Paul Rooney at Colne Valley Museum


Project Info


  • Paul Rooney


  • Colne Valley Museum

Paul Rooney’s sound piece for the 1840s era kitchen at Colne Valley Museum aims to shed light on the historically neglected space of the domestic kitchen – it’s numbingly repetitive, thankless labour, it’s subversive creative resistances. But rather than illustrate these ideas through direct explanation, the piece allows the amplified grain and texture of the embodied vocal sounds; the sung syllables, intakes of breath, scrap of speech (all chopped and sliced in an echo of the repetitive tasks of kitchen work) to create a space within which a listener can contemplate for themselves the unimaginably numerous histories and experiences that are implied.

The main voices in the piece connect with the history of the Colne Valley Museum kitchen and with women’s history: Susan Whitwam, who has been a volunteer at the museum since it opened in 1970, and 81-year-old folk singer Frankie Armstrong and her singing group. Frankie is a living connection with the history of the women’s movement and the 1960s folk revival (her membership of Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger’s The Critics Group in the mid-sixties, her editing of an anthology of women’s song in 1979), which adds another layer of implication to the piece, as if her voice itself bears testimony to the histories that it attempts to invoke.

The phrase “a million darkened kitchens” that is repeated in the piece is from a 1911 poem inspired by women suffragists and strikers that Frankie has recorded a number of times through the years.

Open until 12 November 2022.

Colne Valley Museum is based in Golcar near Huddersfield and is a Grade 2 listed building housed in four weaver’s cottages, built in the 1840s by a family of independent cloth manufacturers. The cottages are built into the steep hillside of Golcar and were once owned by the Pearson family who inhabited one cottage with their five adult children. The family were all hand loom weavers, later becoming power loom weavers. The other three cottages that today make up the Colne Valley Museum were initially occupied by relatives of the Pearson family.

The museum has a strong intimate atmosphere and identity. The Pearson family resided in the cottages for many years, passing it on to their children, many of whom remained within the weaving industry.

In 1910 one of the cottages was taken over by the Golcar Socialist Club who remained there until 1969, at which point the Socialist Club donated the cottage to become the Museum. The next two cottages were acquired in the early 1970s, but the upper cottage and adjoining shop were only bought in 2010. All four buildings were finally amalgamated into one visitor attraction at the beginning of 2017 – the Colne Valley Museum.

The Artist

Paul Rooney is an artist/musician based in Liverpool, who makes music with words “investigating the intersections of music, myth, memory and place” (The Wire magazine). His installations, videos and records assemble the contrary, unpredictable narratives that haunt particular places, fabricating fragmentary voices that comically and unreliably spook the present from an unquiet past.