Fabric of their lives

The people of Thirsk embroidered their community on a remarkable parish map

THERE was a ripping sound at a recent public enquiry in Thirsk. It came from a visual aid employed by Joe Salmon of the local civic trust, an objector to a proposed row of pylons that would spring up between the town and the North Yorkshire moors. The map behind him, covering three miles of terrain, looked like a giant's bedspread: measuring 24ft long, 4ft wide and almost 2 inches thick, it needed eight stout-armed folk to hold it up. Suddenly it began to collapse under its own weight.

Fortunately the rending sound was Velcro which had been ingeniously attached to hold the four sections together. The edges were rapidly rejoined and the whole creation was later returned to the wall of the Thirsk public library for which it was designed.

It is the most spectacular of the hundreds of community maps to which Sue Clifford has been, if not the mother, at least a midwife. From the environmental charity Common Ground, she has given rise to an enormous scheme of communal cartography, the Parish Maps Project. Launched in 1987, the scheme had within two years spawned more than a thousand draw-it-yourself groups.

It is not necessarily the precise borders of the parish she recommends people record but their neck of the woods, their back yard. Get it down on paper (or, as in Thirsk, on fabric) before it disappears under a hypermarket. What developers like is a so-called "green-field" site in the middle of nowhere.

"But nowhere is nowhere," Sue Clifford argues fiercely. "Every little patch has people who know it. Most maps are presented to us as objective ways of telling the truth but they all lie to a degree. Maps are in a sense about power; you can tell who's drawn them." Ordnance Survey gives the game away by its very name; it means "cannon" or" military supplies" and its cartographers clearly saw terrain in the first instance as a place for soldiers to march over and defend. "Our attitude at Common Ground was: let's look at cartography another way. Local people can show what is important to them."

The Thirsk map is constructed entirely of fabric, from brown corduroy for the ploughed fields to tiny patches of cloth on the multi-coloured border. A little money was raised for a professional textile designer to start it off, after which hundreds of people had themselves literally in stiches: petit point, blackwork and pull through.

At 1,536 stitches to the mile, it depicts in lively detail not just the town of Thirsk but also the neighbouring parishes of Sowerby, Norby, South Kilvington and Carlton Miniott. Linking them all is the strong blue line of the river, the Cod Beck. Another element is that it progresses through the four seasons, from spring on the left to winter (with the inevitable robin) on the far right.

"It isn't passive," Sue Clifford says. "Placed in a public position, it keeps people talking. And conventional maps sacrifice an awful lot of local detail." She points to the figure of a man in cricket whites: "That is Thomas Lord, after whom Lord's cricket ground was named; he was born locally." Then she indicates a tiny image of a tree: "There is now a beech here. On this site there was an elm on which, so the story goes, the Earl of Mowbray was lynched for speaking up for the poll tax." We are going back to pre-Thatcher days, of course.

For its forthcoming series of exhibitions on parish maps, Common Ground (44 Earlham Street, London WC2H 9LA) would like to hear from any local groups that have produced one.

As for the Thirsk inquiry, the jury, or rather the inspector, is still out. But if the pylons are to be dumped on the horizon, at least they will be sufficiently far away for the local cartographers to be spared the trouble of adjusting their map.

Jonathan Sale

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Legendary charm: Clive Owen and Keira Knightley in 2004’s ‘King Arthur’
FilmGuy Ritchie is the latest filmmaker to tackle the legend
Arts and Entertainment
Corporate affair: The sitcom has become a satire of corporate culture in general

TV review

Broadcasting House was preparing for a visit from Prince Charles spoiler alert
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: There are some impressive performances by Claire Skinner and Lorraine Ashbourne in Inside No. 9, Nana's Party spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Glastonbury's pyramid stage

Glastonbury Michael Eavis reveals final headline act 'most likely' British pair

Arts and Entertainment
Ewan McGregor looks set to play Lumiere in the Beauty and the Beast live action remake

Film Ewan McGregor joins star-studded Beauty and the Beast cast as Lumiere

Arts and Entertainment
Charlie feels the lack of food on The Island with Bear Grylls

TV

The Island with Bear Grylls under fire after male contestants kill and eat rare crocodile
Arts and Entertainment
Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Quicksilver and Elizabeth Olsen as Scarlet Witch, in a scene from Avengers: Age Of Ultron
filmReview: A great cast with truly spectacular special effects - but is Ultron a worthy adversaries for our superheroes? spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Ince performing in 2006
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Beth (played by Jo Joyner) in BBC1's Ordinary Lies
tvReview: There’s bound to be a second series, but it needs to be braver spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry, the presenters of The Great Comic Relief Bake Off 2015

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A still from Harold Ramis' original Groundhog Day film, released in 1993

Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury

music

Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas

film

Arts and Entertainment

music

Arts and Entertainment
A shot from the forthcoming Fast and Furious 7

film

Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary

TV

Arts and Entertainment
The leader of the Church of Scientology David Miscavige

TV

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

    Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
    Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

    Aviation history is littered with grand failures

    But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

    Fortress Europe?

    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
    Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

    Never mind what you're wearing

    It's what you're reclining on that matters
    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence