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Thursday, 29 January 2009

Manchester Histories Festival

I've just heard news of an exciting one-day event to celebrate Manchester's amazing industrial past. The Manchester Histories Festival will explore many different facets of the city's story, from the cotton industry to politics. There's going to be an exhibition in the Town Hall, including a display on Manchester workers, its scientific community, and its buildings. And of course, you can find out more about the story of Lancashire's industrial past and in particular, workers in towns like Manchester and Liverpool, in my book Narrow Windows, Narrow Lives.

Image: The Portico Library, Manchester. © Sue Wilkes. The library first opened in 1806; it was designed by Thomas Harrison. It was a subscription library - beyond the budget of many ordinary workers.

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Burns Night

Tonight’s a special Burns Night – the people’s poet is 250 years old today. He was born on 25 January 1759 in a humble cottage near Ayr. His poems brought him fame, but not wealth. Burns loved to socialise; I’m sure he would have enjoyed the many Homecoming events planned for this year.

Image: Robert Burns, Burns’ Poetical Works, (William P. Nimmo & Co., 1881.)

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Stolen Childhoods Talk

I’ll be giving a talk to the Gaskell Society at 1pm on 10 February at the Cross St Chapel, Manchester. During late Georgian and Victorian times, children worked long hours in many different industries: coal, cotton, glass and metal trades. I’ll be looking at their daily lives and working conditions. If you are attending the talk and have bought my book Narrow Windows, Narrow Lives, if you bring your copy I’ll sign it after the meeting has finished.

Image: Calico Printing, 1840s. Pictorial History of the County of Lancashire, 1844. Child workers in the roller printing works (illustrated here) were usually about ten years old; this little girl is probably helping her father rather than working full time.

Saturday, 10 January 2009

Madame de Staël

It’s hard to imagine two more dissimilar writers than Jane Austen and Madame de Staël (1766-1817.) Unlike Austen’s ‘little bit (two inches wide) of ivory’, de Staël used large brushstrokes on her literary canvas; she painted portraits of whole continents, people and politics.
Born in Paris, Anne-Louise-Germaine Necker was an admirer of Rousseau. She was the daughter of wealthy Swiss banker Jacques Necker (later French Minister of Finance.) The tomboyish young woman with ‘dark, flashing eyes’ married Swedish ambassador Baron de Staël-Holstein in 1786.
Germaine became embroiled in Revolutionary politics. She had a very public spat with Napoleon, who exiled her from France. De Staël was famous for her literary salons; she hobnobbed with Byron, Sheridan and other eminent writers.
Germaine died in the same month as Austen. Like Jane, she left work unfinished: her memoirs, and her Considerations on the French Revolution. There’s a Society dedicated to her works. You can find out more about de Staël’s life, books and unorthodox love-life in my feature for this month’s Jane Austen's Regency World.
Image: Madame de Staël. History of England, Vol. VII, Charles Knight, (London, 1868.)

Saturday, 3 January 2009

A Real Treat

I really enjoyed Neil Oliver's new History of Scotland (BBC2) this evening. Oliver's enthusiasm and genuine passion for his subject are infectious. As well as giving a lively account of Scotland's turbulent past, Oliver's account is packed with sublime images of Scottish scenery. Tonight's programme was specially interesting for me as Oliver visited some of the places I've seen on holiday in previous years: Dunadd fort, the island of Iona and Dunnottar Castle. I can't wait for the next instalment.

Thursday, 1 January 2009

Happy New Year!

It’s been bitterly cold here over the last few days. We went out for a short walk yesterday to exercise off some of the Christmas chocolates, and it was so cold I half-expected to see a reindeer (left.)
The festive season is a busy time for parents; thank goodness we can just go down to the supermarket and stock up on groceries. I wouldn’t fancy having to get up and milk the reindeer before breakfast to feed the family.
The Sami people (once known as Laplanders) of Sweden and Finland traditionally relied on their reindeer herds for milk (used to make cheese) and meat. But their way of life is now under threat. Tourism is becoming an important money-spinner for the Sami, but it’s a mixed blessing, which may accelerate the decline of their culture.

Image: Milking of the Reindeer, Penny Magazine, 20 April 1833. Author’s collection.