Sir Richard Arkwright 1732 – 92

Sir Richard Arkwright by Joseph Wright of Derby (1789)

Richard Arkwright was born in Preston, Lancashire, a self-educated man whose career began as a barber and wigmaker, for which he was reputed to use genuine human hair. His industrial knowledge led him to adopt the idea of a water-powered spinning machine that he patented in 1769. Called the water frame, the machine allowed mechanisation of what had previously been a cottage industry and brought spinning into the factory age. By 1782 he employed more than 5,000 workers in his cotton mills.

In 1775 he patented a carding engine, based on a hand-worked machine that had been invented earlier by Lewis Paul. Arkwright’s machine incorporated a crank and comb mechanism that drove the comb up and down and lifted the combed fibres onto a cylinder to create a continuous fleece for spinning.

Cromford

His first mechanised mill was built at Cromford, south of Matlock in Derbyshire. The site was developed only two years after the patent for the water frame was taken out and was the first water-powered mill in the world. The complex of workshops was powered by wheels driven by the Bonsall Brook, which flows into the River Derwent close to the site.

Arkwright was also generous to his workers, in common with other industrialists of later times, and built a number of houses in the nearby village for his staff. North Street is one of the best-preserved terraces, built in approximately 1777. One of the homes is now preserved as a Landmark Trust property and is available for holiday lets.

1905 – Einstein’s miracle year

Almost everyone has heard of e=mc2 – the formula behind the Theory of Special Relativity – but very few people realise that it was just one of Einstein’s significant scientific breakthroughs of the year. It might also be worth considering that this was just 4 years after the death of Queen Victoria. Few people would think of Einstein as being an eminent Victorian but in fact he was.

The first scientific paper that Einstein published in this year was on the photoelectric effect. It showed that light sometimes behaves like a stream of particles with discrete energies called “quanta” and sometimes behaves like a wave of energy. The paper earned him a Nobel Prize.

The second paper was on Brownian motion – a random motion that can be observed when very light particles (such as Indian ink) are suspended in a liquid (such as water). It is caused when the molecules of the liquid collide with the particles and propel them in different directions. The paper included an experimental test for the theory of heat.

The third paper was the most famous – the Theory of Special Relativity – that included the famous equation quoted above. Behind the equation is the idea that mass and energy are actually two versions of the same thing and the amount of energy contained in mass is related to a constant (c). And the other key idea is that space and time are related.

The Soldier by Rupert Brooke

The Soldier

If I should die, think only this of me:
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is forever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England’s, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by the suns of home.
And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.

Rupert Brooke (1887 – 1915)
The Soldier was published in May 1915 as part of the collection 1914 & Other Poems.

Thomas Telford

Thomas Telford 1757 – 1834

 

Menai Bridge

Thomas Telford was responsible for the early 19th century improvements to the main line canal at Birmingham. Having surveyed the original Brindley contour canal across the Birmingham Plateau he declared it “little better than a crooked ditch” and set about carving a straight line across the route. The result was the largest earthwork in the world at the time – a little over 70 feet deep and a mile long – now known as the Galton Valley. It was crossed by the magnificent Galton Bridge, at the time the longest single span bridge in the world. Among his other improvements to the canal system were the Engine Arm feeder canal that crosses the new line and carries water supplies to the old main line across the dramatic, cast-iron Engine Arm aqueduct, a scheduled ancient monument.

Telford is also known for his audacious improvements to the old Roman road of Watling Street (the A5) that led from London to Wales. His engineering feats include the masterpiece of the Menai Bridge, a suspension bridge that carries the road across the Menai Strait and onto Anglesey to open up the western port of Holyhead. The Menai Bridge was built between 1818 and 1826 at a height of 153 feet, a length of 1388 feet and a main span of 580 feet.

Waterloo Bridge

Another of his A5 works is the magnificent Waterloo Bridge over the River Conwy at Betwys-y-Coed inscribed: “This arch was constructed in the same year the Battle of Waterloo was fought. 1815”

See also: Cantlop Bridge

 

Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin 1809 – 1882

Darwin’s theories scandalised the Victorian world when he first suggested his ideas of evolution. The theories challenged the religious view, at the heart of church belief, that the world was created by god in six days. They also had little to do with the scientific views that held sway at the time and thus the “Origin of Species” alienated him from large sectors of society.

He formed his first ideas about how species develop while he was voyaging on the HMS Beagle on which he was employed as – unpaid – naturalist. His studies of the flora and fauna of the Galapagos Islands made him realise how each species develops to exploit particular resources and therefore become most “fit” for its habitat. The idea of Survival of the Fittest is often misunderstood to mean the strongest, rather than the best adapted.

Without earlier work by people like Lyell, who had already realised the vast expanses of time necessary to undergo the geological processes that had formed the earth, Darwin might have faced a tougher struggle to have his ideas accepted. But the tides of thought were already changing. Others were starting to consider the possibility that natural forces might drive species development and Darwin himself always credited biologist Alfred Russel Wallace with having discovered very similar ideas independently.

Down House

His ideas were not without opponents, however, and the overriding opinion among scholars of the day was that Darwin’s theories were mostly conjecture and that there was very little evidence in his publication. There was a special meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science a year after “On the Origin of Species by Natural Selection” was published in 1859. It was at this meeting that Darwin’s great opponent Bishop Samuel Wilberforce challenged “Darwin’s Bulldog” T H Huxley by asking whether it was through his grandfather or grandmother that he claimed decent from monkeys. Huxley’s reported reply was that he would rather be decended from two apes than be “a man afraid to face the truth”.

Darwin’s home in later life, and where he wrote “Origin of Species”, was Down House in Kent. The beautiful property stands overlooking the Kent countryside and is surrounded by woods and farmland. Around the house was Darwin’s “thinking path” where he often walked to gather his thoughts before retiring to his study to put them on paper. His experiments were all over the study and often spilled out into the kitchen, drawing room and even on to the billiard table if he needed more room.

Iron

Iron figurine from 10 North Street, Cromford, Derbyshire

There are three main types of iron that should be considered: wrought, cast and steel. Wrought Iron has a melting point of 1535 degrees C so it comes out of the furnace solid and is worked solid. It is hammered into shape and forms a tough finished product. It is good for tools and swords. It has less than 0.3 per cent carbon content. Cast Iron comes out of the furnace molten and is poured into moulds to make its shape. It is brittle so it does not produce good tools or edged weapons. Often it is used for decorative objects. It has more than 2 per cent carbon. These two forms are dependent on the type of ore available, high-carbon ores will not make good wrought iron. Chinese ores, for example, are useful only for cast iron, which is why there is so much decorative Chinese ironwork. Steel is a combination of iron and the right amount of carbon – between 0.3 and 2 percent – which makes it particularly tough and flexible. It is capable of holding an edge and is therefore very useful for tools and weapons. It is, however, very difficult to manufacture and involves “cooking” the iron and carbon together for many hours at more than 1100 degrees C.

The “Three Age” history of the introduction of iron in Europe is unique and not reflected anywhere else in the world. In southern Africa, for example, there never was a Bronze Age and the first metal to be used was iron. In North America native copper was hammered into shapes but was never smelted. In Europe the Iron Age followed the Bronze Age but there was no distinct line between the two. Iron was merely an additional metal. It is difficult to form into complex shapes, unlike bronze, and it corrodes easily so it was not a suitable material for all uses. By the 2nd millennium BCE a few iron items were in circulation, such as pins and awls but around 1100 BCE the metal took off in a big way. It appeared throughout the near east, Europe and Britain almost simultaneously.

There are two sources of iron – meteoric iron that is extremely rare and can be identified by its high nickel content, and iron ores. It appears as oxides and sulphides; both are commonly available. Iron ore is rarely pure so there are almost always other constituents in any iron item. Unfortunately it is impossible to assign chemical “signatures” to European ores because they vary so much, so the inclusions are not useful for sourcing raw materials used in archaeological artefacts.

Thanks to Prof Elizabeth Slater, head of department at the University of Liverpool school of archaeology for clear lectures on artefacts and materials. J M Cronyn’s Elements of Archaeological Conservation has also been consulted.

Coventry Watchmaking Quarter

Old Workshops in Lord Street

Coventry’s first clockmaker was William Watson who had a workshop in the city in the 17th century but it was not until a hundred years later that the trade blossomed.  In 1747 the company of Vale and Rotherham was established in Spon Street. The premises was set up in the way that early factories throughout the Midlands began, as a collection of small workshops under one roof (like Matthew Boulton’s Soho Manufactory where Birmingham “toys” were made)

Craftsmen rented space from the owners and sold their finished goods wholesale to their landlords to be sold on to individual customers. It was not until 1889 that the factory was converted into the type of building that is understood by the word today.

By the 1840s watchmaking in the city had grown so much that the original craft quarter around Spon Street was unable to contain it. Workshops sprang up in Chapelfields and Earlsdon, two adjoining areas of town. Streets of old watchmakers’ houses still exist in both.

One of the leading watchmaking families in the city was Player. By the 1870s there were members of the family living at five houses in Craven Street, Chapelfields and workshops on the top floor of the buildings opposite.

The industry flourished until it faced imports of cheap watches from Switzerland and the USA. Coventry’s product remained a hand-made, labour-intensive business but continental producers took advantage of cheaper automated processes. In a bid to counteract the impact of foreign imports the Coventry Movement Company formed in 1889 to produce cheaper workings that could be placed in hand-made cases but the plan failed. By the start of World War I the industry was almost gone.

When Coventry Council wanted to give Princess Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth II) a wedding gift in 1948 it was no longer possible to find all the necessary parts for one watch being made in the town.

Stiles – Places on the Edge

The Notion of Liminality

Squeeze stile at Lacock, Wiltshire

Liminal places are those on the edge – neither one place nor another – the junction between two known factors, where one fades to another but there are no clear boundaries. They are places of mystery and as such they have been regarded with awe and respect since the dawn of time. There are rituals that must be observed, tales that have been told and warnings issued about gates, bridges, fords and doorways since humankind first began to speak. Life too has its liminal times, birth, maturity, marriage, death, and each of those events is wrapped in protective habits. Indeed liminality is often behind the very behaviour that defines a culture.

Stiles are boundaries between two places. They are a break in the safe fence or wall that separates two defined areas. Although there are few rituals associated with crossing a stile it should be remembered that one form of such a gateway is the kissing gate – where a lover can claim a kiss in payment for walking through.

Brighton Pavilion

In the 1780s architect Henry Holland converted an old farmhouse near the sea front in Brighton to be a pleasure villa. That building was altered, on the instructions of George (Prince Regent, later George IV) to become a glorious folly in which he could entertain guests. Work began in 1815 under the instructions of John Nash, but it was not until 1823 that the final flourishes were added to the building.

The site already had a domed structure in the form of the Stables, created in the early 1800s in the then fashionable “Hindoo” style. The design bore little or no resemblance to true Indian architecture and was rather more a dream of what England thought India was like – or should be like. In 1809 the fiirst Indian restaurant opened in London but it was never a huge success and closed three years later. All things Indian and “Hindoo” were therefore already falling from fashion when George gave the style his support.

While the exterior of the building is based on Indian influences, even if loosely, the interior is decidedly Chinese. Once again, however, the artists and craftsmen involved in its production knew very little about the country and the overall result is a dream of how they believed it was, rather than reality. Lots of dragons and bamboo but very little restraint. Overall the result is the architectural equivalent of a wedding cake – over dressed on the outside and extremely cloying on the inside. However, it is typical of Brighton, the home of Aubrey Beardsley.

In his BBC2 series Abroad Again in Britain historian Jonathan Meades pointed out that the building was never at the height of fashion and was certainly nothing like the commonly-accepted Regency style. He also called it an “ode to excess” and said: “It’s so rich it’s almost emetic”. That is probably true. It is, however, typical of George – Prince of Wales, Regent and dandy – overblown and extravagant.

Cargoes by John Masefield 

Quinquireme of Nineveh from distant Ophir,
Rowing home to haven in sunny Palestine,
With a cargo of ivory,
And apes and peacocks,
Sandalwood, cedarwood, and sweet white wine.


Stately Spanish galleon coming from the Isthmus,

Dipping through the Tropics by the palm-green shores,
With a cargo of diamonds,
Emeralds, amythysts,
Topazes, and cinnamon, and gold moidores.

Dirty British coaster with a salt-caked smoke stack,
Butting through the Channel in the mad March days,
With a cargo of Tyne coal,
Road-rails, pig-lead,
Firewood, iron-ware, and cheap tin trays.