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Posts from — September 2009

Tour of a Victorian Bobbin Mill

This video takes you on a tour of a Vic­to­ri­an bob­bin mill at Stott Park, near Lake Win­der­mere, in the Lake Dis­trict, Cumbria.

Tour of a Vic­to­ri­an Bob­bin Mill, Stott Park, Cum­bria from Richard Elen on Vimeo.

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Enormous cogwheels at Stott Park bobbin mill

Enor­mous cog­wheels at Stott Park bob­bin mill

Stott Park Bob­bin Mill was opened in 1835 to sup­ply the cot­ton mills of Lan­cashire (of which this area was a part at the time) with bob­bins to car­ry the thread which was spun into cloth. It was orig­i­nal­ly pow­ered by a water wheel, lat­er by a water tur­bine and then by a steam engine. Ulti­mate­ly, elec­tric­i­ty arrived. The mill final­ly closed in 1971 and then reopened in 1983 as a museum.

Exterior view of the building showing the end of the line shaft and a belt drive

Exte­ri­or view of the build­ing show­ing the end of the line shaft and a belt drive

Today, Stott Park Bob­bin Mill is in the care of Eng­lish Her­itage, and in this video you’ll be tak­en on a 20-minute guid­ed tour of the mill by one of the Eng­lish Her­itage staff mem­bers to see the dif­fer­ent stages of the bob­bin-mak­ing process, includ­ing some of the machines being used by a vet­er­an mill worker.

You’ll see the steam engine, although it was not, regret­tably, in steam on this occa­sion, and get a feel­ing for what life was like for the mill work­ers – who, in this case, came main­ly from the work­hous­es of Liv­er­pool and Manchester.

View through the window in the previous picture into part of the building showing some of the machines and the belts leading up to the overhead line shaft

View through the win­dow in the pre­vi­ous pic­ture into part of the build­ing show­ing some of the machines and the belts lead­ing up to the over­head line shaft

For many years, the man­ag­er of this mill was a woman, and curi­ous­ly she only had male work­ers in the mill; gen­er­al­ly mills of this type were oper­at­ed by women, who were wide­ly believed to be bet­ter at the job.

I am grate­ful to the staff at Stott Park and to Eng­lish Her­itage for pro­vid­ing the tour depict­ed in this video.

This video is part of an ongo­ing series intend­ed to give an insight into Britain’s ear­ly indus­tri­al technology.

September 28, 2009   Comments Off on Tour of a Victorian Bobbin Mill

Renaissance Music at Lincoln Castle

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I was in Lin­coln recent­ly for the glo­ri­ous Week­end at the Asy­lum Steam­punk Con­vivial (you can find a selec­tion of my pic­tures of that event here). Wan­der­ing around the cen­tre of Lin­coln as the event wound down on the Sun­day after­noon, I stum­bled across this group of musi­cians play­ing live in the heart of the old castle.

This video is very impromp­tu and hand-held – essen­tial­ly lit­tle more than a string­ing togeth­er of a few dif­fer­ent shots – but you can expe­ri­ence the atmos­phere of the per­for­mance (albeit with a touch of wind-noise from time to time).

Kudos to the City of Lin­coln Wait­es for their excel­lent play­ing and for the fact that they per­se­vered despite it being quite cool and breezy.

Instru­ments played include a vari­ety of per­cus­sion instru­ments; the sack­but (pre­de­ces­sor to the trom­bone); var­i­ous recorders; a rack­ett (the com­pact reed instru­ment played occa­sion­al­ly by one of the per­form­ers seat­ed on the step); a shawm or two (pre­de­ces­sor of the oboe); and a soprani­no rausch­pfeife shown below (played in some pieces by the woman on the right in the video), which has no mod­ern equiv­a­lent. It’s a capped reed instru­ment (like a bag­pipe chanter: your lips do not touch the reed as in mod­ern wood­winds) with a con­i­cal bore; it’s a rel­a­tive of the crumhorn but a good deal loud­er and more dif­fi­cult to play (as it eas­i­ly overblows).


Soprani­no Rausch­pfeife with cap removed (Wiki­Me­dia Commons)

Apart from the recorders this would prob­a­bly have been described as a “loud band”, play­ing the kind of instru­ments you would expect to hear out­doors at pub­lic events.


I heard today (6 Octo­ber)  from Al Gar­rod, the Mas­ter of the City of Lin­coln Wait­es – the name of the band play­ing in this video. Al is the sack­but play­er. Do please vis­it their site and if you get the chance to hear them, I rec­om­mend them highly.

September 23, 2009   Comments Off on Renaissance Music at Lincoln Castle

A Visit to Beamish

The oth­er week­end I had the great oppor­tu­ni­ty to vis­it the Beamish open-air muse­um in Coun­ty Durham. I was stay­ing with friends near Sun­der­land for the week­end and their sug­ges­tion that we went there was a very good one. I can hearti­ly rec­om­mend the muse­um to any­one inter­est­ed in our indus­tri­al his­to­ry – and par­tic­u­lar­ly that of North­ern England.

Not only that, the Muse­um is cur­rent­ly offer­ing a spe­cial deal where for £16 you get a year’s admis­sion. Well, it’s worth that for just one vis­it – you need to allo­cate an entire day to the site (and still you won’t get round it all).

Both my friends have been involved with Beamish over the years and as a result they knew all the cool places to go. There are quite a few build­ings and oth­er items on-site, each hav­ing been painstak­ing­ly dis­man­tled, brought to the site, and rebuilt.

The cen­tre­piece, I sup­pose, is a rebuilt town street, set in 1913, with a ter­race of hous­es (includ­ing an ear­ly 20th cen­tu­ry den­tist, a pianoforte teacher’s house and much more) and shops includ­ing a Co-Op, a sweet shop with sweet­ies made on the premis­es, a garage, a bank, and the most recent addi­tion, a Mason­ic Hall with a com­pre­hen­sive dis­play of arte­facts and regalia. There’s also an excel­lent cafeteria!

There’s also a Wag­gonway, set in 1825, where you can trav­el for a few hun­dred yards behind a repli­ca ear­ly steam loco­mo­tive (see below); a Col­liery Vil­lage cir­ca 1913 and an old Manor on the hill. The dif­fer­ent areas are linked by peri­od bus­es and trams.

The peri­od cov­ered is broad­ly Victorian/Edwardian, but some loca­tions (such as the Wag­gonway and the Manor, which are set in 1825) are set in ear­li­er peri­ods. Every­where there are staff mem­bers (in cos­tume) who will tell you about the old prac­tices and explain what you’re see­ing. I real­ly could­n’t fault them.

This is a real­ly tremen­dous place to vis­it and I can’t rec­om­mend it enough – I’ll be back as soon as I can.

I took some video while I was there and present them below. All three items are hand-held so I’m afraid they are a lit­tle wob­bly at times, but hope­ful­ly they will give you a feel for some aspects of the place.

This first one is of the Pock­er­ley Wag­gonway, where we trav­elled for a short dis­tance behind the “Steam Ele­phant”, an ear­ly steam loco­mo­tive. We see the jour­ney from an open coach and also from the track-side, and the trip is pre­ced­ed by some back­ground from a staff member.

Pock­er­ley Wag­gonway at Beamish Muse­um from Richard Elen on Vimeo.

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The sec­ond item is also from the Wag­gonway area: it’s a demon­stra­tion of a tra­di­tion­al Pole Lathe, used by a “bodger” to make things like table and chair legs and oth­er items that could be turned from wood. The oper­a­tor, William Slas­sor, describes its prin­ci­ples, oper­a­tion, and how it was used.

Pole Lathe at Beamish Muse­um from Richard Elen on Vimeo.

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And final­ly, a short video of a gen­tle­man play­ing a Ger­man ‘Har­moni­pan’ street organ in the main street of the recon­struct­ed town.

The instru­ment is hand-cranked, and turn­ing the han­dle both oper­ates the bel­lows that enable the pipes to sound; it also draws a roll of punched paper tape about 2in wide across a what we might call a “read­er”, con­sist­ing of a row of holes, each con­nect­ed to a pipe. The bel­lows pass air to the read­er, and where there is a hole in the tape, air pass­es through and off to the cor­re­spond­ing pipe.

The music is a med­ley of Amer­i­can tunes, and ends with quite a flour­ish. I was­n’t able to cap­ture the very begin­ning of the med­ley, but I got most of it and what there is effec­tive­ly cap­tures the feel­ing of this kind of street enter­tain­ment, com­mon in the Vic­to­ri­an and Edwar­dian eras.

‘Har­moni­pan’ Street Organ at Beamish Muse­um from Richard Elen on Vimeo.

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September 2, 2009   Comments Off on A Visit to Beamish