A ONE-TIME coffin makers, illegal gambling den and temperance hotel is now home to Saddleworth’s newest art space.
And judging by its recent ‘meet the neighbours’ weekend, the Weavers Factory project will become an immediate success when it officially opens on Saturday, April 6.
Hundreds visited the New Street art house , the Grade II listed former home of Saddleworth artists, Joan Charnley, most unaware of its remarkable transformation.
When she died in July 2016, widow Joan left the property to her neighbours of the previous four years, Julian Bovis and Nigel Durkin.
Her only stipulation was it should be converted into a contemporary art gallery to benefit Saddleworth and the wider Greater Manchester community.
With exhibitions booked in for the next two years and workshops booked up for the first 12 months, Julian and Nigel have delivered as requested.
Fittingly, Joan and her life story will be the subject of the Weavers Factory first exhibition.
It will feature work on the first two of three floors by landscape artist John Hewitt, senior lecturer in illustration at Manchester Metropolitan University. Oldham College students will also create an exhibition inspired by the textiles of Joan Charnley.
“We were delighted by how busy we were,” explained Julian, the Factory’s curator while partner Nigel is manager.
“The weekend was really important. Before we opened it was just me and Nigel and the building. So, it’s been nice to get people in, to use the space and see how it works.
“It was great too to canvas opinions and ask visitors what they would like to see in the building.
“Because it is a Grade II listed building it was a complicated re-build,” added Julian of the property first occupied by Joan and husband Archibald MacDonald in 1963.
“It took longer than we thought and three times the budget. But everything has been finished on time because the builders did an amazing job. We hardly any technical problems at all.”
The Weavers Factory, which will also feature an art and gift shop on the ground floor and walled garden at the rear, promises thought provoking exhibitions.
“We have decided to promote from outside the area, “explained Julian. “A lot of artists already display locally and we don’t want to step on other galleries toes.
“We want to diversify and show things people haven’t seen before. We want to push the boundaries and be a little controversial.
“There are some interesting artists coming. And from the first Saturday of every month there will be a new show.”
“It’s also important we work with the next generation of artists, Myself and Nige are not getting any younger and Joan’s legacy needs to carry on.
“So, hopefully too we will have some collaboration with Whitworth and Manchester art galleries. There are some interesting artists coming.”
The top floor which was previously Joan’s study and bedroom, will be used for hosting workshops from jewellery making to photography, banner making to screen printing
The Weavers Factory will open to the general public Thursday to Sunday inclusive. The remaining days will be given over for room or building hire and private workshops.
“It is such a lovely space we want people to use it,” added Julian. “That way it becomes a proper community venue.”
Greenfield based Meg Langton attended the ‘meet the neighbours’ weekend as a close friend of Joan.
“I like was Julian and Nigel have done,” said Meg whose passion for Mary Stewart, Mary Queen of Scots was shared by Joan, a textile designer of significant repute. “They have done really well.
“It’s what she said she wanted. However, knowing Joan I think she would have resisted some of the changes.
“I have lived in Saddleworth 33 years and I knew Joan almost all the time after I first came to Greenfield.
“I am not an artist. But I am a Scot and Joan’s husband, Archie, was Scottish.
“She wasn’t beyond adopting a Scottish accent whenever she was north of the border.
“At the time I was chairman of the Mary Stewart Society. She became a member and never missed a meeting. She was a good laugh.
“When it came to her exhibitions, we were all roped into attending. She was a good user if she wanted to be.
“But I learned so much from her when it came to staging exhibitions. She would come to my house and mark out on my carpet where she wanted all her paintings to go.
“Joan was a perfectionist. I am not like that at all so I learned so much.”
Nigel added: “I remember the first day we met Joan. It was a rainy January morning in Uppermill and she was huddled underneath an umbrella rushing to the Co-Op to buy cakes.
“Within a couple of weeks she’d invited us into her house and we became firm friends. Joan was always so generous with her time and her advise.
“She taught Julian how to be a better artist and taught me how to be a better gardener and cook.
“Every day we appreciate what a privilege it is to run the Weavers Factory and fulfil Joan’s wish to transform her home into the best art gallery in Greater Manchester.”
• The Weavers Factory is located on 13 New Street, Uppermill, OL3 6AU; find out more online
www.weaversfactory.co.uk or call 01457 810654.