Skirting draws on the question Peter Ackroyd poses in his biography of the city: “if there is a continuity of life, or experience, is it connected with the actual terrain and topography of the area?
Is it too much to suggest that there are certain kinds of activity, or patterns of inheritance, arising from the streets and alleys themselves?”(1)
Skirting investigates this idea of continuity subtly through the life experiences of the communities in the city fringe areas, making connections between some of the characters past and present.
One such character featuring in the work is Mrs Lewson of Cold Bath Square. In 1865, the historian W.P.Pinks wrote in A History of Clerkenwell : “she never washed herself, because she thought those people who did so were always taking cold, or laying the foundations of some dreadful disorder; her method was to besmear her face and neck all over with hog’s lard, because that was soft and lubricating” (2).
In the work there is also reference to a murder perpetrated by Sarah Metyard and Sarah M. Metyard upon Anne Naylor,in 1758.
The murderesses hacked thebody and bundled up body parts that were then thrown into a common sewer.
These historical references are combined with contemporary interviews with older residents who talked about how children used to play out in the streets, about crime and prostitution, about a fear of being left behind or not being able to stay here. Using as its basis the stories of local people (past and present) about Clerkenwell, this work looks at how we think about histories that reflect the way we actually understand our immediate surroundings through anecdote, tall - tales and fragmented narratives.
The narrative episodes are connected through the gestures and movements of the characters, and the spaces themselves, to create a sense of movement and progression.
These women going about their activities are of the fringes; there is poverty, crime, prostitution, sadness, stillness but ultimately a sense of continuum.
(1)Peter Ackroyd London The Biography Vintage London 2001 p464