“As the Creative Connections Practitioner at Rosehill Theatre it has been an absolute privilege to work on this project, funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. Due to the Covid19 pandemic we didn’t get to do everything we had planned and the project has been extended many, many times but I have loved every minute of it. I have met some incredible people and listened to even more incredible stories. The depth of feeling that local people have for the Sekers Silk Mills will stay with me forever.
I have very personal memories of Sekers Silk Mills and Rosehill Theatre. My first job, when I was at school, was at Rosehill’s Bistro, when David had it. I worked in the downstairs kitchen on cold desserts and pot wash. I remember the squirty cream machine that took gas canisters. I also volunteered at the theatre when I was in 6th form. I remember I was working on Button Moon when the news of the Chernobyl disaster broke. I also remember seeing John Cooper Clarke for the 1st time in the mid 1980s. It was a marvellous gig.
I was brought up on Hensigham, just down the hill from the Silk Mills. My mam, Maurren Hodgson nee Graham, worked there before I was born. One of my oldest friends, Anne Marie Chisholm worked there, as did her husband, Russell. Her dad, Karl Eichler, was a weaving manager worked at the mill all his working life.
The factory was an integral part of my adolescence. My Nana and Mam were both seamstresses and they taught me to sew. I loved going to the mill factory shop with my mam. Frank Johnson used to serve us. We used to joke that Frank didn’t know how to measure a yard, as we invariably came away with double the length of fabric we had asked for. All our curtains, cushions and loose coverings were made by mam with Sekers fabric; from the browns and oranges of the 1970s to the shiny pinks and pastels of the 80s.
I spent all of my teenage years clad in Sekers. I designed and made garments for my friends. I remember one particular cream brocade dress that had a pencil skirt so tight around the knees, she had to totter, rather than walk.
I have very few images of my Sekers creations but here’s the ones I found. The first was a two tone dress and bolero jacket, based on a backless dress design from the film, West Side Story and made around 1985. The 2nd image is from my 21st birthday meal at Brunos Restaurant in 1987. The bright yellow geometric patterned dress was made from incredible stiff cotton that wasn’t very comfortable to wear. The last photo is from the early 90s. The jacket was made from Sekers tapestry type material.
I hope you enjoy looking through this blog. It really has been a labour of love.”
We received the following feedback after launching this blog:
Fiona Reynolds nee Crosbie Recollections
“Hello Janice, thank you so much for this mornings email and the Sekers blog. I’ve already had a whiz through it and will study it in detail later but it looks fascinating and how wonderful to have the compilation of the history of such an important part of Hensingham and Whitehaven. Growing up in Garden Villas, Hensingham, in the 1950/60’s the Silk Mills was a building I walked past every school day. I thought I was the bees knees when my Aunt in Scotland chose Sekers brocade for my bridesmaid dress and her own gown. Over the years my Mum & I would buy material from the factory shop and although no seamstress myself Mum was good at it and so always the best dresses with the fabric from there. In fact even today the heat proof table mat for my dining table is from there!!!!!! My parents were great patrons of the theatre and knew Mikki Sekers quite well. I remember one night they were taking your granny Hannah to a production and my poor Dad got totally lost in the thick fog and didn’t make it to the theatre!!
I’m sorry I wasn’t able to get down to the theatre to see the exhibition but hope very much it will be kept somewhere for future generations so see what was done. Many congratulation on the work you have put into such an iconic part of Hensinghams history.
I think the bridesmaid dresses were ‘crushed pink’……….the wedding dress was shipped out to Australia by my parents in 1974 for my aunts daughter to wear. My aunt & family emigrated in the early 1960’s.
My old music teacher Dorothy Edger who I’m in touch with a lot would love to see it so if OK I’ll send her the link.
Hello again, what a brilliant piece of work. Loved reading it all and seeing the little movies and then reading the pieces the ex colleagues added. Definitely must be on show somewhere in the town.
Just heard from Dorothy as soon as I sent the link she sat and read it all and enjoyed going back in time with all the history and seeing people she recognised. Many congratulations and Best Wishes.”
Fiona, Isle of Skye
“Thank you very much for your email. I opened the link and really enjoyed going through it. Thank you once again. Best Wishes.”
“Thanks Janice…that’s great…..a huge well done to you for your achievement which has touched many…is it possible to see the film of Emma’s performance anywhere?….(I used to work with her at the W/News) I thought it was excellent….she is such a talented lass! Give her my best, and my congratulations, if you are in touch with her.”
We asked visitors to the exhibition to leave feedback on tags that were decorated with contemporary Sekers Fabrics.
“Very interesting exhibition. This archive should be kept locally!”
“We’ve had a wonderful time. Such lovely memories. So much history now documented. Great info. Loved the film too. Very appropriate and a reminder of what is so good in Whitehaven people. Thank you Janice for a lovely presentation.”
Doreen Hardy and Ron Hardy (electrician).
“Captured the very family orientated textile mill in a wonderful way. Emma Gordon captured the west Cumbrian spirit perfectly.”
Paul and Kath Lockwood
“Brings back so many memories of my early days. A lovely exhibition!”
“Absolutely beautiful exhibition. Lots of hard work gone into it. Well done.”
“Great exhibition, came across it by chance on facebook. The old film – wow and the factory on the old photos – looks so large. I don’t remember it being so large. Great memories came flooding back. Well done. Thank you!”
“Very interesting and informative film and exhibition.”
“Was a very good exhibition with lots and lots to look at and was very informative.”
“Fascinating to see the material from Dundee.”
“You should turn the barn into an archive and house all this material there.”
“A very interesting and well set out exhibition. Thank you. I saw my bother, Jack, in the cine film. He was rolling up the fabric. He was Miki’s driver and helper in the factory”
“Really enjoyed it, very interesting to learn about the history. Exciting range of information!”
“Great time capsule and chronicle of important local history. Fascinating to look through the exhibits. Thank you.”
“Wonderful. What an amazing story. I love the focus on Whitehaven and the community spirit.”
“A fantastic insight into Whitehaven’s past. Great guide, very informative! Many thanks.”
“Really interesting. I was not aware of Sekers involvement in My Fair Lady.”
“I worked there for 21 years. Very nostalgic exhibition.”
“I enjoyed the film and poems along with the singing so much. Wonderful display of memorabilia.”
Harold and Margaret Shakley
“What a wonderful exhibition. Such talented designers, a global business here in Whitehaven. So sad the UK manufacturing had to leave the area. The film was very evocative.”
“How fabulous that the social history of a town can be told in fabric. Bravo Rosehill and bravo Emma McGordon. Never loose the accent!”
“Absolutely brilliant, loved the film and performance and the cushion story. You can visualise it happening. Very interesting to look at all the information and pictures and I wished I could dress like the beautiful models.”
“I loved going to the exhibition – I loved looking through the archive books. It made me remember the factory. I loved there was the connection between the glamorous fashion houses of Paris and London and a little rural town. It shows connections are there all over the place. I think my brother went 3 times. We all loved the poet too she was great. Thank you for all your work it was lovely.”
“Fabulous exhibition! Well done, especially the poetry / performance.”
“Not only a beautiful exhibition but an educational one.”
“Part of my life is now part of history! Wow!”
“Fabulous exhibition – well done Janice! Keep it going and keep the exhibs in West Cumbria where their importance is best appreciated.”
“A fantastic exhibition – this material should all stay part of Whitehaven, it’s part of the towns heritage and people should be able to see it.”
“Fascinating! And so may famous names. I still have my Sekers curtains – 2 pairs.”
“We bought Sneakyeat Farm, at Summer Grove in 1964. It was 92 acres. The Barwise family had it before that. In 1914 there was 200 acres. The Lowther Estate, who owned the farm sold off the land which included the Sekers factory site. All the curtains in the Keekle Mission are made from Sekers fabric. They have been up for years and they haven’t faded at all!”
“Really enjoyed! Loved looking back at some old memories! I am firends with George Spiro’s son who lives in Australia. He asked me to attend and I will send him the film and old factory images.”
“Very interesting. Brought back lovely memoirs. Staff very knowledgeable.”
“An excellent presentation of Sekers, very nostalgic and very well put together and the wonderful photographs.”
“Well worth seeing all the history of Sekers. Thank you. Loved the song and the poetry.”
“A privilege to attend the very well researched and displayed exhibition of a local factory that made such an impression nationally and internationally in the fashion and upholstery industry. Inspirational work by Morgan Murray Arts and delightful poetry by Emma McGordon. Proud of our little piece of Cumbria. It got me appreciating and remembering what we once had around here and the impact and importance it played. Sellafield, although important will never have the same comradeship I’m sure Sekers, Kangol and Edgards had.”
“I used to love going to the Sekers factory shop with its roll upon roll of beautiful fabric ends, but until visiting the exhibition, I never knew what a fascinating history lay behind the Sekers Mill. It really was a revelation. The use of original film footage, interwoven with poetry based on anecdotes from the mill workers, really took me ‘there’ and was a brilliant introduction to the rest of the exhibition. I was led through the history of the mill through the use of original photographs, fabric samples, catalogues and a stunning work of art. It was extremely well thought out exhibition that in experience felt more like being told a story and has left me with lasting memories. It was a pleasure to visit. Highlights for me include – the cushion story; the ‘free fabric for wedding dresses’ and discovering that ‘our’ Sekers was known throughout the fashion industry for the quality of its designs and fabrics.”
“I was an electrician. That sample book fabric cutter was always breaking. I also worked at Rosehill Theate. I was paid to work behind the bar. I was in the room when George Spiro was sacked but I wasn’t high up enough to know why. The Christmas parties were held in the canteen. When there was the 3 day week in the 70s and power shortages, Sekers bought a generator. Jeane Baudrand took it to light up his garden at Roseneath!”
Ken Jackson visited the exhibition and brought theses booklets and envelope in to show us.
“I was a weaver. There were 90 looms at Sekers when I started. They also worked with Coutaulds making bedspreads. It was nice to work there. When Miki retired he invited me to the theatre. Lady Sekers said she liked talking to me as I was a straight talker. Miki was a real character.”
“I was a finisher who worked in the blowing room, which made the fabric softer by steaming. I worked at Sekers from 1963 to 1969. Miki sent me to Jersey for speech therapy. His son David had a stammer and he was cured by a doctor in Jersey. I also stammered so Miki sent me in 1964. I stayed in the hotel, Home Manor. Mr De Gara organised it and Miki financed it. There was eight of us including the MP Lord George Hamilton. I flew there (my 1st time) from Heathrow Airport in a Vickers viscount.
I was in the theatre when David Bowie came. I was a stage hand and got paid.”
Brian visited the Sekers Stories Exhibition and brought in this handmade bag.
“I was a weaver in 1960s and 70s. I made the bag for his eldest daughter when she started school, in the mid 60s, from Sekers offcuts. I also worked at Kelly Antiques in Whitehaven. Miki used to bring all his famous friends to the antique shop. A really famous violinist bought a candle stick. A lady customer quickly bought the other one in the shop as she wanted to have exactly the same candlestick the famous violinist. Miki also brought Princess Margaret into the shop.”
Harold and his wife Margaret visited to the Sekers Stories Exhibition.
“I worked on the night shift when Sekers got the big order for Ford car upholstery. We worked long 12 hour shifts as we were on a tight deadline. My mate, Steven, brought his motorbike into the factory. As he was leaving he locked me in. The police came and thought we were breaking in, rather than breaking out.”
We ran three Mini Messel’s workshops, for families, over the summer. The first offered participants the chance to road test the Toy Theatres. We then used original Sekers fabric to run weaving and rag rugging workshops.