My Museum Monday: 8

I have a number of very ordinary but, to me, fascinating miniature pots, jugs, plates and other tiny vessels, made of glazed or unglazed bisque porcelain. They often occur on nineteenth and early twentieth century archaeological sites, where they are almost always immediately identified as being children’s playthings; “dolls tea services” and the like.

However I harbour a suspicion that like most archaeological certainties, all is not quite so cut and dried.

I have two examples of miniature chamber pots, those necessary vessels that , before the advent of the indoor lavatory, were stashed under most nineteenth century beds, or tucked more modestly into commodes in order to deal with nocturnal urgencies.

Bisque porcelain miniature chamber pots bearing the legend (left) “Evening Exercise” and (right) “After You My Dear”.

That these miniatures were not intended for children is indicated by the fact that, lie many other examples, they bear a tongue-in-cheek message. That on the larger pot reads “Evening Exercise” and the smaller states “After You My Dear”. The larger pot is stamped “Germany” and there is a faint, illegible stamp on the smaller, which I’m guessing was also made in Germany.

The pots were made to satisfy a demand for objects that made fun of what was a necessary but not particularly enjoyable part of everyday, or perhaps everynight life. Perhaps these light-hearted miniatures made the use of chamber pots a little less miserable?

I also wonder if some of the other miniature vessels were the property of adults, acting as keep-sakes, nostalgic references to childhood or simply tiny objects that gave their owners pleasure.

Four Friday Photos: 7

[Every Friday I’m posting, for the fun of it, four photographs selected pretty much at random from my hard drives. They were captured with a variety of technologies, from analogue through early digital to my latest cameras, so their quality, both artistic and technical, may vary!]

Industrial wagon wheel, Wales

Archaeology is, of course, everywhere. Being an archaeologist of the recent past, I am able to find and enjoy the stuff of the industrial past rusting and rotting away amongst the brambles and nettles that grow rampant beside the traces of quarries and mines dotted around the UK.

Quarter mile post, near Sedburgh, Cumbria.

Forty years after it closed, this concrete relic of the railway line between Clapham and Tebay still stands sentinel, ready for the next ghost train heading along the Ingleton branch.

Ruined cottage with adobe brick walls, Arizona.

I am drawn, as if to a magnet, toward ruins. Itook this photograph in 1997; I wonder if this structure still exists. Adobe tends to return to its natural state of clay and sand once it is exposed to the elements. This building stood, crumbling, beside the highway, its roof having collapsed around it and whatever was used to cot its walls falling off. The structure seems to have incorporated both adobe bricks and random stone.

Striped Shield Bug (Graphosoma italicum)

I like this bug!

Bonus photo!

Portuguese lady, Idanha a Nova

On a very hot day, a lady strides into the sunlight from a patch of shade…

Wednesday Walk: 7

[Since I’m not able to ramble as much as I’d like at the moment, I’m remembering some hikes from the past.]

Ptarmigan Cirque

One of the areas in Canada we return to often is the Kananaskis Country, the forested east-facing slopes of the Canadian Rocky Mountains in Alberta. We have relative is Calgary and Edmonton, and it’s a great place to meet up and share camping and hiking. 

This particular hike is a short and popular one, you’d have to arrive very early to get it to yourself, but it nevertheless manages to include a lot of what you’d expect from a summer tramp in this art of the world. The hike is good exercise, the scenery fantastic, and the wildlife visible at close range. Not only did we manage to spot a ptarmigan, a gopher and a flock of longhorn sheep, but we were followed up the trail for a while by a grizzly bear and cub, which made a gently ramble very exciting!

My album is HERE.

My Museum Monday: 7

The wonderful wagon

The humble wagon might seem at first merely to be a footnote to the advent of industrialisation. But without wagons, there would have been no industrial revolution, perhaps no industry at all. The first wheeled vehicles were pushed or puled by humans. As they became heavier, they were pulled by animals. Laying rails, first of timber, then iron, then steel, made them easier to move. Eventually they became too heavy for animal-power, and stationary steam engines were used to haul wagons connected by ropes or cables. Then came locomotives and the vast expansion of railways. In the end, road-hauled wagons (I think lorry drivers, at least in the UK, still refer to their vehicles as “wagons”) took much of the traffic from railways.

Wagons played vital roles in every industry around the world. They were also an essential tool in colonisation and the appropriation of resources from empires. Robert Hudson of Leeds, for example, exported industrial wagons to every corner of the world, from Aden to Zanzibar.

I was privileged to be able to carry out a review of the wagons in the Leeds Industrial Museum collection in early 2019. You can find a summary of the project here. I fell in love with these rusty objects and the stories they told. 

0 gauge model railway wagons by Hornby and (top left) Marklin

These are my small collection of 0 gauge wagons, by Hornby and Marklin. Ironically, most are older than almost all I studied in the museum! Much scratched and battered by many years of play, probably on the floor and with many derailments, they too have stories to tell, though they will probably never share them.

Four Friday Photos: 6

[Every Friday I’m posting, for the fun of it, four photographs selected pretty much at random from my hard drives. They were captured with a variety of technologies, from analogue through early digital to my latest cameras, so their quality, both artistic and technical, may vary!]

This week I have a theme: red.


I read once that when taking photographs of scenic views, especially for postcards, professionals would always include someone wearing red clothing. Presumably the patch of colour would attract attention and add to the pleasure of the scene.

I like the way this couple are following the direction of the statue.

I have so many examples of the colour red in my collection that I found it hard to keep to my four photo limit, so I’ve added a couple of bonus shots!

Cactus flower from my collection.

I love cacti and succulents, and over the years have built up quite a collection. None of them are hugely rare or unusual, some are rescues from shops that weren’t caring for them, others have grown from cuttings (I’ve never managed to grow any from seeds). I like the contrast between the often diminutive size of the plant and its huge flowers!

Gear and pulley wheels, Leeds Industrial Museum, Armley Mills.

As you no doubt have realised, I like rust. And rust is mostly red iron oxide. So I have lots of photographs of rusty stuff! Machinery was/is often painted bright red, perhaps for safety reasons?

Wednesday Walk: 6

[Since I’m not able to ramble as much as I’d like at the moment, I’m remembering some hikes from the past.]

Nidderdale 2016

This was a great ramble that took me from the town of Pateley Bridge through pleasant countryside and onto the moors. It’s an area rich in industrial heritage, and I made the most of what I came across.

The moors near Pateley Bridge.
Memento mori at St Mary’s church, Pateley Bridge.
Prosperous Mine, near Pateley Bridge
A couple of sherds of blue and white embedded in the footpath at the edge of Pateley Bridge.
Industrial landscape, late autumn.
Industrial landscape
Cockhill smelt mill remains.
The lonely moors and a reminder of the industrial past.

My album can be found HERE

My Museum Monday: 6

I have always been a railway enthusiast. My peripatetic life has given me the opportunity to be a a train spotter, nor have I ever managed to create a model railway. I guess I’ve really been interested in the history and archaeology of railways, and rather than travel on heritage railways I’ve preferred to explore the traces of long-abandoned routes in whatever country I’m in. Being a “grown-up” has meant that I’ve acquired a few relics of past railways, though mostly in miniature. 

O gauge (top) and HO gauge model “switchers”.

This week’ s artefacts are two “switchers” as they are called in North America – large shunting locomotives. My two examples are in O and HO gauges. The 70-year-old Lionel O gauge locomotive is missing its bell and an exhaust vent. Replacement parts will cost just a couple of dollars, but unfortunately the spares source in the US has a $40 minimum order for shipping, so repairs will have to wait until some future opportunity. The HO loco is a modern model. I doubt I’ll ever get to operate the Lionel model, which is sad because it has a built-in bell. It also weighs a ton!

More trains next week…

Four Friday Photos: 5

[Every Friday I’m posting, for the fun of it, four photographs selected pretty much at random from my hard drives. They were captured with a variety of technologies, from analogue through early digital to my latest cameras, so their quality, both artistic and technical, may vary!]

Cowichan Bay, Vancouver Island

A niche, Cowichan Bay

Cowichan Bay is one of those places where nature and industry collide. It has a lumber operation and a dock. There was once a railway line. It also has a conservation area. The wetlands are under constant threat. This plant may not survive for long…


Weston Super Mare, looking towards Steep holm

I wonder what is the purpose of those posts?

Osoyoos, BC, Canada

Decay, near Osoyoos, BC, Canada

I find archaeology everywhere.


Lizard, Cyprus

I am not in any way a wildlife photographer. I have neither the skills nor the patience. So any creature (other than plants, which normally can’t run away and hide) that I manage to capture has been come across by accident, and has conveniently posed for my photograph.  I like the rather haughty expression on the face of this lizard.

Wednesday Walk: 5

An early autumn stroll along the Osoyoos Canal

Looking south along the trail on the west side of the Osoyoos Canal.

Before it reached Osoyoos Lake, just north of the Canada/US border in the interior of British Columbia, the Okanagan River once snaked southwards through a series of oxbows, flowing through a wetland that was made special by being flanked by desert. In order to control the river, and facilitate the irrigation of the agricultural land that developed on the valley floor, the river was canalised in 1923. Fortunately some of the wetlands have survived and have been conserved since the 1980s as a vitally-important nature reserve.

The former route of the Okanagan River, now an isolated oxbow lake.

The trail beside the canal offers a level walking and running route that provides glimpses of the arid hills to the east, and pasture to the west.

My Osoyoos Canal album can be found here.

Ate the foot of the hills, what remains of the ever-shrinking desert landscape that once stretched down the east side of the valley floor.
In the distance one can see the uplands to the west of the Okanagan River.
Haynes Ranch, long-abandoned, overshadowed by the hills on the east side of the valley.

My Museum Monday: 5

As an historical archaeologist, with a special interest in industrial archaeology, I spend a lot of time lurking around old canals and railways, or where these once were. Once abandoned, railways can disappear completely, built over or ploughed away. If the route has not been completely obliterated, there may be little remaining apart from the track bed (overgrown or turned into a footpath or bicycle trail), a few concrete fence posts and any associated civil engineering such as embankments, cuttings, bridges and tunnels – generations of railway enthusiasts will have removed anything small and rescuable!

However sometimes all is not lost, and the archaeologist’s eye can occasionally locate evidence of a long-vanished railway.

Railway spikes, Michigan (left) and Wales (right).

The artefacts from my museum today are railway spikes, hammered into wooden sleepers to grip the flanges of T-shaped steel rails. The three larger spikes on the left are from a standard gauge railway line, the smaller spikes are from a narrow gauge industrial tramway. When the wooden sleepers were replaced or the rails were removed the spikes were sometimes thrown aside or mislaid – I found these examples rusting away in the vegetation beside the track. 

Inexpensive, quick and easy to use, spikes were (and are) used in vast numbers around the world, especially in North America.

Driving the spikes into the timber must have required both significant skill and strength!