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Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Nelson and Emma

My latest feature for Jane Austen's Regency World looks at Emma Hamilton's affair with Lord Nelson. You can also find out more about Cheshire-born Emma Hamilton's early career here on my Jane Austen blog.



Image: Lord Nelson, Heroes of the British Navy, Frederick Warne & Co., c. 1900. Nigel Wilkes Collection.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

A Strut(t) Around Belper II

The Gangway.
After you have explored the Strutts' North Mill at Belper, you can walk under the Gangway, a stone arch which once connected the North Mill and West Mill (no longer extant). The Regency era was noted for industrial unrest during times of hardship (most famously the Luddite attacks of 1812).  If you look at the arch (built 1795) you will notice some musket holes placed there in 1810 so that the millowner and his men could fire at anyone who attacked the mill.

Crown Terrace, Belper.
When the Strutts built their mills in Derbyshire, they chose sites with fast-flowing rivers to power the machinery. However, often these rural sites did not have enough local people who could work in the mills. So millowners like the Strutts and Richard Arkwright built new houses with gardens to attract people to come and work for them, and you can see millworkers' housing on Green Lane, The Clusters, Joseph Street etc. Many of the houses have their own pigsty and privy - a vast improvement on the town housing in places like Angel Meadow in Manchester.

Belper boy Samuel Slater was one of the child workers whose stories I told in The Children History Forgot. Samuel began his career as an apprentice to Jedidiah Strutt; Slater became one of the founding fathers of the American cotton industry. 

More millworkers' housing, Belper.
The mill workers in Belper were mostly women and children (their menfolk found employment in local workshops). In 1816 the Strutts employed nearly 1500 people, including over 700 children (just 100 were younger than ten). On average the children earned 2s 6d per week.None of the children who worked at the Strutt mills were parish apprentices like those at Quarry Bank Mill; they were 'free labour' and lived with their parents.

The factory hours were from 6am until 6pm, including dinner and tea-times. Most of the children could read; the Strutts funded a Sunday school and day schools in the town, and built a Unitarian chapel (1788). 
Nail Shop, Joseph St.


The Strutts told a parliamentary select committee (1816) that their mills had benefits for local families as well as providing them with work: ‘before the establishment of these works, the inhabitants were notorious for vice and immorality, and many of the children were maintained by begging; now their industry, decorous behaviour, attendance on public worship, and general good conduct, compared with the neighbouring villages, where no manufactures are established, is very conspicuous.’ 



East Mill, Belper.
Unitarian Chapel, Belper.
Belper was a working textile town from the late 18th century until the 1980s. The town is still dominated by the huge East Mill (1912), built for the English Sewing Cotton Co., which took over the Strutts' mills fifteen years earlier. But the East Mill now stands empty and silent.
However, if you visit the Memories of the Mills website you'll discover millworkers' memories and oral histories of life in the Derwent Valley factories during the twentieth century.

Thursday, 2 April 2015

A Strut(t) Around Belper I

North Mill, Belper
My poor blogs have been neglected for a little while, as I've been working hard on my new book for Pen & Sword, Regency Spies, but I hope to be posting more regular updates now. Continuing my series of blog posts on some of the fabulous places in Britain which I visited last year, today's post is on Belper, a Derbyshire town with some amazing industrial heritage.
Belper nailmaker, North Mill.

Belper was traditionally home to the framework knitting and nail-making industries. North Mill, Belper has a wonderful collection of textile machinery, so do take the time to explore it if you can. 

The museum has many more machines than I've been able to show you here, and some social history displays.
Stockings were formerly knitted from silk on machines, but the Strutt family invented an improvement to the frame so that ribbed stockings could be knitted from either silk or cotton (the Derby rib). Ribbed stockings were more elastic and easier to wear than former designs.

Spinning Jenny, North Mill.
Good quality cotton yarn was needed to knit stockings, however, so Strutt helped to bankroll Richard Arkwright's initial forays into cotton spinning - Arkwright's waterframe was a great improvement on James Hargreaves' original spinning jenny.

Arkwright's first cotton-spinning mill was built at Cromford (1771);  Jedediah Strutt's own cotton-spinning mill (the South Mill) in Belper, powered by water, was founded in about 1776; the North Mill was completed about a decade later.
Stocking frame, North Mill.

Arkwright's waterframe, North Mill.
In my next blog post, I'll take a look at conditions in the Belper mills for their women and child workers.


Sunday, 15 March 2015

Church-going in Austen's Day

Chawton Church, Hampshire.
Pop over to my Jane Austen blog for my latest post, on Sundays in Regency-era Britain.

Terry Pratchett

I was deeply saddened by the news this week that Terry Pratchett had died. He was my favourite modern fantasy author, and he had a unique imagination and sense of humour. We have spent many happy hours in the car listening to his Discworld audiobooks, read by the inimitable Tony Robinson. A great loss to literature.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

A Stroll Round Saffron Walden

Saffron Walden takes its name from the saffron industry which grew up here around the late 14th century.

Saffron was an incredibly important product - it was used as a dye and as a spice.

The trade died out during the eighteenth century, but an enterprising farmer has recently begun growing saffron crocus again in the area.
Church St
The town is still home to many charming medieval buildings, some of which, e.g. the Cross Keys Hotel, have their original shop windows. Many of these buildings are adorned with pargeting, a type of moulded decorative plasterwork. If your surname is Pargeter, then maybe one of your ancestors was involved in this craft.               







In some ways the town reminded me of Chester, as there were a few Georgian buildings mixed in with the medieval ones (although of course Chester's shops are two-tiered - the famous Rows).
Saffron Walden is also home to a museum, built in the mid-1830s. It's said to be one of the oldest purpose-built museums in the UK, although sadly we did not have time to pay it a visit.

Saffron Walden museum.
Walsingham House.