Barb Drummond

Beyond Bristol History


The following short articles were written for Suite 101. They are all shortened versions of other works.  


The world was horrified by the tsunami that struck Asia several years ago. To most of us, it was the first time we’d heard the word, the first time such a terrifying incident could strike out of the blue, without warning.

An Account from England and Wales

But it has happened before, many centuries ago near the Bristol Channel in England. The following is based on an account in The Gentleman’s Magazine of 1762, printed in response to a report of a disastrous storm near Quesnoy, France. It quotes extensively from a pamphlet in the Harleian library which was written soon after the event in 1607. It is worth quoting in detail:

“On Tuesday January 27 about 9 in the morning, ‘the sunne being fayrly and bryghtly spred,’ huge and mighty hills of water were seen in the elements, tumbling one over another in such sort as if the greatest mountains in the world had overwhelmed the low vallies, to the inexpressible astonishment and terror of the spectators, who, at first, mistaking it for a great mist, or fog, did not on the sudden prepare to make their escape from it; but on its nearer approach, which came on with such swiftness as it was verily thought the fowls of the air could not fly so fast; they perceived that it was the violence of the waters of the raging seas, which seemed to have broken their bounds, and were pouring in to deluge the whole land, and then happy were they that could fly the fastest. But as violent and swift were the huge waves, and they pursuing one another with such rapidity that in less than 5 hours space, most part of the countries on the Severn’s banks were laid under water, and many hundreds of men, women, and children, perished in the floods. From the hills might be seen herds of cattle, and flocks of sheep, with husbandmen labouring in the fields, all swept away together, and swallowed up in one dreadful inundation. Houses, barns, ricks of corn and hay, were all involved in the common ruin. Many who were rich in the morning were beggars before noon, and several perished in endeavouring to save their effects.”

Though described as a storm, it is clear it was more than that. There was no rain, no warning, the ‘hills of water’ are typical of tidal waves, or tsunami. The simple, calm language is somehow more chilling than the television images we saw in Asia.

Bristol and Aust suffered terribly, and all the country from Bristol to Gloucester on both sides the Severne, was overflowed to the distance of six miles, and most of the bridges over it and the adjacent buildings were destroyed or defaced...the waters raged so furiously and came on so fast, that, upon a moderate supposition, there cannot be so few persons drowned as 500, men, women and children; besides many thousand herd of cattle that were feeding in the valleys, together with sheep, hogs, horses and even poultry, all of which were suddenly immerged in the waters and could not escape.”

Death Toll

The claim of 500 dead seems an underestimate, though was just for the region of the Severn valley. Of course the population of this country was far less in those days, the record keeping less accurate. But you can imagine today’s tabloids screaming of thousands dead, the rush of TV crews to the site if this happened today..

The damage extended far south to the low lying “fenny gounds” round Bridgewater in Somerset and Barnstaple in Devon where “There is little now remaining there to be seene but huge waters like to the main ocean; the tops of churches and steeples like to the tops of rocks in the sea; great reekes of fodder for cattle are floating like ships upon the waters.”

People huddled on church steeples and roofs of houses where they watched helplessly as their friends and family sank beneath the waters. Some shared tall trees crowded with exhausted birds from turkeys to sparrows that were too exhausted to fly to safety.

The article describes not just the devastation, but of several miraculous escapes. A milkmaid survived, too afraid to sleep, with a Noah’s Ark of wild animals climbing over and around her for two days on top of a mountain of dead beasts, “yet the one never once offered to annoy the other, but in a gentle sort they freely enjoyed the liberty of life without the least expression of enmity, or appearance of natural ferocity.”

A small boy survived by wearing a coat that floated, then clung to the corpse of a bloated sheep. A mother and her three children floated to safety using her wooden bread trough. An old blind man floated to dry land in his bed. “many more there were... that through the handy works of God were preserved; but there were not so many so strangely saved, but there were as many in number as strangely drowned.”

Surviving the Tsunami

There is no account of the aftermath. Of how long it took for the waters to subside, of how people survived without clean water, without food, how they found the strength to bury the corpses, to clean up the mud, to rebuild houses and bridges.

In the wake of the Asian tsunami, scientists were blamed for not providing warning of the wave’s approach. Steps are now in place to build early warning systems. Science will protect us.

In the past they had no science, only their faith. Instead of condemning the experts, the blame, like the devastation, was spread across the community.

“This mercilesse water, breaking in to the bosome of the firme laund, has proved a feareful punishment as well to all other living creatures, as also to all mankinde; which, if it had not bin for the mercifull promise of God, at the last dissolution of the world by water, by the signe of the raine bowe, which is still shewed us, we might have verity beleeved this time had bin the very hour of Christ his coming; from which element of water extended towards us in this fearefull manner good Lord deliver us all. Amen”


“Lo, Lukins comes, and with him comes a train

Of Parsons famous for a lack of brain;

With Owl-like faces, and with raven coats,

Their solemn step, their solemn task denotes,

By exorcising, prayers and rebukings,

To drive seven sturdy devils out of Lukins.”

On 13 June 1788 an exorcism was carried out in Temple church by the vicar, Reverend Easterbrook, a man famous for his care of the poor and with Wesleyan leanings.

Demonic Possession

George Lukins came from Yatton, a village south west of Bristol in Somerset where locals thought he was bewitched. He had fits, shouted abuse, and impersonated animals and became too weak to work. He claimed he was possessed by seven devils so needed seven clergymen to pray for him, but as they could not be found locally, Rev. Easterbrook was asked to help.

He had been treated by surgeons who claimed he suffered ‘a grievous hypochondriack disorder.’ Laudanum failed to put either the devils or Lukins to sleep. He was even sent to London’s St George’s hospital in 1775. Their records are lost but a source claimed that after 20 weeks he was discharged as incurable.

Bristol Exorcism

Rev. Easterbrook offered to help but was too busy to got to Yatton, so Lukins came to Bristol on 7 June and attracted attention by his strange behaviour. Easterbrook contacted Anglican colleagues who agreed the case was a supernatural affliction but refused to help. John Wesley also declined, though six of his followers agreed to attend.

They planned a quiet meeting in the vestry of Temple church, with a number of “serious persons”. But the event was published in the papers so a huge crowd gathered round the church, and accounts were soon printed and distributed on the streets of Bristol, Bath and London.

Easterbrook published his own version of events: "At 11 am Lukins began singing in a high voice and was very agitated. A deep voice criticised him for being silly and that his scheme would not work. After blaspheming, threats and summoning his servants, a female voice made more threats and something like a love song. Other voices engaged in a dialogue, then a deeper voice boasted of his powers and singing something like a hunting song. Lukins became so tormented, laughing and barking that two men had to hold him down. He continued to summon demons, then sang a Te Deum to the devil, praising him and acknowledging him as supreme governor. The clerics replied with prayers and asked why the devil was tormenting Lukins, the reply was “that I may show my power among men”. When the vicar ordered the evil spirits to depart, they obeyed, howling. After a two hour struggle, Lukins’ normal voice returned, he grew calm, praised god for his deliverance and got on his knees to say the Lord’s Prayer. He thanked all present and was never again disturbed."

Rev. Thomas McGeary, Principal of the Wesleyan School had been cynical, but when he asked the illiterate Lukins a question in Latin and received an appropriate Latin reply, had been, like the rest, won over.

A fierce battle then broke out between Lukins’ many supporters and a surgeon who had shared lodgings with him. He accused Lukins of being ‘a clever ventriloquist , ...causing several infirm old people to be cruelly persecuted for bewitching him.” He claimed Lukins had been a good singer and mimic, but became drunk whilst out mumming, fell down and a few days later pretended he was hurt by a dog. His fits soon began, but he never hurt himself, and other symptoms showed his fits were not real. Norman treated him roughly and threatened him, bled him and made him vomit, which made his symptoms vanish. He claimed only a few mild attacks had occurred during his entire stay in London.

Though witnesses attested to his emaciated state, Norman claimed that he looked well, capable of walking 20-30 miles in 7-8 hours, or of carrying pitchers of Barm etc. without spilling them. He also managed to sit through church services without attacks, so ‘the demons are very obliging’. Norman also asked, if the attacks were so bad, why did so many people leave their children with him?

He criticised Easterbrook: “if the Almighty does not willingly afflict, nor chastise the children of men, it is certainly a dishonour to any church for its ministers to countenance the idea, that he permits pretended witches or daemons [sic] to torment them at their pleasure.”

A later account claimed “from that hour the fits left him, and he led a sober Christian life thenceforth, being, in 1798 a respected member of the Wesleyan society in Bristol.” Unfortunately, parish records show a further 10 shillings 6 pence ‘temporary relief’ in 1788 so he had returned to Yatton, and was still not supporting himself. He was promised 9 shillings “provided he goes to Mr Say and attends him in any kind of work he can do, but George Lukins has refused to do it, saying he shall go to Bristol and not come back till he is forced and that shall not be till Bedminster parish brings him home with an order.”

Given the conflicting versions from the time, it is impossible to really know what happened but Lukins’ last comments, his threat to return to Bristol suggests at least an element of attention-seeking behaviour. Then, as now, small country towns can be lonely places, lacking the excitement of cities, and a working community struggles to cope with ‘difficult’ people who do not pull their weight as Lukins clearly was. The Wesleyans were famously compassionate people, which made them vulnerable to be imposed upon. Lukins may have had some mild degree of mental health problems, but it is hard to discount surgeon Norman’s claims entirely. What is clear that in the national uproar that this incident caused, if any further exorcisms occurred, no clerics have admitted to being involved.


The ‘Dissolution of the Monasteries’ is an often-used term, but few writers seem to understand the full impact of what Henry VIII actually achieved. English religious houses owned almost as much money and land as the king, so held immense influence over the population of England.

Arts Patronage

The church was a major patron of the arts, so the skills of painting and sculpture were largely lost due to Henry's actions. This is why, when the economy began to recover in the late 17th century, the arts were dominated by foreigners. Sculptors such as Grinling Gibbons and Rysbrack were from the Netherlands. Queen Elizabeth was a great lover of music, but even by the early 18th century the most famous composer was the German, Freiderich Handel. Architecture was the most practical art, was first to recover, especially in the wake of the Great Fire of London, so from the early 17th century Inigo Jones and Christopher Wren were producing great work, but they had both been trained in Italy.

When monastery masonry yards were lost the high quality of this trade was lost and explains why the Tudor age is famous for its wooden buildings. It also explains why when the population and road traffic began to soar, few people in the county knew how to build bridges, which required the same high level of skills as the monasteries. When London Bridge needed rebuilding, a French trained Swiss, Labelye was employed.

Painting was the art that suffered the most most people could still see fine carving in churches and great houses which had been out of reach of the vandals, but paintings were far easier to destroy. On the continent, the transition from sacred to secular art was less dramatic, so a market continued for paintings; the 17th century was the Golden Age in the Netherlands not just of trade, but huge numbers of paintings were produced, many of which were imported to this country. With the drop in demand for sacred images, their sculptors created ornate wooden frames which, if gilded, could be worth as much as the picture itself.

The monasteries also produced and copied books; they had immense libraries, so they were important centres of learning. Whilst the king condemned the practice of leaving bequests for priests to say prayers for the departed, these same priests often had time to run schools and tend the poor and sick in hospitals and almshouses. So it was not just the arts that suffered, but common people. The monasteries were communities of men and women, who employed large numbers of servants who were largely separate from the opposite sex, so the communities acted as a brake on population growth.

The Common People

The Tudor age thus saw a surge in population, especially the poor so Elizabeth was forced to introduce poor laws that made local parishes responsible for their own citizens. The most basic ‘relief’ was offered only to people who were born in the parish, had been apprenticed there or women who married a local man. Many people at the time travelled large distances to the cities to obtain work. If a man died, his wife could only obtain poor relief from his parish, which resulted in widows and orphans being forced to travel to places where they knew nobody

Many areas such as The Fens of eastern England and the Somerset Levels in the south west were low lying, so poor farmland and prone to flooding. Monasteries such as the abbey at Glastonbury were major landowners with extensive knowledge of land management and farming. They built drainage ditches and ensured their tenants maintained them, so when the monasteries were closed, rich grazing and arable land returned to reedbeds and boglands.

The monasteries were major consumers and employers, providing stable employment for tradesmen and farmers, so local communities were largely protected from the uncertainties of the free markets. The churches needed fresh water and had the skills to build reservoirs, transport the water to where it was needed in underground pipes and build outlets for themselves and for the public. Wealthy people could pay for private supplies but most people, ie women, had to collect all their household supplies from the parish pump. Whilst this was a very arduous task, it was an opportunity for women to engage with their neighbours, so was an important place to catch up on local news and exchange knowledge. So, Henry VIII did not just disrupt the country’s religious practices, he destroyed the social structures they embodied, and had an immense impact on the country’s future, which has still not run its course.

Perhaps the most subtle effect of the dissolution was the removal of a source of power. Combined with the Civil War which led to the execution of Charles I, the country lost much of its respect for both the church and state. His opposition to the Church of Rome was similar to the Reformation in Europe, but there they replaced it with Protestant Equivalents. With the chaos of the Civil War that followed, the English were left with a series of vacuums, so had to invent their own methods of how to worship, how to govern themselves, how to run communities, cope with the poor, the sick, with natural disasters, land management, and even foreign invasions. The combination of population rises with food shortages fuelled the drive towards exploration and colonial settlement which produced the largest Empire this world has known. Henry may have been a major instigator of the stereotypical English character: the eccentric, the quirky individualist, the inventor, the solitary genius that has made modern Britain such a powerhouse of original art and invention. He may have been a totally unscrupulous, overweight, syphilitic bully, but he may have been the most influential person who has ever existed in these islands, if not the world.


“Take, holy earth all that my soul holds dear

Take that best gift which heav’n so lately gave

To Bristol’s fount I bore with trembling care

Her faded form : She bow’d to taste the wave

And died. Does youth, does beauty, read the line?

Does sympathetic fear their breasts alarm?

Speak, dead Maria; breathe a strain divine:

Ev’n from the grave thou shall have power to charm

Bid them be chaste, be innocent like thee

Bid them in duties sphere as meekly move:

And if so fair, from vanity as free

As firm in friendship, and as fond in love

Tell them, tho’ tis an awful thing to die

(‘twas ev’n so to thee) yet, the dread path once trod

Heav’n lifts up its everlasting portals high

And bids “the pure in heart, behold their God”

Romantic Epitaph

Many people died in Eighteenth century Bristol. If the departed were famous, they got a line or two in Felix Farley’s Journal, but in 1767 it described the monument recently erected in the Cathedral, naming its designer, carver and the author, the victim’s husband William Mason. Maria had only been married to William for three years when she succumbed to Tuberculosis or TB, her visit to the healing waters of the Hotwell Spa having failed to save her.

Eighteenth century spas were commonly seen as places for frivolous entertainments, for gambling and balls, but this poem shows the real reason for their existence when there was no cure for most illnesses. It also makes it clear that the notion that ‘life was cheap’ was not always true. Life was a hard fought struggle, so had value beyond anything the modern world can comprehend. It is impossible to ignore the pain felt by Mason for his beautiful young wife. The pain that kept him a widow for the rest of his life.

The piece was later noted by William Wordsworth in his ‘Essay on Epitaphs’ and when pioneering chemist William Herapath wrote his ‘Handbook for Visitors to the Hotwell’ in 1830, he bemoaned the decline of the Spa, that patients were only coming there when past help ‘they have in truth bowed to taste the wave and died’.

Poet, Gardener, Reformer

William Mason (1725-97) was a wealthy cleric, a poet who refused the role of Poet Laureate, landscape designer and reformer, earning him a massive five pages in the Dictionary of National Biography. He was a friend and correspondent to many famous men of his age such as Pope and Walpole. His poetry bridged the gap between the Augustans and Romantics; it heavily influenced the graveyard poets whose most important figure was Grey, famous for his ‘Elegy in a Country Churchyard’. He became Grey’s literary executor and his mixture of memoir and poetry was often copied.

He extended the rights of authors by taking legal action when Grey’s poems were published without his permission. Under the name of Malcolm Macgregor he wrote political satires and was fashionable enough to be repeatedly satirised by his peers, especially by staunch Tory Dr Johnson who objected to his Whig politics. He wrote the epitaphs for Capability Brown and Grey, whose memorial in Westminster Abbey he helped pay for. His portrait was painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds.

His role as a landscape designer was important as he formed a bridge between the classical and romantic styles. He mocked the passion for Chinoiserie and invented the informal flower garden, considered by some to be his most important legacy. He designed gardens for many of his friends. They were full of literary references, and his walled garden for Lord Nuneham - the only one to survive - was popular with visitors and long regarded as the most beautiful in England. He was an antiquarian and was one of the earliest to expose the fraudulent poetry of Thomas Chatterton.

From 1784 he became a supporter of William Pitt and was one of the earliest abolitionists, friends of fellow Yorkshireman William Wilberforce and others. He gave a sermon in York Minster in 1788 which was widely read and he baptised a young American black man, Benjamin Moor there. He was actively concerned in a wide range of charitable work including the welfare of prisoners, and people with physical and mental health problems.

He was a competent and varied musician, collaborated with composers such as Thomas Arne, and was a friend of Charles Burney. He was active in the reform of church music and invented the modified pianoforte called the celestinette.

Despite all his achievements, he was largely derided as lacking originality but some interest is reviving in his landscape designs and political satires. Possibly his lack of fame is due to his role as a polymath, so he has been impossible to pigeonhole. In 1972 York Art Gallery held an extensive exhibition on his works followed by a conference to celebrate the centenary of his death. ‘His polymathic activities make him one of the most comprehensive cultural figures of his ages. He survives as a name in the indexes of books about his contemporaries, from Dr Johnson to Sarah Siddons, Sir Joshua Reynolds to David Garrick.’

He is worthy of remembering for his constant interest in the world around him, for his wide ranging writing and work as a reform, but perhaps most of all for his touching, passionate epitaph to his wife which can still be seen in Bristol Cathedral. Anyone who thinks romantic love is an invention of the modern world would do well to read it and think of the fascinating man who wrote it. Of the pain that kept him a widower throughout the busy decades after his wife left him.


The word ‘Robot’ was coined by Karel Capek in his 1920 play ‘Rossum’s Universal Robots’ in which automata were built to replace humans in boring or dangerous work. The word is derived from the Russian word ‘robota’, to work, and in South Africa means an automated traffic light

The search for automated labour seems to run parallel with empire building over many centuries. When people move to cities and are involved in more specialised work, such as government, the military and education, this causes a shortage of agricultural labour which is often heavy and repetitive.

Automata in Ancient Myths

The Egyptians and Greeks dealt with this by inventing machines such as the Archimedian screw for irrigation and lifting machines. The technology involved from simple cogs and levers mechanics developed ever more complicated machines. Their inventions were often based on what they saw in nature, especially in humans as they were known to work.

About 3,000 years BC, the Pharoahs of Egypt were being buried with their slave servants who were killed to ensure their service in the afterlife. In the following centuries, human slaves were replaced with statuettes or ‘shabti’, which in turn evolved into moving statues or ‘ushebti’ which performed a number of set tasks in response to a magical incantation. These non humans had immense appeal as they were completely obedient, never ran away and never tired.

By around 1,000 BC the Greeks had absorbed these ideas and their epics included tales of intelligent machines created to serve their gods. In the Iliad, Hephaestos forged humanoid females who replaced humans serving the Gods their food.

He also created the bronze sentry which was deactivated when Medea drained it of oil. The oil flowed in veins similar to human blood, so it was a human-machine hybrid, a notion which technicians are still striving towards. They claimed to have built a wooden bird that flew, a parallel with the legend of Daedalus. In the 3rd century BC Ctesibius invented a water clock whose accuracy was not improved on in Europe until the 14th century.

Reformation and Renewal

Western Europe lost much of this knowledge when the Roman Empire fell, and for centuries scientific development was often opposed by the Roman church, as shown by the treatment of Galileo and others. But following the Reformation, European science advanced, largely based on the complex technology of clocks, which were used to tell when religious services occurred, and they increasingly included complicated moving figures.

These figures became popular as entertainments for aristocrats who were the only people who could afford such time consuming hand made creations.. This technology was used to produce birdsongs in grottoes, automated music and even moving figures and firing guns as table centre pieces at grand feasts..

France in particular became a major centre for detailed craftsmanship. Jacques de Vaucanson began by producing lifelike angels, and by 1738 he was touring with 2 lifelike humans with intricately designed fingers and lips who played music, and even a duck which was said to digest food and then produce waste, though this latter was a trick.

He became famous across Europe and also invented industrial weaving machines. His success as a showman also inspired other travelling shows such as magicians and figures that could write and draw according to set programmes. One of these, by Henri Maillardet made a figure that wrote ‘written by the automaton of Maillardet’ which later allowed it to be established as his work.

Hungarian Wolfgang von Kempelen produced a chess player, claimed was a toy for Empress Maria Theresa Called ‘The Turk’ due to its Middle Eastern garb, it appeared to think and beat many of the greatest players, so became immensely famous when it toured Europe in the mid 18th century, and was seen as the heir to Vaucanson’s duck. . The Turk was eventually exposed as a fraud; a human sat inside operating the mechanism.

E.T.A. Hoffman was the most widely read German author of the 19th century, and widely credited as the father of gothic literature, which was a response to the perceived dehumanisation of the industrial age. . His stories were praised by Mary Shelley of ‘Frankenstein’ fame, and Edgar Allen Poe. The ballet ‘Coppelia’ involving a beautiful automata was based on his story and his ‘The Sandman’, was inspired by the Chess Player, so not only was mythology influencing automata, but the reverse was also feeding into notions of horror that it inspired.

In Asia, the great educators, Jesuit missionaries, are claimed to have introduced automata into China in the 17th century, but the region had tales of mechanical men many centuries earlier. In Japan it seems that automata were inspired by a mechanical puppet theatre in 17th century Osaka. By the end of the 18th century Japan was producing self propelled weight driven humanoids which interacted with humans to serve tea, showing the modern Japanese passion for robotics is of long standing and apparently also inspired by mythology..

Over the 19th century, these intricate and expensive creations inspired more simple mass produced toys, shop displays but the skills were also diverted into industry and military inventions, but progress was hampered by lack of portable energy source. Early automata were powered by clockwork in the pedestals they stood on. Steam engines were heavy and needed constant maintenance. Early batteries were heavy and bulky, so it was not until the mid 20th century when technology caught up with the fiction writers and engineers and modern automata, or robots became a reality.


Last year mid winter boredom led me to pick up the second series of Northern Exposure on DVD. I recalled a few episodes from its original screening: Chris in the morning flinging a piano, the moose on mainstreet and Dr Joel’s struggles with the locals. I was soon hooked but was completely unprepared for the lessons in life that I soon realised are integral to every episode.

The Town of Cecily is in the wilds of Alaska, a place of immense natural beauty, but depressingly long hard winters when the town is isolated from the outside world, so locals have to be strong and independent. It was made up of a broad section of society, supplemented when required by exotic visitors, so has similarities with Gilligan’s Island and The Simpsons.

Locals range from odd-job-man cum filmmaker Ed to a wealthy property developer and ex astronaut Maurice. Many were born there, some chose to move there, like Walt, former Wall Street financier turned trapper, and Joel Fleischman, who was shanghaied into becoming the local GP and who constantly moaned about the injustice.


The community has a lot of local Indians, still practicing their traditional beliefs, as well as Jewish Dr Joel, Catholic Shelley, DJ Chris in the Morning who expounds on most of the world’s belief systems, and a large number of people who don’t seem to mind much either way so long as there is always beer and hamburgers at local hostelry The Brick. The different groups do not make a point of integrating but come together to celebrate festivals, whether performing Indian myths, or the beer and rock music of the Mosquito Festival. This shows that the community is more important than the different groups that make it up.

There is also a noted contrast between traditional ways and beliefs especially of the Indians, and the new as embodied by the modern science of Dr Joel, who is often infuriated or confused but often converted or at least concedes ground to them. When he discovers the remains of frozen mammoths he is astounded at the discovery, but locals are only interested in the remains as a source of fresh meat. Basic survival wins over civilisation time and time again, as perhaps it always will and should. And there is a huge irony in that ultimately, it is through going native that Joel is able to return to his beloved civilisation in New York

They are a close knit community, united against a harsh environment, but are also welcoming to strangers. When an unknown man died in the doctors surgery, they protect the body from wolves and then insist on disposing of his remains; time shared seems to be enough to make him one of their own.

On Being an Adult

The series is largely free of children, so many adult subjects can be dealt with such as circumcision, lesbianism, adultery and the meaning of life and death. Holling becomes a wild animal in the breeding season, Maggie’s boyfriends all die, so fear of death becomes part of falling in love; given when the series was made, this may be a metaphor for AIDS.. The funeral for Rick, killed by a satellite is obscenely funny, and we hate ourselves for laughing at the burly lumberjacks struggle to bury the fusion of man and machine.

In the absence of political or religious leaders, the locals are forced to find their own answers and to live with the consequences of their actions. DJ Chris escaped from jail, but in the wilderness, his past is less relevant than what he became, a vital component of their community so when the law comes to reclaim him, they protect him as their own.

Love Stories in Northern Exposure

As with all great stories, love plays a large part of it. Maurice’s love for teen beauty Shelly brought her to the town, but then she falls in love with his best friend Holling, an agonising situation until Maurice finds a partner in Barbara who is in some ways more a man than he is. The romance between octogenarians Ruth Anne and Walt is delightfully low key, and Ed’s first romance is suitably awkward but doomed by class differences.

As in Cheers, the two main characters Dr Joel and Maggie the bush pilot take an instant dislike to each other, but as the series proceed, you see them struggle towards realising what the audience has known almost from the start, that they are made for each other. Many episodes end with then walking and talking down the main street, clearly at ease in each others’ company, a good basis for any long term relationship.

Their first coupling involved Joel getting his nose repeatedly broken by Maggie, a reminder that love and hate are opposites of the same thing, and can easily convert from one to the other. The danger to him as Maggie’s lover is another level to the notion of love: it is always dangerous, but less often fatal. As two of the most important roles in the community, it would be so convenient for them to become a couple, but their struggles provides one of the big lessons in life: that sometimes, despite all the best intentions, financial investment or legal arguments, happy endings just aren’t always possible.

Of course, Chris’s brother is black, so cannot really be his blood brother. Ed cannot possibly be friends with Scorsese and Woody Allen, Marilyn’s circus boyfriend cannot really fly, and Indians playing golf in the wilderness is pure surrealism. But the storytelling and characters are so well written you believe them. You believe because you want them to be true. You want Cecily to exist. In your heart of hearts, you want to go there, maybe even to live there yourself. Because ultimately, it is a town, a civilisation that works. It is a town where life is hard, but it is also full of companionship, love and joy and, as the publicity states, a good dose of quirkiness.

So, as the world economy struggles, and life becomes tougher for all of us, the real lesson we can take from it is that Cecily should be everywhere, and as long as it is in our hearts, perhaps we can keep faith that the world is a better place.

  • Northern Exposure, series 1-6 on DVD


Over 100 photojournalists were commissioned to record a single day in the life of this country. It was hoped the work would cover as wide as possible range of places, people and events. Despite much of the work being done by volunteers, and a massive level of sponsorship, it cost A$1 million to produce, and retailed at A$35, both massive sums in 1981. The hardcover book measures 14 inches by 10 and at 286 glossy colour pages, is epic in its size and vision.

Australian Photography

The introduction to the book was written by Thomas Kenneally, now internationally famous for writing the book which became Spielberg’s Schindler’s List. He described it as ‘a moment frozen in time’. You might say, that is what photography is, it is a record only of the split second that the shutter is open. But this moment lasted all day, and covered much of the planet’s largest island, so it was a Big Bang in photography, an event that has since been copied by so many people and in so many books that the importance of this first event has been all but lost. You could even argue that it rates with the first images transmitted by Neil Armstrong when he landed on the moon. A whole generation has come and gone since those innocent times before the internet, when photojournalists were celebrities, and often risked their lives and even died in the process of their work.

International Photojournalists

A Day in the Life.... was conceived and organised by American Rick Smolan and Australian Andy Park and it took two years of organising, cajoling and fundraising to bring the project to fruition. Again this was in the age before the internet, when air travel was more expensive and difficult, and they were dealing with 67 photographers from abroad and 33 locals, all of whom were busy professionals, so contacting them was hard enough, getting them all on site at the same time was nothing short of Herculean. The photographers ranged in age from 25 to 65, and many were prize winners, specializing in everything from fashion to war photography. The group photograph at the end shows a surprisingly high number of women. Many gave up lucrative assignments to become part of history as well as recording it. The biographies of the participants were just as colourful as the images they left us. Donna Ferrato was described as a ‘visitor from another galaxy’, and underwater photographer Irvin Rockman had been Lord Mayor of Melbourne. As one participant noted, the level of co-operation was incredible, in a profession where most work alone and that was – and still is - notoriously competitive.

Each photographer was provided with transport to their site, 30 rolls of film and encouraged to work for as much of the day as possible. When the day was over, some had the luxury of staying on, forty of whom helped with the editing. Others went straight back to work; Dirck Halstead and Sebastian Salgado flew back to the US to capture the assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan; Arthur Grace flew to Poland for the worker’s revolt and Harry Mattison returned to El Salvador to record the revolution. Whilst they recorded a moment in time, the world had continued without them. Together they had used up a staggering 2,384 rolls of film, producing 96,000 photographs, which had to be reduced to about 350.

Eternity in an Hour

As you open the book you enter another time, and to most people a totally alien landscape. Turning the pages you move from a sleepy farmer in pyjamas at dawn, a Japanese cyclist in the middle of the desert, workers and students in transit, a bloodstained slaughterman, shopkeepers, prisoners and judges, tourists, film makers, fishermen, pensioners and nurses at tea breaks, children at play, adults sunbathing. There are Hare Krishnas, monks, tribal aborigines. A few faces are famous, but most are ordinary, often sunburnished, some posed but most just being. There is joy and grief, birth, death and everything in between, all interspersed in an incredibly stark, mythic landscape. The shots are dramatic, honest and still fresh.

The back cover has a review from Time Magazine, which describes the day as ‘an epochal time in the history of photojournalism...The conception was grandiloquent, the adventure risky, the result triumphant...The impact and dazzle of an extraordinary exhibit.. the biography of a people and a nation apprehended in a Blakean work that allows readers to hold infinity in the palms of their hands and eternity in an hour.’


Smolen, Rick and Park, Andy Eds. A Day in the Life of Australia, Photographed by 100 of the World’s Leading Photojournalists, On One Day, March 6, 1981, A Day in the Life of Australia Ltd

Article from Bristol Evening Post

The 18th century was a time of immense upheaval in England, its gwrowing population subject to repeated famines and wars. Food rioting seems to have reached its peak in the West Country in 1766 when it was claimed that eh markets of South Gloucestershire were in the hands of the mob. But it was not purely an agricultural problem; rumours of farmers stockpiling corn and of stocks being bought up and stockpiled were common. It seemed a strange time to consider building new mills, but many had been converted to other uses, so added to the problem. The following article was my first to be published, From the Bristol Industrial Archaeology Journal of 2003. In 1800 when yet another famine hit the city, the windmill was restored by Clifton parish to grind corn for the poor of the parish.


From The Regional Historian