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.

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

The Dissolution of the Monasteries | Life in the Past Festival

The dissolution of the monasteries was a major event lasting many years which changed the landscape of British religion forever. The many abbeys and priories of the country were wiped out leaving but ruins of what once was. The lives of monks and nuns were changed in an instant and many abbots and priors lost their lives. A massive change for England brought on by the greed of a king.

Henry VIII became king in 1509 and at this point corruption had become a major issue within religious houses across Europe, and was being attacked from many angles by critics and protestant reformers alike. It seemed that a reformation was fast approaching. Henry was Catholic and was a defender of the Pope in Rome at the start of his reign but as time went on, and the need for a divorce became pressing, Henry started to break away from Rome and the Pope.

In 1534 the Act of Supremacy was passed making Henry the head of the English Church. Up to this point Henry had been excessive with his wars, which were extremely costly. This had used up all of his fathers inheritance so money had become a pressing concern.

It was in 1535 that King Henry VIII commissioned a survey of ‘his’ Church and its wealth, a survey called the Valor Ecclesiasticus (Church Valuation). This was the first time that the net wealth of monasteries had been assessed and here in Furness the Abbey of St Mary was found to have an annual income of £805, making it the second richest of the Cistercian houses in England. In total the religious sites of the country controlled around four million acres, about 16 per cent, of the productive land in England and 12 per cent of the total land area, this equated to a huge amount of wealth.

In 1536 Thomas Cromwell put forward an act of reform, known as the Suppression or Dissolution Act, for the smaller monastic houses earning under £200 a year. Cromwell had declared these houses were “sunk irredeemably in iniquity” and that they had “resisted all attempts at reform for 200 years or more”. He came to the conclusion that they should be shut down and the “idle and dissolute monks and nuns” be distributed amongst the larger, greater abbeys where they could become more disciplined and “mend their ways”. The properties and any riches they held could then be transferred to the King, who, according to the Act, would convert the endowments to better uses. Something that never happened, in fact most of the money went into the government funds.

As one would expect there was a considerable amount of hostility building towards the government, especially here in the north. This led to a rebellion in October 1536 known as the Pilgrimage of Grace. York and Lincoln were seized by rebels for a short time as a protest against the dissolution and various other grievances. The restoration of the suppressed abbeys was one of the highest demands of the rebels.

This uprising didn’t last long, the king waited as the rebels fell out amongst themselves before he crushed them without mercy. A close friend to the king, Robert Radcliffe, was despatched to Lancashire to quell the rebellion and his arrival was marked by a series of executions. Several large abbeys who had been helping the rebellion were now at great danger, one of these being Furness Abbey. Radcliffe suggested to the abbot of Furness at the time, Roger Pyle, that he should surrender the abbey as a ‘voluntary discharge of conscience’ or suffer the consequences and be executed. The abbot took the advise and in April 1537, along with 28 monks and the prior (the abbot’s deputy), signed the deed of surrender. This passed the abbey, its wealth and its lands to the crown. It wasn’t long before Thomas Cromwell’s men arrived to dissolve the monastery…