Have you ever wondered where we get the terms ‘left’ and ‘right’ wing in politics? One strong possibility  was the arrangement of parties in the newly elected National Convention which met in Paris early in 1793. The building in which the future of Revolutionary France was decided had rows of seats forming an arc around the chair from which the President presided. Those who sat to the left were the Jacobins, a radical party who wanted to overthrow the monarchy, and those that sat to the right, the Girondists who wanted a ‘gentler’ Revolution with the King having a part to play in the future of the country.


A session of the National Convention in 1793

This was the situation when the newly elected  member from the Pas de Calais Region attended. His name was Thomas Paine, author of ‘Common Sense’ and ‘Rights of Man. Born in Thetford, England he had made himself unpopular with George III and his Government by supporting the American Revolution. Having lived in America during the wars with Great Britain he had returned to the UK but escaped to France when summoned for trial. On entry to this country he was given an honorary  citizenship and election to the Convention as one of only two foreigners. Here he was witness to the most chaotic and bloodthirsty years of the newly emerging French Republic.

Originally treated as a hero through his condemnation of the tyranny of Monarchs he soon became embroiled in French Politics. and it was not a happy experience. The Convention first turned to the future Constitution of France, a country which had turned its back on the Monarchy with its trappings of power ever since the storming of the Bastille in 1789. Paine, with the Girondists,argued that Louis XVI should be punished for his behaviour which included a recent escape attempt ; the Jacobins wanted the death penalty. The Jacobins had the majority vote so Louis was guillotined on the 19th January 1793 – one black mark against Paine.

Meanwhile France declared war on England and began the process of assembling its Grande Armee through conscription. The increasingly radical demands of the Convention led to revolts throughout the country especially in the Vendee against the Government and the Convention responded by sending out soldiers to put down these revolts in a violent and bloody manner. Back in Paris the Jacobins aided by the Paris mobs denounced the Girondists and Jean Paul Marat, President of the Jacobin Club, demanded the purging of the Convention. As these events unfolded Paine became increasingly despondent as to the course of the Revolution and when Marat was found not guilty of the serious charge of inciting the nation to riot and anarchy, he began to despair of his life because he had supported the impeachment as a witness in the trial. Matters came to head in May when the Jacobins organised an insurrection against the Girondins in the Convention. Using troops to surround the building the surviving Girondists were arrested and later executed. To Paine’s horror the Days of Terror and the ‘Committee for Public Safety’ led by Robespierre had arrived!


Maximilien Robespierre

Paine at this point began a serious effort to escape France but he could not get the necessary authorisations as The Jacobins did not want recent events to jeopardize France’s relationship with the US. Things in France were now going from bad to worse with citizens encouraged to spy on and accuse their neighbours  and the Revolutionary Tribunal condemned many to death. Eventually Paine himself was denounced, relieved of his membership of the Convention and on Christmas 1793 arrested and thrown into the Luxembourg Prison.


Execution of Marie Antoinette July 1793

Initially conditions were not too bad as the prisoners were allowed exercise, able to purchase food and even write letters but as Robespierre’s grip on the country tightened  using the slogan ‘equality or death’, the prisoners were locked in their cells with increasing numbers added each week. ‘Madame Guillotine’ reigned as Paine listened to the screams of those fetched each night to the Court where with very few exceptions they were condemned and executed the same day. Paine knew that one day in the near future his cell door would be chalked by the guard for this treatment but in a remarkable  piece of luck when this actually happened the mark was overlooked! Soon after Robespierre was overthrown, executed and the country returned to some kind of normality with an anti Jacobin Government. Paine eventually left France for America in 1802 having witnessed the rise of Napoleon to power. He stayed in America until his death in 1809, maligned  and unpopular partially due to his links with the French Revolution .

tom paine1

Plaque in Paris honouring Thomas Paine.




For many years I lived at Hodder, the former Preparatory School of Stonyhurst College. Nearby was the College itself – an imposing structure some of whose buildings date back to the 17th Century. The College is a Jesuit Foundation and I have always been interested in its history and over the years have collected letters, illustrations, postcards, books,  photographs etc which are relevant to this aim. In this article I intend to describe some of the major landmarks in the story of the College and introduce some of the characters who were either students or staff there.

The College is situated in the area of Lancashire which is known today as the Ribble Valley. This is a area of green fields with  interspersed moorland hills and ( because of the climate) abundant watercourses which include the River Ribble itself. Nestling under Longridge Fell with Pendle Hill, the site of the 17th C witch trials, not far away it has a forbidding appearance when viewed from a distance especially on days when cloud is wrapped around the neighbouring uplands . Indeed Arthur Conan Doyle who was educated at Hodder and Stonyhurst in the 19th C is said by some to have used its situation when writing ‘The Hound of The Baskervilles’ as there were far more wild spaces around the College at that time.

The College site was originally occupied by  a strange looking asymmetrical structure known as Stonyhurst Hall built for a local family of note – the Shireburns in the early 17th Century on the foundation of a Catholic Chantry. Thomas Cromwell is supposed to have resided there with his troops on his way to the Battle of Preston in 1648 and nearby there is an old packhorse bridge across the R. Hodder, a tributary of the Ribble, which also bears his name.


A view of Stonyhurst Hall (‘The grandest half house in England’) at about the time it was first used by the College. Note the ponds in front of the building which were used by the Mill

In the late 18th Century the Weld family who lived at Lulworth Castle in Dorset inherited  the Hall and its surrounding estates through marriage.They like the Shireburns were Catholics who had suffered persecution especially during the reigns of Elizabeth and James I. One consequence of this was that the Catholic education of the sons of these families was forced abroad and one of the Colleges established there (in 1593) was St Omers in northern France. This College and its accompanying Seminary laid down the foundations for the Jesuit syllabus and customs which still marks the College year today. In 1762 the Pope expelled the Jesuits from the Catholic Church and thus began a period when the students and staff of St Omers moved from place to place in order to escape the consequence of this action. Finally in 1793 the soldiers of Revolutionary France invaded the Netherlands and Flanders and the only solution available was that the College move across the Channel to England. This was fortuitous as at that time England was softening its attitude to Catholics and indeed had passed a Relief Act in 1791 permitting, under strict conditions, the building of Catholic Schools and Chapels.

In August 1794 a number of priests, seminarians ( trainee priests), boys and servants crossed the English Channel. There are various accounts of their numbers but is believed that the total did not exceed forty with some of the boys as young as thirteeen years. Previously representatives of the College had been able to contact the Weld family who had offered Stonyhurst Hall as a temporary refuge. The journey was not only hazardous but extremely tiring as the party had to walk across England to reach the Hall and there are many varying stories about which boy reached Stonyhurst first. Once there the Priests and other masters set about establishing a new College and, because Thomas Weld the owner eventually gifted the College and its lands to the Jesuits, they also began an extensive building programme which by the 1830s had resulted in a structure which has some similarities to the modern buildings.


The above view based on an 1830s painting shows the west and south faces of the College at that time. Note the Seminary, St Mary’s Hall, in the distance and Pendle Hill in the background.

As stated above the academic structure of the College was modelled on that in St Omers. The names of years were based on the classical tradition from ‘Figures’  for the youngest students through to ‘Rhetoric’ for the oldest boys. Boys who wanted to continue their education after the age of sixteen enrolled as a ‘Gentleman Philosopher’. The syllabus was also based on humanistic principles with a large dollop of religious studies thrown in. Catholic students were not permitted to study degrees at English Universities until at least 1840 so potential high flyers had to go abroad for appropriate courses when they left the College. In the early years of the College’s existence only the sons of ennobled and landowning Catholics attended and the surnames of those enrolled includes many references to the Arundell, Clifford, Weld and Vaughan families.


This record shows the names of the headmasters (president or rector), year masters and Prefects of Studies ( responsible for academic matters) between 1794 and 1833). The original President, Marmaduke Stone, was also the last headmaster of ‘St Omers’ 

For instance if we look at the Cliffords, the head of the family during the early years of the College was Charles 6th Baron Clifford of Chudleigh (situated in Devon). He had attended ‘St Omers’ in the last years of its existence and he sent his many sons to Stonyhurst. The eldest Hugh was groomed to be the future 7th Baron so when he left Stonyhurst in 1806 he was sent abroad first to further his academic education and then on the Grand Tour to finish his study of ‘men & manners’. His second son Charles also had an inheritance to acquire (Irnhan Hall in Lincolnshire) but the others Edward, Walter and Robert were encouraged to become Jesuit priests – although Robert rebelled and died fighting in the service of the King of Sardinia. This pattern was typical of upper class Catholic families at this time and it led to a steady supply of future Catholic or Jesuit Priests. As for the daughters ( and Charles Senior had five) they ended up either married to the elder son of a suitable Catholic family or they became nuns. Both sexes of siblings had very little choice in the matter!

What was life like for students in the College at this time? Extant letters and diaries paint a mixed story of blessings and tribulations. The masters, mainly Fathers or Novices, seemed on the whole to take their responsibilities seriously and there were Prefects appointed  to look after the welfare of the students. However the discipline varied from the over zealous to the lax – the Philosophers in particular getting away with bad behaviour. The living conditions and food seemed to have got better the further up the College the students progressed but outside of classes and study periods there was generally little for them to do. The weather in the damp Ribble valley did not help and events such as games were often cancelled. A letter written by  Philosopher William Cobb ( a future Provincial or Head of the Jesuit Mission in England) in 1824 refers to both the ‘great deal of rain’ and the ‘scarcity of material’ to write about. Neverleless William managed to write nearly 2000 words to his friend Robert Clifford ( who was then studying in Italy) about the minutiae of college life.

There were times of the year when things got a bit more interesting. As William described in his letter Shrovetide was a time for adventure and feasting before the rigours of Lent. Also Christmas ( when the vast majority of students stayed at College) was not only a religious festival but also the time when the elder boys  put on a serious play and a farce. This event was inherited from St Omers and was eagerly looked forward to by everybody. The plays were selected from a variety of sources including Shakespeare and the actors were sworn to secrecy about their parts, which were all male, with the plays often rewritten for this purpose. The costumes and props were elaborate – John MacDowell in a letter sent to his mother in 1838 describes his as ‘made of purple velvet trimmed with gold with pink slashing down the sleeves…the head dress a black bonnet with a beautiful plume of ostrich feathers’. Today Stonyhurst still maintains the tradition of showing plays in its own purpose-made public theatre. Finally there were the various sports including the  ‘Grand Matches’ a form of football with a ceremonial edge in early Spring ( although William referred to them as being ‘poor’ due to the weather in 1824) and a form of cricket  known as ‘Cat’ which was played in the summer with home made balls.

grand match

Grand Match Day at Stonyhurst – the match was played with an oval ball and a relatively short pitch. Large numbers of boys were divided into two teams one raising the flag of Great Britain the other of France.

As the 19th Century progressed the building work in the College continued. Notable amongst these projects were the redesign of the south front to produce the impressive structure today, the building of St Peter’s Church and the addition to Hodder, the Prep school, of two chateau style turrets. The school overlooked  the River Hodder  which ran in a steep gorge next to it bending dramatically in front with the fields between known as ‘paradise’ by the boys. Many generations of boys bathed in the river water around Hodder and crosses situated near the river here mark the spots where boys and masters were drowned. In 1971 the Prep School move to St Mary’s Hall and the buildings were converted into flats and houses for private use. Unfortunately all the original fixtures and fittings disappeared during this period!


The east front of Hodder c 1900 with its two chateau style turrets which were erected in 1870.  I lived  in a the far turret and the rooms behind  from 1992 to 2005 after the school had been converted into separate houses and flats.

The passage of years was marked by new generations of students. Gradually the old recussant families of  Cliffords, Arundells etc were replaced by the boys of middle class parents although some such as James the 10th Baron Arundell left his mark by donating his extensive library to the College including a Shakespeare First Folio. And in the late 20th Century girls were finally admitted as students, making the College today a modern Public School advertised as being in ‘the Jesuit Tradition’.

Features of note through the 19th and 20th centuries include the importance of evidence concerning recollections of College life presented during the Tichborne trial of 1873 when Arthur Orton claimed to be the rich Sir Roger Tichborne an alumni of the College, the poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins, a seminarian at the College, which were partially inspired by the bluebell woods and bubbling waters of the Hodder and the landscape of Lord of the Rings which some say was influenced by the local scenery as J R R Tolkien stayed at the College for lengthy periods whilst visiting his sons there.

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A pen and ink sketch of the west front of the College executed in 1933 which I found in a local ‘car boot’ sale


The first industrialised cotton mills were opened in the 18th Century and by the middle of the next Century there were over 2500 mills in Lancashire employing over half a million workers. The mills either prepared and spun the cotton or wove it into cloth before exporting it over the whole world. The location of this powerhouse of the Industrial Revolution in Lancashire was due to the proximity to the Port of Liverpool which imported raw cotton from America, the fast flowing streams which initially at least powered the mills, the damp climate and and the abundance of coal for the machines.

Conditions inside the factories were grim especially before various Factory Acts were passed in the 1830s and later. Men, Women and children worked a 12 to 14 hour day six days a week. The noise in the factory was deafening due to the noise of the looms and overhead pulleys bringing in the power- this led to the development of a peculiar method of communication between the workers known as ‘mee-mawing’ a combination of mime and lipreading. Also the air in the factory was kept very hot and humid to strengthen the cotton threads and these threw up a fine choking dust.

The work was divided up according to age and sex with the men generally getting the better paid jobs which included operating the huge steam engines driving the looms and supervising on the factory floor. Women had various less well paid jobs some of which required a high degree of skill with many in charge of four to six weaving looms, making sure they were working properly and replacing the shuttles on a frequent basis so that the manufacture of cloth never stopped. Children as young as 10 or 12 years in age had basic tasks which included working under the machines retrieving spare cotton or investigating a blockage. Accidents were common with clothing, hands and arms being caught in the machines and there was generally no insurance. Disease was also rife due to the cotton dust, high humidity and the contrast with the conditions outdoors’

As stated earlier conditions for the workers gradually improved during the middle and latter part of the 19th Century with shorter working hours and longer holidays. The annual holiday when all the factories closed down at the same time was known as Wakes Week. When I first lived in Lancashire in the late 1960s this holiday was still in force even though there were very few working mills left. The whole town shut down with all local shops and businesses closed – you couldn’t even get a newspaper. Everybody had gone to a seaside resort such as Blackpool! ( this was before the days of cheap foreign holidays)

There are various websites which relate this story in more detail. One of these is:


So we in the UK are going to the polls again in June to elect a new government and the media are already discussing this ad infinitum! But what were elections like in Georgian times? There were some similarities – in place of television debates a multitude of pamphlets, broadsides and squibs were produced either backing the Whigs ( the Liberal party) or the Tories ( the King and Church party) and newspapers were just as political in the 18th C as today. Again once the election had taken place the results were analysed and mused over by much of the population.

However there were considerable differences. The most important one was that only the propertied class, roughly twenty percent of the population, were allowed to vote (and  this did not include females). This did not stop others from getting involved from canvassing (as famously by the Duchess of Devonshire) to heckling and worse at the Hustings. Bribery and corruption were widespread with offers to the electorate of ale, meals, transport (to the vote) and even cash (which seems terrible but might be favourably compared to the empty promises offered by politicians today!) Candidates therefore had to have considerable means or a rich sponsor.

The hustings were a world in itself – candidates addressed the crowds of potential voters (and the mob) and were expected to give as good as they got. John Wilkes a Liberal candidate is purported to have answered a heckler who cried out that Wilkes would get the pox or hang by shouting ‘it depends whether I embrace your mistress or your principles’! The election usually went on for several days as voters were ‘bussed in’ from the countryside and usually riots, drunkenness and civil disorder reigned during this time. And the voting was far from being secret – any body could examine the written records.

Once elections across the country had finished the results were eagerly awaited although they took several days or even longer to be transmitted to Westminster. Some of the more wealthy classes even employed ‘pollsters’ to give predictions of the likely makeup of the new Parliament.

Hogarth’s illustration of the victorious candidate being ‘chaired’ around the town whilst fighting took place between the various factions of the mob is a telling if exaggerated representation of the reality of Georgian politics. Are things any better today? Certainly we do not have such violence and corruption but untruths, negative campaigning, ‘spinning’ and  generally adversarial politics have not helped to produce open and honest debates about the main issues. Finally I would beg the various media especially the BBC to recognise that there are other issues that occupy the UK (and the world) today and 24/7 politics is more likely to confuse and to put people off voting than help them with the various issues ( I know this is my personal gripe!!)

An 18th Century Duel

Duels  (although technically illegal) were very popular in the 18th Century due to their association with honour and manliness. One such event of this type occurred on the morning of the 15th November 1711 at the Ring, Hyde Park London the offended parties being James, 4th Duke of Hamilton and Baron Mahon. They had been bitter enemies for years partly because they were on opposite sides of the political spectrum, Lord Hamilton a Tory and Lord Mahon, a violent dissipated man by all accounts, a Whig. However it is generally  agreed  that what they were really fighting about was money!

In 1702 the 3rd Earl of Macclesfield died leaving a huge estate – Ld Mahon believed it was his because he had been made the heir to the 2nd Earl, Ld Hamilton because his wife was related to the Earl.  In the years following the Earl’s death both claimants had fought a legal case in the Court of Chancery and patience had run thin. Whatever the reason observers at the time recounted how insults had been traded between the two aristocrats and this had led to the fence off! When they met there were of course two ‘seconds’ – Colonel Hamilton (a relative) for the Duke and General MacCartney for the Baron. So after the usual preliminaries the fight started but what was unusual for the time in England ( but common in France) was that the two seconds also fought! What followed was in many respects unclear but a passing man witnessed the Duke drag the Baron to the ground and skewer him. However when the duel had ended the Duke was also dead and in the resulting investigation MacCartney was accused of killing him. MacCartney fled to the Continent as accounts unravelled before the public but eventually he returned to stand trial  and was acquitted due to lack of evidence.

The duel became notorious and was described in Thackeray’s ‘The history of Henry Esmond’ and Bernard Burke’s ‘Anecdotes of the Aristocracy’. There is also a more modern book which analyses the events surrounding the duel: ‘High Life, Low Morals’ by Victor Slater (pub. 1999).

I have been unable to find out who eventually did inherit Macclesfield’s money although it is highly likely that most of it went on attorney’s fees !



Danny Boyle in the 2012 London Olympic Games presented agricultural workers as having an idyllic life in  18th Century  England before the noise and misery of the Industrial Revolution. Whether this sort of nostalgia is justified is open to some question but Danny may just as easily have presented a similar case for the Yorkshire Woollen Weavers. In the 18th Century many observers including Daniel Defoe noted their high standard of living as artisans. For instance William Radcliffe said of this group in the latter part of the century:

‘Their dwellings ..are clean and neat, all the family well clad, the men..each a watch in his pocket,..the women dressed in their own fancy…each house furnished with a clock…handsome tea services in Staffordshire ware….many had their cow..’

So who were these weavers and was these descriptions of content and ease justified? The Yorkshire weavers, unlike their Lancashire counterparts, used wool for their craft which was essentially operating a hand loom producing cloth from coarse fustian to intricately patterned material. At the top of the pecking order were the master clothiers who employed journeymen weavers working full time in the ‘shop’ of the clothier or in his own home.  The journeymen weavers were real craftsmen working on their hand looms on the top floor of cottages where rows of windows allowed light to flood in ( the families lived below). Very often they had time to spare, starting and finishing work when they desired, and they educated themselves not only to read and write but also as weaver poets, biologists, geologists, artists etc. Many probably dreamed of becoming a Master in their own right able to buy the spun wool and sell the finished product pocketing all the profit. Thomas Bolton of Halifax (1722-1768) was one of this group. From the letters he wrote to fellow enthusiasts around the country  it is clear that he had a great interest in birds, insects, rocks and especially plants all of which he collected and attempted to classify on his frequent field trips to various parts of Northern England. His friends and correspondents not only included fellow weavers but also gentlemen, scientists, gardeners and apothecaries. Today he is remembered in the name of a dragonfly: Cordulegaster boltonii.

So far so good in justifying the weavers comfortable existence in the mid  to late 18th Century. However even at this time many other weavers, perhaps those less skilled, were only employed when work was plentiful and this group needed work such as farming to put food on the table. And this situation gradually spread to the journeymen as the 18th turned into the 19th Century especially after the Napoleonic Wars ended in 1815. This was not due to mechanisation as powered wool looms were slow to develop but primarily because the labour market increased dramatically when soldiers, sailors and other workers were laid off as the war machine came to a stop.Employers assembled the weavers into hand loom ‘factories’ and cut the wages paid for their labour. Riots and demonstrations, including The March of the Blanketeers (1817), took place as the weavers, both of cotton and wool, demanded a living wage. They were largely unsuccessful in their demands.

The following verse, written in dialect by a weaver summarises how he was now left in penury and starvation:


‘Aw’m a poor cotton-wayver,as mony a one knaws

Aw’ve nowt t’ate i’th’heawse, un’ aw’ve worn eawt my cloas

Yu’d hardly gie sixpence fur o’ aw’ve got on

Meh clogs ur’ baws’n, un’ stockins aw’ve none





In England during the early 1790s the American Revolution and publications such as Tom Paine’s ‘The Rights of Man’ caused a stir amongst the large number of people who did not own property or have a say in who was elected to Parliament. This led to establishment of the first working class organisations pressing for reform and in particular The London Corresponding Society . Founded in 1792 by a shoemaker Thomas Hardy with eight other members it grew to a maximum of about 3,000 members within a few years. The  organisation and purpose of the Society is best expressed by Hardy himself who described the first meeting:

‘After having had their bread and cheese and porter for supper, with some conversation on the hardness of the times…the business for which they met was brought forward – Parliamentary Reform’

Here we have a ‘flavour’ of  the way in which these mainly independent tradesmen conducted a meeting – to complain about the difficulty of making a living ( due to what they deemed unfair taxation) but above all to press for a more democratic House of Commons. To this latter end they began to print and distribute pamphlets and their numbers as noted above soon increased as under the rule of the Society ‘that the number of ..Members be unlimited’.

Meanwhile the French Revolution spawned Jacobin Clubs and the Government under William Pitt feared that there soon would be a similar uprising in the England. In a frenzy of paranoia similar to to McCarthyism in 1950s America they decided  to clamp down on such clubs and societies with especial treatment for the LCS. The Society was infiltrated with Government spies and as a result of their activities  Hardy and two other prominent members John Horne Tooke and John Thelwall were arrested in 1794, charged with treason, interrogated by the Privy Council and then confined to the Tower ( just as in Elizabethan times!!). The Government also promoted the distribution of anti LCS  propaganda – an engraving demonising its members is shown above. However ( unlike the 16th Century) English Law eventually prevailed and when the accused were brought to Court they were found not Guilty by the Grand Jury and were set free to the cheers of the London crowds. However the Government promptly passed a number of Acts and the LCS was outlawed in 1799.

It is clear from minutes of meetings of the LCS and sister organisations that they were not advocating Revolution but simply a change in Government which had for so long been in the hands of the landowning classes. Pitt and his ministers, fearing a breakdown of law and order, had overreacted. Of course this was not the end of the story as the principles underlying of the LCS led to the Chartist Movement of the 1820s and eventually to the 1832 Reform Act which produced a much fairer distribution of Parliamentary seats across England and a larger electorate ( although  at that time still only 5% of the population !)




James Hutton (1726-1797) was an important contributor to the Scottish Age of Enlightenment especially in the science of Geology. For centuries scholars had believed that the age of the earth could be calculated by counting back the number of generations listed in the Bible until the creation of the earth and the Garden of Eden . In fact in the early 17th Century Archbishop Ussher had stated that the earth was created  precisely at 6pm on the 22nd October 40004 BC ! In the early 18th Century scientists began to seriously doubt this figure and Hutton using observation and reasoning was the first to convincingly demonstrate an alternative chronology. Visiting the coast of Berwickshire with his friends in 1788 he noted that two types of rocks were exposed. The lower sequence were tilted and twisted, the upper made of almost horizontal layers. Between the two was a flat surface which he called an ‘Unconformity’. He reasoned that the lower twisted rocks had in the remote past been convulsed and lifted upwards forming mountains. These were then eroded to a flat plane and on this surface the upper rocks were eventually deposited. This all took a lot of time much longer than Ussher’s age of the earth. In fact one of his friends noted that ‘Hutton’s mind seemed to grow giddy by looking far into the abyss of time’

Fast forward into the 19th Century and to the life of Charles Lyell (1797-1875). Lyell took up Hutton’s mantle. Visiting Mount Etna he noted as had many visitors before him that the volcano had been almost continually active as far back at least as the Roman Empire. Using his observations and those of others he found that over the last few hundred years Etna had erupted five times a century on average and each lava flow was roughly 0.02 cu km in volume so that 5x 0.02 = 0.1cu km of lava was erupted each century. Now using recent calculations of the total size of Mt Etna as 2000 cu km he  calculated the approximate age of Mt Etna (see if you can do the Maths!). The answer is 20,000 centuries or two million years! This was an incredible age to come up with at this time especially as Lyell noted that the volcano lay on much older rocks.

The pioneering work of Hutton, Lyell and many other (mainly British ) geologists established a detailed chronology of the last 600 million years of the earth’s history during the later Victorian period. Modern methods, using radioactive minerals, have extended our knowledge so that today we believe that the age of the earth is much older – approximately 4,500,ooo,ooo years.




In 1789 Voltaire stated that  ‘it was to Scotland that we look for our idea of civilisation’. During the 18th Century that country, and in particular its capital Edinburgh, was at the forefront of the Enlightenment the movement in which rational processes and thought drove progress. An important part of its reputation was due to  Edinburgh  University where English, as opposed to Latin, was used in classes. The Principal in the mid 18th Century was William Robertson, the founder of the modern subject of Sociology, and round the University lived scientists, philosophers, poets and economists. They included James Hutton who first demonstrated that the earth was millions rather than thousands of years old, Adam Smith whos textbook on economics: ‘The wealth of Nations’ was the source book for modern capitalism and the pioneering philosopher David Hume. In fact one English visitor standing at the centre of Edinburgh commented that he could in a short time ‘take 50 men of genius by the hand’ and the theories and ideas of men such as these were extensively discussed in both the University and in debating societies such as the Poker Club.

Along with its reputation as a hotbed of learning came a vision of a modern Edinburgh and in the 1750s a competition was launched to find an architect who would design a classically inspired layout which would banish forever Edinburgh’s nickname as ‘Auld Reekie’. The winner was the relatively little known James Craig and in the succeeding years he built the new town with its elegant Georgian buildings and squares and the result was that many a visitor from England on the Scottish ‘Grand tour’ commented favourably on the cleanliness and lighting of this part of Edinburgh when compared to London.






In 1633 Whitehaven on the coast of the Irish Sea in north west England was a small isolated fishing village. By the mid 18th Century it was the third largest trading port in the UK after London and Bristol. What led the this dramatic rise in Whitehaven’s importance? The short answer was coal ! Whitehaven and the surrounding areas had the deepest coalmines in the world and exports of the ‘black diamond’  from its harbour took place on a colossal scale during its heyday with Ireland receiving the bulk of the trade. Whitehaven also imported large quantities of sugar and spirits from the West Indies and tobacco from Virginia and Maryland. It had large dockyards which built over 1000 ships during the 18th and 19th Centuries. Its importance was such that during the American War of Independence  John Paul Jones the American commander mounted a daring raid on the harbour hoping to burn and destroy the scores of ships sheltering there. Fortunately for Great Britain he was largely unsuccessful although this raid did alert the Government as to the vulnerability of ports such as Whitehaven to invasion.

To the north of Whitehaven is Workington which also exported coal  although not on the same scale as Whitehaven. The main trustee of the harbour during the late 18th and early 19th Century was John Christian Curwen MP(1756-1828) cousin of Fletcher Christian, a mutineer on the Bounty. The Christians were a Manx family who emigrated to the mainland in late 17th Century and proceeded to accumulate land and develop coalmines. I have a fascinating list of the Rules for the operating of Workington Harbour dated 1791. As might be expected the turnover of ships both importing cargo ( mainly live cattle) and exporting coal could have led to complete confusion if  the rules were not enforced. Reading these it is obvious that Workington built ships and ships loading coal from Curwen’s mines had precedence  whereas other ‘stranger’ ships had to wait their turn. Also there were penalties if ships refused a load of coal or became ‘neaped’ that is they took on so much coal that they did not float off when high tide returned and other ships had to load coal over them.

Both of these harbours gradually became less important during the 19th and 20th Centuries as trade gradually shifted to major industrial areas such as Liverpool and the Ports of the Clyde serving Glasgow. Today these towns are part of a mainly rural landscape situated to the west of the Lake District National Park.