The Lightfoot Letters

I was going to start this post with an apology. After all, what is the point of reviewing an exhibition which opened in early February but which closes on Friday? However, I have just discovered that there will be another chance to see this delightful show.


Yesterday we managed to get to see The Lightfoot Letters at the Visual Arts Cheshire Gallery in Northwich, and as I said above it was delightful. Sometime ago, Maria Walker, a textile artist, bought a bundle of old letters from an antique shop with the intention of cutting them up and using them in her art work. She had them with her at a workshop when she met poet Angela Topping. The name on the letters, Lightfoot, happened to be Angela’s maiden name but the address was in Manchester which had no connection for her.

The two exchanged business cards and soon began collaborating. Shortly afterwards, Angela discovered that the letters were sent from Widnes where her family came from. Indeed, she found that they were indeed from her family, sent to and kept by her aunt Frances, including ones from her father when he was twelve. An amazing coincidence! This link is the first of a series of posts on Angela’s blog about the letters


petersletter2Angela’s father Peter’s letter from 1923

The exhibition was of Maria and Angela’s work based on the letter. For example, the above letter mentions Peter ice skating. Here is Angela’s poem (I’ve changed the layout, as I couldn’t work how to reproduce the original layout).

Exhibition at the Brindley Runcorn

Lean into the wind, father, let skates speed you across frozen pond

in this harsh winter of 1923 when pits are thick with ice and all you care about

is learning to go on two skates, those home-made blades carrying you in a hard-won glide

into a back spin as you show off your new found skills. No one taught you or held your hand

hauled you up when you fell time after time, except yourself. Enjoy your triumph, Dad,

for all too soon your childhood will crash to its ending. For now you’re just a boy

buying a clockwork engine with carefully totted up tips from your after-school job.*

All too soon you’ll be a man at twelve years old, handing pay over to keep family fed:

your mother ill in bed*, your father given up to drink, the young ones arguing.

Skate on, enjoy the free flow as your blades whistle on ice. It’s not yet time to go home.

(* Referred to in other letters.)

Meanwhile Maria produced a textile of ice skates:


There are more works from Maria here and some of Angela’s poems are here.

The exhibition closes on Friday in Northwich but will be on show again from May 18th to 28th September at the Sale Waterside Art Centre, in Sale, Manchester. (I saw John Otway there last year, and they have an excellent display area.) Meanwhile, here are some more of Maria’s work:

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oca 001b

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oca 001d


About notes to the milkman

I'm a printmaker based in the North West of England, living in Bolton and printing at Hot Bed Press in Salford. Please visit my website
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13 Responses to The Lightfoot Letters

  1. what an amazing coincidence and a lovely body of work from it

  2. seascapesaus says:

    Oh what a poignant poem. It has stopped me in my tracks, although I must confess I wasn’t skating.

  3. coastalcrone says:

    Delightful! Thank you for sharing it with us. Old letters are wonderful records.

  4. Thanks, really interesting, I hope to get along to see it. Thanks for the link to a venue that is new to me.

  5. Thank you, Rosie, Philippa, ‘Costal Crone’ (sorry, but I don’t know your real name) and Andy. I highlighted the skating bit as I was able to show the original letter and how Angela and Maria had responded to it. There were many other examples. The exhibition was quite small but very enjoyable. Try and catch it at Sale – even if you have to travel from Australia or Texas!

  6. I love the illustrations.

  7. Thank you for sharing our work and linking to our blogs. That is really appreciated.

  8. Also, if anyone is interested, I have several books published which are relevant to the exhibition.

  9. Pingback: Video of The Lightfoot Letters at VAC April 2013 | notes to the milkman

  10. Pingback: StAnza 2014: The Lightfoot Letters | notes to the milkman

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