New Book by Leona Skelton: Tyne after Tyne: An Environmental History of a River’s Battle for Protection 1529–2015

Book cove In March 2017 Leona’s Skelton’s book on the history of the River Tyne was published by White Horse Press.

Over the last five centuries, North-East England’s River Tyne went largely with the flow as it rode with us on a rollercoaster from technologically limited early modern oligarchy, to large-scale Victorian ‘improvement’, to twentieth-century deoxygenation and twenty-first-century efforts to expand biodiversity. Studying five centuries of Tyne conservatorship reveals that 1855 to 1972 was a blip on the graph of environmental concern, preceded and followed by more sustainable engagement and a fairer negotiation with the river’s forces and expressions as a whole and natural system, albeit driven by different motivations. Even during this blip, however, several organisations, tried to protect the river’s environmental health from harm.

This Tyne study offers a template for a future body of work on British rivers that dislodges the Thames as the river of choice in British environmental history. And it undermines traditional approaches to rivers as passive backdrops of human activities. Departing from narratives that equated change with improvement, or with loss and destruction, it moves away from morally loaded notions of better or worse, and even dead, rivers. The book fully situates the Tyne’s fluvial transformations within political, economic, cultural, social and intellectual contexts. With such a long view, we can objectify ourselves through our descendants’ eyes, reconnecting us not only to our past, but also to our future.

See more details and order the book on the White Horse Press Website.

Read also a blog by Leona on her new book on the publisher’s website.

Land + Water exhibition

LandW_exhibition_posterFrom 14-18 March,’The Power and the Water’ project presents ‘Land + Water’, an exhibition of work by ceramic artist Tana West, in the Verdon-Smith Room of Royal Fort House, University of Bristol. The exhibition is free and open to the public – just buzz the Institute for Advanced Studies to get through the secure entrance!

‘Land + Water’ exhibits new work by West, made from mud extracted from the bed of the River Severn, and older work which explores connections to land, water, and that liminal substance: mud.

The exhibition builds on a collaboration between Tana and Dr Marianna Dudley (Bristol, Rivers strand).  Marianna organized a one-day outdoor workshop on the banks of the River Severn to explore the place of the river (and its mud) in local identities and environmental ideas. Led by Tana, a diverse group of participants, from academics to amateur potters, community group members to passers-by, learnt how to manufacture objects using traditional techniques in a creative exploration of place. Some of those objects are now included in the exhibition.

Tana will be giving a talk about her work on Tuesday 15 March at 5pm. For (free) tickets, follow: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/land-water-private-view-and-talk-by-tana-west-tickets-22491843710

The IAS is also holding a related interdisciplinary event, IASIS – MUD: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/iasis-mud-tickets-22159328147

‘Land + Water’ is an exhibition by ‘The Power and the Water: Connecting Pasts and Futures’ project, funded by the AHRC Care for the Future theme. Additional support comes from the Institute for Advanced Studies, and Centre for Public Engagement, University of Bristol.

Tyne talks exhibition

Team member Leona Skelton has developed an exhibition for the Old Low Light Heritage Centre at North Shields about the history of the Tyne River and the people living on its banks. Placing the river itself at its heart, this exhibition enables us to hear the Tyne’s own story, of the enormous changes it underwent as it wove itself literally and metaphorically through Tyneside’s story and Tynesiders’ lives from 1530 to the present.

The exhibition opens on 11 June and will run until 25 June. More info on the Old Low Light Heritage Centre website.

A Call For Memories

As part of The Power and The Water Project (http://powerwaterproject.net) I am based at the University of East Anglia, and am looking at the creation and development of the Electricity National Grid from Its introduction in discrete towns and cities by entrepreneurial individuals through to the huge infrastructure that supplies our electricity today.

One of the areas I would like to investigate is the effect this had on individual people, families and communities. For example Godalming in Surrey was the first place in Britain to have street lighting powered by electricity. In a letter written to his local paper in 1953 a Mr George S. Tanner recalls his memories as a 12 year old boy;

lamp“The lamps were much as they are now but slipped into two brass slides like an inverted letter U. In those days we boys often had magnets to play with and the similarity intrigued me, so one day in our showroom when no one was about I took a needle to see if the electricity would act as a magnet and held it across the base of these two slides. The needle vanished and on my finger and thumb were deep white hollows where the needle had been. It had instantly fused. This was never done again as you can imagine.”

He goes on to recall;

powerlines“The wires were not insulated then. The dynamos were at Pullman’s Mill and the river gave the power so the wires were brought overhead from there along the bottom of the Vicarage garden. At that time the wooden bridge was out of repair. The present brick bridge (which I remember being built) had taken its use and so it had decayed and become fenced in with a closed fence and the wires were carried along overhead of this, not very high up. There was opposition as you can guess to anything new and the story goes that two men with their cargo of beer came along one night and one lifted the other up to tear the wires down. But when he grasped them the current imprisoned both.”

“The story goes that old Mr Bridger who at one time was Mayor (or several times so) had shares in the Gas Company. He, it is said, liked his liquid nourishment. The arc standard by the Market House was loose and one night he was ‘out to get one back’ for the Gas Company and so embraced it and shook it and was heard muttering, “B- b- b- ‘lectric light!””

He finishes his letter by saying;

“I do not suppose all this has much value for your information, but now on the edge of 86 I feel that these little memories should be passed on.”

factoryAnd that is where I would like your help. It is important to understand what happened in areas and individual premises where electricity was introduced. Other stories I have heard include a man found bouncing on his bed whilst trying to blow the electric light out and children being bathed in milk pasteurising containers because they were electrically heated but the farmer didn’t trust electricity enough to have it in the house.

Understanding how electricity was both perceived and received by people is important not just for posterity and historical records but also to develop ways of integrating new technologies into everyday life and to understand how better to disseminate information regarding their introduction, use and potential.

Brain/ideaI would be very grateful if anyone has any stories or memories they would share with me. The people involved can remain anonymous or if they wish can have their name associated with their comments in any published articles (in which case could they add their name, and place of residence as they would wish to have it published).

You can contact me through any of these methods. Thank you for any hep you can give to me.

Email: K.Button@uea.ac.uk

visit the web pages: http://powerwaterproject.net/

 

Postal Address: Electricity Memories,

Kayt Button

School of History

Faculty of Arts and Humanities,

University of East Anglia

Norwich

NR4 7TJ