Here at House of Illustration we are getting to know New River Head, a derelict heritage site in Clerkenwell that we are restoring to create new galleries and an education space. As part of this journey, we are inviting illustrators to research its long history and create new work in our Engine House Residency series.
Our first Engine House Residents are Laura Copsey and Philip Crewe. They met as students at the Royal College of Art in 2016 and share an interest in heritage and the way that time, people’s experiences, traditional making and objects can come together to tell stories. They have worked together on projects including From Scratch, for which Laura created a portable ‘field’ to grow enough wheat to make one loaf of bread in order to explore the reality of the political rhetoric of 'taking back control'. Philip’s corresponding toolkit for farming and baking was inspired by London folklore and historic craft.
Laura and Philip’s residency will focus on the early history of New River Head, which is part of a historic landscape of water in Clerkenwell. From the 12th century onwards, the area in central London was known as the home of numerous wells, spas, springs and rivers. At the time of the New River’s construction in 1603, water was viewed by many as sacred: it was associated with superstitions beliefs and rituals, and the supply of water was seen as the responsibility of the Church. The New River changed this; through a feat of engineering, it brought much needed ‘sweet’ fresh water to London’s growing population, however as one of the first for-profit water sources, it also created in a drastic cultural shift, changing people’s relationship with the waters of the city.
From this starting point, Laura and Philip will research the historic industries and superstitions associated with water in Clerkenwell. Their intention is to discover the names of working-class tradespeople (often overlooked in ‘official’ histories of the New River) and to create a fictional ‘museum’ of storied objects, images and ephemera that speculate upon their lives. The museum will be a layered interpretation of the work, experiences and beliefs of everyday Londoners in the 17th century. Inspired by an absurdist take on ethnographic practices, Laura and Philip will use traditional craft methods and experimental ways of making images by recording traces, light and time with camera-less photography, 16mm film and collage.