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Monday, 24 January 2011

A Tale of Endurance

Yesterday we went to the Shackleton exhibition at the Merseyside Maritime Museum. Frank Hurley’s amazing photos of the Endurance expedition are beautiful artworks in their own right as well as a historic record of the exploration team’s struggle to survive.

Seeing the story of the expedition reminded me of the Cheshire-born explorer Admiral Sir George Back (1796-1878). Back sailed on an expedition to the Arctic with Sir John Franklin in 1818, visited the Polar Sea in 1819, and joined Franklin again in 1825. When food supplies ran out in the icy wastes, he was forced to eat his old leather trousers and shoes to survive. 

There is a great deal of construction work at the Liverpool waterfront at present to create a new Museum of Liverpool and some other buildings.
The museum will be a very exciting new facility, but was it really a good idea to site such ultra-modern buildings slap bang in amongst the historic Victorian docks and the much-loved Liver building? Of course we will have to wait to see what they will look like when completed.
Images: New buildings under construction at the waterfront. The Big Wheel at Liverpool’s Albert Dock. © Sue Wilkes.

Friday, 14 January 2011

Cheshire Salt Ancestors

A quick reminder that my latest feature for Discover My Past England this month is filled with tips on how to trace your ancestors if they worked in the Cheshire salt industry. You can also read the story of the industry during Georgian times in my book Regency Cheshire.

Image: Marston Salt Pit: The Shaft, Illustrated London News, 24 Aug 1850

Erasmus Darwin

Yesterday we dropped our son off at university, and on the way back we stopped at Lichfield and explored Erasmus Darwin's House. Darwin (grandfather of Charles Darwin) was a very interesting character and deserves more widespread recognition for his contributions to science and literature. Darwin was a doctor with a busy practice, a member of the Lunar Society, , a philosopher, inventor and best-selling poet. His poems were an inspiration to the Romantics such as Coleridge and Shelley. He was also married twice, kept a mistress, and sired at least fourteen children over the years. One wonders how he ever found time to compose poetry!

Image: Erasmus Darwin’s house and garden © Sue Wilkes

Monday, 10 January 2011

The wonder of woollens

It was heartening to see a BBC news item  this morning that the British woollen industry is enjoying a revival. This interesting video shows wool being processed into yarn at Laxton's Specialist Yarns and includes some archive footage from the 1960s of woollen cloth being woven.

All the workers in the video are adults, but in the nineteenth century, the woollen and worsted industries were heavily reliant on child labour: a thirteen hour working day was customary in some mills, and children even worked up to eighteen hours a day in others.
Woollen fabrics (broadcloths and kerseymeres) were made from wool spun from short fibres. In worsted and ‘stuffs’ manufacture, wool was combed into long fibres before spinning. Worsted yarn was woven into blankets, flannels, and merinos.
In my forthcoming book The Children History Forgot (Robert Hale) I’ll be looking at conditions in Yorkshire woollen mills and Richard Oastler’s fight to help limit children’s hours, as well as other industries.

Image: Wheel for combing worsted. Charles Knight’s Pictorial Gallery of Arts Vol. I, (c.1862).

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Priceless Treasure

No chance of seeing this morning's partial solar eclipse from cloudy Cheshire - we missed the recent lunar eclipse owing to the poor weather, too. We had a very interesting trip on Sunday, though. We went to the Potteries Museum and saw the Staffordshire Hoard. The craftsmanship and artistry of our Anglo-Saxon forebears is amazing, and it was a real privilege to see it. It is free admission at the museum, and well worth a visit, as the cliche goes. The museum also has a fantastic collection of Staffordshire pottery and china, and there were some lovely pieces of Regency date, including a huge Wedgwood bowl made to commemorate the Peace of Amiens.