The Fabric of Bolton: Bolton's industrial heritage

The Fabric of Bolton: Bolton's industrial heritage

The Fabric of Bolton project will bring you a brand new short documentary which will be showcased in the new Octagon building later this year - in this blog Amy Hailwood, who has been leading the project tells us how the process has gone so far.

During Black History Month last year, the Octagon Theatre, working in partnership with Bolton Solidarity Community Association (BSCA), launched a new project – The Fabric of Bolton. The project aimed to platform and celebrate Bolton's industrial heritage, from a fresh and less commonly heard perspective – that of the Black, Asian and other ethnic minority members of the community who contributed to this legacy through their work in textiles and other industries of Bolton.

As part of the project we invited Bolton residents who had worked in the textile industries in Bolton during the 1960s – 1980s, to get in touch. A number of people responded. Little by little, with the help of BSCA, Bolton Library and Museum, and many Bolton residents who connected us to their friends and family, we made new connections with five fascinating and different individuals, who were keen to be interviewed for the first stage of the project – a series of oral history interviews.

A lovely moment also occurred early on when, through this collective community effort, we were able to identify a previously unnamed South Asian woman in one of the Library and Museum’s archive photographs. Laitaben Mistry’s name and her contribution to Bolton’s history, has now been added to the public record.

Laitaben Mistry at St Helena Mill 1979 - 1983

Undertaking the actual interviews was not as easy as hoped! Our number one priority was to ensure the safety of all participants in relation to Covid-19. Yet we also wanted to capture really high quality audio, which isn’t always guaranteed online. This led to some head-scratching and lots of rapid learning. Theatre people however, are nothing if not innovative, and with the help of our brilliant technical team, we were able to capture high quality audio interviews remotely, so our participants never had to leave the safety of their own homes.

Oral history is social history from the grassroots. It aims to record and preserve the lived experience of ordinary people for posterity, and for the benefit of the wider community. It was a real privilege to hear first-hand, stories of what life was like in the mills, and in Bolton more broadly, for the older generation during the 1960’s – 80’s. We can’t wait to share these stories with you later this year.

The Sunnyside Club - Young Asian and White workers in the Mill - 1970's

The next phase of the project – a short documentary-style film, drawing on the oral history interviews – began in January. We are working with a brilliant local film company called Modify to create the film and spent a really fun (if freezing) day, during the February cold snap, filming in a wide variety of locations around Bolton, including, amongst others – Swan Lane Mill, Eagle Mill (now part of University of Bolton and renamed Eagle Tower) and Queen’s Park.


The final phase of the Fabric of Bolton project will conclude later this year with a celebration event in the new building for all participants and their families, as well as a launch of the oral history interviews and documentary film to the public.