Cultivating spaces for extraordinary artists

IN - In Conversation With The Past

As part of our IN project (2012- 2015), disabled artist-filmmaker Nicola Lane was commissioned by DASH and Shrewsbury Museum & Art Gallery to create a film reflecting on the life of deaf Romany Bill Lock, who lived and worked in and around the villages of Clun and Bishop's Castle in South Shropshire.

Bill Lock was born deaf in 1910 into a well-known Romany family who travelled throughout the Borders and Shropshire. The Lock family settled in Clun in the 1950s and Bill became an important part of the community.

To discover Bill's world, disabled artist Nicola Lane interviewed some of the many people who remember him - including 92 year old Clunton farmer Harry Collins who employed Bill and knew him well. Memories of Bill are still strong; but as Mr Collins says, it will be 'all gone' after his generation have passed.

Nicola's film aims to celebrate Bill's long life and the vanished world in which he lived and worked.

Nicola wrote;

I began by visiting Clun with Kent Tomey, who showed me Clun Museum. We went to St George's Church where Bill is buried next to his uncle and aunt, Albert and Daisy Lock. The Lock family graves were covered with fresh, beautiful flowers. I wondered if this was because it was a special day - but later I understood this is a Romany tradition and the graves are always kept bright with flowers.

Once I installed myself at the White Horse Inn, I began to meet people who knew Bill 'in the old days', who shared their stories and helped me discover landscapes and places that formed Bill's world.

On my next visit, all Clun B&B s were full and my quest for accommodation led to more discoveries – through Maureen Saunders' Clunton B&B I met 92 year old farmer Harry Collins, who used to employ Bill on his farm. Harry told me about his vanished world: ploughing with horses, hard times in the 1920s and 30s, the first mechanisation in 1948 - the world of the farming community around Clun who as Bill's nephew Harold told me, were “brilliant” and were the reason the Lock family settled there. They employed and cared for Bill - shaving him in their kitchens, feeding him, opening their door to him on Christmas day when he would stand and serenade them with blowing on a harmonica - “It was just a noise” said Harry Collins, “but it was Bill!”

When Bill died in 2000, the Shropshire Bedlams accompanied his funeral procession through Clun. Harold Lock asked the cortege to stop in the middle of Clun Bridge, to hold up the traffic for one last time, as Bill used to do - he would walk in the middle of the road literally deaf to angry hootings from the cars and lorries that now stream through Clun in ever increasing numbers.

Someone in the White Horse said: "Since Bill died, lorries started to crash into our bridge!"

Memories of Bill are still strong and almost everyone I met had kept photos of him. These represent important memories, and I asked people I met this question: Would Bill Lock have had a better life if he had been born today instead of 1910?

Thank you to everyone who shared their memories with me. I finished the film in Spring 2015, with a première in Clun, then a tour across Shropshire's small museums and – hopefully - international film festivals will follow. I think Bill would have enjoyed the attention!

Read more about Nicola's project on her website.