Cockermouth Children Explore West Cumbria’s Cultural Heritage

Children at Cockermouth’s All Saints Primary School have discovered that an internationally renowned 20th century artist whose work is in many leading art galleries was born in the town. Her connection to Cockermouth has largely been forgotten.

Dorothy Bradford (née Bassano) was born in 1918, the daughter of a Cockermouth art teacher. Her story came to light while the children were taking part in a project run by local charity Kirkgate Arts and Heritage. The project involves people of all ages researching their local heritage and culture while developing their own creative skills.

‘Dorothy Bradford’s work is greatly valued in the art world but her connection to our area has been forgotten,’ said Celia Burbush, an award-winning local artist who is leading the project. ‘The children were excited to discover that she was a daughter of their home town.’

The children started looking into the history of the many mills that used to operate in Cockermouth. Using items from Kirkgate’s local history collection, such as textiles, thread and yarn, they learned about the work people used to do locally such as fabric-dyeing, papermaking and bobbin-making.

‘We’re using creativity such as drawing, papermaking and sculpting to research local culture,’ said Celia. ‘The children have spent sessions re-enacting some of these local skills to find out more about how people used to work in Cockermouth. We’re connecting manufacturing with creativity and artistic achievement.

‘Next month they’ll be visiting Stott Park Bobbin Mill near Windermere to see a rare example of a working mill. The children were really fascinated to find out about Dorothy, an accomplished painter whose work depicting musicians, dancers and horse-riders is in many art gallery collections.’

Emma Heys, General Manager at Kirkgate Arts and Heritage, said: ‘All Saints School is involved in a series of workshops we’re running for several months in Cockermouth and at the Settlement in Maryport.

‘They are inspired by the heritage skills and lives of local artists, combined with the life and current cultural experiences of the participants. It’s giving us a lot of insight into what local people value about what’s broadly called ‘culture’. It’s not just the National Theatre and Covent Garden Opera House. People at the grass roots have many creative and artistic skills and there’s a rich cultural heritage in West Cumbria.’

The Kirkgate Centre is holding workshops and family days in July and August to give the public a chance to get hands on with this arts-based research supported by funding from The Arts Council and Allerdale Borough Council. The arts and crafts involved cover flower pressing, creative writing, painting using watercolours, acrylic paint, and oil paint, papermaking, printing and dyeing with natural dyes.

A final exhibition of work produced during the project is being planned for later in the year.

For more information about the summer workshops go to and use the Join In filter.

The featured image is © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: Argyll and Bute Council
Tea on the Lawn
Dorothy Bradford (1918–2008)
Campbeltown Museum