Tuesday, 14 May 2013

The Letter

So it's the middle of May, and Derby Museum doesn't seem in any hurry to announce the winners of their writing competition, which were supposed to have been decided by the end of April.  I wish I could present this as the winning entry, but hey, I'm proud of it anyway.  This is the letter I wrote for the 1001 Words competition.

Letter from White Watson to his nephew William



Inspired by the White Watson tablet of Ecton Hill


Bakewell
January 9th, 1799

My dear William

I take up my pen to write, hoping this finds you in good health and safely established in London.  Bookselling is a fine profession; I am sure you will soon excel in it.  If you should happen across Priestley’s Passages of Scripture send it to me, I would be most grateful of it.  Your father & sister & brother are all well & send their love.

I enclose £1 in thankful recognition of & payment for your kind help with the fossils, and  beg that you would also receive with the appreciation it was given this tablet of the Ecton Hill strata.  You will remember how pleased I was with the valuable information from the copper and lead miners there; which combined with my own observations of the area, have made it an easy matter to construct an accurate representation of the rock layers. 

A brief explanation, if I may: I have rendered the limestone in our own Ashford Black Marble, carefully marked to show the direction of the strata.  Points of interest are marked A, B and C along the base, as you will notice; and these correspond as follows.  A is a vein of copper ore, of the kind which have caused these hills to be worked so profitably from ancient times; and indeed in our own time the Duke of Devonshire is adding to his fortune from these very mines.  B shows what is termed a lum; that is a species of different stone injected between the strata, I believe through volcanic activity.  Finally C represents a quantity of refuse drawn out of the mine; this corresponds closely in structure to B.  The whole gives an instant impression of the beds of limestone and of their various inclinations.

These tablets I believe are a most ideal way of showing the landscape under ground, being both decorative and durable, and having the facility to incorporate real specimens of the rocks found in the area.  I hope eventually to make a number of tablets delineating sections across Derbyshire, for the use of those engaging in mining, botany, chemistry and other fields of study in the county.

The grotto at Chatsworth is coming on admirably & I am in hopes of having it finished by the end of this month.  You will have to see it, Will!  Placing the great sandstone boulders to form the structure was a week’s work for many men; once that was achieved we lined the whole with crystals of copper ore to give a most brilliant and scintillating effect of green & gold.  The stalactites and stalagmites look most natural, if I say so myself, and I am affixing the last of the fossils and specimens from Her Grace the Duchess’ fine collection.  Truly it will be a scientific delight as well as a feast for the senses.

The Duke of Rutland celebrated his birthday Friday last, and we had a pleasant party at Haddon Hall.  I had a most interesting conversation with His Grace about the care and breeding of racehorses.  Sir James asked after you particularly and was gratified to learn that you had a good place in London.

I hope to be in London this summer for a meeting of the Linnaean Society.  Be sure I will look you up during my stay.  It has certainly been an honour to become Fellow of this Society, new though it is.  I am much interested in perusing their collection of botanical specimens; over 14 000 plants alone, acquired by the great Linnaeus himself.  My own collections are meagre by comparison; yet I flatter myself that I have made some small contribution to the sum of human knowledge.

It will soon be warm enough to be out in the garden again.  I plan to sow carrots and onions again as they did so well last year; the lettuce suffered from the heat, but it may be that we do not have such a warm spell this year.  I am engaged to draw a profile of Mr Bossley tomorrow, though I don’t know if he will want it in marble; I rather think it will just be an ink sketch this time.

With all good wishes for your continued health and employment, I remain, dear William, your affectionate Uncle,

White Watson

Saturday, 4 May 2013

Tutbury Castle

After living in Texas for a while, where any building dating back to 1900 is really old, and most of the cities were open prairie not 200 years ago, it has lent a certain depth to life to be back in a country where the dust of history clings to your shoes at every step.  Where the parks are centred on crumbling manor houses, the villages were mentioned in the Domesday book of 1086, and the public toilets are probably prehistoric.  Any given circle of, say, a 20 mile radius is likely to encompass more than a smattering of stone monuments, ancient churches, medieval field systems and such like (as carefully noted on the incomparable Ordnance Survey maps), and the circle centred on our current residence is no exception.  Amongst other things it includes Tutbury Castle, to which we journeyed one cold and sunny April morning.

The entrance
According to their website, the site has been occupied since the Stone Age, which makes it old in anyone's book.  However, it wasn't until the 11th century that the Normans came along with their "I'm bigger and better than you, and besides, I speak French" castle-building mania, and quelled the locals by sticking a fortification on top of the hill.  In the following years the castle was destroyed and rebuilt, destroyed and rebuilt again, and finally left as a romantic ruin.  Whereupon, this being Britain, someone opened a tea shop in it.  Can't have a romantic ruin without a cup of tea and a nice currant bun, now can you?

Tea shop in the building on the left
Toby was much enamoured of the steps: some cut into the side of the hill which he took at a run, and a spiral stone staircase to be carefully navigated holding Dad's hand.



Historical step graffiti
He also attempted to reconstruct the 12th-century chapel, but was hampered by lack of materials.


You lost a shoe!
The best part of living in a castle must have been the views, which in this case were stunning.  Hauling the weekly grocery shop up the hill must have been a bit of a pain, and by all accounts the insulation was rather substandard.  Mary Queen of Scots certainly thought so, when she was imprisoned at Tutbury; and they carefully made sure her windows faced the courtyard, so she didn't even get the view to compensate.  I don't suppose those pretty little gardens were there then, either.





Well, that's one historical monument ticked off the list.  I guess it's the medieval field system next.  Don't think anyone's opened a tea shop there yet, though.