Coiner Country

For my second walk last week, on Tuesday I caught the train to Hebden Bridge and set off for a wander in the hills to the south of the small former industrial town. The landscape here at one time would not have been dissimilar to that of Bowland where I’d been walking the previous day. Hills and deep valleys that, before the arrival of humans, would have been covered with woodland, but the trees were felled and the flocks of sheep sent up on the hills resulting in a landscape of peat covered millstone grit moorland. The underlying landscape may be similar, but there’s a big difference between how the two areas evolved and, so, how they look today.

Bowland was a forest – and way back ‘forest’ that meant that it was reserved for hunting by nobility. Consequently, human settlements were small and scattered. Landowners weren’t allowed to clear and cultivate the land, restricting development and prohibiting change. In many ways time seems to have passed it by. That isn’t entirely true as during the 18th Century it wasn’t completely untouched by the industrial revolution; there were some mills and facories and mining activity, but on a relatively small scale, with litle trace of it now. And for many years the land was still dominated by hunting of a sort, with large shooting estates restricting develoment and prohibiting access.

The Calder Valley, however, developed differently. Like much of the South Pennine regions of both Lancashire and Yorkshire a textile industry emerged. Initially with spinning and weaving done in the home, providing a second income for subsistence farmers. Raw wool or yarn would be provided by merchants, which was processed by a family of spinsters and a hand loom weaver, the finished cloth then collected by the merchant. This was known as the “putting out” system. The architecture of the traditional farmhouses and cottages reflect this. They were built with workrooms on the upper floor and windows constructed to allow as much daylight in as possible. Commonly there was a row of multiple small panes divided by stone mullions.

Then with the advent of the Industrial Revolution the narrow valleys with their fast running rivers were ideal for water powered mills. This all led to a very different human landscape than in Bowland with a much denser population with larger settlements and with houses and farms scattered across the valleys and on the lower slopes of the hills. This was very evident during my walk when, before I was up on top of the moors, I seemed to be passing old farms and dwellings every few minutes!

I caught the direct train from Wigan alighting at Hebden Bridge station. It was like travelling back in time to the middle of the 20th century – but, then, it is Yorkshire.

I set off turning right from the station and under the tracks to join a steep track up the hill.

and then took a track alongside fields heading in the direction of Mytholmroyd.

I passed several old houses

before turning crossing a stile and setting off up a path up the steep hill side.

Looking back down to Mytholmroyd

At the top of the climb I reached Erringden Moor – the purple heather was out!

The moor here is a notorious bog and boardwalks have been lain across the worst sections by the local Community Rights Of Way Service (CROWS). Without the work done by CROWS this route would be pretty much impassable for much of the year. Walkers who wander of the path can easily become stuck in the bog up to their knees, and in the past the bog has allegedly swallowed numerous sheep and even a horse. However, thanks to the efforts by CROWS’ volunteers, it’s now become a popular route, particularly due to it’s historical associations,

for I was now in the stomping ground of the Cragg Vale Coiners, a notorious counterfeiting gang who lived in what was then an inaccessible territory in the late 18th century. The gang used to take gold coins and shave or file the edges. The shavings of precious metal were then melted and cast to produce new counterfeit coins which were put into circulation along with the originals. That’s why modern coins have a milled edge as that allows such tampering to be detected.

A large proportion of the local population were involved in this and they were led by “King David” Hartley, who lived in a remote farmhouse on top of the moor, which was on my route. (His brothers were known as the Duke of Edinburgh and the Duke of York). Some consider the coiners to be local heroes, Calderdale “Robin Hoods”. Others consider them as a bunch of vicious rogues. I think there’s an element of truth in both points of view.

The Coiners are the subject of a rather excellent prize winning novel, The Gallows Pole by Ben Myers, who lives in the area. It’s being adapted for TV for the renowned director Shane Meadows. I’m looking forward to watching it.

I followed the path that took me along the top of the steep, wooded narrow valley known as Broadhead Clough, now a nature reserve. Given the impassable nature of the moors, this was the main way up to “King David’s” house. It would have been easy for the gang to control access through the clough.

There was a good view over Mytholmroyd as I carried on along the moor.

I reached Bell House

Bell House – the Home of “King David” Hartley

There was an elderly gent with a younger man (his grandson?) working on a vehicle parked outside the bounds of the property. He was the father of the owner and was staying in the house. He called over and told me I could have a look inside the courtyard if I wanted. I took him up on the offer.

Bell House

I stopped to chat for a while before carrying on, taking a path across the moor

from another old farmhouse (nicely converted and modernised) a couple of hundred metres or so from Bell House.

This took me to a track overlooking the steep valley of Cragg Vale.

I carried on along the track towards Withins Clough Reservoir, which was built to supply water to Morley, near Leeds. Construction, which drowned a number of farms in the valley, started in 1891 .

I took the path alongside the side of the reservoir. Due to the lack of rain over many weeks the water level was very low

Then I turned off to take a path across the moor leading to Stoodley Pike

Looking back towards the reservoir

As I climbed up the hillside, the monument on top of Stoodley Pike came into view

Reaching the top of the hill I stopped to take a rest, grab a bite to eat, and take in the view over the moors towards Todmorden and the hills beyond, where I’d been walking earlier in the year.

Rested, I carried on towards Hebden Bridge. The cloud that had provided some relief from the heat of he sun had dispersed and it was getting hot as the heat wave we’d been promised stared to arrive.

Looking back to Stoodley Pike

As I crossed the fields the hilltop village of Heptonstall came into view

as well as Hebden Village down in the bottom of the valley.

After crossing the fields I took the path down through the woods (some welcome shade provided by the trees) which would lead back down into the valley.

There were glimpses of Hebden Bridge with it’s distinctive architecture through the trees. The tall terraced houses that can be seen in the photograph below are “over and under” houses built due to the limited space in the narrow Calder valley. In most northern industrial cities and towns workers’ houses were often built “back to back” – i.e. two houses sharing a common rear wall. This wasn’t so feasible in Hebden Bridge so they built one house on top of another. One house occupies the upper storeys which face uphill while the second house in the lower two storeys face downhill with their back wall against the hillside.

Arriving back at the station, I wasn’t quite ready to return home, so I decided to wander along the canal and pop into the town centre.

I had in mind to climb up to Heptonstall and take a look at the grave of “King David”. He was buried there following his hanging at York on 28 April 1770. However, the temperature had risen considerably during the day and I was tired after what had been a long walk, so instead bought myself a couple of bottles of cold diet coke from the Co-op and returned to the station. I didn’t have too long to wait for the direct train to Wigan North Western.

The route

Marbhig

The weather forecast for the last full day of my Hebridean adventure wasn’t promising and most of the group certainly didn’t fancy a long walk trudging through heavy rain. So our Guide had a proposal for us. Although he was English – from the flat lands around Peterboropugh – he had married a local woman and lived on a croft in a small, remote village in the South Lochs area on the east coast of Lewis. He suggested we drove over there and he’d take us on a shorter walk and show us around the area. This seemed like a good way to learn about the real way of life in a crofting community so we enthusiastically agreed!

Marbhig (Marvig in English) is on the coast and is one of 11 crofting villages which are part of the Pairc Estate which is connected to the rest of Lewis by a narrow neck between Loch Seaforth and Loch Èireasort. The villages in the south of the estate were “cleared” in the 19th Century by the then owner of Lewis, by Sir James Matheson, who’s made his fortune selling opium to the Chinese (they’d call him a drug baron these days), so all the inhabited villages are in the north of the huge estate. In more modern times, the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 gave crofting communities the right to buy out their landlords and in 2003 the Pairc community decided that was what they wanted to do. The Landlord, who was an English businessman, resisted the transfer and it took a determined effort by the Pairc Trust that had been set up by the community, including legal action, before they were succesful in 2015. (More detail of their struggle can be read on the Trust’s website). The Estate is now run by the Trust on behalf of the community Pairc which has an active volunteer community which runs a shop, petrol station, museum, hostel, polytunnels, village halls, playpark, cemeteries and grazings.

Although not far from Stornoway “as the crow flies”, we had to take a circuitous route, initially on the Island’s main road which ran along the north shore of Loch Èireasort, before turning down a minor road that ran along the south shore and then taking narrow roads that wound around the rocky landscape to near the village. On the way we stopped off at the shop / petrol station/ museum / cafe / hostel run by the community at Ravenspoint on the shore of the loch. We had a look round the small museum, which has an interesting small local history collection, including extensive information on family history in the Pairc villages, and then bought a few gifts in the shop (“supporting the local community” as Liz, one of our party, liked to put it).

A portable pulpit used in the past by preachers for services in remote communities on this very devout Calvinist island
Exhibits in the museum

Then we carried on towards Marbhig.

We parked up by a small loch just outside the village and then proceeded on foot. John, our guide, gave us a “guided tour” telling us about the history, the crofting way of life and some storied about local personalities – including a certain Rob!

Each of the crofts that make up the village have an allocated strip of land that stretches down to the sea loch. This was so the crofters could subsist by fishing as well as farming the land. Traditionally, crofters raise animals and grow vegetables, while coastal communities supplemented this by fishing and gathering kelp. Today they’re likely to have other sources of income, so John has a joinery business while his wife works for BBC Alba (the Gaelic language service).

The traditional form of heating was by burning peat, and peat cutting is still practiced today. We saw evidence of this during our time on the island- both old, disused peat banks and others that were currently in use with the peats piled up ready to be taken away. However, other fuels are likely to be used today (although still supplemented by burning peat).

There weren’t many boats on the loch – fishing is no doubt much less important for the modern crofters and other residents of the small village. But there is a boat yard on the loch shore which specialises in repair and maintenance of vessels.

The picture below shows John’s croft. Those are his sheep. You can see that the land has ridges and furrows due to the traditional farming method. These are the “lazy beds” (feannagan in Gaelic), also known as ‘ridge and furrow’.

Low trenches were dug with spades at about three foot intervals with the extracted sod and dirt piled in between creating the raised beds. The beds were then enriched with some form of fertiliser depending on the resources at hand e.g. manure, rotted straw, sea weed. This method was well suited to locations lacking warmth, deep soil, and drainage……… The raised beds are drier and therefore warmer than the moist flat ground around them. The beds warm up more quickly in the morning and retain heat longer. At night they protect crops from frost by draining the denser cold air into the ditches and compared to flat fields. According to both researchers and farmers, lazy beds reduce labor time and raise the yield per acre

https://www.oughterardheritage.org/content/topics/lazy-beds

We walked up across the field towards john’s house to be welcomed by his collie – not much more than a puppy it kept us busy playing “fetch” for a while.

John then invited us into his home, beautifully renovated inside, where we met his wife, born and bred in the village and now working as an Executive Producer for BBC Alba, who treated us to a welcome brew and homemade scones and jam.

We then walked back to the minibus. Driving back along Loch Èireasort I spotted something in the sky. We stopped as it flew over – another White Tailed Eagle.

The weather during the morning hadn’t been as forecast – there was hardly any rain. That all changed as we drove away from Pairc on to our next destination.

Round and round the Rabbit Rocks

Well, May has been a bit of a disaster for getting out and about. The weather ahs been particularly awful for the time of year with what seems almost like incessant rain, although there have been a few brighter patches. I’ve not been able to take advantage of those limited opportunities as I’ve been recovering from going under the knife at the end of April. But I’ve started to tentatively getting out for some exercise and last Sunday we were running out of milk so I decided to take the long route via the Plantations to the little Tesco on Whelley. I had in mind that if I felt up to it I’d extend the walk on a relatively flat route – and that’s what I ended up doing.

I followed the route of the old Whelley loop line over to the canal

and then headed north-east along the tow path past several of the locks of the Wigan Flight

up to Kirkless Hall and then crossed the bridge over to the other side of the “cut”.

Kirkless Hall

During the lockdown over the last year, as opportunities for getting out and about have been limited, I’ve been rediscovering and exploring areas closer to home that I’ve been neglecting. It’s quite a few years ago now but at one time I started making an effort to get some exercise by buying myself a hybrid bike and getting out for a ride in the evening after work several days of the week. One of my regular routes was along the canal footpath and I’d often cross over and ride around the footpaths that criss-crossed over what seemed like wasteland between the canal and the Belle Green Estate in Ince. This was the former site of the Kirkless Iron and Steel Works, which was owned by the Wigan Coal and Iron Company.

An aerial view of the Kirkless Iron Works. The site looks VERY different today – Source; Wigan World Website
Source: Wigan World Website
Blast Furnaces at the Kirkless Iron Works – Source: Wigan World Website
Source: Wigan World Website

I’ve been up here a few times this year, particularly during the winter months when it was icy and the canal and “flashes” were frozen.

A casual visitor wouldn’t realise that during the latter part of the 19th Century that with ten 65 ft high blast furnaces this was the location of one of the largest Iron works in the country and, perhaps the world. The site has been excavated and investigated by the Wigan Archaeological Society. The northern part of the site is now occupied by an industrial estate but the southern part is now a Nature Reserve. The industrial activity has left behind alkaline soils which, apparently, have encouraged the growth of plants that would be more commonly found in coastal areas like the Formby dune system.

Look closely and there are traces of the once massive iron works – particularly the slag heap at the south end of the site, known by locals as the “Rabbit Rocks”., littered with very distinctive cylindrical blocks of slag from the bottom of the furnaces.

I wandered along the various paths that criss-cross the relatively small site, passing a number of “flashes” (lakes left behind as a result of industrial activity)

At one point I sensed movement in the undergrowth. Glancing across I spotted a deer in amongst the trees. It stared at me for a while, long enough for me to snap a photo with my phone camera – you can just about make it out.

I carried on, looping around towards the Rabbit Rocks

and took the gently sloping path up to the top. It’s a short steep climb up there from the side closest to the canal, but I’m not ready to tackle that just yet!

Here’s another shot taken back in January on a cold day when the surface of the flashes were frozen over

There’s good views from the top over the site, across Wigan and over towards Rivington Pike and Winter Hill.

I doubled back and then walked across the bottom of the hill towards the largest of the flashes

Looking up to the Rabbit Rocks across the flash
The frozen flash snapped back in January

I mooched about for a while then walked over to the canal, following the east bank for a while before retracing my route back along the loop line path. I picked up the milk from the little Tescos and then made my way back hoe through the Bottling Wood and along the Dougie. Time for a brew!

LLigwy Monuments

Our route inland from Moelfre back to our accommodation took us past three ancient monuments, spanning a few thousand years from the Neolithic age to Medieval time. All three under the custodianship of Cadw

After a walk of about a mile on a minor road we took a path across the fields, emerging on a narrow country road. A short walk later we arrived at the LLigwy Burial Chamber, a late Neolithic burial chamber.

The structure with its massive capstone, weighing about 25 tonnes, would have originally been covered by an earthen mound with a small tunnel to allow access into the chamber. The capstone stands above a pit in the ground, a natural fissure in the limestone, and is supported by a series of smaller boulders. Consequently it has a more squat look than many similar structures known as cromlechs in Welsh.

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We think of Neolithic people as being primitive, but you can but wonder about their engineering skills and technology they had which enabled them to move such massive lumps of stone and to create structures that have stood for thousands of years. Shifting that capstone today would require some serious lifting gear.

Retracing our steps and walking a short distance further down the road we climbed over a stile and crossed a field to reach the second monument, the early Medieval Capel Lligwy. The Cadw website tells us that

Standing in a lonely spot overlooking Lligwy Bay, little is known about the history of this ruined 12th-century chapel. The stone structure that stands today was probably erected on the site of an older, timber-built Celtic church in the 12th century, when Viking raids on Anglesey came to an end and life on the island became more stable and prosperous.

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When we returned to our accommodation I realised we could see the chapel in the distance from the window in the living room.

After mooching around the remains, another path took us further across the field and into woodland. In a clearing we found the Din Llligwy Hut Group monument, the remains of a Romano-Celtic settlement which may date back further to the Iron Age.

The remains of several buildings, all surrounded by a perimeter wall, are clearly visible. “Din” refers to defensive wall.  The round structures were probably houses and the rectangular ones barns or workshops.

Although now largely hidden amongst ash and sycamore woodland, it is likely that it originally stood in open countryside.

There’s more information on the ancient settlement here.

The Tassen Museum

Well, I never thought I’d ever visit a museum dedicated to bags and purses, but that’s what we did after we’d been to Foam. My wife had been before on a solo trip to see our daughter earlier this year, had enjoyed it and said that I’d find it interesting. It’s on the Herengracht, just a short walk from Foam, so we made our way over there.

The museum was founded to display a private collection of bags owned by Hendrikje and Heinz Ivo. Originally it was in Amstelveen, a suburb south of Amsterdam, but moved to it’s present location in a rather grand 17th-century canal house that had previously been the residence of the Mayor of Amsterdam in 2007.

The collection is shown on the top two floors of the house with elegant tea rooms and temporary exhibitions on the first floor. So visitors start by climbing to the top floor and working their way down.

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Modern stained glass window in the ground floor ceiling

My wife was right, I did find it interesting and enjoyed the visit. It was really a social history revealed by showing how handbags and the like (including bags used by men) evolved since medieval times. Right back then, both women and men kept their money and odds and ends in a leather bag on their belt – the oldest item in thecollection is a sixteenth century men’s bag made of goat leather with a metal frame.

the oldest exhibit

Over time men started to keep their stuff in pockets in their clothing while women tended to keep their’s in bags, the design which evolved over the years. For a while chatelaines, a series of chains hanging from the belt with hooks to hold small purses, scissors, sewing equipment and other items were fashionable, and their were quite a few examples of these in the collection.

From the 17th century to the late 19th century, women used pockets too. But these were seperate from clothing. They were hung from the waist under clothing which had slits in them so the pockets could be reached. This is how Lucy Lockett could lose her pocket! These went out of fashion with the advent of high waisted dresses in the Georgian period, leading to the development of the handbag.

Men continued to use bags, of course (I have several myself!), but they tended to be for specialised purposes – and there were examples of these, including tobacco pouches, gamblers’ bags and doctor’s bags, in the collection.

I found the top floor, with the earlier items, the most interesting. The floor below had a large display of bags from the 20th century, including expensive examples by designers and bags previously owned by celebrities including Madonna, Elizabeth Taylor and Hilary Clinton. They even had one from a certain Prime Minister, whose name I can’t bring myself to mention.

It’s amazing how many different styles of bag there have been, some of them quite vulgar! A surprising range of materials have been used to make them too from bamboo, beads, feathers, perspex, bottle tops, plastic cables and the skins of various animals including crocodiles, stingrays, leopards, and armadillos. Some of the animal skin bags being particularly horrible in that they included heads, legs, tails and other body parts as decoration.

If I hadn’t been encouraged by my wife, I’d never had thought of visiting the museum. But I found it fascinating and worth taking the time out to have a look around even for those of us with no interest whatsoever in fashion for the insights into social history. .

Heptonstall

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On Easter Saturday I decided to take advantage of the good weather and get out for another walk. I’d enjoyed my walk over Blackstone Edge the previous Saturday so thought I’d take the train back over to the South Pennines, this time to Hebden Bridge for a walk over to Stoodley Pike. I arrived in the former mill town in the bottom of the narrow Calder Valley, which has now become rather trendy and “Bohemian”. I didn’t stop long, I’d been a couple of times before, but decided to gead up to the small community of Heptonstall, just up the hill from Hebden Bridge. And what a hill it is!

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I took the VERY steep cobbled lane up from the centre of Hebden Bridge

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and then up a steep road that took me into the village.

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There’s been a settlement here as far back as at least 1253 and it was even the site of a battle during the Civil War. Historically, it was a centre for hand-loom weaving, The work was done in the worker’s own homes, usually on the top floor and the old cottages and houses have long rows of stone mullioned windows on the first-floor which were meant to allow in plenty of light for the weavers.

High up on the hill it was away from the dark and damp valley floor. However, during the early Industrial Revolution, with the advent of water power, the new factories were built by the source of their power, the river, so Heptonstall went into decline. As a consequence, it’s almost as if it’s been frozen in time. I guess that for many years the buildings would have fallen into disrepair, but with the resurgence of Hebden Bridge, Heptonstall has also become a desirable location and the old houses and other buildings have been renovated.

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The former Cloth Hall, which is now a private house,was built between 1545-58. Finished cloth produced in the town and nearby area used to be traded here.

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The Octagonal Methodist Chapel was built in 1764 and the design and construction of were overseen by John Wesley, who frequently preached here. It’s one of the oldest Methodist churches in continuous use today.

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No visit to Heptonstall would be complete without a visit to the churchyard. There’s actually two churches there, one of them a ruined shell. The original church, dedicated to St Thomas a Becket, was founded c.1260, but was damaged by a gale in 1847. The new church which replaced it, dedicated to St Thomas the Apostle, was built just across the churchyard. 

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A large proportion of visitors come up the hill to see the grave of Sylvia Plath who is buried in the new graveyard, just across a narrow lane from the church.

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There’s a lot of old graves in the old churchyard

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The most notable “resident” is David Hartley, the KIng of the Crag Vale Coiners, who was executed in York on 28 April 1770 This is his gravestone

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Some consider the coiners to be local heroes, Calderdale “Robin Hoods”. Others consider them as a bunch of vicious rogues. In either case, they are the subject of a rather excellent prize winning novel, The Gallows Pole by Ben Myers, who lives in the area

Just by the graveyard there’s a rather excellent little museum, housed in the old grammar school building that was constructed in 1642

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There are exhibits about the history of the village, its industry, the Civil War battle and, of course, the coiners.

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Partway back down, the view over Hebden Bridge

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and then down the steep, cobbled lane

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back to Hebden Bridge where I took a break by the old packhorse bridge for a bite to eat before setting off on my walk up Stoodley Pike

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Peterloo

Mike Leigh’s new film about Peterloo goes out on general release today. We were lucky to see the preview a couple of weeks ago. It was shown at Home in Manchester, a few hundred yards from where the events actually happened,as part of the London Film Festival. We weren’t at Home but in Horwich at one of the cinemas around the country where the film and the question and answer session with Mike Leigh and Maxine Peake was relayed.

The film tells the story of the Peterloo Massacre which took place on St Peter’s Field in Manchester on 16 August 1819 and is one of the first key events in the struggle of working people in England. Manchester had grown massively from a small settlement in south Lancashire to become a dynamic metropolis of manufacturing based on the cotton industry. The mill owners became extremely rich but this was at the expense of their workers who lived in appalling conditions (described by Frederick Engels in his book The Condition of the Working Class in England written a few years later in 1845). In 1819 conditions were particularly bad due to the economic depression that followed the end of the Napoleonic Wars, which resulted in wage cuts and unemployment, and the passing of the Corn Laws in 1815 which led to increased food prices. The vote was restricted to the wealthy and there was massive disparity in representation around the country – the whole of Lancashire had only 2 MPs.

Manchester was something of a hot bed of radicalism and it was decided to organise a mass meeting on Peter’s Field in Manchester and the renowned Radical orator Henry Hunt was invited to speak and act as chair.

The local representatives of the ruling class were terrified, believing that revolution was in the air so they arranged for a military presence comprising 600 men of the 15th Hussars, several hundred infantrymen, a Royal Horse Artillery unit with two six-pounder guns, 400 men of the Cheshire Yeomanry, 400 special constables and 120 cavalry of the Manchester and Salford Yeomanry.

On the day 60,000–80,000 workers and their families, including children, marched to Manchester from the city and surrounding districts, with banners bearing slogans such as “Liberty and Fraternity” and “Taxation without Representation is Unjust and Tyrannical”, and assembled on Peter’s Field, an open space in the centre of the growing city. They came from all around South Lancashire, including a contingent from Wigan. Many of them had to walk a considerable distance to get there. Perhaps some of my ancestors were amongst them.

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By Jhamez84 – self-made but based on work in Reid, Robert (1989) The Peterloo Massacre, William Heinemann Ltd ISBN: 0434629014., CC BY 3.0, Link

The meeting started and seeing the enthusiastic reception Hunt received on his arrival the local Magistrates lost their nerve, read the Riot Act and sent in the troops. They charged into the crowd, running over demonstrators with their horses and slashing out with their sabres. Hemmed in in a restricted area there was nowhere to run. At the end, by the time the field had been cleared there were 11–15 demonstrators killed and 400–700 injured.

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By Richard Carlile (1790–1843) – Manchester Library Services, Public Domain, Link

Currently there’s very little evidence in Manchester of this pivotal event in working class history other than a circular memorial plaque high on the wall of the Free Trade Hall (where I used to go to concerts when I was a teenager and which is now a posh hotel)which stands where the massacre took place.

The events provoked outrage, summed up by Shelley’s poem, the Masque of Anarchy with it’s call to action

Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number.
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you—
Ye are many—they are few.

Next year there are plans to stage events to celebrate the bicentenary and the conceptual artist Jeremy Deller has been commissioned to create a memorial to be located on the forecourt of the former Central Station, behind the Midland Hotel, close to the location of the assembly. Details of the design were released this week.

As for the film, well it’s not a Hollywood action movie. The story develops gradually , bringing to life the lives of workers in Manchester and the radical atmosphere in the city. There’s a lot of talking, using the words of the protagonists themselves, illustrating the different views on what action was needed. Those arguing for a peaceful demonstration prevailed over those agitating for a more violent response to repression. Henry Hunt himself was shown to be something of a vain and pompous demagogue. The real heroes were the ordinary men and women of Manchester and Lancashire. It builds slowly to the demonstration itself and culminates in the slaughter.

Mike Leigh believes the events of Peterloo and the reasons why it occurred need to be more widely known. I agree. His film should help.

James Cook – the Voyages at the British Library

Last Tuesday I had to travel down for a meeting in the afternoon. As I was travelling on an “off peak ticket” the first train I could catch for the return journey only leaves at 7:30, so J decided to travel down with me and make a day of it.

After my meeting we met up at the National Portrait Gallery where we had a look around the BP Portrait Award exhibition before heading over to the British Library to visit the current exhibition about the voyages of James Cook.
We have a particular interest in him as he’s in my wife’s descended from one of his siblings and last year we’d visited the Cook Memorial Museum in Whitby as well as his parent’s home which has been transplanted in Fitzroy Garden’s in Melbourne.

It was an excellent exhibition and we ended up spending longer there than we’d anticipated. It covered in some detail all three of Cook’s voyages with exhibits including maps, charts, journals, books, drawings, paintings, many of which were produced by the artists, scientists and sailors on board the ships (including Cook himself) and a series of short videos giving different perspectives on the voyages.

After a brief introduction to Cook and the background, there was a separate section of the exhibition devoted to each of the three voyages.

Highlights for me were the charts drawn in Cook’s own hand

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and his handwritten journals

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and pictures by the expedition artists and other crew members, including the earliest European depiction of a kangaroo.

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One thing that particularly came across to me from this exhibition was the role of Polynesians from Tahiti who guided the British expedition to islands they were already aware of and also helped as translators as well as, to some extent, smoothing the way, when encountering indigenous Polynesian peoples on the newly “discovered” (by Europeans) lands. In particular, Tupaia, who joined first voyage, travelling on to New Zealand and Australia.

There were a number of drawings by Tupaia in the exhibition.

Tupaia Longhouse and Canoes in Tahiti

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The official objective of the 1st expedition (1768–1771) was to observe the Transit of Venus to aid the calculation of the distance from the Earth to the Sun, but the Admiralty provided Cook with secret orders to search for land and commercial opportunities in the Pacific. So Cook and his crew are best remembered for being the first Europeans to discover and chart the Eastern shores of Australia, properly explore and chart the shores of New Zealand and to “discover” a number of Pacific islands. Of course, all these lands had been discovered many years before by the people who were living there when the Europeans arrived.

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The objective of the 2nd expedition (1772–1775) was to search for the Great Southern Continent, believed by some in Europe to encircle the South Pole. They travelled further south than had been done before, were the first ships to cross the Antarctic Circle and the Resolution set a record for the Farthest South that would stand for 49 years. They didn’t find land (not travelling far enough south to reach Antarctica)and Cook ruled out the existence of a continent ‘unless near the pole and out of reach of navigation’. The expedition also revisited Tahiti and New Zealand and “discovered” several new Pacific islands as well as South Georgia which he claimed for Britain. The latter was occupied by Argentina during the Falklands War.

The secret aim of the 3rd voyage (1776–1780) was search for a Northwest Passage linking the Pacific and the Atlantic. Again, they sailed into the South Pacific where they visited Tonga, Tahiti, Tasmania and New Zealand and the Hawaiian islands before sailing north to Canada and then Alaska. They crossed the Bering Sea over to Asia and crossed the Arctic circle, but further progress was blocked by ice so they failed in their quest to find a North West passage. Sailing south they called in at the Hawaiian islands. It was here, on 14 February 1779 that Cook was killed on the beach along with 4 marines and 16 Hawaiians, following a dispute over a stolen boat. The expedition carried on without him travelling to Kamchatka in western Russia and China before returning to Britain.

These were epic journeys demonstrating tremendous navigational skills, seamanship and chart making abilities. But there was a legacy. The discoveries and charts enabled the subsequent occupation, colonisation and subjugation of the indigenous peoples of these lands. So it was good to see that the British Library provided some different perspectives other than simply praising Cook in a series of short videos.

Terracotta Warriors in Liverpool

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More than 8,000 life-sized Terracotta Warriors have been unearthed in burial pits at the tomb complex of Emperor, Qin Shi Huang, since 1974 near Xi’ in North West China. They’re one of the “wonders of the world” and a small selection of them are currently visiting Liverpool as part as an exhibition at the World Museum in Liverpool.

We went to see the exhibition last Friday evening. It’s proving to be very popular (not surprising really) and tickets have to be booked a few weeks in advance.

My colleague at work was a little scathing as only a relatively small number of the warriors are on display. He felt that the spectacle was in seeing the massed ranks.

Visitors are allocated a time slot but we still had to queue up to wait to get in. First of all you’re shepherded in to watch an introductory film. Personally I didn’t find it very enlightening and don’t think it set the scene particularly well. However it didn’t last too long and we were soon entering the exhibition proper to be greeted by a horse and its groom.

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We were able to get quite close to the life size figures – within a metre. Photographs were allowed (no flash), and although the exhibition was busy, we were able to get a good look.

Then into the main part of the exhibition where we learned about how China was unified under the First Emperor and about life in China during his reign. There was a good selection of artefacts on display

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supported by information panels

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Then the main display of warriors – seven of them in a row

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Again, we were able to get very close to the figures and inspect their features, clothing, armour etc.

The life-sized figures vary in height, uniform, and hairstyle in accordance with rank. They all have different features although experts have identified 10 basic face shapes.

Although today they appear as terracotta grey, they were original painted in bright colours, like this reproduction on display in the foyer of the Museum,

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which has faded and flaked off. However, by getting close it was possible to see traces of the paint. Most of the figures originally held real weapons such as spears, swords, or crossbows, but very few remain as they’ve either been robbed or disintegrated over time.

Here’s a closer look at some of the figures.

The General

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An Officer

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A Light Infantryman

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A Heavy Infantryman

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A Charioteer

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A Standing archer

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A Kneeling archer

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This wasn’t the end of the exhibition. Some high ranking notables and later Emperors also had their own armies created – although these were smaller than life size and not as realistic.

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and there was a beautiful golden horse found in the tomb of Emperor Wu, the 5th ruler of the Han Dynasty

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Well, despite my colleague’s warning, we were not at all disappointed – quite the reverse. We learned quite a lot about the history of China and the early Emperors, and it was fantastic to be able to get close up to the figures. They were breathtaking.

The National Museum of Finland

We visited the National Museum of Finland on the first full day of our recent stay in Helsinki – on the Sunday afternoon after we’d been to the Didrichsen Art Museum. It tells the story of Finland and its people, going right back to the pre-historic times and is definitely worth a visit to get an understanding of this relatively young nation.

The museum is in a distinctive Finnish National Romantic style building, designed by architects Herman Gesellius, Armas Lindgren, and Eliel Saarinen, directly opposite the Finlandia Hall, close to the city centre. The exterior is rather austere and influenced by medieval architecture but with some Art Nouveau / Jugendstil touches.

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Inside includes murals and other Finnish style Jugendstil features, particularly in the central hall and main staircase. It’s hard to do justice to the ceiling mural in the central entrance hall which depicts scenes from the Kalevala, the Finnish national myth.

There were some beautiful stained glass windows on the main staircase

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The first half of the museum concentrates on the history of Finland from the Middle Ages to the foundation of the independent Finnish State in 1917 (after the Russian Revolution). It’s what I would call a traditional type of museum with lots of artefacts presented in a relatively static way with limited interaction. This doesn’t mean it wasn’t interesting and we learned quite a bit about the history of Finland when it was a colony of Sweden and then, later, a Russian Grand Duchy.

The Medieval room

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A recreated room from the 18th Century when Finland was a Swedish colony – the large white “cabinet” is a ceramic heater – needed in the depths of the Finnish winter!

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The throne used by the Tsar during his visit to Finland when it was under Russian Imperial influence

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The second half of the museum, covering the modern era from the beginning of the 20th Century to the present day was very modern in style with lots of interactive and hands-on displays including this interactive panorama of Helsinki at the end of the Russian era

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and a “book” where the content was projected on to blank pages.

Nationalist feeling was growing in Finland at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th Century – which is reflected in the Jugenstil and National Romantic architecture so prevalent in Helsinki. After the fall of the Tsar, taking opportunity of the Bolshevik policy of  National Determination, Finland declared independence on 6 December 1917. A Civil War followed between “Reds” and conservative “Whites”, the latter eventually being victorious.

At the beginning of WWII Finland was attacked by Soviet Russia leading to a bitter “Winter War” where the much smaller country defeated the Red Army, yet the Moscow Peace treaty ceded territory to Russia. There was a period of peace before war resumed in autumn 1941 when Russia was preoccupied with defending itself from the German invasion.  Power relations had changed and The USSR were now allied with Great Britain, which resulted in the latter declaring war on Finland on 6 December., and Finland was supported by, if not allied with, the Nazis. I felt that although much was made of the hardship and heroics of the Winter War (quite rightly), this aspect was rather glossed over.

After WWII Finland was in a difficult position with a long border with the USSR and and had to balance carefully between the big powers maintaining a neutral stance. Like the other Nordic countries it developed a strong welfare state which largely remains today despite some economic difficulties and the rise of the Nationalist right who are now in Government.

Last year was the Centenary of the founding of the Finnish state and the final exhibit in this part of the Museum was a film show with an image of a Finn from each year from 1917 until 2017 projected on a large screen. Visitors could control both the direction of the film (past to present or vice versa) and the speed.

As we were about to leave the museum we realised we’d missed a whole section devoted to prehistoric Finland, so we went to have a look. Again, it was an interesting exhibition, well presented in a modern way.

Given it’s position in the frozen north, early population was sparse and life would have been hard so no major civilisations developed like in more temperate environments. However there was some migration after the last Ice Age and a number of artefacts were displayed, such as weapons and jewellery.

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as well as displays and models about the environment and how people lived.

We enjoyed our visit to the Museum. There was more  to see and we could have spent longer there, but we were starting to feel tired so it was time to head back to our hotel for a rest and to get ready to go out for something to eat.