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Friday, 28 March 2008

A Different World

What a busy week! Chester Chronicle has run a feature on Narrow Windows, Narrow Lives, and I've also got a feature on women workers in this month's Jane Austen's Regency World. For women like Jane Austen and Charlotte Brontë, the only socially acceptable means of earning their living was as a governess - or by writing. Even then, novel writing was considered so socially risky that Jane didn't put her name on the title page of her novels. Many ordinary women, however, had to earn their keep however they could - down the mines, in the cotton mills, or making lace or straw plaiting. Although women workers were traditionally paid less than men for doing the same job, just the fact that they could earn a wage gave them a measure of financial independence; young mill girls had the confidence to leave their parent's home and find their own if home life was uncongenial. Austen and Brontë were reliant on friends and relations for a change of scenery. The interesting question is, would they have even wanted to swap places with the mill girls or lace makers, with the drudgery of their long working hours? Or did they prefer their comfortable homes and the confines of their class?

In a Cotton Factory, (1880s). Engraving by G.P. Jacomb Hood (1857-1929) for
Lancashire by Grindon, Leo H., (Seeley & Co., 1892.) Author's Collection.

Saturday, 22 March 2008

A Palladian gem

Tabley House is a splendid example of Georgian architecture at its finest. It was the seat of the Leicesters, an ancient Cheshire family, for nearly seven hundred years. Sir Peter Leicester, the 1st Baronet, was a noted historian and antiquarian. Tabley was built in the 1760s for Sir Peter Byrne Leicester, the 4th Baronet, by John Carr of York because Tabley Old Hall, the original family home, no longer provided suitable living accommodation. Tabley's beauty has long been a source of inspiration to artists such as JMW Turner.
You can find out more in my Footsteps feature for this month's BBC History magazine.
Image © Sue Wilkes

Sunday, 16 March 2008

Mary Barton

This year is the 160th annniversary of a landmark novel by a woman writer: Elizabeth Gaskell's Mary Barton. Gaskell’s ‘Tale of Manchester Life,’ published in 1848, starkly depicted the mill-workers’ harsh living conditions. It was denounced as biased by mill-owners and Tory press. Mrs Gaskell herself insisted she wrote the truth. She had first-hand knowledge of the cotton workers' lives because of her husband William's work; he was a Unitarian minister whose work took him right into the mazy alleys and disgustingly filthy closed courts of central Manchester.
Gaskell also wrote the first major biography of Charlotte Brontë. Her first impressions of Howarth and Charlotte's father Patrick greatly coloured her descriptions of the Brontë household. At this time Charlotte and her father were at loggerheads over her courtship by Arthur Bell Nicholls, whom she went on to marry. Gaskell's portrait of Patrick as a stern patriarch became part of the Brontë legend.

The importance of making a good first impression on an editor is the subject of my latest feature; you can read it in the March issue of the New Writer.
Image: Powerloom Room, 1844
Pictorial History of the County of Lancashire, 1844. Author's collection.

Thursday, 6 March 2008

Save Our Telescope!

I was dismayed by the news today that Jodrell Bank may have to close. The Lovell dish, which has been responsible for some fantastic discoveries in the past, is not a museum piece - it is still involved in important scientific research. Millions have been spent upgrading the radio telescope, and the sum involved which its closure is meant to save - £2.5 million - is minute compared with the amount of money being spent on the Olympics. The government needs to think again and listen to the scientific community before a world-class facility is lost forever.

Image © Nigel Wilkes

Saturday, 1 March 2008

Too many books...

I am spoilt for choice for reading at present after several recent purchases. I've made a start on Winifred Gérin's biography of Charlotte Brontë, and also Terry Jones and Alan Ereira's Barbarians. The Terry Jones book is really good - well written, with a lively style, and offering a refreshing take on the Roman conquest of Britain. I've also got Lockhart's 'Life of Walter Scott' awaiting perusal, plus other purchases from second hand book shops. In addition, there's all the background reading I still need to do for 'Regency Cheshire.' I just need time to read them all...