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New exhibition launches capturing ‘Kirkstall Lives’ and memories

By Bobby Tait

Kirkstall residents have been presented with memories of their youth as Abbey House Museum today launched ‘Kirkstall Lives’ – an exhibition featuring stories of the people who lived and worked there from the early 20th century up to the modern day. 

It features stories of buildings that were lost to rubble or renovated for modern purposes such as the power station, of places people used to congregate and enjoy their weekends, such as the Rolarena, to the schools and sports clubs that residents used to enrich their lives like the KECC. 

Contributors were able to relive their pasts, as well as passing it on to future generations. 

Exhibition curator Patrick Bourne said:

“The idea was mainly to get people’s voices in the gallery. The idea began over the lockdown period, but from around February to March of this year was when the wheels really got turning.

“It was quite serendipitous how it all came together. Relying on residents who have lived in the area all their lives and putting together an exhibition that both tells their stories and informs people who currently live here what it was like and what has changed and what hasn’t.

“I had no idea what it would look like before we received the objects and memories from the contributors. We have a broad range of artefacts from Totty’s the tailors, the Kirkstall Education Cricket Club – which was founded in the 1950s – as well as precious items from St Stephen’s church school.”

Liz Samways, a contributor to exhibition, said it had brought together people who grew up in the same era, and in the same community who would otherwise have never met. She added:

“Two gentleman who attended this morning were discussing the old ice rink and how they both used to work on the ice rink which was later became Caroline’s night club. They met today for the first time and it was really nice to see new bonds being made because of this exhibition.”

Other contributions were more recent artefacts of Kirkstall’s history.

This included a ticket to the Kaiser Chiefs’ concert that was held next to Kirkstall Abbey back in 2011, as well as the performance of ‘Frankenstein’s Wedding’ that was aired on BBC Three.

This part of the exhibition binds the old and the new in a way that all can engage with, as the more recent additions update the lineage of history of the area and reminds locals that they all have their part to play in their community. 

Our review of Kirkstall Lives

By Matthew Shaw

An exhibition opened recently in Abbey House Museum exploring the living past of Kirkstall. 

The exhibition begins with a memorabilia-ridden walk through Kirkstall’s recent history. It explores hidden gems such as the Rolarena and ice rink. This part of the exhibition also shows a drawing of a child from Sacred Heart Primary.

Following that is the personal and comedic oral histories spoken by members of the community. One, by Marina Patterson, goes into detail about the roller rink and its history. These oral histories really added to the community side of the exhibition while also allowing more personal stories to be told alongside. 

Moving on from the oral histories was a screen displaying images of Kirkstall in the past and what they look like now. It also played the original video of when the Kirkstall Power Station was demolished. 

Next to that screen was another, slightly smaller, screen that displayed more personal, historic videos of people within the community. These stories came from a diverse bunch of people with differing views therefore allowing a more diverse history. 

Hung on the wall was also a history of both the project and of Kirkstall which nicely explained the general themes of the exhibition while also giving credit to those who made donations towards the project.

Placing the scope of the exhibit was a brilliant idea as it covered recent history that wasn’t covered within the museum while allowing the community to be involved. Patrick Bourne, the curator of the exhibition, talked about how they interviewed local people about the history of Kirkstall, while contributor Liz Samways described it as: “First-hand history.”

Another contributor, Trevor Patterson, said: “It’s an insight into recent history.” He also spoke about how the community contributed greatly. 

The new exhibition took just over six months to put together and is at Abbey House Museum until September. I would recommend anyone interested in the local and memorable history of Kirkstall pay a visit. 

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