Tag Archives: Industrial Revolution

Thomas Picton

Sir Thomas Picton, by Sir Martin Archer Shee (...

Image via Wikipedia

I was interested to read this article about the Waterloo General Sir Thomas Picton. Picton was famously played by Jack Hawkins in the film Waterloo by Dino de Laurentis, complete with civilian top hat. A portrait of Picton has hung for many years in Camarthen Court in Wales. A criminal solicitor, however, has suggested that it should be removed, as there is evidence that Picton mistreated a young native girl whilst a colonial governor in the West Indies, prior to Waterloo. Picton was killed commanding the 5th Division at Waterloo on 18 June 1815, when his Division was repelling the attack of D’erlon’s Corps early in the afternoon. Picton’s uniform had not arrived, and he fought wearing a civilian coat and top hat.

Picton was known for being irascible. But he was a bloody good General. Wellington was known as cold fish. But he was a bloody good General. Montgomery was egotistic and abrasive. But he was a bloody good general. Churchill was a poor strategist and an alcoholic. But he was an inspirational leader. And Nelson was an adulterer and van. But he was a winning admiral. And it is more often than not these kind of people who go into battle for us and defend us, personality flaws and all, rather than lawyers safe in their chambers.

I can’t help but wonder whether some people tend to highlight cases such as this in an attempt to boost their own liberal credentials. All I’m saying, is that we need to be very careful looking back at history through modern lenses. Of course mistreating anyone, regardless of race, is wrong and should never be condoned. But we do need to remember that we have very different prevailing social attitudes to the early Nineteenth Century, and cruelty was happening all over the world – not least in the mills and factories of Industrial Revolution Britain. We need to bear that in mind before we come to screaming assumptions about people who are no longer around to defend themselves.



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Back from oop North

Tinsley Towers and Meadowhall at Night

Image via Wikipedia

Sorry about the lack of updates this weekend guys, I’ve just got back from a weekend visiting relatives in Sheffield. A special mention to Sam, Andrew, Thomas, William and of course baby Harry!

Sheffield’s a pretty interesting place… of course we all know about Sheffield steel. Sheffield was famous as a centre for metalworking as far back as Chaucer‘s writing in the 13th Century. At the confluence of two rivers – the Don and the Sheaf, and with abundant supplies of coal in the surrounding area, Sheffield was an ideal location for furnaces. And of course things got even busier in the Industrial Revolution, with people such as Henry Bessimer and Benjamin Hunstman developing new techniques of producing quality steel.

My brother summed it up quite accurately, I feel. Sheffield pretty much reflects the developments in Britain since the 1980’s. Once an industrial centre with an international reputation, the steelworks at Meadowhall were closed down, and replaced with a vast shopping complex. All very nice, but virtually all of the shops are selling goods made outside of the UK, and people are just consumers. Whats more, most of the profits go outside of the UK too. What do we actually DO nowadays? Industries such as Coal, Steel, Shipbuilding etc might have been in a  bit of a state in the 1970’s, but was it really wise to consign them to the scrapheap? Instead why not sort out the problems and become competitive? And in favour of what, becoming a nation of shopkeepers? It hasn’t changed much in recent years either, with the refusal to give a Government loan to the Forgemasters company in Sheffield, who make critical components for nuclear submarines, amongst other things.

Having said all of that, Sheffield does seem to have adapted to 21st Century Britain better than many places. And at least the acres of redundant steelworks have provided opportunities for redeveloment. At least meadowhall gives people jobs, and pulls in investment from outside the area. The World Student Games in 1991 also provided a catalyst, with the Don Valley Stadium, Sheffield Arena and Ponds Forge Swimming Centre. It’s not a coincidence that so many great athletes have come from Sheffield in the past few years.I guess Sheffield has carved out a bit of a new identity for itself, but it was a great mistake to demolish the iconic Tinsley cooling towers, alongside Junction 34 of the M1!

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What’s the Point of The Public Library?

In the latest episode of Quentin Lett’s series questioning great British institutions, the Public Library comes under scrutiny. Previously the RAF and the Marylebone Cricket Club have had the ‘what’s the point?’ treatment. Click here to listen to the programme on bbc iplayer.

Only the most deluded individual would try and claim that Libraries are not facing massive changes in society. Sadly, Libraries are often conservative in their outlook. Yet society has changed immeasurably – the internet, ipods, ipads, ebooks, and the like. People, society, media, knowledge and learning are all different. Secondhand books are ten a penny on amazon and ebay. How does a little-changed institution evolve and find its place in this society?

The history of Public Libraries is quite interesting. As an institution, they gained currency during the Industrial Revolution, in an attempt to educate the working class masses by allowing them to borrow books rather than have to buy them. They became a symbol of civic governance, and also of moral improvement. Now, libraries are a statuatory duty, and there are over 4,000 of them in Britain.

Some people seem to want to cling onto the book as the centrepiece of the library, to the exclusion of all else. On the other side of the coin, calling a library an ‘ideas store’ is just superficial, but the basic problem is still there. Staying the same and resisting change in the face of massive social transformation is folly, but by the same token should they be transformed for the sake of it. A few years ago when the internet was new, the library was the only place you could go to use it – yet now, PC’s and laptops are so cheap, virtually everyone has one, and if you haven’t there are plenty of internet cafes. Its almost as if they have an image problem; that they are not really too sure what they are there FOR.

 The programme features Tim Coates, a bookseller and library campaigner, the head of culture from Newcastle Council. Andrew Motion is the chair of the Museums, Libraries and Arts Council, and at one point Letts asks him if he is a member of the ‘books Taliban’… priceless! (there is, indeed, an archaic school of thought that anything other than a book in a library is sacrilege). There are big challenges facing libraries, and ignoring problems only exacerbates them. There is nothing wrong with challenging assumptions and thinking outside the box. One library has been set up in a church tower, run by elderly lady volunteers. Unusual, but why not? Its better than the mobile library that the village used to have.

However I found Letts’s opinions about young people pretty condescending. He would rather make ‘demands’ of young people, to tell them how to behave in a library, not to let them tell us what they want. No wonder libraries have a problem engaging with young people. Libraries are there for and about people, not for librarians themselves. It’s called democracy.

Libraries – like all other ‘non-essential’ services – will be facing massive cuts in the next few years, and budget cuts inevitable mean a loss of services, be it in terms of opening times, stock, staff or libraries themselves. Sadly, literacy will suffer, especially amongst children.

I’ve spent probably hundreds of hours of time in libraries, and not a day goes by where i don’t have a book in my bag for on the bus, and my room is like a mini library all of its own. My parents used to take me to the library before i could even walk, and im sure that played a part in me developing as a book lover. I would hate to think that young people now might not get the chance to learn like that, regardless of whether it is from books or the internet or any other media not even invented yet!

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Sponsor a Brick at the Fred Dibnah Heritage Centre

Back in 1999, the late Fred Dibnah applied for planning permission to turn his famous Bolton house into a heritage centre, but was refused. It was one of Fred’s last wishes, and a new campaign has been launched to help make it a reality. Planning consent has been granted for Fred’s former home to be transformed into a Heritage Centre. But to meet all of the legal requirements for a visitor attraction, such as toilets and disabled access, there is a lot of work ahead.

To raise funds a ‘Sponsor a brick’ campaign has been launched. By sponsoring a brick with donation of £10 you will get a free entry into a Spot the Ball competition if you are in the UK, and the lucky winner will get £7,500 Cash, with a runner-up prize of £2,500. The third prize is a half days Land Rover experience (care of land Rover UK) for 3 people. There are also 10 other runner up mystery prizes.

Not only will the campaign be raising funds towards building the Fred Dibnah Heritage Centre, but 25p from every Brick sponsored will go towards Cancer Research. This is very fitting, as Fred himself was a victim of cancer.

The Heritage Centre is also keen to hear from companies who may be interested in sponsoring the main workshop. It would be fantastic publicity for an engineering firm!

Project Manager Phil outlined work to be done:

“To just give you some idea of what is required before we can open the site to the public, the council insist that we put toilet facilities in place, these must include Disabled toilets; then we have to securely fence the perimeter to prevent people falling down the 70 feet to the river, we have to put safety rails around the exhibits, machines etc. we have to totally resurface the outside pedestrian areas and as we may at some time want to bring vehicles in this surface has to be to highway standards, and disabled friendly, the inside floor of Freds main workshop is old railway sleepers, for health & safety reasons a part of this (a walkway) has got to be covered with smooth non slip surface wherever the public may set foot, we have got several estimates in for this work which amount to £267,000. and that is just to satisfy the council. We also have to re-roof the small workshop, and the rear half of the main workshop, and we want to make this a pleasurable experience for the visitors so we want to provide pleasant seating areas which due to our wonderful climate need to be covered, and somewhere for the visitor to get a drink and a sandwich, which then requires a catering kitchen. So as you can see we need to raise something like £500,000 before we start on fettling the boilers and all of Freds fantastic machinery”

To Sponsor a Brick, or to find out more, visit the Fred Dibnah Heritage Centre website

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Portsmouth Dockyard

Portsmouth Dockyard

Portsmouth Dockyard

Portsmouth is one of the three main operating bases of the Royal Navy, as well as Devonport in Plymouth and the Clyde/Faslane. Its the base for two thirds of the Navy’s surface fleet, as well as home of the oldest dry dock in the world.

Portsmouth’s importance goes back almost a thousand years. The first major settlement in the area was the Roman and then Norman Castle at Portchester. By the time of King Henry VIII, however, Portsmouth Harbour had began to silt up, so a new naval base was created at the mouth of the harbour, including the first dry dock in Europe. Constructed in 1496, this was situated around the area of the modern day no.1 basin.

As the British Empire grew and the Royal Navy’s commitments abroad multiplied, the important of Portsmouth as a naval base and dockyard exploded. In particular, when Britain was at war with France, Portsmouth was crucial due to its location. Thousands of shipwrights, riggers, caulkers, sailmakers, and all manner of specialist trades worked in the Yard.

Although the importance of the Navy to Portsmouth is well known – and indeed, we can imagine the many thousands of men and indeed women who worked in the Navy and the Dockyard – something that is so often overlooked is the huge infrastructure of supportive industries needed to support shipbuilding and maintenance. Supplies had to be shipped in from far afield – Timber from around the country, Pitch, Hemp and Tar from the Baltic, Coal from North East England and South Wales, and all manner of food and drink. And for many years, the East India Company used Portsmouth as an operating base. Many of the Dockyard’s wonderful storehouses and Boathouses date from this period.

Isamabard Kingdom Brunel’s father, Marc Brunel, established the Block Mills in the Dockyard in the early 19th Century, the first mass-production line in Britain. Other great engineers who have worked at Portsmouth include Thomas Telford and Samuel Bentham.

As the wooden walls of Nelson’s Navy gave way to the great Ironclads of the late Victorian Navy, a new set of skills had to be acquired. The Dockyard expanded massively in the late Victorian era, known as the ‘Great Extension’. During this time, the Yard was the biggest Industrial estate in the world.

Ships made of iron plate, new bigger and heavier guns, steam propulsion, led to new trades. From the launching of the Dreadnoughts, and the two World Wars, Portsmouth was at the heart of Britain’s defence. After 1945 however and the withdrawal from much of Britain’s overseas commitments, the contraction of the Navy meant a gradual winding down of the Dockyard, until it was privatised in the 1980’s. Despite this, the yard put together a magnificent effort to ready ships for the Falklands War, some of which were made ready and sailed for war as little as 2 days after the Argentinians invaded. The oldest part of the Dockyard is now a Heritage area, with HMS Victory, HMS Warrior, the Mary Rose and the Royal Naval Museum open to visitors.

The Dockyard had an incredible impact on Portsmouth and its culture. Whole families have worked in the yard, including many of my family and ancestors. My dad still has quite a few of his Dockyard tools in the shed! Uniquely, Dockyard workers have always been known as Dockies, and not Dockers as elsewhere.

Finally, there is a tale that one day all of the items in Portsmouth that have been stolen from the Dockyard will grow legs and walk back there. Given that so many tools and materials have mysteriously ‘walked’ out of the Dockyard in the first place, one wonders if Portsmouth woud fall apart if this was ever to happen!


Filed under Architecture, Falklands War, Family History, Industrial Revolution, Local History, maritime history, Museums, Napoleonic War, Navy, World War One, World War Two