I am a frequent visitor to the Enlightenment Derbyshire website for, as many of you already know, I have a particular fondness for the history of the early years of the industrial revolution during the 18th century. I blame my engineer father who, when I was a tiny child, would take me around the old Birmingham Science Museum to admire their treasures, amongst which the massive Smethwick engine built and designed by James Watt when he was in partnership with Matthew Boulton ( my hero) was one of my favourites,especially when it was working. It is now on display at the Thinktank Musuem in Birmingham and is still operational.
In particular I love to learn about the members of The Lunar Society and the development of the industrialisation of the midland counties of England. We tend to forget, I think ,that Jane Austen lived at a time when the innovations of this technological revolution were part of her every day life. To give only two examples, the canal system was being developed throughout the country, and there were excavations very near to Jane Austen’s homes in Hampshire. The Basingstoke Canal was created in 1778 and the Andover Canal,which reached as far as Southampton, was built in 1789 . And she enjoyed the fruit of the Industrial Revolution’s labours when she ate and drank from the china Wedgwood designed and made when at her Chawton home, and when she was at her brother’s home at Godmersham in Kent.
The Derbyshire that was home to Fitzwilliam Darcy was likewise teeming with evidence of the industrial revolution, and a site that allows us some glimpses into that world is Enlightenment Derbyshire a website run by staff from the Belper North Mill, Buxton Museum and Art Gallery and Derby Museum and Art Gallery (and also with staff from Renaissance East Midlands). The Project is managed by Ros Westwood, the Derbyshire Museums Manager, who is based at Buxton Museum and Art Gallery. Other staff involved in the project include the lovely Anna Rhodes, the Enlightenment Assistant Collections Officer at Buxton Museum and Art Gallery who, I am proud to say, often comments here.
The project is funded by the heritage Lottery Fund Collecting Culture initiative, which was designed to help museums develop their collection of objects through strategic acquisition programmes. The Derbyshire Museums have chosen to share the news of their acquisitions though the medium of this site,and I think it is a wonderful way to keep up to date with developments and with the new items they have added to their collections.
Some have resonances with Jane Austen. A recent acquisition is the amazingly beautiful and rare second edition of the Atlas Coelestis’ by John Flamsteed, which was published in 1753. Here is an illustration of part of it from their site showing the constellation of Cassiopea:
This constellation is of course, mentioned by Jane Austen in Chapter 11 of Mansfield Park as Fanny vainly tries to tempt Edmund to go star-gazing on the lawn only to find he is more attracted to the charms of Miss Crawford playing the pianoforte for the Mansfield Park Glee Group.
I love looking at the wonderful articles this group of museums are purchasing. Doing so via this site is a wonderful way to attract and inform very large audience, many of whom would find it difficult to visit Derbyshire to see them in person. A recent post about a visit to Lichfield the beautiful cathedral city birthplace of Jane Austen’s beloved Dr Johnson and which is only a few miles from her cousin Edward Coopers home of Hamstall Ridware is fascinating. The article on William Wordsworth and his reaction to the beautiful Derbyshire scenery of Dovedale is a must read too.
So, I urge you to go and explore this site. You will be enthralled by its contents, as am I.