Sometimes, when we get into the habit of doing something we keep doing it, even when it becomes obsolete. For some people this is about routine; there is an old woman down in the Warrens who cleans and oils her old delivery bike every Wednesday, never mind that she hasn’t made a delivery on it since 1988. For others it is an act of remembrance, a thankfulness in action. This is the case for the Cadre of the Carved, a commune of artists who have lived inside a disused factory for 144 years. Today the Cadre will send a letter to themselves, as they have done ever year since 1873, the year they first moved in. The letter acts as proof of their residence there, despite the fact they’ve had no need of it since 1883.
The Cadre of the Carved didn’t always live within the tall walls of the old factory, before that they existed for thirty two years in an extended worker’s cottage, the type of building which would once have covered most of Ranaclois district, before successive gentrification and developments led to the large office blocks and swanky townhouses which exist there now. The Hoitswain family, who owned the house, had resisted selling it to developers for many years before Netter Hoitswain, a famous printmaker, gave the somewhat ramshackle cottage over to become the home of the commune. It was a somewhat startling sight, the wooden walls with dog roses growing up the side, utterly overshadowed by the grand facades either side.
Unfortunately for the Cadre, Netter Hoitswain never changed her will, and when she died (from tuberculosis at the tragically early age of 43) the house was inherited by Ermingus Hoitswain, her younger brother who had for many years been on the run from several gambling debts. The land upon which the cottage was built was worth a vast sum of money, and it wasn’t long before the commune was turfed out, their beloved home sold to a property developer and demolished. They were given just enough time to take out all their wood blocks, printing presses, fabrics, inks, hand-turned furniture, their reams of carved and printed artworks. The problem was, with their home gone they had nowhere to put all these items which had been slowly accumulating in their home for thirty two years. It was then that one of them found the factory.
It was a shell, really. All the equipment and machinery of the former wool mill had been stripped out long ago, and there were several empty floors, gathering dust, performing no productive purpose. The company who had owned it had gone bust several years before, and ironically enough it was now owned by the same property developer who had bought and demolished their home. The doors and lower windows were all boarded up, but they found a way in through the cellar of the pub next door, the Wailing Sycophant. The landlord was an old friend of Rusty Beverage, the Cadre’s oldest member who had spent a long time working in the construction industry, and had helped build an extension onto the pub.
Initially the factory was just a place to store their tools, materials and artwork, but when they found out who owned the old factory, the Cadre had a new idea. Suddenly there was a lot more wood being ferried through the pub than was being used for artworks. Tiles and bricks, too. They prised open a side door from the inside, when it became clear that the cellar route wasn’t going to fit many of these new materials through. It took about three years, but with the combined labours of the commune under the supervision of Beverage, eventually the new project was finished; a worker’s cottage, identical to that which had been demolished, constructed in the centre of the factory.
They had to take out the first floor where it stood, that was one of the main stumbling blocks. But sure enough, a large square chunk was removed, and new supporting columns placed beneath the edges of the new hole to keep the structure stable. Today you can stand on the edge of the hole and look straight into the fist floor windows of the cottage, if you like, though of course only on open days. It wasn’t the case back then, but now even the dog roses are back on the side of the cottage, enough light having now been created by the replacement of several sections of roof with impact-resistant glass. It might seem depressing, having the inside of a factory outside your bedroom windows, but for the commune it was an excellent change; they now had enough room to spread their working spaces across the factory, and didn’t have to sleep in the same room as they stored all their materials.
The Cadre knew that if they were to keep their new home they would have to be clever. Surely, at some point the development company would want to sell or develop the factory, and what then? They refused to once again be forced to leave their home, and begun researching properly law in earnest. On the 31st of July, 1873, they sent their first letter to themselves. It was, like all those that have followed it every year since, a single sheet of paper, folded in such a way that it was both letter and envelope. Like all the others it was beautifully designed, printed in tricolour relief; that year it was Bertraine Aquesce who cut the woodblock, but each year a different person was nominated. Most importantly, it was addressed to: The Cadre of the Carved, The Little House Within, Tellglib’s Weaving Factory, Sycophant Street, Darksheve’s District, Buentoille.
They sent it as a special delivery, one which needed to be signed for. This was partly so that the evidence that they lived there was stronger, but also partly so that they could ensure that the letter actually reached its destination; these were the bad old days of privatisation, when the Postal Speed Bill targets were still being routinely missed. Later, when the property developer attempted to evict the artists, they used the letters to prove that they had lived within the cottage for over ten years without complaint, and therefore legally owned the land. As it turned out, they were very lucky, as well as smart; in 1876 the development company was due to survey the site but the surveyors were off sick and the paperwork was misfiled as ‘surveyed’. Had they been found then, they would have been evicted with no legal recourse, and probably convicted for property damage too.
Today the Buentoilliçan Postal Service (BPS) sends a special contingent to honour the ceremony which has developed around the delivery of the letter. At precisely 12pm the postmaster will arrive, their deputy behind them. They will personally hand over the letter, which has been stamped with a unique cancellation stamp, commissioned by the BPS but designed and made by the Cadre themselves. Before they hand over the letter to a Cadre member, the postmaster presents identification in the form of their hat, and asks the member to verbally confirm whether they are ‘the truthful and legal representative’ of the commune. The member replies that they are. The letter is then exactingly held out by the postmaster, who says ‘delivered with all due diligence.’ The Cadre member then holds the other side of the letter, and says ‘received with all due thanks.’ They both shake the letter thrice, and the postmaster releases their grip, and promptly leaves, not looking back at the bizarrely placed cottage, the midday sun falling on it in a perfect square through the glass.
Other festivals happening today:
- The Colour of the Sky Changes Today if You Look Closely Festival
- The Festival of Jelly
- The Dahtzhim’s Gifting Festival