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Monday, 30 August 2010

Cheshire's Amazing History

It was a lovely afternoon today so we had a walk up to Eddisbury Iron Age hillfort, where there is an ongoing archaeological excavation as part of the Habitats and Hillforts Project. The archaeologists have done an incredible amount of work, and have uncovered what appears to be the entrance to the hill-fort; we were very surprised to see just how substantial the remains were.

Last night, we watched Secret Britain and I was very pleased to see Northwich and the Cheshire salt industry were featured. Matt Baker travelled on a canal boat along the Trent & Mersey canal past the old Lion Salt Works and had a ride through our local engineering wonder, the Anderton Boat Lift. The presenters also explored the beautiful wildlife and flora now thriving at Ashton's and Neumann's Flashes, the site of former salt mines which suffered catastrophic collapses in the 1870s and 1880s. Do try and catch the programme repeat or watch it on iPlayer if you can.

Photos: Eddisbury hill fort excavations: possible entrance, and section through rampart defences.  Anderton Boat Lift. © Sue Wilkes.

Friday, 27 August 2010

Mr Knightley's Bedtime Reading?

If Jane Austen’s hero Mr Knightley (Emma) wanted an entertaining bedtime companion, he might have chosen the latest issue of the Gentleman’s Magazine, which was founded by Edward Cave under the nom-de-plume 'Sylvanus Urban'.  The first issue, which appeared in January 1731, included a report on the ‘Melancholy Effects of Credulity in Witchcraft’ concerning recent witch trials in Somerset, and Pennsylvania in America.
Dr Samuel Johnson, then an unknown, starving hack writer, was an early contributor. Johnson had no regular income until Cave took him under his wing. The magazine published essays of antiquarian interest, reviewed the latest books such as Austen’s Emma, and included human interest stories like that of ninety year old William Crossman, a Somerset man who ‘kept his coffin by him for fifty years, and used it as a cupboard.’ (July 1824).
This immensely popular publication lasted right into the twentieth century. You can find out more about the Gentleman’s Magazine success story in the latest issue of Jane Austen's Regency World. There are also some early issues of the magazine at The Internet Library of Early Journals.
Images from the author’s collection:
Edward Cave. Boswell’s Life of Johnson, (Routledge, Warnes, & Routledge, 1859).
Portrait of Joseph Cradock (1741-1826), Senior Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, Gentleman’s Magazine Vol. XCVII, January 1827.
Frontispiece of Gentleman’s Magazine Vol. XCVIII (July-Dec 1828), depicting the newly built St Katharine’s Hospital, Regent’s Park London, the Master’s House and coats of arms.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Looking Back Through Time

I've just come back from a holiday in the beautiful Moselle Valley in Germany, a famous wine-growing area. It was much warmer than in cloudy Cheshire! I don't know where the summer has gone.

If you have a glass-making ancestor, there are tips and hints for tracing your family tree in 'Looking Back Through Time', my latest feature for Discover My Past England. Glass was needed for the many new factories of the Industrial Revolution; the growing armies of workers needed houses to live in, too, further boosting demand for glass. 

Tyneside glass-makers dominated the UK’s window glass production for over two hundred years. By the early nineteenth century, ‘two-fifths of the whole glass manufacture of the kingdom’ was made there. By the 1830s, there were over 120 glass houses in Britain. Glass-makers faced competition from the Continent. When customs duties on glass were axed, cheap foreign glass flooded the home market. Firms such as Pilkingtons at St Helens used new technology to cut costs and improve quality. Pilkingtons’ works produced 150 tons of glass weekly by 1854. Traditional crown window glass makers like those on Tyneside were left behind.

Images: The Herbert-Cowper memorial window in Westminster Abbey. Colour lithograph for Sunday at Home, 2 June 1877.
Glass seal of the British Plate Glass Manufactory, Pictorial History of the County of Lancashire, 1844.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

More bedtime reading

I promised I would update this blog with some of my bedtime reading. I recently read Ian Kelly's massive biography (the Ultimate Dandy) of Beau Brummell. I very much enjoyed some parts - especially his account of Brummell's schooldays - and his glory days as a fashion icon. The author clearly did an incredible amount of research for this work. Yet the book's ending left me very uneasy. Brummell's long decline into physical and mental illness is well documented, and Mr Kelly had access to Brummell's medical records: clearly a fantastic resource.  His forensic and clinical account of Brummell's physical symptoms as he approached death left me wondering just how far a biographer is justified in going in pursuit of a complete portrayal of his subject, however. Should a biographer portray his subject 'warts and all', or should a polite veil be drawn over some areas? A difficult one.

I can thoroughly recommend the other book I finished recently - Andrea di Robilant's fascinating study of his ancestor Lucia Mocenigo -  'Lucia in the Age of Napoleon'. Lucia was a friend of Empress Josephine, and was Lord Byron's landlady. Lucia witnessed the break-up of Venice in the tumult of the Napoleonic Wars. Her life was very different from that of Jane Austen - her father arranged a marriage for her while she was in her teens, and her married life went through many ups and downs. Robilant's book takes a novelistic approach to Lucia's life while ensuring the historical details are meticulously accurate.