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Monday, 22 December 2008

Roman Chester

Christmas is coming! There’s still time to order my book Narrow Windows, Narrow Lives from Amazon if you choose ‘Express Delivery.’

It was the mildest day we’ve had for weeks here yesterday, so I did a spot of gardening. I met a confused bumblebee in the garden; he must’ve thought it was spring already!

It’s always difficult to find places to take the family which are open to visit during the Christmas holidays. The Grosvenor Museum in Chester is open in the winter months (phone or check online for Christmas opening times.) It’s got a fantastic collection of Roman tombstones (left), which give us a unique insight into how Roman people lived in Chester during the occupation. You can also peek into the past and explore daily life in Stuart, Georgian and Victorian times in the Period House (No. 20 Castle St.) Find out more in my Footsteps feature in the latest issue of BBC History magazine.

Christmas is a busy family time in the Wilkes household, so this may be my last blog post for a little while.
A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all my readers!

Image: My photo of Webster Stone 21RT: The tombstone of Curatia Diomysia; this Roman lady can be seen enjoying a drink in the afterlife.
© Sue Wilkes.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

A Festive Ship

Recently, I was lucky enough to be present when the Lion Saltworks acquired a ‘salt ship’ for their collection. These are quite rare objects. At Christmas time and other festive occasions, the saltworkers would make wooden objects like ships, dip them in the concentrated brine in the saltworks, and put them to dry in the warm stove rooms (where lump salt was dried out.) As the brine evaporated out, a beautiful coating of salt crystals appeared, as on the ship (see image, left.) Sometimes the workers would dip tree boughs in the brine and dry them out to make Christmas decorations for their houses. A pretty effect, isn't it?
Image © Sue Wilkes.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

A Spooky Premonition

Some very intriguing news for literary fans last week. Novelist Mrs Gaskell (author of Mary Barton , North and South) had a premonition some time in the months before her death in 1865 that she would not survive much longer. Gaskell was a prolific letter writer, and the story of her spooky premonition was discovered in a new collection of her correspondence recently acquired by the John Rylands Library in Manchester. It will be very interesting to see how the 'new' letters shed light on Gaskell's life and work.

Image: Mill design changes in fifty years. Reports of Factory Inspectors, October 1873. (Author’s collection.) Gaskell's novels 'Mary Barton' and 'North and South' were set in Victorian Manchester, home of the cotton industry. You can find out more about the cotton workers' lives in my book Narrow Windows, Narrow Lives.