Thursday, 24 July 2014

The Wheel on the Moss

People didn't hang around when they wanted to change things in Victorian England. Richard Thomas Gillow, the owner of Leighton Hall in the 1840's decided he wanted to drain the Moss for agriculture. Efforts had been made before with limited success, but this time he was serious: new embankments, ditches and a steam pump were all on the agenda. He spoke to a neighbour who already had experience with steam engines -- Robert Waithman, the owner of a flax Mill at Holme -- and then he sat down and sketched out his plans. The design below is taken from his notebook, still in the archive at Leighton Hall. It shows the steam-powered wheel that he wanted to install to push water off the Moss.  He took his idea to a Preston foundry which produced more detailed plans in October 1847. A little over two months later the finished engine was ready to deliver. Meanwhile, Robinsons the builders constructed an engine house and rebuilt the chimney at Crag Foot...and they were ready to pump!     

A Page from the notebook of Squire Richard Thomas Gillow: the man who drained the Moss. (Courtesy of Richard Reynolds) 

Monday, 21 July 2014

Judge the Cover

It's weeks since I finished writing the book but it only seems real now there's a cover. My colleagues at Carnegie Publishing (Anna Goddard and Lucy Frontani)   have sent me a mock-up -- not the finished thing, there are a few photoshop flourishes yet to come -- but you get the general idea.

I hope we've done enough to make clear that this book is more history than natural history: under the cover there are plenty of stunning photos from talented and mainly local wildlife photographers including Mike Malpas, Brian Rafferty, Kevin Kelly, David Kjaer, Brian Howson and many others (full credits in the book!). I've also focussed on the fascinating story of the early days of the RSPB down on the Moss. But there are also some tremendous and touching photos from earlier years -- like the lovely picture on the back cover of John Walker, horseman at Yealand Hall Farm, one of the last men to plough the Moss during the Great War. John's son Arthur Walker loaned me this one.

The misshapen silver coin on the back of the book is part of the Viking hoard discovered barely an axe throw from the Moss a couple of years back. The handsome chap pictured below the coin is not me (far too modest!) but the broadcaster and naturalist Chris Packham, who has been kind enough to write a cracking little foreword to the book. I think he's rather keen on our Moss or "this fabulous jewel in the beautiful north west", as he prefers to call it!

It's a slightly nerve-wracking time now, leading up the launch party at RSPB Leighton Moss in September (more details to follow), but after living with the book for almost a year, I'm allowing myself to get just a little excited...