, I photographed all the tea towels and hung them over the back of a chair, only putting them in the ‘Museum’ once they have been blogged about.

I am just about to go away again, Lancashire this time, and hoping for the odd tea towel. I decided, since I had not finished blogging about my Devon ones, that I must finish them off. I am down to 4 un-yet blogged about, two from Christmas, one from Nottingham and another one, The Hare.

Yesterday, I was pondering the provenance of The Hare. Where did I buy it? When did I buy it? Even why did I buy it? I couldn’t remember. Lesson to be learnt, blog as soon as you get a tea towel. Then I started ‘Retrace Your Steps’. It was photographed at the time of all the other Devon ones so could it be from Devon? The only thing is that all the others are clearly associated with Devon. This dilemma continued through the night.

Mosney Mill tea towels are often found in garden centres, they are never attributed to a particular place. I lay awake going through every garden centre I’ve been to in the last two months. They are all local, I wouldn’t need to remember them. They are not special.

It definitely wasn’t going to be a National Trust property because they have their own merchandise and I have one from most NT properties I’ve visited. Gardens? The only gardens I’ve been too didn’t have a shop. We’ve recently walked many stretches of the disused Nottingham Canal but there are no shops. Have I been shopping in new places? No. Have I been to any Charity Shops? Oh yes, many, but only to buy second-hand Gibsons jigsaw puzzles.

By now, it was 3am and I was no nearer the answer. I wasn’t going to admit defeat. I’m a Guinness World Record Holder. Start again. Maybe retrace my steps back to Christmas. Still nothing comes to mind. This morning I got up for breakfast, put the tea towel on the breakfast table, determined that something would come to mind……

“OMG” I shouted “I’ve remembered. It’s from Devon.” Back where I started this quest. I remembered being in the shop, looking round for a tea towel and saying “This will have to do.” A start, but where? And it sounded as though I really wanted one.

Gradually, it all came back. I was with Fee and her mother, in what Fee described as ‘the present shop’. “If you need a present for someone, you’ll find it in this shop. You’ll need to blog about this tea towel so when I go back, I’ll know which one you bought and you won’t get a duplicate for your birthday.” It was a lovely shop so I know my birthday present will be of a good standard. The answer to the question ‘why’ is that the shop was in the very small town where Fee had just bought a house. She wanted to show us the delights of the place, including the Saturday Market, the ironmongers that’s guaranteed to have everything, and anything, you want, a delightful outdoor cafe and the Gift Shop. What they didn’t have is a tea towel of Chudleigh so, nice as it is, the Hare had to do.

And my hope is that, on a return to Chudleigh, I’ll find a proper Chudleigh tea towel.