Why Carlisle's famous cracker packers deserve to be immortalised

SHARE THIS STORY
The Cracker Packer statue is due to be installed at Paddy's Market
The Cracker Packer statue is due to be installed at Paddy's Market

They stood in lines and hand-packed Carr's iconic Table Water Crackers for generations.

Amid the noise of the machinery at their Carlisle workplace, their chatter and laughter also rang out, accompanying decades of hard work.

Now the women workers of Carlisle's famous Caldewgate factory - the Cracker Packers - will be celebrated in the form of a bronze sculpture next to Paddy's Market, near their workplace.

It's something Elsie Martlew has wanted to see for many years, to mark the city's industrial heritage.

The former city councillor said: "The fact that this is going to commemorate women workers on a worldwide brand, it's just wonderful.

"Everybody in Carlisle of my generation had somebody in the family or friends who worked at Carr's. It's a Carlisle story.

"Our industrial heritage has been neglected."

Mrs Martlew also singled out the forthcoming contribution of the artist involved in the project, Hazel Reeves. The statue should be unveiled by this time next year.

"We've got a wonderful artist and I think the success of her work will hopefully start an industrial heritage trail," added Mrs Martlew.

She said the mill race at Shaddongate, Dixon's Chimney, the former Metal Box factory in James Street, the Cowen Sheldon cranemakers site at St Nicholas and Holme Head Mill in Denton Holme were all part of a wealth of Carlisle's industrial heritage in danger of being forgotten.

Mrs Martlew's great aunt, Annie Armstrong, was a Cracker Packer, who worked at Carr's from the age of 14 to her retirement in the 1960s.

Her husband's sisters also held jobs there and the couple are collectors of Carr's memorabilia.

The installation is part of public realm improvements in Caldewgate, which were under the watch of Mrs Martlew in her time on Carlisle City Council.

"The people of Carlisle will be really pleased and proud to have this sculpture. I'm really happy," she added.

"We have got an absolutely fantastic artist who just blew everyone away with her work."

Hazel Reeves has been given the job of conveying the sense of pride and camaraderie of the women who hand packed the Table Water biscuits.

Inspired by author Hunter Davies' work, The Biscuit Girls, the Brighton-based sculptor was keen to mark the importance of these women workers to the factory, the community and to each other.

"There's so many generations who've worked there over the years, and such long service," she said.

"It's the pride and loyalty, the way they speak about the experience and the strength and relationships and the friendships they have built up.

"Our industry and economy is built on people who work in factories and have done over the years and I think Carr's is particularly unusual in the way they are able to retained their staff and have such loyalty.

"They are loyal themselves to Carr's.

"The more I come here and hear people speak about Carr's - it's so deeply woven into the mesh of Carlisle people's pysche - there's this huge interest."

She continued: "I want to capture the spirit of the Cracker Packers. For there to be some humour there and a bit of playfulness.

"They will be standing on a giant Carr's Table Water Biscuit.

"I want to exude that warmth and camaraderie that they have so when people walk past it, it will give them a lift in their spirits and raise a smile."

Another of the reasons she was drawn to the project was that it celebrates the lives of women who wouldn't normally be cast in bronze.

The sculpture will feature two women workers - one from past times and one from the present day, dressed in their respective uniforms.

Hazel was among 80 people who visited Carlisle Archives Centre for Carr's Biscuits: Dunking into the Past, a sold out open day featuring the Carr's collection.

She will also meet with past and present factory workers for inspiration on what pose the women - who will be two thirds life-size - will hold.

The year-long process to create the figures will involve Hazel working from photographs, rather than models.

The project is being managed by Carlisle City Council.

It has been privately funded, including a contributions from pladis, the company that owns the McVitie's factory; £65,000 from Sainsbury's, as part of its development of the Caldewgate store in Caldewgate; and £5,000 from Hunter Davies.

Comment on this article

Generate a new code
Comments not OK? Click here to let us know
Read this..