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Wednesday, 22 October 2008

A Classic Tale

Mary Barton caused a furore when first published in October 1848. Elizabeth Gaskell’s ‘Tale of Manchester Life,’ with its no-holds-barred depiction of the vast gulf between the cotton masters and their ‘clemmed’ (starving) mill workers, sparked a furious debate in Cottonopolis. Was Gaskell’s novel true to life? Did Mary Barton, as its detractors claimed, exacerbate tensions between the classes rather than promoting greater understanding?
You can find out more in my special feature on Mary Barton in the November issue of History Today.

My book Narrow Windows, Narrow Lives looks at the reality of everyday life for workers in the aftermath of the Industrial Revolution in Lancashire. Remember to order early for Christmas!

Image: The Dinner Hour, Manchester. Engraving by R. Kent Thomas (1816-1884.) for Lancashire by Grindon, Leo H., (Seeley & Co., 1892.)

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Credit crunch

The financial news is so dire at the moment, one’s frightened to turn on the TV or radio in case there’s been another catastrophe. Banking crises are sadly nothing new. During my research for Regency Cheshire, I’ve been learning about the great bank crash of 1825. Many country banks went bust, and their banknotes were withdrawn. The Royal Mint coined 150,000 sovereigns per day to meet the unprecedented demand for hard currency. The country’s credit was only saved by the accidental discovery of hundreds of thousands of one pound notes lying forgotten somewhere in the Bank of England (presumably in someone’s underwear drawer.) (Knight’s History of England, 1868.) The financial crisis continued into the following year; thousands of firms went bankrupt. Industrial firms, who employed many workers in Lancashire and Cheshire, were especially hard hit.
One high profile literary victim of the financial crash was author Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832.) A disastrous partnership with his publishers meant he became liable for vast debts when the firm collapsed; his remaining years were spent battling ill-health and heroically trying to repay his creditors.
Image: Sir Walter Scott, Great Authors of English Literature, 1899.