Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Lady Gardeners

I found this picture on Twitter, shared by Kew Gardens. It's how the first young women who worked as gardeners at Kew dressed (so as not to "distract" anyone!) in 1896.

Monday, 13 March 2017

Local History I Never Knew

Occasionally, I read the blog Beamish Buildings, because one of the staff at Beamish is the daughter of a woman I went to school with. Just recently, Shannon has been researching Georgian hearse houses, which were built in churchyards, as they are building one at Beamish at the moment.
She's been looking at examples of surviving hearse houses across the North of England - and one of the best sources mentioned in the blog is at St Mary's, Prestwich.


I used to go to this church as a child - I went to the C of E Primary School, and we occasionally used the church for services. I remember a carol concert when I was in the choir - we were doing it by candlelight and torch in case (or possibly because) of a power cut. Graham Ward, from my class, sang the solo first verse of Once in Royal David's City from the back of the church, and it was so beautiful....
I also remember a service where I had been chosen to do a reading from the pulpit (I could only just see over the top). It hadn't occured to me to mention this honour to the rest of my family - my gran found out by accident, and came to stand in the back of the church to listen to me. I was so focussed on what I was doing, I never noticed her.
It's also the church usually used for filming when they need a church in Coronation Street!

So I remember the church, but I don't remember a hearse house!

It seems the local history of the area where I grew up was more interesting than I had imagined.

Friday, 3 March 2017

Trowelblazers - Dorothea Bate, Welsh Palaeontologist

Since it's close to St David's Day, I thought I'd choose a Welsh archaeologist this time. Dorothea Bate was born in Carmarthenshire, the daughter of a police superintendant.
In 1898, when she was nineteen, she went down to London and talked her way into a job at the Natural History Museum - and stayed there for fifty years. Her first job was sorting bird skins and later she prepared fossils, being paid piece work, by the number of fossils she prepared. She was learning all the time, and in 1901 she published her first scientific paper, "A short account of a bone cave in the Carboniferous limestone of the Wye valley", which appeared in the Geological Magazine.
She also visited Cyprus, first at her own expense and in 1902 with a small grant from the Royal Society, where she discovered the fossil bones of a new species of dwarf elephant, which she named elephas Cypriotes. She was able to do this with the help of a family connection on the island.
Later she visited other Mediterranean islands, making other discoveries of previously unknown prehistoric fauna. She was known for using dynomite to get at the fossil layers! Most of this work was financed from her own pocket, and she was unable to become a scientific member of staff with the museum, as this was forbidden to women until 1928.

The Coves dels Coloms in Majorca, where Dorothea Bate found the remains of Myotragus balearicus, the mouse goat

She became friendly with the archaeologists working at Knossos, including Sir Arthur Evans, while working in Crete, and in the 1920s worked with Professor Dorothy Garrod in Palestine. In 1937, they published The Stone Age of Mount Carmel, detailing the prehistoric fauna found there, including a hippopotomus.
In China, she worked with Percy Lowe on fossil ostriches - and she also found a fossil giant tortoise in Bethlehem!
She was consulted throughout her career by other archaeologists, including Louis Leakey, for her expertise in identifying fossil bones.
During the Second World War, she was transferred from London to Tring, where she eventually became officer-in-charge when she was nearly seventy. She died in 1951, and sadly, shortly after that, her personal papers were destroyed in a house fire. Her field notebooks, however, have been preserved at the Natural History Museum, including detailed maps of the islands where she worked.
Last year she was the subject of an episode of a Radio 4 series called Natural History Heroes (still available on iplayer), and there is also a book called Discovering Dorothea by Karolyn Shindler.

Friday, 24 February 2017

Zhou Shu Liang, Painter of Native American Scenes

Over on Facebook, I've been sharing beautiful art to break up the relentless bad news of current affairs, and I came across this artist. Zhou Shu Liang was born in China, and comes from a family of artists. In 1982, he moved to the United States and gained his BFA in painting from Massachusetts College of Arts in 1986, and his MFA from Boston University in 1989.
While he was there, he spent some time painting scenes of the Wampanoag Indian culture at the outdoor museum in Plymouth, Massachusetts. He's made Native American culture his speciality since then, and his paintings are beautifully detailed. He pays a lot of attention to historical accuracy, and has made many contacts and friends among Native tribes across the US.
Many of his pictures show Native warriors, but the one I particularly liked when I visited his website at www.liangstudio.com was this one:

It's called Pueblo Market 1920 - and it immediately made me think of one of the main characters in my Steampunk stories. The white lady bending over the little girl's wares is just as I imagine Amelia Harper would be.

ZS Liang's prints and paintings are available at several galleries in the United States.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Oblivion Storm by RA Smith

I met Russell Smith at a couple of EasterCons, and saw him speak on several panels, where he was interesting and amusing, so when I saw his book on a stall at EasterCon last year, I had to give it a go.
It says something about the length of my "waiting to be read" shelf that I've only just now got round to reading it!
I thought I was getting a Victorian mystery at first, with a plucky street urchin become heiress heroine....
and then we were in a modern tube station, where a different woman was being attacked.
From then on, the time line moved between the two, as the modern woman tried to regain her memory after the attack, and work out why someone was trying to kill her, and the Victorian lady appeared to her as a ghost, and went through her own adventure in her own timeline.
There's lots of action, maybe a little too graphically described for my tastes (but I am a bit of a wuss), so what I liked were the quieter moments where "Rose" worked out how to use the new supernatural powers she'd acquired to help ghosts move on. The scene with the ghost in the pub was very good. "Rose" also gets two fun sidekicks in the form of Kara the paranormal researcher and Jennifer, who has superpowers of her own.
But it all comes back to Grenshall Manor in the end, and the secret in the North Wing.

This is book one of a series, and I also have Book 2 waiting, which I'm looking forward to.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Fishe or Fowle

I saw a recommendation for a CD on Twitter a while ago, and it sounded interesting enough for me to order the CD.
It's traditional music at its finest, performed by Kate Fletcher and Corwen Broch, on a variety of interesting and obscure instruments such as the Kravik lyre, Trossingen lyre, Saxon lyre, the slovisha gusli (whatever that might be!), Welsh crwth and pibgorn, bagpipes and more. And some fine singing as well. They even include a list of the instrument makers who made the instruments used on the CD - and in the list of people they thank, they include "the trees and animals whose dead bodies made our instruments".
There are two CDs in the sleeve. The first has a variety of songs such as The Seal-Woman's Sea-Joy and other songs about seal-folk, the Song of the Travelling Fairies, and the title track Fishe or Fowle - a song about shape shifting.
The second CD is one long epic The Play o'de Lathie Odivere, sung once with musical accompaniment and once without. The song was first collected in the Orkneys in the 1800s, but the tune was collected in 1938 in Orkney by Professor Otto Andersson of Finland.
It's a quite magical album - it certainly transported me to another world while I was listening - and it can be found at www.ancientmusic.co.uk

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Women in Science Day

Apparently, it's World Women in Science Day, so I thought I'd share a photo of an astrophysicist called Naziyah Mahmood:

As well as being an astrophysicist, she did her postgraduate work in Space Mission Analysis and Design. She has worked for the European Space Agency and has also worked on particle physics projects with data from CERN. As a STEM Development Manager, her role was to promote gender equality in science and engineering fields. (STEM is Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths).
The YWCA chose her as one of Scotland's Most Inspirational Women Under 30, and EQUATE Scotland (an organisation for gender equality in science) chose her as an Inspiring Woman in STEM.
She was born in Scotland, and her family is of English, Pakistani and Arab origins. Most of her family are engineers, and she is also a hijab-wearing Muslim.

Naziyah practices martial arts, particularly the Korean style of Haidong Gumdo, with swords.
And she's a poet and short story writer.
And she's acted in the adaptation of a novel by Amy Hoff, Caledonia, which became a web series.
She also cosplays.

And she's done all of this with eyesight poor enough to be described as "partially blind" (which at the moment rules her out of her ambition to be an astronaut, for which applicants need 20/20 vision).