The Weavers Factory, Uppermill, 13 New Street, Uppermill, OL3 6AU – Visit Now
Has the Kettle’s Yard of the north arrived? In the village of Uppermill (Greater Manchester) on the edge of Saddleworth Moor, a small grade-II listed Georgian terrace has been converted into a truly unique contemporary art centre. Joan Charnley (who died in 2016 aged 84), gave her two neighbours and close friends, Julian Bovis and Nigel Durkan, a remarkable surprise when her solicitor got in touch to inform them that the award-winning textile artist and teacher had gifted them her home, with the wish that they turn it into an ‘art house’.
Bovis (an artist himself) and Durkan (an art psychotherapist) have done exactly that, lovingly transforming the soot-stained narrow building over the course of two years. 13 New Street – or The Weavers Factory, as it will now be known – opened to the public earlier this April, complete with three gallery spaces, a multi-function workshop (Charnley’s former studio), a gift shop (selling Charnley’s prints, as well as other items), a tea bar, and access to the small garden which she expertly nurtured during her 50 years living at the quiet address.
The ambitious, socio-politically-themed exhibitions programme consists of a new show every month, with a focus on older artists that have been forgotten by the art world and younger names at the start of their careers. The daily creative workshops on offer span everything from photography and illustration to banner making and wet felting.
Interesting, this is not the first unusual transformation that the modest grey-brick building has undergone. Originally built in 1808, it began life as a small factory for domestic weavers, before variously becoming a coffin-makers’ workshop, an illegal gambling den and even a temperance hotel before Charnley and her late husband took up residence in 1963.
Yet, despite its colourful past, it seems highly fitting that the textile artist should find her home in the former weaver’s cottage, within view of an old steam mill. Charnley exhibited at the Festival of Britain and one of her designs is held within the V&A collection. Bovis and Durkan were delighted to discover a sizeable horde of her work dating back to the 40s, 50s and 60s as they sorted through all she had left them.
Their aspiration for The Weavers Factory is for it to become the best art gallery in Greater Manchester. Judging by their own impeccable taste and dedication to the project, the bold aim could well come true.