Category Archives: Research

Writing a Transport History of the Great Exhibition III: Transporting Goods

In this series of posts I am writing about my initial work on the transport history of the Great Exhibition that I presented last year at a workshop of the York Transport Historians. In the first post I wrote about how this project came about, and part II discussed the planning stages of the Exhibition. In this third post, I look at how goods moved across the world into the Crystal Palace.

III. Transporting Goods to the Exhibition

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The Great Exhibition of 1851; see The British Library images

“It seemed as if magic only could have gathered this mass of wealth from all the ends of the Earth – as if none but supernatural hands could have arranged it thus… ruled and subdued by some invisible influence”

Charlotte Brontë, in a letter of 7th June 1851 to her father, Patrick Brontë

Such were Charlotte Brontë’s words upon entering the Crystal Palace in June 1851, the first of 2 visits that she made during her stay in London that year. Her reflections here capture the extraordinary co-ordination of forces that had come together to produce what another contemporary commentator described as a “monument to consumption” (Nikolas Pevsner, 1851).

While evocative, Brontë’s invocation of “the invisible influence” of supernatural hands belies the very visible presence of activity in the lead-up to the Exhibition; whether in the streets of London or in the pages of the press, objects on the move were recorded with intense fascination in the months and weeks leading up to the Exhibition.*

This started with the international packages, sometimes traced right from the point of origin; in one case, the route of a “monster lump of zinc ore” sent from the USA is followed from the mines, over the mountains to Dover, New Jersey, and then on to the coast to be shipped across the Atlantic (see The Times, 16th January 1851, p. 6).

Much of the sea-transportation was undertaken by the steamer ships that had largely outmoded sailing vessels by this point in the century, and Britain’s global network of steamships came into action: the Peninsular & Oriental company shipped items from Middle East and Mediterranean, the East India Company brought goods from India, and regular services between Britain and many ports across Europe served the continental contributors. Some ships were of especial interest, such as the Feiza Baari, the first Turkish steam-ship to ever visit England. The US frigate St Lawrence was also the subject of much anticipation, and for several months there are reports detailing the choice of ship, its fitting up, and then the awaiting of its eventual arrival on British shores, greeted with much excitement:

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The Times, 14th March 1851, p. 5

While the St Lawrence was of particular interest for the eagerly-awaited American contribution to the Exhibition, the attention given here to the packages it contains is not unusual. In the months leading up to the opening, the pages of The Times are filled with numerous such reports recording each arrival at the British docks with meticulous detailing of the number, and often the contents, of packages brought by each ship. As the weeks progress, this turns into something of a growing fixation at the numbers of goods received and the number still to arrive, as in this table from 22nd April 1851 recording the “return of foreign and colonial goods received to April 19 (inclusive):

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The Times, 22nd April 1851, p. 3

 

Such figures are accompanied by frequent expressions of anxiety at the unknown quantities of goods still to be received, and concerns about scant intelligence from some countries: in February The Times writes, “the Executive Committee remain in profound ignorance as to what they may expect from most of the foreign countries” (The Times, 13th February 1851, p. 5) and this anxiety increases as 1st May approaches. Such concerns are a reminder that while it is easy to emphasise the global connectedness that the Exhibition depended upon, it also brought to the fore the realities of disconnection and the persistence of gaps in the networked world.

International goods arrived into either the London Docks, or to other ports such as Southampton (as in the case of the St Lawrence, above), which were connected to London by rail; many of Britain’s contributions also arrived on the railways (hence the importance of the Exhibition’s proximity to mainline stations, as outlined in this previous post). Upon arrival into the city, packages then made their way to the Crystal Palace by road.

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“The Shilling Day: Going to the Exhibition”, Illustrated London News, 19th July 1851, p. 100

Road-congestion around Hyde Park had been the subject of much discussion in the planning stages, but as the Exhibition approached this turned from concern to a source of wonder. The sight of waggons laden with goods arriving and departing at every hour becomes a spectacle in and of itself, one that The Times comments on frequently, and at length:

“waggons laden with every species of commodity have deposited their burdens in the interior… the string of conveyances in waiting often extended down the Kensington-road as far as the end of Sloane-street. Such a spectacle was probably never witnessed in any thoroughfare of the metropolis before, and passers-by stopped to gaze at that long procession … more wonderful in its character than even the rows of splendid equipages assembled in the adjoining park during the height of the season. On Monday 600 waggon loads were received; yet the whole of this vast consignment was deposited with the utmost regularity, and without any inconvenience to the ordinary traffic of the thoroughfare.”

(The Times, 3rd April 1851, p. 5)

This wonder is not only at the number of things, but also at the movement of things: the  “utmost regularity” by which so many packages are moved with order and precision. This sense of the ceaseless, repeated mass movement of items through the streets is evocative of technologized motion; while the waggons are an old form of pre-industrial transport, the consciousness of the railway age here turns them into the mechanisms of a machine-like motion filling London’s streets.

By May 1st 1851, most of the items for display had arrived in the Exhibition – with a few notable omissions, such as “the contributions of native produce from Western Australia, including the newly discovered woods from Shark’s-bay […] which were delayed by an accident to the vessel they were shipped in” (The Times, 8th May 08, 1851; pg. 6). But while a few late announcements of displays follow, attention now mostly turned to passenger transport which will be the subject of my next post.

*my focus here, as in previous posts, is on The Times; I’m currently working through local and regional newspapers to compare with and complement the London focus.

Transport & Mobility History Seminar – Summer Programme

The Transport & Mobility History Seminar at the Institute of Historical Research, London, starts again for summer term this Thursday, 27th April. Nicola Kirkby (King’s College London) is giving a paper titled “End of the line: Mental mobility in Howards End”. The seminar starts at 5.30pm, and is in N304, 3rd floor, IHR, North block, Senate House (n.b. slight change of room from last term).

The remaining two dates of the summer programme are:

25th May: James Fowler (University of York): “Who Shall Guard the Guards? – London Transport Governance 1905-33″

22nd June: Meet the Transport Archivists: confirmed speakers are Tamara Thornhill (Corporate Archivist, Transport for London) and Faye McLeod (Archivist for Jaguar Heritage Trust Archive, British Motor Museum); final speaker tbc.

The seminar is convened by David Turner (York), Tamara Thornhill (Transport for London), Christopher Phillips (Leeds), Charlotte Mathieson, (Surrey), Oliver Betts (National Railway Museum), Mike Esbester (University of Portsmouth). Details of the seminar can also be found here.

Mobilities, Literature, Culture Conference @ Lancaster University 21-22nd April #MLCConf17

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After months of preparation, last week the Mobilities, Literature, Culture Conference took place at Lancaster University. The conference, organised by myself, Marian Aguiar, Lynne Pearce and Bruce Bennett, launched the new Palgrave series Studies in Mobilities, Literature and Culture.

Like the series, the conference aimed to provide a forum for scholars working at the intersection of literary and cultural studies and mobilities theories – scholars drawing upon cultural geography and/or sociology to gain new insights into literary and cultural texts, and those making use of literary and cultural texts in theorizing of space and movement. We invited papers discussing a broad range of transport modes, in a variety of textual forms, across historical periods and geographical spaces, and we were not disappointed by the wonderful variety of work presented. Across the two days we had papers from the Roman era to the present day, on different modes of movement across land and sea – railways, cycling, walking, running, boat; a variety of textual forms and genres, from Chinese landscape painting, Hollywood cinema, Early Modern drama, oral narratives, locative sound art, crime fiction, and nineteenth-century novels; spaces of mobility such as the American roadside and hotels; and travelling things, from cases of whisky to bodily organs. We were also delighted by the international response to the CFP and welcomed scholars from South Africa, New Zealand, Canada, USA, Poland, Lebanon, Austria, Switzerland, France, and Spain.

The panel sessions were framed by two fantastic plenary papers. Kat Jungnickel (Goldsmiths, London) began proceedings with her paper ‘Secret Cycling Selves: How Victorian women negotiated multiple mobile identities through patented cycle wear’, a fascinating exploration of how women came up with innovative solutions to the problem of cycling in unsuitable skirts by creating adaptable clothing – wonderfully demonstrated by Kat, who wore a replica 1890s skirt that had been recreated by her and a small research team from Victorian patents of the original inventions. On the second day, Marian Aguiar (Carnegie Mellon) spoke about ‘Drifting:  Agency, Mobility, and the Image of the Maritime Migrant’. Marian’s timely work looks at “drifting” as a form of sea-mobility that allows us to rethink key issues of the mobilities paradigm; from the identity of the maritime subject, the vectors of geographical movement when they are released from mapped routes, and the intersections of politics, legality, environment, and cultural representation through which migrant subject experiences of drifting are enacted and perceived.

The conference concluded with the screening of a new film by director Andrew Kotting, who has undertaken mobile projects with Iain Sinclair. Their latest, Edith Walks, traces a 108-mile pilgrimage from Waltham Abbey in Essex to St Leonards-on-Sea in East Sussex, in memory of Edith Swan Neck, wife of King Harold, reconnecting the lovers after 950 years. The film raised questions around the role of mobility in memory and recreation, temporality and the landscape as a source of memory, and the relationship between past and present in mobile practices.

The conference team also spoke on a roundtable on future directions in mobility studies, with invited participants Peter Merriman (Aberystwyth), Ruth Livesey (Royal Holloway, London), and Nick Dunn (LICA, Lancaster). The roundtable discussion reiterated what the conference as a whole encapsulated: that mobility studies is at an exciting moment, now well-established as a dynamic point of intersection between the humanities and social sciences, and with many new directions to explore in future work.

The series editors – myself, Marian and Lynne – finished the conference by talking with prospective authors about projects for the series. If you would like to know more or are interested in submitting a proposal, the poster is below and you can either contact our Palgrave editor Allie Bochicchio or get in touch with me or the other editors directly to discuss an idea.

The conference also had a very lively twitter feed #MLCConf17 – thank you to everyone who captured this all! – and I have created a Storify of tweets here.

Thank you to everyone who presented, participated, and followed along online, and to the Lancaster Centre for Mobilities Research which provided a fantastic venue for the conference.

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Registration open: Mobilities, Literature, Culture Conference

Registration is now open for the Mobilities, Literature, Culture conference taking place on 21-22 April at Lancaster University, Centre for Mobilities Research.

The conference is the inaugural event of Palgrave Studies in Mobilities, Literature and Culture, and highlights include:

Plenary speakers

Marian Aguiar (English, Carnegie Mellon University, USA)

Kat Jungnickel (Sociology, Goldsmiths, University of London)

Film screening and Q&A with Director Andrew Kötting

Roundtable on “New Directions in Mobilities Studies” featuring

Nick Dunn (Institute for the Contemporary Arts, Lancaster   University),
Ruth Livesey (English, Royal Holloway, University of London),
Pete Merriman (Geography, Aberystwyth University)

More about the conference is available on the website, and  registration is here.

The conference is organised by Marian Aguiar (Carnegie Mellon University), Bruce Bennett (Lancaster University), Charlotte Mathieson (University of Surrey) & Lynne Pearce (Lancaster University).

New research: Sunburn and tanning in Victorian medicine and culture

A new year brings a new project focus, although this one – on sunburn and tanning in Victorian medicine and culture – isn’t exactly new; it has been developing over the last few years, and has already generated a couple of publications, a number of talks, and some funding applications. The research process to date has been very piecemeal however, fitting around multiple jobs, cross-country moves and other publication priorities; but now that I am settled in a job and have wrapped up some other projects, this can take centre-stage as the next big project that I’ll be working on in coming years. It therefore felt about time that I (finally) write about the project here.

The project’s genesis was a footnote in my PhD thesis, where I noted that the suntanned traveller is a common trope in the Victorian novel, and that he typically appears as a positive figure: the benevolent imperialist (Peter Jennings in Gaskell’s Cranford), the doctor-saviour (Woodcourt in Dickens’s Bleak House), the marriageable sailor (Captain Kirke in Collins’s No Name). While these are often fleeting, incidental references, there seemed to be something interesting going on in the way in which suntanning was being used with these characters; suntanning was clearly being used to signify something, although it wasn’t immediately apparent exactly what. My attempts at interpretation were somewhat slippery, moving across and between different possible meanings; and these suntanned figures, almost all of them white British gentlemen travellers, seemed to push at the borders of so many expectations and concerns around Victorian bodily norms – race, masculinity, class, health.

I wrote this up into an article and then a section of my book on global journeys, and as I researched the subject I began to collect (and then, amass) a wealth of references to sunburn and tanning across the literary and cultural sphere. Suntanned figures are everywhere in Victorian writing, from dashing bronzed gentlemen travellers to lightly browned ladies in the Lakes, reddened jolly sailors to ruddy, hale farmers. Not only are they everywhere, but these references generate many, often conflicting, meanings, not just about suntanning but also more broadly about health, identity, status, and nationhood.

This project started then from trying to situate the suntanned traveller’s body and understand what he (and sometimes she) might mean. It has grown into a broader enquiry into understanding sunburn and tanning across the medical and cultural sphere, centring around the question: what did the Victorians think about when they thought about sunburn and tanning? What did suntanning mean to them, and why?

The commonly held assumption is that the Victorians thought about sunburn and tanning either negatively, or not at all; that sunburn was a marker of the labouring body – in the fields, at sea, or at war – and that it was only in the early twentieth century, with the advancement of scientific understanding about suntanning and health, that the tan became aesthetically appealing. My work moves existing research back by a period of 70 years or so to reveal a more nuanced picture about the history of suntanning in the Victorian period, one which has much to tell us about the Victorians’ attitudes to bodies and health, and about the ongoing cultural fascination with tanning today.

Looking at the period from around 1820 to 1890, I’m focusing on three areas of enquiry:

  • How was sunburn and tanning understood in Victorian science and medicine? Where did it fit in Victorian scientific enquiry – who was studying it, how and why?
  • How were sunburnt and tanned bodies ‘read’ in Victorian culture; what might this tell us both about what suntanning was coming to signify, and more broadly about Victorian ideas of the body?
  • How did knowledge move across the scientific and cultural spheres: how did advances in medical knowledge inform cultural perspectives on sunburn and tanning, and how was scientific enquiry into tanning shaped by cultural attitudes?

The range of literature the project encompasses is broad, to say the least. In science and medicine I am looking at literature in biomedicine and photomedicine which reveals early advances in understanding the constitution of the skin and the composition of UV light, and the field of tropical medicine which examines the impact of climate on health. My literary and cultural research includes the appearance of suntanned figures in fictional and non-fictional writing, from novels, poems and plays to rural and travel literature, examining these in relation to discourses of race, gender, class and health.

The fluidity across medical and cultural spheres takes shape in the (loosely termed) field of public health literature, from advice books and guides aimed at travellers and colonial settlers, to pamphlets and advertisements for new products to treat sunburnt skin – products like Rowland’s Kalydor, advertisements for which appear frequently in the pages of literary periodicals (this one is found in the adverts accompanying Dickens’s Our Mutual Friend, for example):

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Advertisement for “Rowland’s Kalydor”, found in the advertisement pages of many Victorian periodicals

As things currently stand I’ve done a lot of work in identifying sources for further research and in mapping out the conceptual framework of the project; the next stage is to undertake further archival research on the primary literature to build up a more detailed and nuanced understanding of these bigger questions. Thanks to a pump-priming funding award from Surrey’s Faculty of Arts I’m able to start on some library trips this month, in preparation for further grant applications this year. Once this is underway I’ll also start to work on the next publication outputs, revisit the monograph plans, and begin presenting on the research again – something which has generated a lot of useful feedback so far – as well as working on the opportunities for public engagement generated by this research, which speaks to some contemporary issues around cultural attitudes towards tanning today. Suggestions for further reading are very much welcome and I’d be grateful for any other leads that readers that might have.

Writing a Transport History of the Great Exhibition II: Planning the Exhibition

In this series of posts I am writing up some of my initial work on the transport history of the Great Exhibition, on which I recently presented at a workshop of the York Transport Historians. In the first post I wrote about how this project came about and gave an overview of the shape of the research as it currently stands. In this piece, I start by exploring the planning stages of the Exhibition.

II. Planning the Exhibition

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Tallis’s Railway Map of Great Britain, 1851

Transport networks were crucial from the early planning stages of the Exhibition in the late 1840s. A network of committee members travelled around the country to garner support for the Exhibition, making use of the railways to do so, and Joseph Paxton noted that his first meeting with Robert Stephenson about the design of the Crystal Palace was a chance encounter on the railway.

As the international remit of the Exhibition became certain a global network of representatives came into effect, operating mostly via postal correspondence – the speed of which was facilitated by quickening times of steamers. In fact Henry Cole, in his lecture “On the International Results of the Exhibition of 1851”, anticipated that one of the first legacies of the Exhibition would be the formation of a global Postal Association which would create a standardised, uniform system of postal rates, much like that effected by Rowland Hill’s Post Office Reform, across the world.

Back in London the first planning decisions centred upon where the Exhibition would be located. Hyde Park was one of just several possible options, with sites at King’s Cross, the Isle of Dogs, and Battersea fields among others proposed:

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Some of the proposed locations for the Exhibition (marked in yellow), and London railway termini (red), using Cross’s 1851 London Guide produced for the Exhibition

Transport was central to discussions about the site: access was vital not only for the large number of visitors anticipated, but more importantly for the delivery of objects. Proximity to railway termini was one factor: as can be seen from the map, despite the growing national scale of the railway network the number of termini in the city was still relatively limited in 1851. King’s Cross offered an ideal site given that the railway station connected with the north and west of England, from where the majority of UK displays would be arriving.¹

Access to water was equally, if not, more important though: a far greater number of goods would be arriving from overseas. Transporting a large number of items overland from the docks by waggon, on the scale required, would be costly, time-consuming, and potentially disruptive to the city’s road network. Battersea fields and the Isle of Dogs had the advantage of proximity to the river, removing the need for overland journeys – ships would be able to sail straight up-river, or send on smaller loads by boat.

Hyde Park had neither the advantage of rail nor water access:

“There are no means of access, either by water or by railway, to Hyde-Park. This is so serious an objection that were there none other forthcoming it should be decisive upon the subject. The cost of transporting the materials and of removing them, the expense of conveying the bulkier objects that are to be exhibited to the repository, must of necessity be vastly increased in amount in consequence of the selection of Hyde-park as the site of the intended Exhibition.”

(The Times, 2nd July 1850, p. 5)

It is almost surprising that Hyde Park was the final choice, given how much surrounding discussion focused on the significance of transport networks. What Hyde Park did offer, however, was the benefit of centrality for visitors, removing the need for lengthy cross-city journeys for those who would already have travelled into London. But its river and rail connections did continue to be a feature throughout the ensuing preparations, a theme I’ll come back to in a later post.

Transport preparations were also coming into effect around the country: repairs to railway lines were pushed forward, and a new locomotive series built. This wasn’t limited to Britain: plans were underfoot to ensure the smooth passage of Austria’s contribution:

“A committee has been formed, under the auspices of Government, for taking into consideration the best means of worthily representing Austria at the great exhibition of manufacturers &c., in London. 10,000l. has been granted by the Minister of Commerce for the construction of roads in Croatia and Sclavonia, and it is proposed to construct a railroad between the Banat and the sea coast.”

(The Times, 25th March 1850, p. 3)

While Spain and America announced early on that there would be free passage for exhibitors:

“Spain had offered large rewards and free passages for the articles of exhibition. The Governor of New York would represent the American people, and free passage would be given for objects intended for the exhibition.”

(The Times, 3rd May 1850, p. 3)

The precursor to the Exhibition, then, was a climate of discussion about transport, both nationally and internationally. There is a sense, in these early months, that Britain begins to realise the capabilities of the networks it has created, and to recognise the Exhibition as the moment in which they will come to fruition. As one poem of 1851 reflects,

“The Prince conceiv’d his giant scheme,

Invok’d he then the aid of steam,

And all the energies of man,

To realise his glorious plan.”

The Crystal Hive; or, the first of May, 1851, Charlotte Theresa Wheler (London, 1852)

This paved the way for the transport of exhibits, the subject of my next post.

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¹ The King’s Cross Station building that stands today wasn’t completed until 1852, but a temporary passenger station at the end of the Great Northern Railway line was open from 1850.