Tuesday, 13 December 2016

How to have a Victorian Christmas

Christmas. What a wonderful time of the year! So many heartwarming traditions we all revel in and enjoy. But did you know that many of these traditions started in the Victorian era here in Britain?

Before the Victorian period Christmas was rarely celebrated. The traditions of celebrating the mid winter and the coming of spring had faded and this time of year was nothing particularly special. There were celebrations around the new year to rejoice in the coming of another year and to reflect on the passing of the proceeding year. But Christmas wasn't a thing. That of course was all set to change.

With the industrial revolution creating wealth and happiness across the country the rich were pressured to share their wealth and happiness. People started to celebrate Christmas more, they stated to give gifts and books like Charles Dickens 'A Christmas Carol' were produced giving new vigor to the holiday.

Soon Christmas was popular across the land and each year around the 25th December peoples homes would be transformed and happiness was spread across our fair isle.

What follows are just some ways in which you could inject a little Victorian flavour into your Christmas:

1. Pop up an Indoor Christmas Tree

A staple of any modern Christmas has to be the tree, erected inside and decorated with a variety of items but that didn't come about until the Victorian era.

Before the 1800's no-one brought trees into the home although they were important symbols. Outside trees were often decorated with apples, especially by the church, but no-one ever thought to bring a tree inside. That all changed in the 1840's. Queen Victoria's husband, Albert, brought a tree to Windsor Castle in this time, something which was popular in his native Germany. This brought the idea to the attention of the nation and soon the Christmas Tree started to gain popularity.

At the time the trees would be decorated with ribbon, shortbread biscuits, paper cones (for treats), oranges pierced with cloves and of course candles for light. The trees would have looked stunning and would have created a focal point for any room in the festive season.

2. Crack a Cracker

We've all popped a cracker haven't we? Well if it wasn't for the Victorians we wouldn't have crackers!

A sweet maker from London called Tom Smith invented the cracker in 1846 following a trip to Paris. He came up with the idea of wrapping his sweets in a twist of paper, this was the humble beginning of the Christmas cracker.

Over the period it developed and by the close of the era they resembled the cracker we know today. The crack or snap now synonymous with the cracker was added as were the paper hats and treats. 

3. Bring Some Nature into the Home

During the Victorian period people were fond of decorating their homes but instead of tinsel, baubles and fairy lights, like today, they would use nature as their decoration. Holly and ivy were popular plants to bring inside the home to provide some colour and decoration.

Holly with berries would be sought after as the bold red of the berries against the green of the leaves would create a warming Christmas feel. Ivy could also be colourful with a variety of different colours from greens to yellows. Another brilliant addition to the decorations!

4. Give Presents

The giving of gifts has a long history and at the start of the Victorian age gifts were generally given to celebrate the passing of a new year. As time went on though and Christmas became more prominent and popular as a celebration the giving of gifts was moved to Christmas day.

Children were especially showered with gifts, a way of rewarding them for good behaviour. Rich families would spoil their children with special, and expensive, handmade toys. The poor on the other hand generally would give their children stockings filled with fruit and nuts, still a rare treat. The tradition of giving both toys and stockings at Christmas stuck and it is common place today.

5. Send Weird Christmas Cards!

It was during the Victorian period that the tradition of sending friends and loved ones a card at Christmas became popular. What is better than sending a heartwarming gesture of love and friendship during the festive season, a token to show that you are thinking of the recipient at this joyous time. Of course it wasn't quite like how it is today!

No, instead many Victorian Christmas cards were well and truly weird! Take these fine examples for instance:

Lovely hey? There certainly seems to be a fascination with death in many of these type of cards and a fascination with frogs and other rather un-christmassy animals. Who knows why!? They also quite liked to have cards featuring strange root vegetables adorned with either human clothes or with human appendages. What doesn't say Christmas more than a root vegetable? The Victorians are often renowned for their dark humor and these cards are a great example of this.

They are somewhat playful and fun but also, sort of, hold sentiment. For instance the dead robin card (pictured above) does have the text "May yours be a joyful Christmas" which suggests the sender wishes the recipient to have a better Christmas than the poor dead bird. Well, one hopes anyway!

It's not all weird in the world of Victorian cards though, there were also many more traditional and beautiful cards that anyone would be happy to send:

The first Christmas card was sent in 1843 and the tradition became a popular one and we, as you know, still send cards today in large quantities.

6. Celebrate Boxing Day

Ah boxing day, another day with Victorian roots. Ever wondered why it is called that? What has boxing got to do with Christmas?? Well in the Victorian period the day after boxing day was the time that servants would open their 'boxes' of gifts. Boxes usually given to them by their employers. The day was a chance for them to relax a little and celebrate, something they couldn't do on Christmas day itself as they would have been working.

As the years went on the day became known as Boxing Day but eventually the idea of servants opening gift boxes waned as less and less households required servants and more people got to celebrate Christmas on the day.

Christmas truly is a magical time of the year and we really do have the Victorians to thank for many of our traditions and for even having Christmas as we know it! 

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

The Victorian Mannequin Challenge

During the Dickensian Festival in Ulverston this past weekend we had a authentic Victorian yard set up. Because we had this unique setting we thought it might be fun to film a Mannequin Challenge. So we did and this is the result:

We hope you enjoyed it and please do share with others!

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Iron Shepherds Turns Four!

Another year goes by for us here at Iron Shepherds and what a year it has been! From our very own living history festival to old favourites it has been a jam packed year full of fun and excitement.

The Winter, as it tends to be, was a quiet one. We had no events to attend but we did spend the time planning for our coming season and one of the big things we had planned was a brand new living history festival called Life in the Past. We had the idea of creating a series of events and talks which would cover different periods of local history but be held under the umbrella of a larger festival and we set about making it happen.

We soon managed to organise 6 living history events and 3 fascinating talks by archaeologists and specialists including one by a lecturer at Cambridge University. It was soon time to start the festival, which we did come May...

May 2016

Monks Life | Life in the Past Festival


This was the first in our Life in the Past series of events and it was a return to one of our old favourites: Monks Life.

We set up our display inside the cloister of Furness Abbey where us monks would be based all day discussing our daily life. We also had two visiting nuns on site over in the cemetery gate house, women were seldom allowed into the main Abbey complex in the time of the monks so our nuns had to keep their distance.

Brother Bertram also took two tours of the monastic site to give visitors a better understanding of the abbey and the lives the monks led.
It was a lovely day and a fantastic start to our Life in the Past Festival.

At the start of the festival, and throughout, we created several videos to introduce and showcase the events. You can watch all these videos here: 

Prehistoric communities and the changing face of the Furness Peninsula | Life in the Past Festival


As part of Life in the Past we held several talks by local archaeologists and experts and this was the first one by Dr. Craig Appley all about Prehistoric Furness. It was an excellent talk which really brought to life what the area must have looked like at the time.

There were many folk in the audience who all enjoyed the talk and Craig's delivery.

Medieval Law and Order | Life in the Past Festival


The second in our festival event series took place at Dalton Castle and delved into Medieval Law and Order in Furness. We created part of a court room set in the top room of the castle where our law breaker, held in the dungeon, would be put on trial throughout the day. We also had a few crafts on display to show how the locals were living in the 14th Century.

The trials were the highlight of the day giving visitors an idea of how a medieval trial might take place and for what crimes they might be undertaken. Everyone seemed to really enjoy the trials and we were really pleased with it.

June 2016

Holker Garden Festival


English Heritage invited us once again to set up alongside them at the Holker Garden Festival. This was our third year of attending the festival and as with every year it was lovely! It was super warm in the big tent but we enjoyed chatting to people, promoting our coming events and displaying some crafts.

We were saddened to hear later in the year that this turned out to be the last ever Holker Garden Festival as they have decided to bring it to an end after 24 years. Sad news for all.

Tudor Dissolver | Life in the Past Festival


Time for another Life in the Past event, this time we changed it up a bit and went Tudor! This event took place at Furness Abbey and took a closer look at the Dissolution of the Monasteries.

We had a small set up in front of the great church at the abbey where we spoke with people throughout the day and also displayed pewter melting and casting to illustrate the melting of the lead roofs of the abbey.

A lovely, hot, day which went really well!

The Development of Medieval Ulverston | Life in the Past Festival


Another fantastic Life in the Past talk, this time by Daniel Elsworth of Greenlane Archaeology. Dan spoke about the Medieval period in Ulverston from the finds that have been found, although few in number, to the place names of the town. 

It was another successful talk with many showing up to watch and listen.

Family Fun Day at Gleaston 


June came and it was that time of year again, time for the Family Fun Day at Gleaston. This was our third time at this lovely event. We set up our Norman camp, displayed crafts and spoke to visitors. It was, as always, a most pleasant day thoroughly enjoyed by all of us. We will be returning to this event again next year so do come along on the 24th June 2017.

July 2016

Victorian Fun & Games


Once again a brand new event for 2016 created by us for our Life in the Past Festival! This time delving into Victorian Furness and the fun and games of the time.

Furness Abbey was our backdrop where we set up numerous tents, lots of bunting and many many exciting games and toys. Families came out in their droves to enjoy the entertainment from the games to the tours to the singing of the Furness Nightingale, a family singing group who are part of the Iron Shepherds.

The day was a huge success and we were are very pleased to say we will be returning to Furness Abbey next year for another day of Victorian Fun & Games on 23rd July! Do come along to experience a truly Victorian day out!

Sea-Kings and Saints: the Furness Peninsula in the Viking Age | Life in the Past Festival


The final of our Life in the Past talks and a fine end it was too! Dr. Fiona Edmonds of University of Cambridge came up to lecture on the Furness Peninsula in the Viking Age. The talk took place at the Forum in Barrow and the room was packed with people all excited to hear what Fiona had to say. The talk was wonderful and was greatly received by all attending.

Victorian Social History | Life in the Past Festival


Another chance to showcase our Victorian living history at another Life in the Past Festival event; Victorian Social History! This time we were at the Dock Museum in Barrow, a new location for us as far as events go, and a brilliant day was had by all.

We were based inside the museum in the main dock hall where we had crafts from the Victorian era on display as well as a few games to play alongside singing from the Furness Nightingales. The idea of this display was to give an idea of the lives and jobs of the varying social classes living in the local area. It was a great, if very warm, day which was a huge success!

August 2016

1920's Workmen | Life in the Past Festival


Ah, 1920's workmen! This was certainly a different event for us but a fantastic one! As part of the Life in the Past Festival we had decided to showcase the incredible work undertaken in the late 1920s by local men to underpin and stabilise large parts of Furness Abbey.

We have always been hugely impressed and inspired by the work done by those every day working men and were keen to share their achievements to others. To do this we dressed in period costume, set up shop in the old ticket office inside the ruins of the abbey and performed 3 tours throughout the day. These tours specifically looked at the work undertaken and showed areas of the site where evidence of their work can be seen, or in many cases can't be seen! We had great responses from this event and were so pleased to have put it on.

This event was also special for us as it was the final part of our Life in the Past Festival. The whole festival, from inception to completion, was a huge undertaking. There was so much organisation, promotion and creation required. It took a lot of time for us all and when it came to an end we were all so immensely proud and pleased. It had been a success and that was all we ever wished. We hope that anyone who attended any of our events or talks enjoyed them and learnt something from them.

The Life in the Past Festival will return in 2018!

September 2016

Medieval Fair at Furness Abbey


Back to our normal event schedule and it was time for the annual Medieval Fair at Furness Abbey.

We had worked on a new camp layout and site along with a new Norman invasion weapons display ahead of the event. Friday came and it was time to set up. All was looking great, the camp was the best it has ever looked and we were stoked for the event the next day.

Saturday came and the heavens opened! Heavy rain poured all day long. From about 10 minutes into the event we were already soaked to the skin. As is only right we carried on as usual, or at least as best we could.

Bertram tried to perform on his pole lathe but got absolutely soaked and eventually had to seek shelter. Our Furness Nightingales tried their best to perform from inside one of our large tents and Matilda endeavoured to cook on the open fire while the rain water filled up the stew. It was a real shame. Members of the public didn't want to stop for long and by the time mid afternoon arrived the decision was taken to bring the event to a close. Something or a relief for many of us! It wasn't the most ideal day but hopefully next time it will be fine and sunny...

October 2016

Appley Day


A lovely Norman event to end the year, Apple Day. We attended the Apple Day in Ulverston last year and really enjoyed it, so were delighted when we were invited back this year. We set up our Norman camp and displayed our crafts throughout the day. There was music from Aelswyth, cooking from Matilda and even a spot of bread making!

It was a cool but a nice day too. There were many visitors and we had many lovely chats.

That was it for our fourth year, and what a successful, enjoyable and interesting year it was! But, as they say, no rest for the wicked! We had a Victorian Yard to organise for the Dickensian Festival in Ulverston...

Oh, and also we updated our website during 2016, take a look here - http://ironshepherdslivinghistory.co.uk/

Friday, 14 October 2016

1066, the Year of the Normans: NORMANS IN FURNESS

Following the invasion by the Normans in 1066 Furness and what is now South Cumbria was left pretty much alone, free of Norman influence with little rule and a mix of varying cultures.

The area had many Norse men (people of Viking descent), Celts and Saxons which provided an eclectic mix of cultures which must have made the area pretty unique. There was little to no Norman influence in the early years after 1066, the Domesday book of 1086 lists Earl Tostig as the lord of the area but this was not true as we know that Tostig was killed in September of 1066 at the battle of Stamford bridge in Yorkshire, just before the Norman invasion. This strongly suggests that the accounts of the Furness area in the Domesday book was actually a copy of an early, similar, document. This also shows how little the Normans had to do with the area, so little that they had no one to undertake the survey in the area and no one who could be bothered, or could face, travelling to the peninsula. At the time the area was known as the Manor of Hougun, Hougun is believed to derive from the Old Norse word haugr meaning hill or mound.

It was not until the early 12th Century, around 1107, that Furness gained its first Norman lord!

What remains of the the Norman Motte and Bailey at Aldingham (courtesy of Furness Hidden Heritage)

Michael Le Fleming, a Norman lord, was granted the lands lying eastward of Abbey Beck and southwards of the moors of Birkrigg and Swarthmoor by the then King, Henry I. This land became the Manor of Aldingham. Between 1107 and 1111 Michael set about building a brand new Motte and Bailey castle. Something the area had never seen. With this new castle Michael could then rule over Aldingham and start to bring some Norman law into the peninsula. (Find out more about this motte and bailey caste over at Furness Hidden Heritage with their blog post A Motte Without a Bailey and a Manor Without a Town) The rest of the "forest of Furness and Walney" was given by King Henry I to his nephew Stephen, Count of Boulogne and Mortain (later King of England).

Some 20 years after Michael Le Fleming moving to the area another, greater, Norman influence was set to arrive, an abbey!

The ruins of Furness Abbey in the mist

In 1123 some monks from the Order of Savigny, a French Catholic order, were granted lands at Tulceth near Preston. For some, unknown, reason the monks did not stay here for long, never really setting up a monastery as in 1127 they were granted land in the valley of Beckansgill in Furness by Stephen, Count of Boulogne. At this point the monks moved swiftly to their new lands and set about building a large, decorative, abbey in the valley floor. It is most likely that the reason for the move here was to bring another Norman influence to the peninsula and in turn bring further Norman rule. The lands of Furness needed to be controlled and needed to be brought in line with the Norman way or it could easily become a rebellious, rogue state.

The new abbey soon started to take hold. They owned much of the land near by so allowed the locals to farm it for a tithe, a small part of the produce, and they gained strong links with the community, especially at Dalton, the largest town in the area at the time and the only one that had continued to farm following the Harrying of the North. The Abbots of Furness became the lords of Dalton and ruled over it. The abbey also gained strong links with the Isle of Man and the strong Norse culture which lived there. In 1134 the King of Man, Olaf I, granted the abbey the right to appoint the Bishop of the Isles. A rare and remarkable privilege!

It was later in 1147 that the Cistercian order of monks took over at Furness Abbey and they took it on to become the second richest Cistercain house in the country!

It is worth noting that during the Norman period of history Furness was not always part of England!

In 1136 Stephen, now King of England, gave the entirety of Cumberland including Furness to Scotland. This was no-doubt a consiquence of the civil war between himself and Empress Matilda known as the Anarchy. Stephen giving away Cumberland was probably a way of keeping the Scottish happy and keeping them from making any trouble while the Anarchy was being fought. This didn't mean that the area was now ruled by Scotland though, there was no really rule from either Country. The Scots still raided the area and the English had nothing much to do with it. It also didn't mean that the Norman influence left the area, far from it. The abbey continued to grow in power and wealth and the motte and bailey at Aldingham still stood. Eventually Cumberland would be taken back by England, in 1157, following the end of the Anarchy.

In 1160, just after Furness is reclaimed back by England, Gamel de Pennington, a local lord living in Pennington, founded a hospital at Conishead for the poor of the Ulverston area. Augustinian Monks ran the hospital and lived within it. They also founded a school to help educate local children and later, in 1188, the hospital was raised to the status of a Priory. Another Norman institution in the area again helping to Normanise and educate the local inhabitants.

These small steps continued to happen across Furness making the area ever more Norman but it is debatable as to whether Furness ever did truly become Norman. The people of the area were certainly not Norman, they remained a mix of different origins and no-doubt had varying belief systems for many centuries.

Still the Normans had a stronger and stronger presence here and they certainly ruled over the area and tried to bring it under the Norman rule.

This year marks the 950th anniversary of the great Norman invasion of England and we at Iron Shepherds have been celebrating with this series of blog posts, a brand new weapons display and several events with our Norman encampment!

Our main period of interest is the 1140's, a period of time within the Norman rule of Britain.

Friday, 16 September 2016

1066, the Year of the Normans: THE TAKE OVER

The years that followed the Norman invasion of England in 1066 were, to say the least, turbulent.

William the Conqueror started his reign as King of England by building a large amount of castles, motte and bailey castles to be precise. These were symbols of power, showing all of England and its people who was the new man in town, the boss, the leader! He also would hit back fast and hard against anyone who threatened him and his right to the crown and most especially any rebellions.
One major event which took place early in his reign was the event known as the Harrying of the North.

In the winter of 1069–70 William undertook a series of campaigns to subjugate Northern England and break the rebellious state of Yorkshire. A man named Edgar Atheling who was the last Wessex claimant encouraged the Anglo-Danish population of Yorkshire to rebel which broke the Norman hold on the North. Williams first port of call was to pay the Danish to go home, which they did, but the remaining English continued to rebel and refused to fight William on the battlefield.

To defeat the rebels the King decided to starve them out by laying waste to the states, or shires, in the North before putting Norman aristocracy in the area. Towns were burnt to the ground and looted. Animals were slaughtered and fields destroyed causing large scale famine.
Orderic Vitalis, an Anglo-Norman chronicler, wrote the following about the Harrying some fifty years after the event:

"The King stopped at nothing to hunt his enemies. He cut down many people and destroyed homes and land. Nowhere else had he shown such cruelty. This made a real change.

To his shame, William made no effort to control his fury, punishing the innocent with the guilty. He ordered that crops and herds, tools and food be burned to ashes. More than 100,000 people perished of starvation.

I have often praised William in this book, but I can say nothing good about this brutal slaughter. God will punish him."

It is obvious that the actions of King William were brutal and callous, many now perceive his actions as genocide and it's clear to see why. The extent of ruthless murder and shameless destruction is on par with some of the biggest of later genocides. Quite why William thought this was the only option to stop the rebellious shires is any ones guess. It is obvious he wanted to show his power but why he needed to cause so much destruction and have quite so much blood shed is unclear. It certainly makes you glad to be alive today and not back in those turbulent times.

Following the Harrying any Saxon earls still left were swiftly replaced with Norman lords who could assert their laws and beliefs on the local people. They built many castles from which to rule and set about bringing the Saxons in to line. This saw the start of the Normanisation of Northern England as well as the rest of the country. Soon the Saxons were converting to the Norman way of living and obeying the new Norman laws.

This was the same in Furness, although it did take a fair bit longer for the area to become truly Norman, if it ever really did...

This year marks the 950th anniversary of the great Norman invasion of England and we at Iron Shepherds are celebrating with this series of blog posts, a brand new weapons display and several events with our Norman encampment!

Our main period of interest is the 1140's, a period of time within the Norman rule of Britain. We have an Anglo-Norman camp which we set up at various events throughout the Summer months. You can next see us and experience Norman life at the Apple Day at Ford Park, Ulverston on 1st October, 11am - 4pm.

Norman Blog Series:

1066, the Year of the Normans: THE INVASION
1066, the Year of the Normans: THE TAKE OVER
1066, the Year of the Normans: NORMANS IN FURNESS (coming soon)

Friday, 19 August 2016

1066, the Year of the Normans: THE INVASION

The year is 1066 and the winds of change are brewing across England. Ships filled with knights and noble men sway on the water off the coast of France ready to set sail to English shores. A crown was sought and blood was to be shed before the crown could rest upon the head of a Norman king.

Section of The Bayeux Tapestry, c. 1080. Courtesy of Web Gallery of Art (www.wga.hu)

On the 5th of January 1066 the reigning King of England, Edward the Confessor, passed away. This was the start of a turbulent time for the country. The kings brother in law, the Earl of Essex, Harold Godwin was elected to succeed the late king by the Witan, a council of high ranking Anglo-Saxon men. The crown was soon lain upon the head of Harold, now King of England, but this did not sit well with  Duke William of Normandy across the water in France. He claimed that King Edward had promised the crown of England to him and had even managed to trick the late king, in 1063, into swearing to support his claim to the English thrown.

Duke William swiftly amassed an army ready to set sail and invade England!

Around the time William was amassing his army a problem arouse for Harold in the North of England. His brother Tostig had joined forces with Harold Hardrada, King of Norway, and amassed an army now landing on the East coast of Yorkshire. King Harold gathered his army and marched north to Tadcaster to face this new threat. They caught Tostig's men off guard and after a bloody battle, including the death of both Tostig and Harold Hardrada, they, on September 24th, captured Stanford Bridge thus claiming victory over the attackers.

It was not long however until news that Duke William and his army had arrived on British shores reached the King, they landed on 28th September. A few days later on October 1st Harold and his army, now severely less in number, set off for Kent where William was waiting.

The two opposing armies met on 14th October not far from Hastings and a great battle commenced!

Axes swung from the Saxons, cutting down the Norman attackers. Swords swished and clashed as men from both sides fell to a noble death. Shields were smashed, battered and broken. Spears stabbed as arrows flew. A loose Norman arrow flew through the air and landed, quite by chance, in the eye of King Harold. This arrow gave a fatal injury but it has often been unclear as to what happened to Harold and who killed him. Reports from 1080 by an Italian Monk state that Harold was killed by the arrow to his eye but other accounts report him being cut down by a Norman knight, some saying at the same time the arrow hit. The Bayeux tapestry doesn't offer much help as it shows a man with an arrow to the eye alongside a knight chopping down a man, written over both is the caption 'Here King Harold has been killed'. This could hint towards both the figures shown being Harold, one showing the moment he was struck by an arrow and the next of him being run through by a knight. Either way Harold met his end but the battle didn't stop.

Section of the Bayeux Tapestry showing Harold's death (courtesy of Wikipedia)

It was not long, however, before Harold's remaining men were beaten and killed. This left William the victor, he could now take his place on the English throne and take on a new title; William the Conqueror!

On Christmas day of 1066 William was crowned King of England by Archbishop Ealdred of York and began his rule of England and its people. This brought the new Norman way of life to the land and things would start to change across the country...

This year marks the 950th anniversary of the great Norman invasion of England and we at Iron Shepherds are celebrating with this series of blog posts, a Norman based weapons display and several events with our Norman encampment!

Our main period of interest is the 1140's, a period of time within the Norman rule of Britain. We have an Anglo-Norman camp which we set up at various events throughout the Summer months. You can next see us and experience Norman life at the Medieval Fair at Furness Abbey on 3rd September, 10am - 5pm.

Norman Blog Series:

1066, the Year of the Normans: THE INVASION
1066, the Year of the Normans: THE TAKE OVER (coming soon)
1066, the Year of the Normans: NORMANS IN FURNESS (coming soon)

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Victorian Industry in Furness | Life in the Past Festival

During the 1800s England saw massive growth in its industry through, what is now known as, the Industrial Revolution. This growth was seen even here in Furness with new industry starting up from steel works to bobbin mills! Industry which was set to shape the area we know today.

At the start of the 1800s Furness was similar to how it had been for centuries with large towns like Ulverston and Dalton generally thriving with the iron mining industry being one of the main employers. But over the course of the coming century things would start to change, dramatically.

Stott Park Bobbin Mill
During the early to mid 1800s lots and lots of bobbin mills were built across the Lake District and into Furness. Places like Spark Bridge, near Greenodd, had large mills and further up near to Newby Bridge was Stott Park Bobbin Mill, now the last remaining mill in the area and, indeed, the country! These mills would produce thousands of wooden bobbins each year for the booming cotton and wool industries over in Lancashire and Yorkshire. So many were needed as they were basically disposable items, used once then thrown on the fire. This meant there was constant orders coming in for more and more of these lovely and functional items. The mills utilised the fast moving water of the Lake District to power their machinery with the use of water wheels and, often, later water turbines. They also utilised the large amounts of coppice woodland in the area.

Example of a coppiced woodland today
Coppocing was another major industry in the area, growing various types of trees, from hazel to birch, which were regularly cut down to their base to encorage new shoots which will grow tall, straight and fast. These would then be cut down again after a 10-15 year period to grow new shoots again. It was an ongoing cycle which created large amounts of much needed wood. This wood was perfect for the production of bobbins!

They would be cut down and taken onto site where they could be cut to size and turned on lathes to produce, you guessed it, bobbins. The bobbin industry was a huge one but sadly in the 1970's, with the reduction of wool and cotton mills and the invention of plastics, wooden bobbins became obsolite. All the bobbin mills closed their doors and many were knocked down, thankfully though one of these mills, Stott Park, was saved and is now open today as a visitor attraction. It is run by English Heritage and can be visited 7 days a week throughout the summer months for guided tours around the inside of the mill
where you can even see some bobbins being made!

It is safe to say that several of the bobbins being made in the Lake District were going a short distance to Backbarrow where there was a large Cotton Mill. As mentioned previously the wool and cotton industries were booming and mills were springing up across the country, especially in Yorkshire and Lancashire. Furness at the time was indeed part of Lancashire and un-surprisingly had its own Cotton Mill. The mill at Backbarrow ran until 1868 when a large fire broke out causing many of the machines to fall through the floors of the mill destroying them! The mill was re-built but never re-opened.

All that remains of the Dolly Blue Factory
A new woolen mill did however open in part of the rebuilt structure in 1880. Sadly though it didn't last past a couple of years but it wasn't the end of the story at Backbarrow. The whole mill site was bought in 1890 by Johannes Eggestorff who opened a brand new factory producing ultramarine blue powder. This saw the birth of the Lancashire Ultramarine Company, a company which became a huge employer in the area and extremely successful. The factory ran until it sadly closed in 1982 after 92 years of production. The Whitewater hotel now stands where the mill building used to be.
One of the biggest changes to the peninsula in the 1800s was the arrival of the railway and the huge expansion of the small fishing village of Barrow!

Furness Train Tracks
It was in 1844 that the Furness Railway Company began life building rail links from the slate quarries at Kirkby-in-Furness and the Iron Ore mines of Lindal to the deep water harbour at Roe Island. These early rail links were solely for the movement of minerals, i.e. slate and iron ore, to the coast where they could be distributed across England. The first links opened in 1846 and soon expanded up to Broughton-in-Furness, a small market town, and later, in 1854, a link was completed to Ulverston (the biggest town in the area at the time). The railway continued to expand with new links to Lancaster and Carnforth, this meant that the Furness peninsula was, for the first time, easily accessible from the rest of the country.

The Furness Railway went on to help in the huge, and swift, development of the areas newest town, Barrow. 

A chimney similar to what once dotted the skyline of Barrow
The Duke of Devonshire, the Duke of Buccleugh, Henry Schneider and Sir James Ramsden were the owners and board members of the Furness Railway. They also owned the slate and ore mines in the area, not just content with owning large profitable businesses and the rail links to transport their goods they decided to build a huge new dock at Barrow, rendering Roe Islands port useless. They also opened steelworks at Barrow where the local ore could be processed. All this development meant new jobs and in turn new housing was required, housing which was built in Barrow. This marked a period of rapid growth in the town, swiftly expanding it from a small fishing village with a minimal number of houses to a grand Victorian boom town, often referred to as ‘The Chicago of the North’.

All this growth led to James Ramsden, in 1871, founding the Iron Shipbuilding Company, which would later, in 1897, become Vickers Shipyard and subsequently BAE Systems. This new company was created to build large ships in the port of Barrow using the processed steel from the local steelworks. These ships could then be distributed around the country and later the globe. This industry grew and grew in the area expanding the town further and today the shipyard is still the main employer of this truly Victorian town.

What remains of a Lime Kiln in Scales
Another industry popular at the time was quicklime production. Large kilns known as Lime Kilns were used to fire limestone to upwards of 900°c to produce Calcium oxide, or quicklime as it was commonly known as, a white powder substance which could be used in mortar and agriculturally. You can still see many lime kilns dotting the landscape around Furness, the one pictured here is just outside the village of Scales.

We've only spoken about a few of the vast amount of industries in this area, if we were to go into detail about them all I'm sure we would be here for days! However some of the other industries include - rope works, iron works, jute works, slate mines (Kirkby slate mine is still operational), iron mines, brickworks (Askam brickworks opened in 1845 and is still in use today), charcoal burning, tanneries (leather making) and of course fishing!

You can find a host of evidence across the peninsula of these long lost industries from the massive slag banks at Askam to the street names of Barrow. Be sure to keep an eye out the next time you are about in the area and do take a mintue to remember the truly idustrial past of Furness!


Friday, 24 June 2016

How To Make a Thaumatrope (optical illusion toy) | Life in the Past Festival

Optical illusion toys were extremely popular during the Victorian period giving fun and excitement to children and adults alike. In this post we will take a look at how to make one of these toys, the thaumatrope.

The thaumatrope is a simple disc with images on each side which, when the disc is spun around, merge into one image. One of the most popular choices for these toys was a bird in a cage image and this is what we are going to use here.

What You Will Need:

  • paper
  • card
  • scissors
  • protractor
  • pencil
  • glue
  • hole punch
  • string

Step One:

Take your paper and mark out two circles with a protractor. Following this mark out a slightly bigger circle on your card and cut all out. This will leave you with two paper discs and one of card.

Step Two:

Draw a bird cage (or whatever you like) on one of the paper discs, trying to keep it nice and central. Once you have finished the cage take your other paper disc and draw a bird on it. Be sure to centre it and measure it so it can fit inside the cage.

Step Three:

Take your first disc, with the cage on, and glue it down in the centre of the card disc. Having done this flip the card disc over (the cage will then be upside down on the underside) and stick the bird disc to the centre of the card.

Step Four:

Use a hold punch to create two holes either side of the paper disc, roughly inline across the centre of the circle. This is where we will thread some string.

Step Five:

Cut two equal lengths of string. Fold over to create a loop at one end. Thread this loop through a hole in the disc. Take the other end of the string and thread it through the loop then pull it back on itself to tighten around the edge of the disc. Repeat this process on the other side.

Step Six:

Have a good old play! Hold onto the ends of both stings on either side of the disc, spin it around several times to twist up the strings. Once ready pull outwards and watch the disc. This bird image should appear inside the cage as the disc spins. A simple and wonderful optical illusion!

Friday, 10 June 2016

Victorian Tourism in Furness

During the 1800s Furness was opened up to the rest of the country in a new way by the arrival of the railway. This meant tourists from afar could now access the area much more easily than before and thus tourism boomed. The likes of William Wordsworth helped to make the Lake District popular with his guide to the Lakes but he also mentions places in Furness, such as the romantic ruins of St Mary's abbey, which drew more people down from the lakes into the peninsula.

The Furness Railway was established in 1844 as a means of transporting slate and iron ore to the port of Barrrow. It later extended and started to have passenger trains in 1846 with later editions to the railway linking it to Coniston, Lakeside and Carnforth. This opened the peninsula up to people across England in a much easier to travel way. It also linked the area to the near by Lake District, which was a booming tourist destination. This meant the countryside of Furness and its historic sites could become key visitor destinations.

Ruins, like those of St Mary's, were hugely popular attractions in this time and a visit to the ruins at Furness were considered essential to any trip out. All classes enjoyed visiting such places and the romantic nature of these sites created an enticing prospect for visitors. Although the ever growing numbers of tourists could lead to problems.

In 1881 a man wrote annonomously to The Times to vent his frustration at the sight which awaited him at Furness Abbey:

"Permit me to draw the attention of those who are interested in the preservation of ancient monuments to the present state of things at Furness Abbey. I was present in the ruins for three hours this Thursday afternoon last, and was extremely shocked at the spectacle I witnessed. The place was filled with a rough and noisy crowd of excursionists, and large numbers of children, apparently under no control, were climbing in and out of the beautiful sadilia and over the sculptured capitals of the fallen pillars, which lie on the ground in the ancient Chapter-house, to the extreme danger and, I fear, destruction of most exquisitely carved work." - 26 August 1881.

Ruins had never been as popular and this could lead to damage being done, something Mr Anonymous was clearly worried about. Another aspect of Victorian tourism which caused what today would be seen as damage was graffiti!

Today graffiti is generally frowned upon but back in Victorian times it was seen customary to leave your mark on an ancient ruin. Many would leave their initials with the date, a lasting reminder that they were once there. This is a tradition still upheld in modern day China, if you visit the great wall of Chine for example you are encouraged to carve your name onto the wall. Visit any historic site in Furness and you will no doubt find some Victorian graffiti wonderfully carved into the stone, unlike todays scrawling scratches.

As mentioned earlier William Wordsworth had a big impact on tourism in the area with the publication of his book 'A Guide Through the District of the Lakes in North England' in 1835. This brought the history of the Lakes and Furness to life for readers and informed them of many historic and naturally beautiful sites. Following is an extract which mentions Furness Abbey alongside Urswick and Conishead Priory-

“They who wish to see the celebrated ruins of Furness Abbey, and are not afraid of crossing the Sands, may go from Lancaster to Ulverston; from which place take the direct road to Dalton; but by all means return through Urswick, for sake of the view from the top of the hills, before descending into the grounds of Conishead Priory. From this quarter the Lakes would be advantageously approached by Coniston; thence to Hawkshead, and by the Ferry over Windermere, to Bowness: a much better introduction than by going direct from Coniston to Ambleside, which ought not to be done, as that would greatly take off from the effects of Windermere.” - William Wordsworth, A Guide Through the District of the Lakes in the North of England, 1835.

Wordsworth also wrote an autobiographical poem called The Prelude which included passages about Furness. Read a section of this poem here.

Of course Wordsworth was not the only famous writer to produce books about the Lake District. At the very close of the Victorian era, in 1901, Beatrix potter released her first childrens book entitled The Tale of Peter Rabit, and would go on to write many books set in the Lake District. Beatirx and her family visited the Lakes for three months every year of her childhood staying in large country houses, like Wray Castle to the north west of Windermere. This was a common practice for many wealthy families living in London and other large cities of England. A break away in the Lakes was the best way to escape the smog of the city and to enjoy nature in breathtaking scenery and many would have traveled down the peninsula to see the sights of Furness. It was on such holidays that Beatrix nurtured her love of story telling, writing little stories to send to her cousins. She also developed a love for nature and especially the Lake District. This led to her buying up huge amounts of farm land across the district to protect it from development and in doing so helped to save the natural beauty of the area, later donating her land to the newly formed National Trust.

It wasn't just historic sites that became popular tourist destinations but also towns! Ulverston and Dalton were popular places to visit, easily accessible by the railway. Towns and villages like near by Grange and Cartmel also became popular. In 1900 the Furness Railway released a book called 'The Illustrated Guide to the Holiday Resorts on the Furness Railway', which showcased the various towns and attractions accessible along the railway route. This had large sections about Ulverston, Dalton, Furness Abbey, Grange and Cartmel all illustrated with wonderful photographs. Barrow is mostly neglected with in its pages as the town is, at this point, mainly industrial and not yet seen as a tourist destination, especially being a relatively new town, although later the beaches of Walney became very popular. The book goes into detail about each towns history and makes mention of the interesting places which exist within them. Famous past residence are made mention of, like George Romney of Dalton and Sir John Barrow of Ulverston. This would have no doubt acted as a handy guide for any Victorian tourist visiting this hummble part of the world.

The Victorian period really saw the birth of modern tourism and started the country's long lasting facination with history and those enigmatic ruins left behind as reminders. There is a wealth of history and facinating places in England and many wonderful sites here in the Furness Peninsula, which are all well worth visiting. So next time you are wanting something to do of a weekend why not be like a Victorian and pop along to one of these local gems!

Experience a truly Victorian day out on 23rd July 2017 at our Victorian Fun & Games event at Furness Abbey.