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Thursday, 22 March 2018

Mary Shelley's Frankenstein

Bath Abbey
My latest feature for the 2018 Discover Your Ancestors bookazine (order here) is on Mary Shelley and Frankenstein. This landmark novel was published 200 years ago (Arizona University has a celebratory project here). Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus electrified the reading public when it first appeared. The story of hapless experimenter Frankenstein, his Creature’s torment, and the fearful revenge It wreaked on his creator, is now embedded in our cultural mindscape. 

The Shelley Frankenstein Festival is planning more events to commemorate Frankenstein, including a theatre production of a re-imagined version of Frankenstein, at the Shelley Theatre, Boscombe in May.

West front of Bath Abbey, Penny Magazine, 13 July 1833.  During the autumn of 1816, Mary worked on ‘Frankenstein’ while she, Shelley and Claire Claremont stayed in lodgings near the Abbey. Author’s collection.
The Galvanic apparatus.Coloured engraving, 1804, by J. Pass, after H. Lascelles. Courtesy the Wellcome Library, no. 47529i.

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Radio Chat

Crown Hotel, Nantwich. 
I was thrilled to be asked to appear on Redshift Community Radio last week (it's based in the Nantwich area). I really enjoyed chatting to Liz Southall about life in Cheshire in Jane Austen's day, plus tips for tracing your family tree. If you missed it, you can listen the Scarlet Ladies show here on Soundcloud.

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Full Steam Ahead! Made in Manchester

Ancoats mills at dinnertime.
The earliest factories were water-powered, so they were built by fast-flowing streams. The advent of steam power meant that factories could now be built wherever coal was plentiful, so Manchester and Salford were prime spots for industry.

One of the first manufacturers to use steam to power his mill machinery was Peter Drinkwater, who built a cotton-spinning mill in Manchester in 1789. Drinkwater’s mill had the first Boulton and Watt steam engine in the city. Around this time, James Bateman and William Sherratt set up a factory in Salford which made mill machinery components, and a pirated version of Boulton and Watt’s rotary steam engine.

Cotton factories and their contents were highly combustible, and Philips and Lee built the first ‘fireproof’ mill in the area (with cast-iron beams) in 1801.This mill, on Chapel Street in Salford, was also the first factory in Britain lit by gas.

By 1816, Manchester contained forty-three working mills; the largest employer was McConnel & Kennedy, with over 1,000 workers. These early factories ran day and night, which was very hard on their child workers.

The Manchester Statistical Society reported in 1837–8 that Manchester had 5,272 cotton spinning and weaving mills powered by steam; Salford had 761 steam-powered cotton mills. Manchester had 756 bleaching, dyeing and print-works powered by steam, and Salford had 521 steam-powered factories. Foundries, silk mills, breweries, saw-mills, collieries and chemical works in the area were also steam-powered.
Nasmyth's factory flat at Manchester. 

Scotsman James Nasmyth (1808–90), one of the most famous engineers of his day, set up his own business at Dale Street in Manchester in the 1830s.

He later founded the Bridgewater Foundry at Patricroft, Eccles, and the first steam hammer in Britain was forged there.

Sir Joseph Whitworth (1803–87)’s Chorlton Street works in Manchester made machine tools, guns and cannon. William Fairbairn had a huge works on Canal Street in Ancoats which made boilers and bridges. Platt Brothers made textile machinery at Oldham; this firm also had its own forges, rolling-mills and brick-works. Sharp, Roberts & Co.’s world-famous Atlas Works, founded in the late 1820s in Manchester, made locomotive engines.

As Victoria’s reign advanced, Manchester’s industries continued to thrive. At Gorton, Beyer-Peacock began manufacturing locomotives in the 1850s, the Ashbury Railway Carriage Company made railway carriages and waggons, and Crossley Brothers made engines and pumps.

The steam-engine galleries at Manchester's Museum of Science and Industry often have the engines in steam, and you can get a real sense of their sound and energy when they are busy working!

Nasmyth’s restored steam hammer on display near Eccles. Copyright Sue Wilkes.
Nasmyth’s Dale Street factory.
A steamer passing Trafford Swing Bridge. Illustration by H. E. Tidmarsh, Manchester Old and New Vol. III., Cassell & Co., c.1894.
James Watt’s first rotary steam engine.
Ancoats mills at dinnertime, Manchester. Illustration by H. E. Tidmarsh, Manchester Old and New Vol. II, (Cassell & Co., c. 1894). 

Monday, 8 January 2018

William Cowper's House

Hares sculpture, Cowper Museum garden.
Happy New Year to all my readers! I hope you had a good Christmas.

If  you pop over to my Jane Austen blog, you can read about my visit to the Cowper and Newton Museum, Olney.

The museum has an exhibition devoted to the local lace-making industry; little girls worked very long hours making lace in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. 
Lace on display at the Cowper and Newton museum.

Friday, 15 December 2017

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

I'd like to wish all my readers a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! I'll be back in 2018 with more blog posts about social history.
If you pop over to my Jane Austen blog, you can read about the fun the Austen family had with their Christmas theatricals.
Illustration by Cecil Aldin, courtesy the Wellcome Library.

Friday, 1 December 2017

A Georgian Heroine: Eleanor Coade

Coade Stone Factory, Narrow Wall, Lambeth, anonymous, 1790s.

Today I'd like to welcome back fellow Pen & Sword authors Joanne Major and Sarah Murden to my blog! They have a fascinating new book out, which you can order here!

Here's Sarah and Joanne's blog post:

Eleanor Coade (1733-1821)

Eleanor Coade was an extremely successful businesswoman during the Georgian era, something which was highly unusual. It seems likely that she inherited her business acumen from her grandmother, Sarah Enchmarch, a formidable woman from Tiverton, Devon who took over the running of the family textile business for some twenty-five years following the death of her husband, Thomas in 1735.

Coade Stone Factory yard on Narrow Wall Lambeth c.1800 by Shepherd.
On reading Sarah Enchmarch’s will (proved in 1760), it is clear that as well as providing for her sons, she wanted to ensure that her six daughters were well provided for and that the legacies they received were to be for their use, exclusive of their husbands or future husbands. Sarah also left a legacy of five hundred pounds for her two Coade granddaughters, money that would be invaluable to Eleanor when she came to establishing her own business. 
Eleanor is noted for the invention of a product known as Coade Stone, also called Lithodipyra; the secret of its manufacture endures to this day. She ran her very successful manufacturing operation for over fifty years by the King’s Arms Stairs on Narrow Wall in Lambeth, having taken over the ailing artificial stone business of a Daniel Pincot in 1769.

You rather get the impression that Eleanor was not a woman to be trifled with and she certainly stood her ground, as shown in the Public Advertiser of September 1771, when she wanted to make it very clear that Daniel Pincot was certainly not the owner of the business, despite rumours to the contrary.

Eleanor Coade trade card
Whereas Mr Daniel Pincot has represented himself as a partner in the Manufactory conducted by him, ELEANOR COADE, the real proprietor, finds it needful to inform the public that the said Mr Pincot is no other than a servant to her and that no contracts, or agreements, discharges or receipts will be allowed by her, unless signed by herself.

The product Eleanor developed was described in a sales brochure for her showroom which opened in 1799, as giving ‘durability resembling Jasper and Porphyry. Frost and Damps have no effect upon it, consequently it retains a sharpness not to be diminished by the changes of climate’.
View of Westminster Bridge, from Kings Arms Stairs, Narrow Wall, Lambeth - YBA

Every piece of stone sent out had the name COADE indented on it, effectively copyrighting Eleanor’s work. She was certainly not backward in coming forward in promoting her product and the brochure listed numerous places across Britain where you could see examples of her work and Coade stone was exported around the world, everywhere from Philadelphia to Poland. Eleanor opened a gallery to which the public were admitted between 10am and 4pm for one shilling per person, so she even managed to make money by charging people to see her work, let alone sell it – what a businesswoman she was!

Coade stone statue of George III, now in the grounds of Lincoln Castle. © Joanne Major

Another example of her strong character was evident in 1774. She was annoyed that, as a result of a hard frost, a number of pieces made from artificial stone were damaged and so again took to the newspapers to make it crystal clear that such damaged pieces were an inferior product and not from her factory.

Eleanor Coade was a neighbour of the subject of our latest biography, A Georgian Heroine: The Intriguing Life of Rachel Charlotte Williams Biggs. Charlotte, as she preferred to be known, was the daughter of a Welshman who relocated to Lambeth when she was still a child. The Williams family took a house on Narrow Wall (where the Festival Hall complex is now situated) just a few doors away from Eleanor’s artificial stone manufactory. Eleanor Coade was probably aware of the gossip surrounding Charlotte’s torment in her late teens by a ‘libertine, half mad and half fool’, a man who owned one of the timber yards on the Lambeth shoreline and whose mother also lived on Narrow Wall.
If you’d like to discover more about Charlotte and her Lambeth neighbours, all is revealed in A Georgian Heroine: The Intriguing Life of Rachel Charlotte Williams Biggs which is out now in the UK (and coming soon worldwide) and can be found at Pen & Sword, Amazon and all good bookshops.

Rachel Charlotte Williams Biggs lived an incredible life, one which proved that fact is often much stranger than fiction. As a young woman she endured a tortured existence at the hands of a male tormentor, but emerged from that to reinvent herself as a playwright and author; a political pamphleteer and a spy, working for the British Government and later single-handedly organising George III’s jubilee celebrations. Trapped in France during the revolutionary years of 1792-95, she published an anonymous account of her adventures. However, was everything as it seemed? The extraordinary Mrs Biggs lived life upon her own terms in an age when it was a man’s world, using politicians as her mouthpiece in the Houses of Parliament and corresponding with the greatest men of the day. Throughout it all though, she held on to the ideal of her one youthful true love, a man who abandoned her to her fate and spent his entire adult life in India. Who was this amazing lady?

In A Georgian Heroine: The Intriguing Life of Rachel Charlotte Williams Biggs, we delve into her life to reveal her accomplishments and lay bare Mrs Biggs’ continued re-invention of herself. This is the bizarre but true story of an astounding woman persevering in a man’s world.

Sources Used
Public Advertiser (London, England), Wednesday, 11th September 1771
Coade’s Gallery, or, exhibition in artificial stone, Westminster Bridge Road 1799
National Archives PROB 11/860/509
Tiverton Parish Registers

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Manchester's Coaching Days

Pickford's Royal Fly-van.
Before the mid-eighteenth century, Manchester merchants who wished to move goods like textiles faced considerable obstacles. The region’s roads were extremely poor. Covered waggons and saddle-horses struggled over ‘roads’ pitted with huge ruts which rain turned into dangerous traps for the unwary traveller.  Most goods were moved using packhorses; obviously animals could not carry large quantities at once.
Even in central Manchester, the roads were so bad that no business person or well-to-do family kept their own carriage until Madame Drake, of Long Millgate, set up her carriage in 1758.

Turnpikes became a popular method of upgrading roads locally. The road to Stockport was probably the first in the Manchester area to be turnpiked, by the Manchester and Buxton Turnpike Trust in 1725. A quarter of a century later, however, a ‘flying coach’ still took four and a half days to reach London from Manchester.
Last days of the Manchester Defiance. 

In 1760, Manchester got its first stagecoach service, when John Hanforth and his partners set up regular runs from London to Manchester and Liverpool to Manchester. Merchants and traders could now reach the capital in three days, ‘if God permit’. By the late 1770s, Pickford’s flying coach took two days to reach London.

And during Britain’s lengthy war with France, when news broke of the Peace of Amiens in 1802, the Defiance and Telegraph coaches brought the longed-for tidings from the capital to Manchester within twenty-four hours (usually the run took thirty hours).
But it was the Canal Age which put Manchester at the forefront of the transport revolution, as we shall see.