The programme is now online for this term’s Transport and Mobility History seminar at the Institute of Historical Research. It promises to be an excellent term with a fascinating range of papers lined up, covering African railways, women at sea, and Napoleonic prisoners of war, from Di Drummond, Jo Stanley and Elodie Duche. Full details including times and location are on the programme, hope to see some of you there.
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
“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:
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):
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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)
The conference is organised by Marian Aguiar (Carnegie Mellon University), Bruce Bennett (Lancaster University), Charlotte Mathieson (University of Surrey) & Lynne Pearce (Lancaster University).
I’m very pleased to be co-convening this new research seminar on Transport and Mobility History at the Institute of Historical Research, along with David Turner (York), Tamara Thornhill (Transport for London), Christopher Phillips (Leeds), Oliver Betts (National Railway Museum), and Mike Esbester (University of Portsmouth).
The seminar starts next term with the schedule as follows:
19/01/2017: Dr. David Turner (University of York) – Paddling with partners: British railways, resort authorities and the promotion leisure travel, 1909-1914
16/02/2017: Dr. Rudi Newman (Independent) – From Stephenson to Suburbia: the Socio-Economic Impacts of the Coming of the Railways to the Chilterns.
16/03/2017: Dr. Chris Philips (Leeds Trinity) – “Privileged Greatly to Serve his Nation in Days of Mortal Danger”: Sir Eric Geddes and transport management on the Western Front.
All events are at 5.30pm on Thursdays in the Pollard Room N301, 3rd floor, IHR, North block, Senate House. We can be contacted at IHRtransportseminar@gmail.com and details are also posted here.
On Wednesday I spent an excellent day at the York Transport Historians workshop “Making the Connections: Transport and its Place in History“. It was a very fruitful day of interesting papers and discussion on everything from canals to Concorde, and every mode of transport in between. I was pleased to get the opportunity to present on some research that I’ve been carrying out on a transport history of the Great Exhibition.
This work emerged from an older paper on Henry Mayhew’s novel 1851: or, the Adventures of Mr and Mrs Sandboys. The paper is on the mobility of material culture, something that Mayhew’s novel quite wonderfully depicts in a succession of comic (often absurdly so) instances. I was writing a footnote, when I found myself needing to cite a comprehensive transport history of the Great Exhibition – something that told me the what, when and where of exactly how 6 million people and 100,000 objects moved across Britain and the world to the doors of the Crystal Palace. As I researched it, I realised that the work I needed to cite was one that needed to be written, and so this paper was born.
It would, of course, be remiss to state that no work on Exhibition transport exists. The symbiotic relationship between the Great Exhibition and the transport revolution has long been acknowledged: to Victorian commentators the Exhibition was the “natural result” of steam technology, a spontaneous outburst of the age of steam:
“The German journals are quite captivated by the idea of the great exhibition […] They regard it as a great step in the progress of different countries towards cosmopolitanism, and treat it as a natural result of the development of railways, steam communication, the electric telegraph…”
(The Times, 31st October 1849, p. 6)
This has become something of a critical commonplace; but little dedicated attention has been given to detailing a comprehensive transport history of the Great Exhibition. Of course the notable exception is railway passenger travel, studies of which have abounded and become a familiar part of the broader narrative of railway history. But the railways have been studied largely in isolation from the many other modes of transport that were fundamental to passenger travel – steamboats, sail ships, carriages, omnibuses, cabs and pedestrianism. Consideration of the movement of objects to the Crystal Palace has also been a theme in discussions of the emergence of commodity culture, global commodity flows, and the international politics of the Exhibition. Less has been studied, though, of the practical logistics of how things actually travelled from, say, a mine in upstate New Jersey to the doors of the Crystal Palace.
This work started, then, as an enquiry that seeks to create an account that is detailed and nuanced in its understanding of Exhibition mobilities, while working towards an expansive grasp of the range of these journeys. In doing so, I want to both account for the (often fascinating) practicalities of Exhibition transport, and better understand the relationship between the Great Exhibition and the mobile culture of mid-Victorian Britain. By the end of the Exhibition, The Times posed a retrospective question:
“one of the most wonderful facts of the Exhibition is the mode in which its visitors came to it. How did they all get there?”
(The Times, 20th October 1851, p. 4)
It is this question that I seek to answer, as well as to reflect upon the interests, motivations, and cultural contexts that lay behind it.
In the paper I presented yesterday, I traced a brief overview of this work: from the planning and preparation discussions in which transport was a crucial factor in decisions about the location and scope of the Exhibition, through to reflections on the Exhibition’s outcomes in which bold statements about a new mobile culture could be made – “a new phase in the history of the world”, as one piece in The Times put it (Wednesday, June 11th, 1851, pg. 4). I followed the movements of objects as they travelled over land, sea, and across London to reach the Crystal Palace at Hyde Park, and then explored the many and varied ways in which people journeyed to the Exhibition by ship, horse-drawn transport, and even on foot.
My sources thus far have been a variety of cultural documents: novels such as Henry Mayhew’s 1851, as well as poems, plays, diaries, and religious tracts. My focus in yesterday’s paper was the research that has occupied me recently, a survey of 1209 newspaper reports published in The Times from 1st January 1849 to 31st December 1851. The Times survey – while making no claims to comprehensive breadth – has provided a useful lens through which to construct a ground-narrative of Exhibition history as it unfolded across the period. In foregrounding chronology, it has allowed me to perceive the nuanced ebbs and flows in attitudes towards different forms of mobility across the period: to realise, for example, that attention to (and celebration of) the railways comes relatively late in the Exhibition period, and that attention to shipping forms a vast and, to my knowledge, largely unexplored history of the period.
As this starts to make clear, the focus and tone of newspapers reportage also helps us to think about how the Victorians produced and consumed knowledge about transport technologies. What has become most apparent to me through this is the extent to which, I argue, the Exhibition represents the moment when modern mobility became acutely visible to the Victorians for the first time: while the networks that it relied upon had been growing for years, the Exhibition stimulated a rapidly emerging consciousness, accompanied by a great sense of excitement, at what it meant to be living in a newly mobile age. While this is easily equated with “Exhibition fever” as a whole, there is a particular narrative of mobility within this that was important in Britain’s thinking about itself as a nation on the move, and as interested in understanding and, crucially, in charting its own transport history as it was unfolding in the present moment.
In a series of blog posts to follow I will post some of the initial thoughts and findings from this research.