Saturday, 1 May 2010


I've been spending a fair bit of time here recently. The Maritime Museum in Lancaster. An elegant old building that used to be the Customs House, down on the quay, back in the day (eighteenth/nineteenth centuries) that Lancaster was a busy port.

I've been rifling and reading through information on the shipbuilding industry that thrived here, mainly due to the sugar, slave and mahogany trade Lancaster thrived on in the eighteenth century. My interest is a little more parochial. The development of the town, the quayside and the imports that were used to build the ships - mainly from Russia, the Baltic and Scandanavia. Early in the eighteenth century, ships sailed round to Archangel from Lancaster, mainly for hides.

So, using this unhelpfully small map as an aid, that means sailing right round from the west of England, round the top of Norway through the arctic circle into the blue sealoch just to the right of centre top of this map. Which, in winter, iced over. Archangel. Despite the weather, seas and, no doubt, whales, it was a safer destination than the Baltic - with its enemy fleets. 3500 km (approx) away. Weeks away.

I've also been reading about how they built ships, what they used, who was involved, the mercantile life that grew up around it, the city life, the recorded weather and more. All absolutely fascinating. Which of course I'm hoping will grow into something else.

I'm jotting ideas as I go, but feel it's best to immerse myself in the information, to let the knowledge and information bed down into my bones before I attempt to dessiminate it into anything. I also don't want to rush because I want to create something quite different to the sequence of family poems that emerged from my last piece of serious research.

So, I am currently swinging between high excitement and stimulation and frozen uncertainity. Which is exactly the experience of the swing my dad half hammered into our garden when we were kids - for some reason (age no doubt - it was one he'd found somewhere) it wasn't entirely balanced so would wobble while we swung giving the extra sense of imminent falling just at the high point of about turn.

I'm trying not to let this concern me too much, and just absorb all I find I'm interested in, let it take me in unforeseen directions and bubble quietly while I'm in the dark storeroom and while I'm wandering about elsewhere. It feels very priviledged to be doing this without an expected outcome and in a way I want to enjoy that for as long as possible. It's a bit like taking an extrordinarily long train journey and just staring out of the window in that delicious state of limbo that requires no decision making on what next because there's nothing to do until you get there.

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