The Song Of The Loom

This song was inspired by the stories of the countless weavers whose labour and creativity dominated the north city for seven hundred years. Weaving in Norwich remains the longest-lived industry in the entire country. Seeing the fabulously intricate fabrics and pattern books in the Norwich museum and listening to the recordings of the hand-operated looms – so many images and rhythms stuck in my head. 

I wanted to celebrate the success of the industry, when the whole area north of the river rang to the  clickety-clack of the loom. In the evenings, light from thousands of candles shone from the long rows of upper windows, as the weavers worked late into the night. My imagination was inevitably drawn, however, to the poignant testimonies of silk and cotton weavers who ended up in the workhouse. By the early nineteenth century the industry was on the wane, and reading about the activities of the Chartists, who represented these skilled artisans, threw into relief the tragic fate of those who had grafted their whole lives being thrown onto the scrapheap. 

Reports in the newspapers from this time also detailed visits to weavers in their homes. Whole families lived in one or two rooms, with the loom dominating the upper storey. The repetitive sounds and rhythms I wrote into the lyrics, accompanied by Charlie Caine’s gently clashing folk harmonies, embody the rattling movements of the loom. Its grating song ensured that the children would eat that day. Here, the central figures are the working mother and her children – the point of view hovers between them. By the end of the song the mother has fallen ill or died – the room is dark, the rent man knocks at the door, and the children desperately listen for the echoes of her feet overhead.   

By Mags Chalcraft-Islam 

Listen to the Stump Cross Singers sing The Song Of The Loom
The Song Of The Loom top vocals
The Song Of The Loom low vocals

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