2021-, Various locations, UK         

Small Bells Ring

Steel narrowboat, timber, fixtures, and library of books

Registered in Accrington, Lancashire

Co-commissioned by Super Slow Way, Coventry City of Culture Trust, and Arts Council England, in collaboration with Lancashire and Coventry Library Services and their communities, Canal & River Trust, and British Council

Small Bells Ring is an artwork centred on the RV Furor Scribendi, a fully functioning sculptural narrowboat that operates as a living research vessel, housing a floating public library of short stories and a retreat for writers and readers. The boat cruises the canals of Lancashire, Manchester, Macclesfield, and Stoke-on-Trent. It also spent the summer of 2021 in Coventry as part of its City of Culture year, before returning to east Lancashire for that year’s British Textile Biennial.

Two books were the seeds from which the work grew. The first was Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit by Jeannette Winterson, a semi-autobiographical story of Pentecostal religion, literature, and lesbian love set in Accrington, Lancashire, that left a lasting impression on Heather Peak when she saw the BBC’s adaptation broadcast in 1990. The second inspiration was Stanley Crawford’s 1972 allegorical tale The Log of the SS the Mrs Unguentine, a novel written in the form of a ship’s log, albeit one lacking dates, times, or coordinates. The Morisons’ project is a collaboration with the librarians of Accrington Library, a Carnegie library that opened in 1908, where the phrases ‘Knowledge is Power’ and ‘Oh, For a Book and a Cosy Nook’ are written in the very fabric of the building.
The steel hull of the boat was fabricated to the artists’ design by a third-generation boat builder in Stoke-on-Trent, with the exterior done by a specialist boat painter. The interior was fitted out by the artists and their team, incorporating specially milled local oak and chestnut, a series of new oil paintings by the artists, new seating and upholstery, a set of new ceramic lights cast from items found floating in the canals, and many bookshelves for the collection of around a thousand books.  ‘I chose the short story as the conduit for this commission and the boat as its vehicle’, Heather Peak explains. ‘The librarians and I have defined it as a story you can read in one sitting. The reader can decide on how long a sitting is, it could be all day, but the point is to stop and read.’

As well as the library, the RV Furor Scribendi contains a fully equipped galley, a writers’ room, a bathroom, a reading salon, room for twelve passengers, and overnight accommodation for two people. Its name takes inspiration from an essay by Octavia E. Butler, who translates the Latin term as ‘a rage for writing’. The prefix RV stands for ‘research vessel’, as the boat hosts a series of writers-in-residence and conducts research, publishing its findings regularly via an online ship’s log.


‘Literature is a thread that runs through our practice, from making whole shows about certain books through to our titles, which often have a literary reference. Literature appears continuously as a place to grow ideas from or to rub against. I like surrounding myself with books, because they have the answers to everything. When I read books, I feel better. I find them comforting and enriching and warming.’

Heather Peak
Photographers’ credits       

Exterior and interior shots_ Charles Emerson / People shots_Sinead Patching

Love Me or Leave Me Alone        


Love Me or Leave Me Alone, The Very Public Art of Heather Peak and Ivan Morison presents a journey through the past decade and a half of the artists’ practice, with an emphasis on their pavilions, escape vehicles, and public artworks.  The book can be ordered from the publishers Art/Books
Press contact        

If you can’t find the information you are looking for you can contact the studio of Heather Peak and Ivan Morison here: studio@peakmorison.org