THE HISTORY OF BOOSBECK
WILFRED FLORESTAN FRANKS
A London born artist, craftsman, actor and dancer. Charismatic and eccentric Learn more
RUTH PENNYMAN &
MAJOR JIM PENNYMAN
Social philanthropists and local landowners Jim and Ruth were the last Mr and Mrs Pennyman of Ormesby Hall, because they had no children the Pennyman line ended with them. Upon Jims death in 1961 he bequeathed Ormesby Hall, park and home farm to the National Trust, with Ruth continuing to live at Ormesby until she passed away in 1983. Learn more
Heartbreak Hill is situated between Boosebeck and Margrove Park in the North east of England. Between 1932 and 1938 it was the site of an experimental farm, sponsored by a trade union and the Pennyman family.
The project was a response to try and address the 91% unemployed rate found in the North EAST during and after Britain’s Depression
The projects addressed unemployed in the mining communities in a variety of ways, including, working the land, folk dance, music and furniture making.
In 1932, the Great Depression hugely impacted the mining villages of East Cleveland where unemployment hit 91%. An experimental farm known as "Heartbreak Hill” was established to help alleviate the desperate poverty of the miners. The project was sponsored by a local trade union and the Pennyman family of Ormesby Hall near Middlesbrough. Heartbreak Hill addressed unemployment in the mining communities in a variety of ways, which included working the land, folk dancing, and music, drama and furniture making. The project was based between the villages of Boosbeck and Margrove Park in North East England.
After discovering and adopting Marxist politics during a period of study at the Bauhaus in Germany, Wilfred Franks returned to England in 1931 and found the Boosbeck Work Camps a new, appealing challenge as it spoke to both his Marxist and artistic sensibilities. Franks helped with the agricultural work at the first camp and played "Autolycus" in a production of Shakespeare's "As You Like It". Having enjoyed the first camp, Franks assimilated into the mining community by living with a mining family in Boosbeck for two additional years. His board and lodge was paid for by Ruth Pennyman. Franks taught design, woodwork and furniture making skills to the young, unemployed miners. During this time, Franks started a long and influential relationship with the British composer, Michael Tippett, who came to Boosbeck to produce several musical productions.
Some in the mining community were reluctant to commit to the scheme due to the hope that the mines would soon re-open, but Major Pennyman believed that a permanent replacement manufacturing industry was needed, and so the establishment of a co-operative furniture workshop seemed to offer the solution. Pennyman expanded Franks' woodwork project by recruiting Bernard Aylward from Bootham School in York to help set up the workshop. "Boosbeck Industries" was then born.
Franks and Aylward initially worked together on Boosbeck Industries, but differences of opinion arose and Franks left in the mid 1930's.
Boosbeck Industries continued making and selling many types of furniture, including chairs, tables, sofas and beds. All were hand-made and of a high quality. The scheme made practical furniture for the home rather than “art furniture” and a few pieces are still in existence, now owned by the National Trust and by private collectors. Unfortunately, the business continually ran at a loss and the workshop closed in 1937.
"New Boosbeck Industries" is using the ethos of the old Boosbeck
co-operative scheme to create a community-based project, where furniture is designed and manufactured in a practical and contemporary style for the 21st century market.
Source: HEARTBREAK HILL A RESPONSE TO unemployment IN East Cleveland in the 1930s, Malcolm chase & Mark Whyman, 1991. ISBN 09014784 20 7 Available to purchase from Ormsby Hall.