For 50-years the Weavers Factory was home to the award-winning textile artist Joan Charnley. The Grade-II listed building was restored in 2018 and in April 2019 will open as a contemporary art gallery
The Weavers Factory
13 New Street is a Grade-II listed building in the village of Uppermill, Saddleworth. Constructed in 1808 by John Mallalieu it was originally used as a factory for domestic weavers before being abandoned when the Industrial Revolution made small-scale weaving untenable. In the first half of the 20th Century the property was used as a coffin-makers, an illegal gambling den and a temperance hotel, before being converted into a house in 1963 by our Patron Joan Charnley and her husband Archibald MacDonald. In 2018 it was fully restored and converted into a contemporary art gallery.
Julian Bovis, Curator
“When Nigel and I bought a house next door to Joan in 2012 we had no idea what an exciting journey all three of us would take. Joan wasn’t just a textile designer, she was an all round polymath. She was educated in an era when people still read books and right up until the day she died Joan was inquisitive about everything. She never quite mastered the iPad but she knew Roget’s Thesaurus back to front.
Contrary to how it appeared we didn’t look after her, she looked after us. That 5-foot-nothing, 88-year-old lady taught us 6-foot 40-something men all about life. She made us brush up our act and raise our game - nothing was allowed to be sloppy or lackadaisical on Joan’s watch. As the years pass since Joan’s death, Nigel and I have begun to focus on the legacy she left, but nothing will ever be as important as the friendship we had and the love we shared.
Nigel Durkan, Manager
“I remember the first day we met Joan, it was a rainy January morning in Uppermill and she was huddled underneath an umbrella rushing to the Co-Op to buy cakes. Within a couple of weeks she’d invited us into her house and we became firm friends. Joan was always meticulous about presentation, a cup of tea would be adorned with a matching serviette and a pack of biscuits would always be arranged into a beautiful shape.
Joan was always so generous with her time and her advise, she taught Julian how to be a better artist and taught me how to be a better gardener and cook. Every day we appreciate what a privilege it is to run the Weavers Factory and fulfil Joan’s wish to transform her home into the best art gallery in Greater Manchester. Hopefully if you’re reading this you’ll visit the Weavers Factory and appreciate what a special place it is.
Joan of Art! Gallery legacy project drawing close to completion
An historic Uppermill property is being turned into Manchester’s newest art gallery thanks to the generosity of its former owner and the vision of her two neighbours.
Joan Charnley lived in the Grade-II listed Georgian building on New Street for more than half a century. When she died in July 2016, Joan bequeathed the former weaver’s factory to Julian Bovis and Nigel Durkan. Her simple brief was to turn her artist’s home into an art gallery, With Joan’s final wish legalised and planning permission granted, Julian and partner Nigel began their massive renovation project last October.
One of the most unspoilt and unchanged buildings of its type, the pair had a blank canvas to turn Joan’s property – built in 1808 – into an art gallery fit for the 21st Century. They invited the Saddleworth Independent for a first behind the scenes look at a work in progress. The Grade II listed property on New Street will become Oldham’s newest gallery. We will now follow the transformation until the gallery, named ‘The Weavers Factory’, opens to the public in Spring 2019.
“Joan was a phenomenal woman,” said Julian, a former national newspaper Art Director. “When her husband died in 1991, she set about travelling the world. And on her 80th birthday she ended up in the Galapagos Islands. Joan, who lived for a further eight years, was married to Archie McDonald, a former head of Oldham Art School.
“An award-winning artist and textile designer, she was a leading member of Saddleworth Festival Arts, Saddleworth Garden Society and the Northern Horticultural Society. Joan regularly held solo and group art exhibitions across the country. Her work is held in the Victoria & Albert Museum, public galleries and private collections.
“When Nigel and I moved in next door to Joan we became close friends,” explained Julian. “Joan didn’t have any children and I suppose we were the sons she never had. But it was still a massive shock to get a call from a solicitor saying Joan had left us her house to turn into art gallery.
“It was a wide remit. She wanted her home to become an "art house" for the community and left the rest for me and Nigel to sort out. There was no more information than that. When we cleared the house we found lots of notes Joan had made about the gallery she wanted. She must haven been planning it for years and at some point had hoped to tell us what she wanted. Sadly, she died before she got the chance.”
One of the main tasks for Julian and Nigel was to appoint builders who had empathy for their ideas and grand designs. A social media search led them to local builders Jonathan Ashton and Dave Barton. Then began the intricate transformation of an original two-in-one building, a Georgian house at the front and Weaver’s Cottage at the back.
“Of all the properties in the row it’s in the most original state,” added Julian. “Joan moved into the house in 1963 but didn’t put in central heating to 2009. The building lends itself into large, multi-use space, enabling us to turn it into a commercial art gallery and multi-use educational space. Part of the planning application was to try and reflect what the building would have been like in 1808 and our builders have cleverly blended original details with contemporary additions. Building work is expected to be completed by the middle of August 2018, ready for the gallery to open in April 2019.
"The gallery is an exciting project, but more than anything we just want to make Joan proud" smiled Julian.