Mantelpiece stories: treasured objects of Bolton residents – a photo essay

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Photographer Madeleine Waller focuses on the treasured objects that people choose to display in their homes and the stories they tell. Bolton residents talk to her about the meanings behind their keepsakes and mementoes.

Mantelpiece Stories is exhibited in Bolton Museum’s community gallery, alongside other displays commissioned as part of an Arts Council funded mantelpiece project, from 12 September

“The majority of objects that are worth looking at I keep in a glass cabinet in the front room. I have things which came to me when my nan died. I have memories of going to her house, and she had a cabinet where she displayed various things. It was a focal point for me to go and look at nan’s special keepsakes through the glass – you weren’t allowed to touch them.”

  • Above and top left, Carole’s front room cabinet. Above right, the Lladró figure that belonged to Carole’s mum.

“My mum put a lot of store in a Lladró figure that she was given. It makes me think of my mum and my dad: my mum because she treasured it so much – it was something she would never have been able to afford in a million years. And then my dad managed to break a finger off it, so it’s kind of worthless. I wouldn’t part with it because it does sum up my mum and dad, the way they were in life I suppose.”

“I keep all my mementoes in a glass cabinet, some of them are opened for display. The main focus is the shrine I pray to every morning. my religion means a lot to me. Hinduism is more a way of life than a religion.”

“Whenever there’s a festival in India we get invited to go and we’ll be presented with some sort of memento, so when I go to India they recognise my effort in the UK. The mementoes will be presented to you in front of a big audience, about twenty to thirty thousand people in a big marquee.”

  • Ganshyam Patel’s family photos

“I think the mantelpiece is the heart of the house. As you come in, it’s the first place you look, it’s almost your identity summed up in that one place.”

“The Russian dolls featuring the Russian and Soviet presidents were a present from my mum. I love Russian dolls anyway. I’ve got a massive tattoo of one on my back. Part of it was about the representation of motherhood. The words for Russian doll are about mother, and obviously there’s the idea that if you pop something open, there’s something inside. So to me it’s always represented that process of change in your identity and becoming a mum. I think that’s one of the reasons why I like these; because in my head I associate them with motherhood, and then these are like the exact opposite: men, political, the patriarchy. I think it’s funny.”

  • Two of Shonagh Ingram’s Russian dolls and an antique metronome given to her by her mum

“You look at your mantelpiece; you sit on the sofa and it’s always there. I want it to bring me joy. I want it to be something that makes me happy, and have colour and be something that reflects our house and the things that are just part of everyday living.”

“In 2016 my dad got very ill. My husband and I sent money to Liberia for my father to go to Senegal to the hospital. I visited him as well. I went to the hospital and he gave me those pins which were very important to him.

“I held onto his hand. He said: ‘Take this.’ It was like my father telling me ‘Goodbye. I think I’m going to give up the ghost now.’ Is that why he gave me these things? He said: ‘Just take it. Be positive.’”

  • Jennah’s father worked for Firestone for more than twenty years

“My football trophies, I keep them on the windowsill because they look nice. The team I used to play with was Bolton County Lightning. My mum was very supportive; she used to take me to all the games and all the training. Every year we’d have an awards ceremony and one year I actually got Manager’s Player of the Year. That was quite an achievement.”

  • Monty Lord’s football trophies

“I feel really proud of the family because I’d say we’re quite an achieving family, quite a proud family. Hopefully if I have kids and they have kids they can pass stuff on down as well.”

“My living room has got all my special stuff, all my keepsakes. I think it just feels comfortable and embracing. I have a bit of an obsession with mirrors – some of them might be sixty, seventy years old, maybe even older. Who’s looked in that? What has that mirror seen?”

  • Verona Medhurst’s treasured objects

“I have a collection of tins and boxes and bits and bobs. […] When I was eleven my mum passed away. Two weeks later her mum, my nanna, died – I think it was a broken heart. Shortly after that, my brother who wasn’t allowed to have a motorbike got a motorbike and ended getting killed. And it broke my heart.

“When somebody passes away, you can’t keep absolutely everything – you have to move on – but I’ve kept the little things that they gave me.”

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