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Saturday, 31 May 2008

Liverpool: Gateway to a New Life

Many visitors will be flocking to enjoy Liverpool’s celebrations as Capital of Culture. During the 19th century, the port of Liverpool played a very different role – as a gateway to a new life. Poor Irish immigrants arrived looking for work, fleeing poverty and famine in their homeland. Some joined friends or relatives in Liverpool or Manchester, taking whatever work they could get; perhaps as railway labourers, on the docks, farm workers, or in the cotton industry. Living conditions in the burgeoning Victorian cities were filthy and unsanitary. Irish immigrants were often stuck with the poorest accommodation, such as the infamous cellar dwellings: the ‘black holes’ of the industrial age. In the 1840s, one Liverpool family slept in a bed over a well four feet deep in the bottom of their cellar dwelling; all the privies in the street above drained into their home. There were over 8,000 cellar dwellings in Liverpool alone, inhabited by approximately 38,000 people - so the cellars were crowded as well as damp. Many thousands more sailed onwards for a new life in America. Even if they could afford a place on a ship, the voyage was risky; diseases such as cholera lurked in the crowded conditions on board. But family after family braved the journey, searching for a new future…
You can find out more about living conditions for workers and their families in Victorian Lancashire in my book Narrow Windows, Narrow Lives.
Emigrants at Liverpool, engraving by G.P. Jacomb Hood, Lancashire by Grindon, Leo H., (Seeley & Co., 1892.)

Sunday, 25 May 2008

Coaching Days

Coach journeys in Jane Austen’s time were perilous because of the terrible state of the roads: deep in mud, or full of vast ruts. The weather, too, caused lots of problems; passengers and coachmen sometimes froze to death in the deep midwinter. Austen makes frequent references to coach travel in her novels and letters. In a letter to Cassandra (25 April 1811) Jane wrote: ‘Eliza caught her cold on Sunday on our way to the D’Entraigues; the Horses actually gibbed on this side of Hyde Park Gate – a load of fresh gravel made it a formidable hill to them, and they refused the collar; I believe there was a sore shoulder to irritate. Eliza was frightened, & we got out - & were detained in the Evening air several minutes…

Jane had a fun drive after visiting to a picture exhibition at the Royal Academy in 1813 (where she’d hoped to find a portrait of Mrs Darcy): ‘I had great amusement among the Pictures; & the Driving about, the Carriage being open, was very pleasant. I liked my solitary elegance very much, & was ready to laugh all the time, at my being where I was. I could not but feel that I had naturally small right to be parading about London in a Barouche.
You can find out more about the thrills and spills of coach travel in my latest feature for Jane Austen's Regency World.

Images: The old White Horse Cellar Inn, near Arlington St. The final stop for passengers from the west, it’s possible Jane Austen got off the coach here when visiting London. Engraving by I.R. and G. Cruikshank, Life in London, Pierce Egan, (John Camden Totten, 1869.)
‘In a Snowdrift,’ engraving by Hugh Thomson, Coaching Days and Coaching Ways, (Macmillan, 1910.)

Friday, 23 May 2008

The Queen's Visit to Liverpool

HM The Queen is said to have been much impressed by her visit to Liverpool this week. Of course, this isn’t the first time the city has been visited by royalty. Queen Victoria visited Liverpool on her tour of Lancashire in 1851, the year of the Great Exhibition.
The event was covered by the Illustrated London News. It’s a tradition for the Queen to be greeted by schoolchildren, and 85,000 child workers assembled to see Queen Victoria. The only education these children had was at Sunday School, however. ‘How much of the manufacturing and commercial greatness of England is due to the labours of these babes, of these young attendants of that mighty worker, the steam engine?’ The reporter deplored the fact that despite reforming legislation, children were still wasting their strength and youth in the factories, and receiving insufficient education: ‘…no one can have looked on that vast assemblage of babes without the sorrowful conviction that an immense deal yet remains to be done by society before it can acquit itself of neglect of duty.’
Interestingly, the reporter indicated that the Queen wouldn’t have been as welcome if the Corn Laws (which kept the price of grain artificially high) hadn’t been repealed recently: ‘the Queen could not then have shown herself in Lancashire.

Image: Illustrated London News, 18 October 1851. Author’s Collection.

Sunday, 18 May 2008

Cheshire Salt II

My lump salt has been drying out for a couple of weeks now, so I decided to try and decant it. As you can see, as the wet salt evaporated, it left a crust of salt all over the pot. Sadly, despite bashing my pot heroically with a wooden spoon, I couldn't get the 'lump' to come out all in one piece, so I've got a mound rather than a lump of Cheshire salt. It's possible I didn't compact it in firmly enough when I filled the pot, or perhaps it hasn't had long enough to dry out.
When the Lion Salt Works was in operation, Nigeria was one of the firm's prime markets. One particular grade of salt was exported there in such large quantities, it was known as 'Lagos Salt.'
The Lion Salt Works is hoping to begin restoration work on site later this year, so keep an eye on their website for news updates.
Images © Sue Wilkes.

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Cheshire Salt I

The fortunes of Cheshire’s ‘wich’ towns were of course, built on salt. A couple of weekends ago, I went to a salt-making demonstration at the Lion Saltworks Trust, and it was very interesting indeed to watch the process in action. The basic technique of ‘walling’ - obtaining salt by boiling large, open pans of brine - changed very little over the centuries, from the Roman occupation right through to comparatively recent times.

I had a go at raking the salt to the sides of the pan on a replica Roman hearth. It’s surprisingly difficult just to move quite a smallish amount around the pan, so it must’ve been very hard work for the lumpmen raking the salt in the large-sized industrial pans.
The Romans used lead pans, and apparently it isn’t recommended nowadays to use salt made in this way, even though the amount of lead contamination would be incredibly tiny. There was also a stainless steel pan of Cheshire brine on the go, and I took a turn at scooping out the salt into a pot.
My pot of Cheshire salt has been drying out for a while now, and hopefully all will be revealed soon.

Images © Sue and Nigel Wilkes

Sunday, 4 May 2008

Full Steam Ahead

A big happy birthday to Crewe Heritage Centre as it is the Museum's 21st anniversary this year. Lots of special celebrations are planned, so do keep an eye on their website for upcoming events. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, 'Crewe' was the tiny village of Monks Coppenhall.
The coming of the railway and the Grand Junction workshops in 1843 brought employment, and a new town was born. You can find out more in my feature for BBC History magazine this month.

Photos: Visiting loco 'Union of South Africa' LNER class A4 4488 and permanent exhibit the Advanced Passenger Train (APT), currently undergoing restoration.

Images © Sue and Nigel Wilkes