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With thanks to National Lottery Players

Photograph/s by Humphrey Spender

@Bolton Council. From the Collection of Bolton Museum


The Cotton Queens are a diverse group of women from in and around Bolton. The aim of the Cotton Queen’s project is to support members in developing their knowledge, skills and confidence through creative writing and performance by engaging with cultural and historical archives of the Bolton area and its community. Group members aim to promote community wellbeing, inclusion and integration and create a collective sense of belonging through shared engagement in conversations and stories about Worktown women. The project is being led by Bolton City of Sanctuary and is supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. Our partners are Bolton at Home, the University of Bolton and Bolton Library and Museum Services/Bolton Council.

Participants have engaged/are engaging in an extensive programme of creative activities and events focused on women in Worktown (the name given to Bolton by Mass Observation). The interaction between participants and the wider community aims to develop a deeper awareness and understanding of experiences, perceptions and misconceptions about past and present generations of women from the Bolton community by listening and responding to archive records, stories and memories.

Initially, creative activities focused on the Worktown Collection of Mass Observation, which provides an insight into the experiences of Worktown women at work in the mills, in the home and on holiday in Blackpool. After researching the local archives, the group wrote and produced a radio play, performed live at Bolton Museum, and also took part in the University of Bolton’s Worktown Festival in 2020.  In the second phase of the project, the group wrote poetry and drama scenes about the lives of mill girls , participated in the ‘Whitman on Walls’ transatlantic Walt Whitman event held at Bolton Museum and learned about filming. In the third phase of the project, participants will interpret their childhood memories through story writing, knitting and film with the aim of sharing their work with the local community, co-produce a series of filmed drama scenes about the lives of Worktown women and produce a documentary film about the project. Participants have shown that lifelong learning is fun, achievable, rewarding and can promote wellbeing. Being part of the group shows that anyone can learn new skills and contribute to preserving the stories of women from the local Bolton community.