Art has an important role to play when an area is under review as a place to be rediscovered (allowing for the people who already live there and are part of the journey, their knowledge immensely useful).
Between 2019 and 2022 a series of open and concealed artistic activities played a crucial part in the ongoing reinvention of an area connected to the story of the child survivors, the local community, and the Modern social and historical context that they emerged into in August 1945.
As Professor Caroline Sturdy Colls famously described it in a public talk, how a non-site becomes a site is key to the understanding of the location that covers where Calgarth Estate used to stand.
Above and Below the Holocaust Landscape was an Arts Council England funded initiative to enable artists to access and utilise aspects of the archaeological survey and dig of Calgarth Estate in 2019. Artists are uniquely qualified to act as a form of filter between what is on the surface and what lies underground. Given that they are inquisitive observers at the best of times, and archaeology offers a certain satisfaction in the reveal of hidden realities, the initiative was irresistible.
The Lakes School now stands on the site of what was once Calgarth Estate, a Second World War housing scheme built to house workers for the nearby Short Sunderland Flying Boat factory at nearby White Cross Bay.
Calgarth Estate stood here from 1942 and in the 1950’s was slowly demolished until the Lakes School opened on the former site in 1965. Parts of the estate were still standing when the school opened but disappeared over the coming years.
Nothing can be seen of the estate apart from the remains of a small building that in fact had many uses during its active time. Fragments of it, and what remains of its walls, still stand at edge of the field on the northern fringes of the site.
An archaeological survey and limited excavation on the rugby field next to the leisure centre and gymnasium in 2019 revealed a huge amount of building debris beneath the surface including bricks, glass, drainage piping and some exciting small items that once belonged to the people who lived here.
Similar debris will be found under the entire site of Lakes School and its playing fields, and beneath the pastureland beyond.
The entire site was covered in topsoil after it had been demolished and a man named Billy Moffatt was the first to plough the land after the estate was gone. How do we know this? He told us so. And he told us “tha’ll find nothing of worth down there, I carried a crowbar in the back and if I hot anything I dug it out and hoiked it into the trailer”. All this told with a nod, a wink, and a glimpse into another layer below the landscape.
There were two hundred homes on this site along with hostels for a further three hundred unattached workers who stayed here without their families. Between 1942 and the late 1950’s it is estimated that over 3000 people would have lived here at one time or another.
It is remarkable how little of the estate can be seen above ground nowadays but dig down a little and a whole hidden world appears under your feet.
The images on display here on this web page are deliberately shown in a non-chronological order. This is intended to reflect that although the methods of archaeology and the “reveal” are forensic and detailed, the history that is revealed is also messy and unconfined. No matter how much we try to impose order on it that past remains necessarily elusive.
An artwork operates by having within it multiple layers of meaning that need to be deconstructed to make artistic sense of the artwork. It can talk about different things all at the same time, without passing judgment or offering solutions.
This makes for it to be both like and not like archaeology. The painstaking analysis on an archaeological excavation is a fascinating discipline to behold, as is the intense study of an art work. But the artist is free to not just inter and disinter symbols and meanings that appear during the creative process, but also move them, shift them, bury them again, dig them out again, leave them hanging in the air.
It is a poetic process that is unavailable to the rigidity of archaeology (but that is not at all to deny the creative imagination that archaeologists need to make sense of often complex “reveals”).
Museological displays in Windermere and at Lakes School create a connection between the village that has become synonymous with an event (“The Windermere Children”, “Windermere Boys”, “Wondermere”) and the location where it all happened.
Although even at this point the layers begin to grow and merge. Lake Schools being built on the site of Calgarth Estate, with the address being originally Troutbeck Bridge. In another world the young Jewish children stayed at the heart of a British working class community at a place called Troutbeck Bridge and not Windermere.
From Richard Kolker’s evocative photos of present day Auschwitz to Miroslaw Balka’s art work for the cover of Rock the Cradle by Marie Paneth.
From Richard White and Lorna Brunstein’s walking project so powerfully inspired by her family’s connections to the child survivors and to the horrors of a walk at Auschwitz Birkenau
From a hidden object placed beneath a new tree planted at a children’s hospital at Calgarth and connected to a very special story of common humanity.
From a place called Treblinka to a place called Troutbeck Bridge. Somewhere in these ingredients you will find deep and profound lessons about life, death, and in the words of Sir Ben Helfgott where life began again…