Walt Whitman

American poet and journalist Walt Whitman learned the printing trade as an apprentice on the Long Island Patriot. (1831-2) Later he became the editor of a weekly newspaper the Long Islander. (1838-9)

In 1841 he moved to New York to work as a compositor on The New World. Also contributed to Aurora, Evening Tattler, Statesman, and various other New York publications. Founded Brooklyn-based Weekly Freeman in 1848. The first edition of Leaves of Grass (poetry collection) was published in 1855. During the American Civil War he was a part-time clerk in the Army.

By 1865 he was working at the Indian Bureau at the Department of the Interior but he was fired for publishing “obscene poetry”. However, he was feted by many writers of the time including Swinburne and Tennyson. He suffered a stroke in 1873 and moved in with his brother George and was ill for several years after.

In 1882 he was visited by Oscar Wilde. The same year his anthology Leaves of Grass was withdrawn after complaints in Boston but sales mushroomed in other parts of the USA as a result.

In 1888 he had another stroke and was severely ill. It was around this time that his Calamus series of poems was declared to have homosexual overtones but Whitman denied the claim. He died in 1892.

From Spontaneous Me

The hairy wild-bee that murmurs and hankers up and down—
that gripes the full-grown lady-flower, curves upon her with amorous firm legs, takes his will of her, and holds himself tremulous and tight till he is satisfied.

 Extract from Song of Myself      

I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,
If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles.

You will hardly know who I am or what I mean,
But I shall be good health to you nevertheless,
And filter and fibre your blood.

Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged,
Missing me one place search another,
I stop somewhere waiting for you.

Timeline 1750-1799

Timeline index

Gray’s “Elegy”

“Capability” Brown lays out
Warwick Castle Grounds

Two earthquakes hit London


Thomas Sheraton (furniture designer) born

Hogarth’s “Gin Lane”  produced


John Nash born
Gregorian calendar adopted

Lizard Lighthouse built

Benjamin Franklin flies his

British Museum founded



Chippendale’s”The  Gentleman & Cabinet-maker’s Director”

Capt William Bligh born


Samuel Johnson’s dictionary published 1755
Dyfi Furnace constructed
Start of Seven Years War

Black Hole of Calcutta


William Blake born

Antonio Canova (sculptor) born

Robert Abbot born

Thomas Telford born
Horatio Nelson born


Halley’s Comet appears

Jedediah Strutt patents ribbing machine for hosiery  manufacture

Robert Burns born

William Wilberforce (social reformer) born

Robert Adam completes Harewood House

British Museum moves to London

Battle of Quebec

Harrison’s third chronometer


Accession George III

Kew Gardens opens


Harrison’s fourth chronometer
(the watch)

Start of the Northumbrian
lime industry

Sterne’s “Tristram Shandy”

Osterley Park begun

Bridgewater Canal opens

River Nene made navigable from King’s Lynn to Northampton

Chinese pagoda built on the Kew estate

The birth of the sandwich

Matthew Boulton founds the
Soho Manufactory
End of the Seven Years War 1763

William Hogarth dies
Hargreaves invents the Spinning Jenny

Watt devises the separate
Wright’s “The Orrery”

Christie’s auctioneers founded.

John Dalton born
Bath’s Royal Crescent begun 1767

Capt. Cook’s Voyage to the South Seas » 1771

Royal Academy founded

Wright’s “The Air Pump”

Laurence Sterne dies


Watt’s 1st patent

Venetian blinds patented in London

Arkwright’s waterframe

1st stretch of James Brindley’s Birmingham Canal opens

Wedgwood opens Etruria

William Wordsworth born

Beethoven born

Cook discovers Botany Bay


Capt. Cook returns from South Seas

Oliver Goldsmith’s “She Stoops to Conquer”

Thomas Gray dies

Richard Trevithick born

Henry Maudslay born

Arkwright’s Cromford Mill opens

Samuel Taylor Coleridge  born

Cook’s second voyage starts »

James Brindley dies
Boston Tea Party

Cook reaches Antarctic


Birmingham Assay Office opens

George III grants Derby the
right to put a crown on its pottery >> 1890

Priestley isolates Oxygen

Bingley Five Rise opens

Practical diving suit first demonstrated in the River Thames by Andrew

Bath’s Royal Crescent finished

JMW Turner born

Thomas Girtin (English artist) born

American War of Independence begins > 1783

Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s “The Rivals”

Cook’s second voyage ends »

Official adoption of the name “Lunar Society”
American Declaration of Independence – July 4

John Constable born

Gibbons “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire”

Adam Smith’s “Wealth of Nations”

Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s “The School for Scandal”

Cook’s third voyage starts »


Thomas Linley’s “The Beggar’s Opera” 1777

Thomas Arne dies (Rule Britannia)

Beau Brummel born

Humphry Davy born


Cook killed in Hawaii
Iron Bridge made at Coalbrookdale

Crompton’s Spinning Mule

Osterley Park completed

1st Epsom Derby


Watt patents copying press
American victory at Yorktown
Watt patents rotary adaptor

William Herschel discovers uranus

Horseley Ironworks established

Fuseli’s “The Nightmare”

John Sell Cotman born

Richard Wilson (Welsh painter) dies

Luigi Galvani discovers
“animal electricty”
American  colonies  recognised – end of American Revolution

“Capability” Brown dies

William West born


Montgolfier Brothers launch hot air balloon
Samuel Johnson dies

East India Act


1st edition of the Daily Universal Register » 1788

John James Audubon born

Cartwright patents the power
Mozart’s “Marriage of Figaro” 1786

William Etty born 1787

Byron born

Thomas Gainsborough dies

Regency Crisis

Daily Universal Register becomes The Times

First British convicts arrive in Port Jackson (Sydney, Australia)

Gilbert White’s
“Natural History of
Thomas Boulsover dies
French Revolution

Washington elected US President

Blake’s “Songs of Innocence”

Mutiny on the Bounty

Cartwright produces the wool combing machine
Culzean Castle
Benjamin Franklin dies


Paine’s “Rights of

“The Observer” newspaper established
Ordnance Survey established

Michael Faraday born

Charles Babbage born

Heage Windmill built

Percy Bysshe Shelley born

Robert Adam dies

Joshua Reynolds dies

Louvre opens as a public museum in Paris

Mary Wollestonecraft’s “Rights of Women”

Richard Arkwright dies
War with France
Louis XVI executed

John Smeaton dies


John Keats (poet) born

Admiralty issues daily lemon juice ration to the RN to eliminate scurvy

Thomas Carlyle born. (Scottish essayist  and historian)

Ickworth House built

Josiah Wedgwood dies

Nicholas Conte
invents the “lead” pencil

Robert Burns dies
Jenner’s cowpox  vaccination tested and smallpox vaccination discovered

Soho Foundry opens

Lune Aqueduct completed

Grand Junction Canal open as far as Blisworth

Joseph Wright of Derby dies

First £1 banknotes issued


Malthus “Essay on  Population”

Napoleon invades Egypt

Beadnell harbour limekiln built
Napoleon appointed First Consul in France

Rosetta Stone found by
Napoleon’s troops

Stourbridge Bonded Warehouse begun

Eugene Delacroix (artist) born

Greene, King Brewery founded

Income Tax introduced in Britain

William Withering dies

Timeline Pre 1750

Timeline index

1653 River Wey opens to barge traffic
Samuel Johnson Born 1709 Abraham Darby converts 1st furnace
Laurence Sterne born 1713
Lancelot “Capability” Brown born 1715
Joshua Reynolds born 1723
Robert Adam born 1728 Matthew Boulton born
Josiah Wedgwood born 1730
William Cowper (poet and hymn writer) born 1731 Erasmus Darwin born
Joseph Haydn born 1732 Richard Arkwright born
1733 Joseph Priestley born
Joseph Wright of Derby born 1734
Rob Roy dies 1735
Witchcraft no longer a crime 1736 James Watt born
Construction of Radcliffe Camera begun in Oxford 1737 Harrison’s first chronometer
John Wesley’s conversion 1738
Rule Britannia composed (Arne) 1740
1741 Harrison’s second chronometer

William Withering born

First performance Handel’s “Messiah” 1742
Stourhead gardens begun 1743 Edmund Cartwright born
War with France

1st recorded cricket match

Jonathan Swift dies

Hogarth’s “Marriage a la

Jacobite Rebellion

Battle of Culloden 1746
Glasse’s “Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy” 1747 First clock maker opens in Coventry
1748 Excavations begun at Pompeii
Fielding’s “Tom Jones” 1749

Power sources

For many years water was the only significant source of power to drive machinery. Mills were driven by a wheel, powered by the flow of a stream running past and turning the mechanism. It was not until the late 17th century when Thomas Savery, a military engineer, devised a system that he called the “atmospheric engine” that powerful pumps were available. Pumps were needed to raise water from mines to prevent flooding. By pumping out ground water it was possible to reach much lower depths and exploit new mineral veins.

Savery used atmospheric pressure to drive his pump by filling the cylinder with steam then rapidly cooling it by running water over the surface of the engine. The steam quickly condensed with a massive reduction of pressure that pulled water out of the mine shaft. The system was inefficient and dangerous because it was liable to explode, so blacksmith Thomas Newcomen designed a new version that was more reliable and it was first installed in the Earl of Dudley’s limestone mines below Dudley Castle (West Midlands) in 1712.

Newcomen’s engine was heavy and slow, but efficient, and it was adopted by mines all over the UK but in 1765 Scottish instrument maker James Watt realised that cooling the steam for each engine stroke wasted energy. He devised a way to keep the steam hot and to shift it to opposite sides of a piston and so produced an engine that had a powerful double stroke. His early efforts were dogged by technical difficulties but he was eventually taken on by Birmingham ‘toy’ manufacturer Matthew Boulton who created the massive Soho Foundry so that Watt could perfect his machine.

Watt later developed an addition to his engine that enabled the straight stroke of the piston to be turned to circular motion. The rotary adapter revolutionised industry and made it possible for the first time to drive production machinery by steam. The Industrial Revolution finally had a power source equal to the ideas of its leaders and factories sprang up all over the country to manufacture goods. Formerly cottage industries were moved to centres of mass production with the mechanisation of all kinds of crafts from spinning and weaving to pottery and metalwork.

The impact of industrialisation

A view of heritage

cow shaped cream jugs
A collection of cow creamers at Stoke Potteries Museum

Extract from Three Men in a Boat (1889)

Why, all our art treasures of today are only the dug-up commonplaces of three or four hundred years ago. I wonder if there is any real intrinsic beauty in the old soup-plates, beer-mugs, and candle-snuffers that we prize so now, or if it is only the halo of age glowing around them that gives them their charms in our eyes. The ‘old blue’ that we hang about our walls as ornaments were the common, everyday utensils of a few centuries ago; and the pink shepherds and the yellow shepherdesses that we hand round now for our friends to gush over, and pretend they understand, were the unvalued mantel-ornaments that the mother of the eighteenth century would have given the baby to suck when he cried.

Will it be the same in the future? Will the prized treasures of today always be the cheap trifles of the day before? Will rows of willow pattern dinner-plates be ranged above the chimney-pieces of the great in the years 2000 and odd? Will the white cups with the gold rim and the beautiful flower inside (species unknown), that our Sarah Janes now break in sheer light-heartedness of spirit, be carefully mended, and stood upon a bracket, and dusted only by the lady of the house?

That china dog that ornaments the bedroom of my furnished lodgings. It is a white dog. Its eyes are blue. Its nose is a delicate red, with black spots. Its head is painfully erect, and its expression is amiability carried to the verge of imbecility. I do not admire it myself. Considered as a work of art, I may say it irritates me. Thoughtless friends jeer at it, and even my landlady herself has no admiration for it, and excuses its presence by the circumstance that her aunt gave it to her.

But in 200 years’ time it is more than probable that that dog will be dug up from somewhere or other, minus its legs, and with its tail broken, and will be sold for old china, and put in a glass cabinet. And people will pass it round and admire it. They will be struck by the wonderful depth of the colour on its nose, and speculate as to how beautiful the bit of the tail that is lost no doubt was. In 2088 people will gush over it. The making of such dogs will have become a lost art. Our descendents will wonder how we did it, and say how clever we were. We shall be referred to lovingly as ‘those grand old artists that flourished in the nineteenth century, and produced those china dogs’.

The ‘sampler’ that the eldest daughter did at school will be spoken of as ‘tapestry of the Victorian era’, and be almost priceless. The blue-and-white mugs of the present-day roadside inn will be hunted up, all cracked and chipped, and sold for claret cups; and travellers from Japan will buy up the ‘Presents from Ramsgate’, and ‘Souvenirs of Margate’, that may have escaped destruction, and take them back to Jedo as ancient English curios.

Jerome K Jerome

The concept of liminality

five arched bridge across a river
The English Bridge, Shrewsbury

The passage of a person’s life is marked by key points where change is taking place. The individual is neither one thing nor another, but moving from one period of stability to a different, altered state. From childhood to adult, from single to married, from life to death, each stage is marked by movement through some form of gateway. Mankind has always celebrated those changes with special rituals, baptism, marriage, initiation or funeral rites. These times are often seen as sacred but also seen as risky, fraught with danger because the soul does not belong in either place until the change is complete.

Clear lines are defined to show the passage from one state to another and to remove the grey, hazy area between the two states. Holy water, jumping the broom, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Once the soul is across the line it is safe. Before it begins its journey it is safe. On the way across it is at risk. At a point of liminality. Hence all the superstition and tradition associated with the many rites of passage of a person’s life and death.

The something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue are not just to ensure a long and happy marriage. It is significant that the bride must have the four elements on her wedding day but does not need them before or afterwards. They are therefore to protect her while the ceremony takes place. Once she is in the gown and on her way to be married she is no longer a part of her original family but has not yet joined her new one. It is for that time that she needs the talismans.

Similarly the rituals of death are mostly associated with the time that the corpse is above ground or before it is consigned to the fire. Covering mirrors, sitting with the corpse, lighting candles and the hundred and one other rituals observed by the Victorians before a funeral were designed to ensure that the spirit would rest easy. To make sure that the soul did not wander the earth because it had no proper “send-off”. The burial, headstone and inscriptions ensured that the body stayed where it was put, the other observances were to guarantee that the soul went on its way and did not hang around to hamper the living.

two faces in a diamond
Janus face on Peterborough Cathedral nave ceiling.

In much the same way the boundaries between rooms or recognised areas in all walks of life were often associated with passage rituals. A captain is piped aboard his ship to mark his movement from dry land to sea. Many religions and cultures expect the removal of shoes when entering a house. In northern climes it is considered extremely bad luck to walk on the doorstep and for some Mongolian tribes treading on the door stone was a capital crime.

There are many superstitions associated with bridges – not least the fact that the bridge in the tale of the Three Billy Goats Gruff was guarded by a troll. Many cultures believe that evil spirits cannot cross bridges, an idea that has been corrupted to the notion that witches cannot cross running water. Others are associated with doorways. The Romans, for example, had their own two-faced god Janus to guard the entrance to their homes and watch over those both entering and leaving – a truly liminal idea.

Social effects of industrialisation

A view of Saltaire with workers' houses and the Salt's Mill chimney
A view of Saltaire with workers’ houses and the Salt’s Mill chimney

The implications of mechanisation for ordinary working people were enormous. Workers were forced to move from small village communities to be closer to their employment. Towns began to grow into cities and the face of the United Kingdom began to change forever.

Some employers built houses beside the factories for their workers – indeed Matthew Boulton’s Soho Foundry incorporated employee housing in its wings so staff actually lived on the premises. It meant that families were entirely dependent on their bosses for work, money and accommodation, even if that accommodation was sumptuous compared to the neighbours.

After the mass move to cities took place workers were forced to live in increasing squalor with larger and larger families sharing smaller and smaller spaces. Conditions were ripe for the spread of disease and eventually some employers decided to move their factories – and their workforce – out of the city and back to the countryside where they believed everyone would benefit.

Social reformers such as the Quaker Cadburys created new towns on the outskirts of cities. But at least the Cadbury family retained the name of the local village where their new town was created – Bournville. Cloth manufacturer Sir Titus Salt was so proud of his changes when he moved his factory and workforce out of the slums of Bradford that he renamed his new settlement after himself as well as the local river – Saltaire.

Whether an employer built homes in the city or created whole new settlements it left the workforce themselves with little choice about their own futures. They were bound to live in their employer’s property and by his rules, or face losing everything.

This type of control continued until very recently. In 2015 workers at the Cadbury factory were given a list of 30 ‘unacceptable behaviours’ including using bad language, having a closed mind, and poor attention to detail.