A Significant Date

Friday 26th October 2018 marks the 160th anniversary of the first water to be pumped from Sandfields Pumping Station, Lichfield to the industrial Black Country in the industrial Midlands.

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The nineteenth century witnessed significant changes to the landscape. With the industrial revolution driving the economy, urbanisation of the industrial towns reached an unprecedented level that was not equalled or surpassed in any other European country until the mid-1950’s. The existing water supplies could not meet the demands of the people and sewage disposal systems were woefully inadequate or even none existent.

Infrastructure could not support the vast growth in the population or could the technology deal with it’s needs. People were drinking water from the canals in desperation. Malnourishment, ineffective sanitation and a lack of clean water made the area susceptible to disease and ill health. Then in 1832 a new and deadly disease arrived.

V0010484 A dead victim of cholera at Sunderland in 1832. Coloured lit

Cholera decimated the Black Country, within six weeks over 2,500 people were dead. Known as a ‘filth death’ the victims died in utter squalor and agony. With no known cause or no known cure panic and terror ensured. The cemeteries were overwhelmed, and a shortage of coffins added to the misery of body’s piling up in the streets. Significant numbers of people were buried in mass graves or cholera pits with no epitaph or recognition of their lives.

Cholera became the regular unwelcome visitor to the industrial towns and cities. It would take back with it people from all walks of life. No one was safe from the insidious tentacles that would snatch a family member or two when their attention was momentarily distracted. Their voices drowned in a sea of squalor, despair and anguish.

Fortunately, human ingenuity prevailed. Victorian culture bought with it a curiosity and challenge to the acceptance of things happen due to the will of god. Critical thinkers started to challenge conventional wisdom and ask profound questions that would dig well beneath accepted cause and effect. Questions that would enhance our understanding of the world we live in…. the origin of our species…. the inner working of the human body…

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Scientists like John Snow questioned and challenged the well-established miasma theory of diseases by using oral study and statistical analysis of epidemics. His work gave birth to the science of epidemiology and proved a link between water and cholera. This opened the discussion on how overcome the technical challenges of moving water from a city with an abundance to an area of water shortages 11 miles away and 400 higher. Engineers like John McClean and Francis Croughton Stileman not only found solutions, they also put up their own money to build a scheme to deliver it.

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The technical challenges of moving the vast quantities of water required were to say at least very challenging. It would need the collaborative working of a team of people to build two vast impounding reservoirs, a ¾ mile long tunnel, an engine house for a giant of an engine that would lift the water 400 feet high and then push it along an 11-mile-long pipeline to a further impounding reservoir in Moat End Walsall. At the time, it was one of the largest water infrastructure projects built.

As with all project that stretch the mind and imagination, technical challenges had to be resolved on route. But resolve them they did. Bringing in the collective minds and cooperation of others eventually bought the scheme to a conclusion, on 26 September 1858 the first clean water was pumped from the now picturesque reservoirs of Lichfield to the industrial towns of the Black Country.

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Clean water bought about significant social and economic benefits to the community. Within a few years, cholera was a thing of the past in the UK, and the average life expectancy had been extended by twenty years. The establishment of organised water supplies gave legitimacy to and underpinned the principals of public health, bringing wellbeing to many. It paved the way for the NHS.

So, on this significant date of 26 September 2018 let us take a moment to look back at the objects and people from the past and learn from them so that we may pave a way to our future.

Sandfields Pumping Station played a key part in these remarkable events. Deep within its foundations it holds the stories of the scientific and medical discoveries of the past. It shows us the remarkable feats of Victorian water engineering, and how engineering technology overcame the challenges of bringing life preserving water to communities. It records in depth and detail the skills and labour of the everyday people who sweated on the building sites, the tunnels and boiler rooms to build and maintain in perfect working order this giant of a machine. These endeavours give very simple message. “Some people have done well for themselves, but the most admired people of this world are those who do well for others”.

Its sad that on this special date our remarkable waterworks and its giant engine that gave so much, is still at risk of permeant loss. Not because of willingness or because of money, but because a small number of individuals don’t care about it. They do not wish to see the remarkable story that this building tells, and why it is important. They do not wish to see that there is anything we can learn from our past, that would help them do well for others. It is purely a commercial decision.

The Lichfield Waterworks Trust will with continue with its best endeavours to tell the story of this building and its giant of an engine. The trust will continue to research and tell the stories of the people who made it happen.

Sandfileds Staff 1893.JPG

The trust will also continue to research and tell the stories of the people who died in the dreadful cholera epidemics of the mid nineteenth century so that this building can hold their stories too and give them voice. We do this because when these stories are told, they will add to and enhance our understanding of our own lives, they will become our ‘Voices from the Past’.

 

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A Postcard From the Past – Cheddleton Flint Mill

Cheddleton Flint Mill_0020-1

Cheddleton Flint Mill is a water mill situated in the village of Cheddleton, Staffordshire, in the picturesque Churnet Valley. With the fast-flowing river Churnet on one side and the Cauldon Canal on the other. It is an iconic group of building dating from the period of the industrial revolution.

The south mill was originally a corn mill, but with the addition of the north mill built specifically to grind flint, the South Mill was also converted to grind flint too. The mill exploited the newly built Caladon canal, making the transportation of heavy goods to the nearby Potteries bring a welcome longevity to the site.

There are two breast-shot water wheels powered by the River Churnet: the southern wheel is 20 feet 5 inches (6.2 metres) in diameter; the northern wheel is 22 feet (6.7 metres) in diameter. There are also calcining kilns and a drying kiln. The button hole launders are a feature often seen in Cornish china clay works, very at home in Staffordshire. The mill continued in use until 1963 and is still in working order.

Since 1967 the site has been restored and maintained as a museum by the Cheddleton Flint Mill Industrial Heritage Trust. The site is free to visit, but donations are always welcome.

It is a truly remarkable piece of industrial heritage that stands head and shoulders above any institutional museum. The site is a testament to the unselfish endeavours of the volunteers, who keep this site in a state of preservation that displays our industrial heritage at its best.

A true peoples museum; an honest to goodness hands on must-see place. There are no uniformed security guards, sitting like vultures waiting to leap into the back of the casual transgressor of the ivory tower museum rule book.

As a visitor you have the freedom to look, experience and engage with the past. The floors are uneven, the stairs are steep, and the river is deep, but we already know how to take care, and how to stay safe. The lack of ‘do not touch’ signs, are in their own way a recognition of what we already know: how to treat our industrial heritage with care and love. We don’t need reminding.

With all the silly nonsense set to one side, we are free to explore, learn, and to see a world as it looked a hundred years ago. This is a rare combination of landscape and objects in a setting that allows us to engage with the minds people who lived before us. With an uncluttered mind, free from the institutionalised distractions, we can walk with them and let them tell their stories in unspoken words and transfer their tacit knowledge without language into a useable past. This place is well worthy of a generous donation. It is a preserved past that is priceless.

After all we are creatures of memory. We cannot have a future idea unless we access a memory of the past.

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The Written Word, Myths and Misconceptions

The written word, it’s the instrument we all play. It’s incredibly powerful, some say mightier than the sword. It can start a war, tell you I love you or can lead you to believe what someone wants you to think.

In history, words will tell us a story of the past that not necessarily happened, but what someone want you to think what happened, or how we wished what had happened. Public History will ask us to look at the past from below, and to gain our sense of the past though objects.

Objects can tell remarkable stories about the past. While the written word will enhance our knowledge, studying an object will enhance our understanding.

 

 

 

 

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Shepperdine – The Tin Tabernacle

St Mary’s Church, a small missionary church adjacent to Manor Farm in Nupdown Road, is a rare example of a tin tabernacle.

Tin tabernacles were designed as temporary structures to be replaced by more permanent churches but St Mary’s has remained as part of its community and still hosts church services once a month.

Dating from 1914, it is an early example of this kind of prefabricated church and is particularly unusual for having retained so much of its original detailing with the only noticeable updates being the windows

Two and a half miles distance from St Arilda’s Church in Oldbury, but a million miles away from the minister’s ‘private’ parking space on the public road and the no dogs in churchyard (on or off the lead) signs. I am sure I was force fed something like “we are all equal in the eyes of….” somewhere in a past life.

It’s a nostalgic gem lovable by its simplicity, honesty accessibility. Open to all, there is a sense of trust, timelessness and peace when you walk into this building.

So pleased to see that the budding Barry Bucknell’s of this world did not get chance to lay their creative hand of this place.

It’s not been messed about with, so retains an archive of its own past. With it goes the essence of the people who have known this place and love it.

The stained and varnished match boarding, Bakelite switches and cotton wound cables with round pic plug tops, are almost convenient pegs to hand the past on.

Sound artist David Howell has been using ambient sounds he records on site in the landscape and excerpts from the oral histories and creating beautiful evocative sound postcards from A Forgotten Landscape

Listen to some of David Work here, including sounds from the Tin Tabernacle.

 

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The Grid Project – In the Footsteps of Phyllis…

I have been taking part in the Birmingham Photographic Grid Project 2017. This year the theme is In the Footsteps of Phyllis Nicklin. Phyllis needs no introduction you folks, we know and love her for the amazing archive of photographs she left us.

Phyllis Nicklin was a lecturer at the University of Birmingham who died in November 1969 while still in office. She left a collection of photographs taken in the 50’s and 60’s showing social housing and working places in Birmingham.

Phyllis Nicklin was a mysterious person, very little was known about her personal life. Members of the Birmingham History forum have long appreciated the valuable legacy of social change she left us and are now campaigning to have a blue plaque erected at the place of her birth.

She left a remarkable legacy in her photographic collection that recorded the social housing and working conditions of everyday people. While she was employed by the university, her photographic collection has become a direct benefit not only to the student who were taught by Phyllis, but to the community as a whole.

Her collection has engaged a whole community in a way that has increased our knowledge, and given us a new insight into the past lives, and the living and working conditions of older generations. The collection of images has made history accessible to everyone and therefore the benefits her short and almost invisible life have bought are in my opinion are immeasurable and priceless.

The aim of this yeas Grid Project is to retake all of her photos in and around Birmingham, so that we can see the changes made of the passing years. Details of the project, and her photos can be seem on Dave Allen’s website here.

There will also be an exhibition and a short run hardback book once the project is completed at the end of this year. I understand that 2018 would have been the year of her 100th birthday.

It was fascinating waking in the footsteps of Phyllis today, having to look closely at the landscape and study it closely to work out just where she stood all those years ago. Today I felt like I was engaging with a long dead person from the past, and am now able to see the world though the mind of someone who walked before me.

It is quite sad that we know very little about the life of Phyllis, as her images tell a remarkable story about the town I love. Maybe that’s just how she wanted it to be, life is not always about doing alright for your self, its about doing alright for others.

I would like to share with you the then and new images from the four locations I have chosen to take.

Phyllis Nicklin images courtesy of University of Birmingham

Tyseley Engine Sheds (1907) North Warwickshire Line, Warwick Road near Reddings Lane c1968

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7373-Tyseley-Engine-Sheds-(1907)-David-Moore

Tyseley, BXL Factory, Redfern Road (view towards Kings Road) 1968

TYS00053513-Tyseley,-BXL-Factory,-Redfern-Road-(view-towards-Kings-Road)-David-Moore

Tyseley, James Road, off Kings Road 1968

TYS00037371-Tyseley,-James-Road,-off-Kings-Road-David-Moore

Tyseley, Hay Hall, Redfern Road 1968

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Today, standing in the footsteps of Phyllis does not give us such a clear view of Tyseley Hall, so moving about 15 feet to the right allows us to see the hall in all its glory.

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Eaten by Worm and Rats, then Blown Away by the Farting Misericord.

While the academic records can tell the story of an individual, so can the objects that an individual chooses to leave behind. Grave markers tell the story of the dead as told by the living, but a cenotaph tell the story of the person, as told by themselves.

Friday 2 June promised copious quantities of rain. Great for dogs, they never take a day off rain or shine 24/7. It was time for an object fix.

I love objects. Object are a repository of the past. Objects tell stories. Object have both public and private meanings. Object transcend time and change in value. We add meaning to objects and search for solace, safety and security within them.

We have a basic instinct to search, investigate and make sense of the word around us, we revisit and revise past narratives to make sense of our world today, and leave a trial of breadcrumbs to our past lives. We can also do this with objects. Each of us in our own individual way has an opportunity to leave lasting mark on the world, it can be done with an object. However, be warned, objects caused the death of the author.

Tewksbury Abby is a remarkable building. It is the home of some large as life objects, and an amazing good café. Both the Abby and the Café welcome dogs. It is refreshing when you’re not ambushed by the collection tin shakers as you enter. The Abby has an abundance of medieval church monuments and a very pleasing lack of wordy interpretation panels that leave you free just to enjoy the most amazing space. We need more spaces like this.

I know as much about the history of Tewksbury Abby, as I know about history, not a lot. That’s a job for the academics and local historians. My interest in it is as an object; containing objects. Although I am prepared to push the boundary’s a bit and include its Norman architecture with its Romanesque crossing tower. Its nostalgia; I’ve had a thing about Romanesque architecture since college days. The massively thick walls, rounded arches and beefed up pillars just ooze longevity. The architects were making a clear and bold statement. It is something that once you see it, you look for it then recognise it elsewhere.

It’s interesting how this Abby survived the dissolution and was not raised to the ground like so many of the others. There is a local story that Henry VIII agreed with the towns folk that they could keep the building as a church if they compensated him for his lost revenue. Apparently, payment was a little slow forthcoming, so Henry started the demolition of the Abbey which promptly bought payment.

Eaten by Worm and Rats

I did explore the possibility that by the Act of Supremacy, passed by Parliament which made Henry VIII Supreme Head of the Church in England. So, by removing himself from Papal authority and becoming the head of the Church of England, he would have needed a maintain a church infrastructure. So, how could he have done this? Was there some collusion between the abbot and the King?

At the time of the reformation, Abbot Wakeman was not fired, as were some of his cohorts, in fact he continued on to develop a very interesting career as the last Abbot of Tewkesbury and first Bishop of Gloucester.

Wakeman allegedly constructed a cadaver tomb cenotaph to himself in Tewkesbury Abbey, on the north-east side of the high altar, and also managed get himself buried in two other different paces.

Wakeman died in 1549 , so along with his tomb in Tweskbury the records show that he is also buried in Gloucester Cathedral and at Forthampton Court, in a small village about three miles from Tewksbury. You can’t keep a good man down.

His cadaver tomb is a fascinating object. A cadaver tomb or transi (or memento mori tomb, Latin for “reminder of death”). This style of tomb has in my opinion a continental look and feel to it that possibly predates Wakeman by 100 years, although I do know of one 16th century cadaver tomb . Waksman’s is a life-size depiction of a rotting cadaver being eaten by rats, snake’s and other flesh-eating wildlife, with him still looking like he was soon after death.

I think of objects as having both a public and a private meaning. So, let’s see how it works with this object.

Public meaning. Some see this cadaver tomb as an object that is intended to be a didactic example of how transient earthly glory is, since it depicts what all people finally become. Most certainly it is a shocking display of transient mortality.

Private meaning. Wakeman seems to have flourished as a result of the reformation, while other had less fortunate and very foreshortened lives. How did a man, who spent a lifetime oozing morality?

He secured his own appointment by intrigue, obtaining the interest of Sir William Kingston and of Thomas Cromwell….
…. John Wiche, surrendered his monastery, receiving an annuity of four hundred marks. He then seems to have taken the name Wakeman, by which he was afterwards known .

So, is this tomb Walkman’s shocking display of transient mortality, or is this a display of Waksman’s aspirations of high-ranking nobility?

An object caused the death of the author.

The Robeson Cenotaph, Archdeacon Robeson was vicar from 1877-92 during the great Victorian restoration of the abbey. He too is in fact, buried in Bristol Cathedral. The most remarkable thing, about Robeson is he seems a most unremarkable man, apart from his Cenotaph. This really is a generous indulgence, an original no expense spared object that stand head and shoulders high with the tomb of a member of the monarchy.

I see it as on a par with some of the medieval knight’s tombs elsewhere in the Abby. Its bid bold and it’s extraordinary lifelike. They say that within every person there are three. How we see ourselves, how we think others see us, and how others see us. So, it seems odd to that a vicar would erect such a lavish display to project his own image in death that is inevitably lost when seeking to leave a legacy of his own life. Maybe mutually exclusive applied to the three states of mind, most certainly in my opinion is the outcome in the living world caused the death of this author.

This is a piece of artwork that has evolved a new identity, as the casual visitor has added their special touch. Look how the visitors have stroked his bald head, and polished it to a high gloss. Is this really how Archdeacon Robeson expected to be remembered, or was his own self-identity for too removed from a worldly sense of reality.

Blown Away by the Farting Misericord.

On the south side of the Abby, near to the choir screen we can find the mischievous misericord number 17. It’s one of those rude carvings of a naked human figure with its bum exposed in a gesture of contempt. Scatological or vulgar humour is quite common on misericords. Either way, your own interpretation clearly defines who you are.

Is farting associated with the devil and the sulphurous stench of hell, or do farts keep the devil at bay?

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“A force of some hundred of combined atmospheres produced by the vapours accumulated and long compressed in the interior of the earth, was hoisting us upwards with irresistible power. But to what countless dangers it exposed us! Soon lurid lights began to appear in the vertical gallery, which was growing wider; on both right and left …

‘Look, look, uncle!’ I cried”.

Sounds familiar somehow, but there no systematic and encyclopaedic work on the medieval fart, maybe we are now, a bit up tight.

Sources:

[1] “Wakeman, John”. Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.

[1] Sophie Oosterwijk, “Food for worms – – food for thought. The appearance and interpretation of the “verminous” cadaver in Britain and Europe”, Church Monuments, 20 (2005), 40-80, 133-40.

[1] Exeter Cathedral houses a 16th-century cadaver tomb

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Wakeman

[1] https://www.fragrantica.com/news/A-Diabolical-Whiff-Scents-of-Hell-7475.html

 

 

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#365daysofdagwalking Upton-upon-Severn

Upton-upon-Severn is the smallest town in the country, and only an hour’s drive from home. My association with Upton is three-fold. It is the home of the Peter Sefton Furniture School. Peter is a master craftsman who runs what is in my opinion one of the finest word working training schools in the country. I know Peter well, and he can take the complete novice or the experienced craftsman skills to unimaginable levels of perfection. All done in an idyllic setting, looking toward the Malvern Hills.

Upton of course is also on the River Severn. A great opportunity for me to get my River Severn fix; landscape enlarging consciousness. Landscape is not limited to physical setting but includes people, events, ideas, concepts, principles, words, works, and just about anything subject to memory. Because all experience is filtered through memory, memory becomes landscape.

Upton also has a cholera burial ground, which of course feeds my passion for all things water and water engineering. The cholera arrived in Upton around 25th July 1832 and quickly wiped out around 37 people. Like many riverside towns, the cholera possibly arrived via the nearby sea port of Bristol. The medical opinion of the day thought that cholera was caused by bad air, so victims were treated with purgatives and emetics.

With no known cause of death, the speed of infection and the high mortality rate, it is easy to understand why the victims were buried outside of the town. With numerous members of the same family’s dying each day, and the local churchyard already overflowing, the accompanying horror must have been overwhelming for the townsfolk. An area of land, known as the Parsons Field was chosen for a mass burial ground.

The cholera Walk passes by this historic site, and can be found by walking out of Upton East along New Street and then onto foot path 525 to the left of the flood defence gates. After half a mile or so, turn left up Cutthroat Lane to the cholera ground. You can then follow the redundant railway line, foot path 596 back to Upton.

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