Ruth Levene (2015)

Ruth Levene
Water Works


The Hidden Waters of Pendle

For my In-Situ In-Residence project I explored and found out about the hidden waters of Pendle. By meeting and talking to a variety of people who have a different knowledge and relationship with water. What do I mean by hidden waters?


Water keeps us alive, fed and clean we use it for leisure and transport and it shapes the landscape we live in. But as our cities and towns have grown we’ve forced water in, changed its direction, buried it, and pushed it up and out of pipes. In our minds it has become disconnected from the source. Can we reconnect, celebrate and think about where our water comes from? What journey has it taken before it comes out of our tap?

The Humble Bog – A visit to Padgett Plumbers​

I headed north to Barrowford, Pendle to see an anniversary exhibition celebrating 90 years of Arthur Padgetts family plumbing business. I spoke to Arthur’s grandson Edward Padgett about the changes in plumbing since he was an apprentice in the 70s. “Many people were only just getting indoor bathrooms and toilets and in some cases even baths, now its common to have more than one loo, with en-suites and downstairs toilets being a common site and central heating is become a given”. He told me about World Toilet Day, which we don’t hear about much in the UK, probably because we have one of the most comprehensive functioning sanitary systems in the world. But 2.5 billion (1 in 3 people) people do not have access to a clean toilet leading to diarrhoeal diseases, the second most common cause of death of young children in developing countries. Maybe our sanitary efficiency and on tap demand has disconnected us from the process of feeling with waste, ‘flush and forget’ creating a lack of understanding of the energy and work it takes to maintain it.


Over the years Edward has gathered a fine collection of toilets, and displayed altogether what struck me the most were the names, The Humber, The New Improved Humber, The Clencher, The Flood all generally river or water related if not some reference to the act itself. I was particularly fond of ‘The Tipper’ a toilet from the turn of the century which used rain/bath and washing water to clean out the toilet, although it kept you warm and was re-using waste water it did have a tendency to smell pretty bad. Dry toilets are completely functional and much less wasteful than our conventional toilets, but do demand a little more work, something that it seems we are not prepared to do at the moment.

The Slow Way – A Paddle down the Leeds Liverpool Canal

Since my first visit to Brierfield I’d wanted to paddle up the Leeds Liverpool canal which run’s through the heart of Brierfield. The Leeds Liverpool, built around late 18th Century, brought in raw cotton from India or America which was processed into cloth in The Mill, then shipped on often to Manchester to sell. Later the canal infrastructure also brought in coal to power steam engines.


I imagined buying a dingy from Lidl, but Paul, Oliver and Kerry had the much better idea of building a raft from scrap that laid around at the mill. I turned up and to my utter delight ‘she’ was already built and just needed a few final touches. We took her on her maiden voyage. I refer to her with affection as a big block of butter as it’s shaped like one and bobs along barely sinking into the water. George came along and kindly documented the event beautifully with some fantastic photographs and video. It was a peaceful, sunshiny day, and the passers by looked at us with a fond amusement and touch of bafflement as we paddled along at a snails pace.


Pendle Spring and Drainage

Following a fantastic lunch with Kerry and Autumn (also artist in residence), on a small picnic table tucked behind the van on the side of a road, I walked up Pendle Hill to visit a spring, the hill sticks out proud and distinct from the surrounding landscape and the weather had blanketed the top making visibility very poor. Well visited and paved, I reached the spring at the top to find (to my surprise) a drain cover, housing a mug dangling from a metal chain! A hole had been dug and a pipe fed the water into it. I quiet enjoyed the surreal element of our modern water infrastructure neatly buried in the top of this beautiful landscape. I know this areas is far from remote but it was a reminder how infrastructure has permeated this small island we all share.

Topography and a Topple.

One thing I love about being an artist is you often don’t know what your looking for until it hits you. One day during my residency I was struck with an almighty blow from behind, unfortunately it wasn’t a moment of inspiration but a car with a driver who wasn’t looking. I was taken in by a kindly family who gave me tea and sympathy and after an hour in a bike shop and a shiny new wheel I decided to call it a day.


Up until that point I had been cycling from Todmorden to Brierfield to get a slower view of the hills and land around me. I’ve often made work derived by traveling through the land, exploring how the type and speed of the transport shapes the way we see the world around us. Cycling is certainly a good way to ‘feel’ the undulating hills of Pendle as the roads follow the contours of the land. I’m often drawn to geological time scales, things we can’t see change, but non-the-less are in a constant state of change. The bike ride got me thinking about the water as a strong constant force carving and shaping the land.

Water Gone By – A Historical View

I met with local historian John Clayton who has an incredible wealth of knowledge going far back in time. We covered many water related topics including the rivers, canals, reservoirs and floods. I was particular taken by the stories of springs and in particular holy springs, which were often slightly outside the settlements or at a cross roads. He talked about Bronze Age and Iron Age people being water orientated, seeing water as a link between their world and the underworld, a route through to where the spirits lived. Rituals were held around these holy springs, still water, pools and lake sites. Deposits of tools, weapons and artefacts were de-commissioned (swords would be bent) and left as an offering. Deposited human heads in bogs and areas of still water have also been found.


During the Neo-lethic period we began to settle, monuments were built (like stone henge), and people were focused on the sky, the stars and constellations when it came to rituals, but as technology developed into the bronze & iron age, new farming methods came into being and we moved from stone and flint to discover metals in the earth, through this we became fascinated with the subterranean and the focus moved from the sky to the ground.


Under Pendle Hill is a reservoir with clay and shale as its geology, the water soaks up into the shale like a sponge, eventually when it gets to its capacity and a storm hits it bursts or as John said Brasts out of the hill, you can see the scaring on the hill still now, in the last incident in 1860/70 it nearly washed away Downham, Pendle.


As a small point of interest I also found out that Pendle Hill is of celtic origin PEN – (Hill in Celtic), DLE – Hill (Celtic), Hill – Hill (Modern English). So it means Hill Hill Hill!

Share This Articles