Water always wins

We get a lot of junk mail through the door, but I always have a look through the Valley Life magazine*, as between the small ads, recipes, and gardening tips there is usually one article featuring of old photographs of the area. Many of the scenes are still recognisable and I love trying to work out where the photographer was standing, which buildings are still there, which have been demolished, and so on.

This month’s issue delves into the fascinating world of civil engineering and Victorian architecture and describes how Widdop reservoir supplies Halifax with fresh water. The reservoir was built in the 1870s and holds 640,511,000 gallons of water, but lies high above Hebden Bridge, with nearly 8 miles (as the crow flies) of hills and valleys to cross before reaching the town. Work was supervised by the excellently-named John F La Trobe Bateman (FRSE FRS MICE FRGS FGS FSA and President of the Institution of Civil Engineers in Britain 1878-9), who seems to be responsible for constructing much of the country’s water supply infrastructure at the time.

Widdop valve house

A number of valleys had to be crossed en route to the city – in some places, aqueducts were built, but elsewhere an ingenious device called an inverted syphon was employed.

Inverted syphon

The principle is similar to the u-bend under a sink, and as we can see here, fairly simple to set up (that site gives me flashbacks to Chemical Engineering classes. So glad I didn’t spend the next three years calculating flows).

One of the syphons lies between Hollins Hall and Pecket Well, but the land on the other side of the valley is higher, so a tunnel had to be dug through the hillside. The Castle Carr tunnel is 2550 yards long and has three ventilation shafts, the deepest of which is 476 yards. They can be clearly seen on the OS 1:25,000 maps if you have one (if not Bing will be able to help you, just change the view to Ordnance Survey). The shafts are listed by Historic England, as they show “Good examples of stonemasons work on top of the moors in an isolated location”.

Pecket Well ventilation shaft

I’d noticed these shafts a few weeks ago when I was running up there, but couldn’t quite work out what they were. It’s too far from the railway line, so unlikely to be a train tunnel; I assumed it was a mine of some sort. It’s not a good place for mining though, as apparently the rock is so hard that the explosive charges were just blasted out of the drill holes, having no effect on the rock at all.

The tunnel ends at the Castle Carr estate, a country retreat which the article says contains the highest gravity-fed water feature in the UK (though the fountains at Chatsworth and Stanway are higher. Perhaps they meant height above sea level. At 300 metres it’s pretty hard to beat). I’d never heard of this place before and it’s not surprising – it has fallen into ruin and is only open to the public one day a year. This report makes it sound like it is really worth visiting, so I’ll try and make the trip next month.

Maybe I’ll get round to writing another post about it!

[*] No hyperlink, as the address they give, http://www.facebook.com/Valley-Life-magazine redirects to http://www.facebook.com/valleylifemagazine, which is an Italian lifestyle magazine. Not sure what’s going on there. I’m not on Facebook, so maybe that kind of thing happens all the time. Who knows?

Lost in the Infinite Wilderness of America

Did you hear about the Welsh-speaking tribe of American Indians? No? Well, indie rock genius Gruff Rhys is travelling the world, playing songs from his film, book, and album American Interior, which tells the tale of John Evans, the man who went to find them.

The story starts with the Norman invasion, when the Celts were pushed back to the fringes of Britain, with the Welsh territory largely reduced to Anglesey and Snowdonia. Owain Gwynedd strengthened the kingdom, but on his death, his successors began to fight amongst each other, causing his son Prince Madoc to decide to set sail in search of new lands to settle. Apparently, he made it all the way to America and established a settlement in Mobile, Alabama. After returning to Wales to gather more supporters, he travelled up the Mississippi, eventually stopping near North Dakota. Here, his descendants remained, passing on their language and skills such as building coracles.

That’s the legend anyway, and it became fairly popular in Elizabethan times, as Britain tried to claim more territory in the new lands of America by insisting that they had actually got there first. Some years later, Iolo Morganwg decided to raise an expedition to find this lost tribe and put Wales back on the world map. Unfortunately, there was only one applicant, John Evans.

Evans and Morganwg set off to London to find some benefactors for their trip, but after little success, Iolo scarpered back to Wales, leaving Evans penniless in the big city. He decided to go ahead and travel to the US anyway.

The inner sleeve of Rhys’ LP shows Evans’ route from Baltimore, then Philadelphia (“where they taught him to make maps”), and onwards to the Mississippi and finally to the lands of the Mandan in present day North Dakota.

[Map by Pete Fowler, who did most of Super Furry Animals’ artwork]

American Interior interior

American Interior LP inner sleeve


More maps and illustrations were on display during the show – here’s Gruff playing in front of maps of the Ohio River (“it looked exactly like this”) and the Canadian border at the 49th parallel (I think you probably had to be there).

Gruff Rhys and USA river map Gruff Rhys and the 49th Parallel

Evans had many adventures along the way including catching malaria, being imprisoned, defecting to the Spanish, persuading the English army to abandon a fort (thereby annexing the land for Spain), defending the Canadian border, and finally sailing the length of the Mississippi before dying in New Orleans. The whole saga is summed up excellently in the song 100 Unread Messages.

Rhys’ sleeve notes above (and detail below) highlight the difficulty of using the correct names when discussing the indigenous people of North America. History is written by the victors and too often, a name given by outsiders can stick, even though it causes offence.

Notes on terminology

Luckily for us, a young cartographer has produced a map of Native American tribes showing their names and locations before the Europeans arrived. Below is a detail of the map, showing the Mandan nation, the most likely candidates for the lost tribe that John Evans was searching for.

Tribal Nations

So, even though Evans never found the lost Welsh tribe, his efforts weren’t in vain, as his maps were used by Lewis and Clark during their journeys through the American west.

Mystery still seems to surround Evans though, as the above site also seems to think he is Scottish. Oh well, as I’ve said before, print the legend.

Thinking inside the box

This week’s @visualoop Vintage Infodesign roundup had a number of interesting entries, but this Soviet admin map caught my eye:

[Original image can be found here.]

Main Administration Regions of the Soviet Union in 1944

It reminds me of a map I made a few years ago. I had a dream where I saw a completely rectangular map of the lower 48 states of the USA. Perhaps I’d been reading too much Dr Seuss, but it made perfect sense, so when I woke up, I tried to recreate it.

Rectangular USA
Amazing, isn’t it?

I took a US States dataset and edited each state polygon down to just four points, then moved them around and added one or two more points where necessary. The result is quite pleasing, and most of the states are still a recognisable shape, though there are some notable exceptions. When distorting features in this way, there has to be some compromise and in the end, I chose to prioritise the state areas, then try to preserve  the shapes as much as possible. Some states, like Florida and Texas were never going to fit neatly into a rectangle, but I can at least make sure they stay the same size.

Let’s take a closer look at how the new “improved” map compares with the old.


New England doesn’t really work at all when compressed into a rectangle, but most of the borders stay intact. Vermont and New Hampshire have shuffled westwards, so they now border New York instead of Massachusetts and Maine has moved across to take their place.

USA Midwest

Not such a bad fit in the Midwest, although the Great Lakes have dried up and Michigan now has a land border with New York.


The larger states in the north west are probably the closest match to their original outlines.


Likewise the southwest, though Texas has had a large part sliced off.


Florida is probably the worst victim of this arrangement, but the panhandle was never going to fit into a neat rectangle.

Anyway, enough silliness for today, let’s get back to work.

Ships, Clocks & Stars

Despite the fact that my family is from London, and I was born there, I’ve never been to Greenwich. This means I’ve never seen the Royal Observatory or the Greenwich meridian, even though it is, quite literally, the centre of the world. Kind of.

Anyway, last weekend was a good time to put this right, as the Royal Museums Greenwich are holding an exhibition to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the Longitude Act. If you haven’t been already, I strongly recommend a visit before the exhibition ends on 4th January 2015. It’s the first time that all five of John Harrison’s timepieces are on public display together.

Sailing in the 18th century was a hazardous business, and poor navigation often resulted in longer journeys or even shipwreck, as with the Scilly disaster of 1707. The main difficulty was determining a ship’s position while at sea; establishing latitude was fairly straightforward, by measuring the angle of the sun over the horizon at midday, but longitude proved more of a challenge. The most common method was to use dead reckoning – basically to follow a bearing and assume that you haven’t been blown off course by the wind or tides.

The government decided to start a competition to solve the problem and passed the Longitude Act of 1714, which established the Board of Longitude, who would award a prize of up to £20,000 to whoever could come up with a method of determining longitude at sea.

(Interestingly, this article suggests that the Longitude Act was just a distraction to postpone actually doing something about the appalling conditions on board ship at that time.)

Five methods emerged as contenders, most of which used time to determine longitude. Given that the sun moves through 360° every 24 hours, that’s 15° every hour. So, if you are 15° W of Greenwich, it will be midday one hour later. The local time can be determined by seeing when the sun is at its apex (i.e. midday), so it follows that if you know the local time and the time at Greenwich, you can work out how many degrees of longitude you have travelled. So, how do we know the time in Greenwich when we have been at sea for weeks or months on end? Clocks of that period were unreliable and could not keep time during a long voyage.


Probably the least plausible method was to set up an array of signalling stations that would send up a rocket at regular intervals, say every hour. The idea was that sailors would hear the signal and recalibrate their onboard timepieces. Also, the time difference between seeing and hearing the flare would allow the distance from the signal to be calculated.

The problem with this method is the difficulty of maintaining the position of ships at sea, making sure the signals were released at the right time, and the reliability of ordnance. Would the rocket reach the right height, or explode too early?


It was known at the time that the Earth’s magnetic field varied and that there was a difference between magnetic north (as shown by a compass) and true north (as shown by the Sun and stars). Some people thought that if the all the magnetic fields across the globe could be mapped, then they could be used to determine a ship’s position. This chart by Edmond Halley is an attempt at plotting these fields:

Sea chart of magnetic variations

A new and correct sea chart of the whole world showing the variations of the compass as they were found in the year 1700
© National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London

Unfortunately, the Earth’s magnetic field changes over time and has too many local variations for this method to be of any use.

Jupiter’s Moons

The idea of using lunar or solar eclipses to determine time had been considered before, but these events were too infrequent to be of much use. However, when Galileo discovered in 1610 that Jupiter had four moons that disappeared behind the planet and reappeared at regular intervals, he realised that this method had some potential. He attempted to persuade first the Spanish, then the Dutch government to produce telescopes and train navigators to make the observations, but he was unsuccessful. Even one hundred years later, improved technology could not make instruments accurate enough to view a small object like Jupiter from the deck of a moving ship. This method did prove to be very effective though for establishing longitude on land and was used well into the 18th century.

Lunar Distances

If Jupiter’s moons were difficult to observe, a method requiring observations of our own moon should have been much easier. The idea was that an angle could be measured between the Moon and a star, for example the pole star, giving a ‘lunar distance’. After consulting an almanac of distances – and also altitudes of the Moon and stars – for various places around the globe, the local time should be easily determined. However, the Moon’s motions are very complex and constructing such a table proved very difficult.


The most accurate clocks of the period incorporated pendulums, which were unable to function properly on a moving ship. Watches and smaller timepieces were too susceptible to heat and humidity to remain accurate over long periods of time. A young clockmaker from Lincolnshire, John Harrison, had started to experiment with using wooden components, which required no oil, yet were almost frictionless. Over the next few decades, he constructed a series of timepieces (H1-5, on display as the centrepiece of the exhibition), continually making improvements, but never quite doing enough to please either himself or the Board of Longitude. The clocks performed well over a number of sea trials, with, for example, Captain Cook referring to his ‘trusty friend’ and ‘never-failing guide’. Eventually, Harrison petitioned the Prime Minister, and after a debate in parliament, he was awarded  £8750.

John Harrison's H1

Three-quarter view of Harrison’s marine timekeeper H1
© National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, Ministry of Defence Art Collection

It’s clear that the Board were reluctant to award any of the prize to Harrison and continued to champion the lunar distance method, as favoured by Nevil Maskelyne, the Astronomer Royal. They kept asking for Harrison’s timepieces to be sent on more sea trials and often discounted the trials that had taken place, claiming they were ‘unofficial’. The Board was stuffed with parliamentarians, Fellows of the Royal Society, and other members of the establishment and they weren’t about to give to prize away to some chippy northener. (This article sheds a little more light on Maskelyne’s role in the affair.)

I don’t think the exhibition made enough of Harrison’s struggles against the establishment, but nevertheless, it is fascinating and packed with information. There is so much more to see, as the institution is actually four museums on one site – hopefully I’ll have time to go and visit the rest of it before too long.

Konichiwa Manchester!

I was passing through the Japanese department of Manchester University at the weekend (don’t ask why, it’s a long story), when I saw this entertaining poster on someone’s office door. It shows the city centre and selected landmarks, with a lot of cartographic licence in play – whole streets and junctions are missing and the trams have just been dumped randomly between buildings. I don’t think it is intended for navigation though…

Manchester Japanese

Now, I don’t speak any Japanese, but a few minutes on Google translate told me that the word in blue is ‘Manchester’. The second word is probably ‘music’, as it matches the first word below Music Box and Rockworld. Any suggestions as to the last word of the title, please feel free to comment below.

Even if I don’t know the full title of the map, there’s no mistaking the theme – the legend lists twenty music venues around the city and many Mancunian musicians can be seen wandering the streets. The monobrowed Gallagher brothers loom out of the lower left corner, a bequiffed Morrissey is to the right, and the sainted Anthony H. Wilson stands next to the old Granada Studios. Yes, I know that he and many of the people shown here are actually from Salford, but they’re on the other side of the river today.

Looking a bit closer, there are plenty more characters, though I don’t recognise them all. Perhaps some are just random bystanders – let me know if I’ve missed anyone.

Manchester Mondays

Doing some freaky dancing on the roof of GMEX is Bez from the Happy Mondays, while Shaun Ryder gets up to no good with some pigeons nearby. Ian Curtis stands on Deansgate, a very simian-looking Ian Brown is coming round the corner, and I think that’s John Robb outside the Hacienda.

Manchester BeeGees

Further south, the Bee Gees are dancing down Oxford Road, while the Cornerhouse is showing (what else?) 24 Hour Party People. I’m not sure about the guy on the corner – is he a lost raver? Answers on a postcard.

Manchester Smith Hucknall

Over near Canal Street (where Pride seems to be in full swing), Mark E. Smith is having a good shout at a taxi, and Mick Hucknall is standing in Piccadilly Gardens.

Manchester Small Evans

Waiting for a bus at the top of Deansgate is Heather Small, and that might be Chris Evans behind triangle, though it could be anyone to be honest.

Manchester Badly Drawn Hook

Lurking near Piccadilly Records is Badly Drawn Boy, and that must be Peter Hook outside the Dry Bar. It doesn’t look anything like him, but that’s his stance alright.

It’s hard to put a date on this map, but there a plenty of clues. The copyright notice on the right hand side names Creative Lynx, which ceased to exist in June 2012, GMEX was renamed in 2007, and the Hacienda was demolished in 2002. Granada Studios and the BBC only closed this year, as they moved to Media City, and lastly Tony Wilson became the late Tony Wilson in 2007.

I think the best guess is closer to 2002, when 24 Hour Party People was likely to be on in the cinema, though given how much popular culture Manchester has to celebrate, it’s probably on there all the time.