Jolene asked us to relax, close our eyes and picture a building which held a special meaning for us. “Step inside“, she said, “how does it feel? what can you see? how does it smell? what memories come back to you?” Such a variety of thoughts and emotions were stirred by this exercise! Listen to a recording of some of our responses.
Read on to discover the poetry and prose inspired by our online and in-person meetings.
Which buildings could I choose to write about this time? Wonderful buildings all over the world I have been fortunate to visit: The Taj Mahal, The Empire State Building, Versailles, The Houses of Parliament and more? All have had an impact on me, either because of what they represent or because of the beauty of their design. But significant to me personally? Not sure about that.
Maybe I should I choose one of my schools? Both Primary and Secondary Schools were important in my life. The things I learned, the friends I made and the pleasure in knowing that however hard lessons became, certainly true in the later years at Grammar School, there were always people around you that you could talk to, grow up with, share confidences with. All very important and nothing to do with the bricks and mortar of the buildings. It was at school that I was introduced to classical music, art, plays, but was it the buildings that were significant or more the life inside them?
Then I thought of my enjoyment of reading for pleasure. That came from the local library. A wonderful building with its quiet atmosphere and its neatly organised shelves and the smell of polished wood. The children’s librarian back in the 1950s was quite a fierce woman who would inspect your hands to make sure they were clean enough for her to entrust her precious books to. Not acceptable nowadays I guess, but to me it just emphasised the orderliness of the environment, and the importance of looking after books. Books were relatively expensive to buy so the library was like an Aladdin’s cave of opportunity and possibility. Both my parents enjoyed reading and getting books from the library and as a young child I would go with them, and it provided an enjoyable shared experience. As I got older I was able to go on my own, and during school holidays I might go several times a week. Because I read so much and was trustworthy in the care of the books, I was allowed to have adult tickets for non-fiction books much sooner that I was really entitled to. Only adult non-fiction tickets of course. No chance of being corrupted by adult fiction!
Happy memories indeed!
Grandad built himself a shed. On the left a narrow passageway filled with bits and bobs to be used one day, adjacent was another space, a plant-filled light and warm place, he used to rest in and help things grow. Behind, he made a little office above its entrance, he hung a sign in stencilled white capitals saying JOLENE SHAW I adored that cosy cube and how special it felt to be in there somewhere just for me somewhere that I could fill with elaborate fantasies of who I would be when I grew up An artist! An astronaut! An officer! (I thought this meant someone who worked in an office like that one) My spirograph patterns, colouring in reading of comics, careful arranging of things in tins became beautiful, thoughtful and soothing routines where I could begin to order the chaos that the world presented me with, turn it into meaningful patterns. Just as grandad made useful items from the old and forgotten (a truck from a green fruit crate and an old bed frame old battered shoes made shiny again with black gloss paint a glass house formed from old factory window panes) I too could make new, the world’s old stories. And now that space he helped make inside me Means I still do.
In my very long life I have experienced many buildings which have been very important to me, and to choose one of them was quite difficult.
I decided to think about one which has for many years given me, and my family, great pleasure. This is the Yorkshire Sculpture Park – an estate, but with many and different buildings. YSP brings together historic landscape with changing open-air sculpture displays along with temporary exhibitions in the indoor galleries. There is a programme of exhibitions which covers the year, many lasting several weeks or even months, so when possible and when an artist’s work attracts you, you can repeat the experience. A large part of the attraction for me is to visit the work but also enjoy the open-air.
I mentioned the “underground” gallery which was constructed from the natural landscape and has given a terrace of rooms situated under a lovely lawn where, occasionally, one can see a small motorised lawn-mower cutting the grass and going to an area to deposit the clipped grass, very neatly. I imagine that this system is set up because of the lightness of the roof, but it is amusing to watch – no time off to have a smoke or a rest!
Inside the “underground“ gallery the exhibitions are very varied and interesting. A visit to the YSP makes a chance to combine a wonderful walk with visits to art exhibitions.
Dreams do come true I will tell you about a journey Which takes me all the way to France Up the stairs of a famous art museum My heart beating like a dance. It happens when I'm sleeping I'm whisked away into the night Like on a magic carpet My body taking flight. To places that I recognise Although I've never been before But in my mind is a connection Through that forever open door. I see buildings that seep history The landscape gives a view Of the sunrise in the distance The sky a clear, clear blue. I see the grass so green it glistens It beckons feet so bare The tree breathes life into my soul There is comfort everywhere. These journeys are very familiar I travel in the night To places of pure beauty With makeshift wings there's flight. I go to secret destinations With sands so golden it just shines The ripples dancing in the sea A precious friend of mine. I walk amongst the sand dunes There is not a soul in sight As my journey soaks in reason In the middle of the night In its midst I glimpse a statue She holds a child, both bare, I feel the tear drop on my hand It’s a miracle I'm there So I capture life and mysteries Moments and a glance These journeys take me miles away This one ends up in France. P.Omoboye ©
I was so excited when, holding my older sister’s hand, I finally went up the stone steps to start at St George’s RC primary school in Nelson, Lancashire. There were just four classrooms, on the left-hand side of the maroon and cream tiled central corridor, with the staff room, headteacher’s office and store rooms on the right. I had a look at an old school photograph & there were 33 in the class. Coping with the numbers must have been such a headache for the teachers, but maybe easier when the teaching was so formal and we sat in desks in rows, girls on one side and boys on the other? I remember the tantalising smell of school dinners wafting through to the classroom when they were delivered in large metal containers well before dinner time. We ate on tables set out in the corridor by the dinner ladies who later supervised play time in the yard, which was surrounded by a high wall and railings. If it was wet, we played in an open-sided shelter underneath the school.
The top floor was St Georges’ church, where my family went to Mass every Sunday and Holy Day. Parish social events were held in the school; the internal partitions between the classrooms had hinged wooden and glass panels which were folded back on themselves by the caretaker to make the space needed for events like the Christmas fair and fancy-dress party. I was proud when my younger sister and I won prizes for the costumes my Mum had made for us! I was a ladybird, with antennae and a cardboard shell covered with red crepe paper and black spots. My sister was a poodle, with white crepe paper frills sewn onto pyjamas. Later, I loved going to Brownies in the school yard, enjoying games led by adults who were less strict than the teachers.
Looking back, St Georges was the most significant building in my childhood; it was where most things outside our home happened, apart from visits to the wider family and holidays. My father was the dedicated headteacher: Sir and strict at school, Dad and often fun at home. The school closed in 1975 and became the parish social club. The church was renamed St John Southworth in 1992 and finally closed this summer, at the end of July 2022.
I wonder what will happen to the building now.
This month the group considered the role of important buildings in our lives. It was interesting that family homes did not feature highly, perhaps because their importance is of such significance it does not need to be stated. There were quite a number of references to various places of learning; public libraries being prominent among them.
The building which I reflected on from several options was also related to education. It was the Catholic Chaplaincy I attended while a student at University College Cardiff. This was the place I discovered as a 19-year-old away from home for the first time. Within its walls I found a place of calm and a welcoming atmosphere. Later it became a major centre of my social life for the three and a half years I remained in Cardiff.
I was able to make a number of life-long friends there while listening to the music of Buddy Holly, Elvis Presley, John Denver, The Eagles and many others or watching Wales trounce England yet again at Rugby Union.
For two years I was on the committee of the University’s Catholic Society, which was based in the building, latterly as its vice-president. It will be no surprise to you that I was also the manager of the society’s football team. On one memorable occasion, I organised a sponsored 12 hour mixed 5-a-side football marathon in aid of the university “rag week”.
After leaving Cardiff, I was thrilled, on a return visit, to see this poster of a “Testimonial Match” in my honour, arranged by the captain of my team and successor as manager.
The group also shared thoughts on less personal “significant buildings” which they had been impressed with or moved by. I picked the Sacré-Coeur Basilica in Montmartre, Paris (in preference to the Notre Dame which I found dark and cold).
The first significant building I thought of was my childhood home in Shrewsbury, Shropshire. During the meditation, for some reason, it came back to me how short the houses were. I think they were built in the 1950s, although I might be wrong there. I could easily touch the ceiling without straining too much and I’m not ridiculously tall at 5’9’’.
I also remember that I could see more of my face when I was at home too, compared to when I lived in Leeds and Manchester. The height of the houses made it really light, it was a beautiful light that I won’t experience again as my mum has moved to an Edwardian house nearer the town centre. I’ve never seen houses like my childhood home anywhere other than Shrewsbury, so that felt quite significant to me. I can’t even touch the ceiling if I stand on a chair in my current flat!
Then it got me thinking about other significant buildings in Shrewsbury, not just to me, but the world!
Shrewsbury castle is a wonderful example of a red sandstone castle, built from the sandstone from Shrewsbury Quarry and was completed in 1070, so almost 1,000 years old! Growing up there, I thought everyone had a castle where they lived. Boots, Woolworths, Castle, nothing to see here. I’ve obviously realised since that this is not the case!
The other really significant building is Ditherington Flax Mill, which was built in 1797. This is significant as it is the first iron-framed building in the word, in other words, it was the forefather of the skyscraper! So this is pretty impressive too! It’s been unused for a long time, I went past it loads of times in the car on the way to town growing up and only realised the importance of this building when I gave a lecture on Shropshire in my old job. While scrabbling about trying to find some interesting things, I learnt the impact that building has had on millions of buildings worldwide. After some investment from English Heritage, it’s opening to the public this month and I can’t wait to go and see what it’s like!