Charles Waterton and the Industrial Revolution

Walton Hall View

Above: Walton Hall with Waterton’s wall visible in the background.

Charles Waterton was born at Walton Hall on 3 June 1782. George III had been sitting on the British throne for over 21 years. It was the year before the end of of the American Revolutionary War and Warren Hastings was still ensconced in his role as the first governor of India. A few months earlier Lord North had been replaced as Prime Minister by the Marquis of Rockingham, but the age of Pitt the younger was about to begin.

Although it has been suggested* that Walton, the village of Waterton’s birth, had been the site of coal mining activity since the seventeenth century, the full force of industrialisation was still to be seen in the area. The growth of industrial communications infrastructure began with the canals which were essential for getting raw materials efficiently to market. Britain’s first true canal, the Bridgewater Canal had opened in Manchester around 20 years earlier. This inspired the construction of other canals including the one that ran through Walton.

Waterton was 11 years old when construction of that canal, the Barnsley Canal, began in 1793. It was not completed until 1802 when he was 19. Since the canal route ran right next to his home at Walton Hall, the disruption to the countryside would have been obvious to him and may have helped shape his future attitudes during these key formative years.

He came of age in 1803 and in 1804 he began his ‘wanderings in South America’ where he established his reputation as an explorer.

Charles Waterton would later become an early environmentalist and transform his Walton Hall estate into the world’s first nature reserve. He would also engage in perhaps the world’s first environment inspired legal action against the pollution caused by nearby industry. He was becoming nature’s champion in the face of accelerating industrial revolution.

Going back to the broader historical context with which this post was started, by the time Waterton began building the famous wall of his famous nature reserve, history hurtled forward at a most rapid pace. Industry was transforming Britain into the world’s fist industrial society. George IV was now on the throne, the French Revolution had taken place and Napoleon Bonaparte had risen and fallen. Great Britain was now the world’s preeminent world power and its science was moving forward at an unprecedented rate. In the future, Charles Darwin, inspired by the work of Charles Waterton would revolutionise the science of biology and change the world.



Charles Waterton – A Pivotal Figure From Walton’s History

Charles Waterton by Charles Wilson Peale, 1824, National Gallery, London

Charles Waterton by Charles Wilson Peale, 1824, National Gallery, London By Stephencdickson – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Click: to see changes made to original.

First published on my Waterton’s Walton blog.

Charles Waterton is a famous figure who was an inspiration to naturalist Charles Darwin who revolutionised science. On one occasion Darwin himself was Waterton’s guest at Walton Hall. Waterton is, in his own right, internationally significant in the history of science.

England’s most important historical attribute is that it was the world’s first industrialised society. Waterton helps place Walton right in the middle of the Industrial Revolution, a global historical turning point that began in the north of England and set off reverberations down the ages and across continents and impacts on daily life even today.

Waterton’s philosophy was a direct reaction to the negative impact of this revolution in human progress. It provided a message about how we can better manage this progress for the benefit of both humankind and the natural environment. It is therefore a message directly relevant to the challenges of our own time. Walton was one of the first places in the world where there were serious attempts to mitigate some of its negative consequences.

It was on his estate at Walton Hall that he created the world’s first nature reserve. This made Walton an important place in the history of environmentalism and as such it can be seriously argued that Walton was the village where nature and industry first met.

What happened in Walton in the early days of industry is something that has modern relevance. It is also something that could link the hard-working ordinary people of Walton’s industrial past to profound events that transformed our world. Due to its place in the industrial revolution Walton could exemplify the transition from an agricultural to an industrial society. This is of equal significance to the period when agriculture first emerged in the Fertile Crescent of the Near East which led to the development of the first cities. The transition from agriculture to industry is surely of equal interest as the transition from hunter gatherer to agriculture based societies.

It is the presence of Charles Waterton that helps differentiate Walton from other ex-mining villages and is something that makes the history of the village of much wider public interest.


Poppy Exhibition at Bretton Park

Went to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Wakefield, today to see the exhibition of some of the poppies that were previously on display at the Tower of London. The exhibit is called Wave, and to me takes the form of a water fall or a wave breaking on the shore.

Projectile vomit would be another analogy (though that is a product of my fertile imagination), but that would imply negativity for something that is really quite excellent, indeed it seems like people are coming from miles around to see this spectacle and the carparks are at bursting point to the extent that adjoining fields have been opened up for car parking. I personally enjoyed seeing this and would recommend it to others. Well worth a visit.

The press release for the exhibition states:

“Wave is from the installation Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red – poppies and original concept created by artist Paul Cummins and installation designed by Tom Piper – by Paul Cummins Ceramics Limited in conjunction with Historic Royal Palaces. The installation was originally at HM Tower of London from August to November 2014 where 888,246 poppies were displayed, one to honour every death in the British and Colonial forces of the First World War.”










Shield Bugs in Yorkshire

Written on 5 June 2014


I was just looking through some photographs I took earlier this year. I came across one of a rather unusual insect that I took on 30 April 2014. Looking at it, it this exotic creature put me in mind my of the days when I studied geology – it reminded a bit of a trilobite.  I thought I would try to find out what it was so I Googled the phrase “acorn shaped insect”. I came across references to “stink bugs” and “shield bugs”.

According to an article on the BBC website they are more normal in the Mediterranean though they have more recently become established in the south of England. There have been some suggestions that the spread of these creatures is indicative of climate change.

They are supposed to be rare outside of the south of England but I took the following photo in Yorkshire. Hope it means we will have a nice summer!


Cyber Security and International Relations

Written on 11 March 2014


I have just read a short, but interesting article by Rod Beckstrom entitled ‘It’s a MAD, MAD, MAD Cyber World’.  It was particularly interesting to me because of my academic background in international relations on which it draws parallels.  The article compares the current cyber security situation with the Cold War national security concepts, particularly with the doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction(MAD) Doctrine of the Cold War.

MAD doctrine related to the concept of deterrence that kept the peace during the Cold War. Under MAD conflict between the Great Powers was prevented by making the cost so high it would be rigorously avoided.  The idea was based on the assertion that if NATO was attacked by the Warsaw Pact the response would be total rather than proportional.  This meant that any attack would result in General Nuclear War. This was understood by all the actors.

Beckstrom refers to the Internet variant MAD as Mutually Assured Disruption.  This is based on the fact that the Internet is of immense value to all nations and that if one nation attacks another the other will respond in kind.  Of course, the actors on the Internet are not restricted to nation states.  The situation is therefore far more complex than the Cold War, and rogue elements are far more prevalent.  Also the consequences of upsetting the game would by no means herald the end of civilisation. The doctrine would therefore not be as an effective behavioural control mechanism as it was during the Cold War.

Nevertheless, an interesting article which can be read at:

Northallerton Lecture Hosted By Wakefield Historical Society

Written on 14 November 2013


Above: One of Northallerton’s historic buildings.

Yesterday evening I was fortunate to be able to attend a lecture organised by Wakefield Historical Society.  The lecture was delivered by Jennifer Allison of the Northallerton and District Historical Society in the ancient Chantry Chapel on the bridge next to the River Calder.  Its title was ‘Northallerton: The Evolution Of A County Town’.

It was well delivered and interesting to listen to and made the story of a town I have never visited come alive.  It was also interesting to see the similarities between Northallerton and my own home town of Wakefield which can also be described as a county town.

Its fortunes were in some instances shaped by its geographic position at the centre of the northern part of the North Riding of Yorkshire.  Since the time of King William II it was under the authority of the Bishop of Durham, the city where I myself studied as an undergraduate.  Due to its position on the Great North Road that linked London to Scotland it grew as a market town.  During times of war between England and Scotland, it was a stopover point for armies heading north to battles of historic importance in Scotland.  Its buildings in many ways appear to be similar to those in Wakefield.  The lecture also gave information about its many pubic houses, its race course, and its castle/Bishops’ palace.

Congratulations to Jennifer Allison on an excellent and informative lecture.

The Coming Information Revolution

It is around this time each year that I get the latest issue of The World In series, published by The Economist. THIS webpage and THIS one give information about The World In 2013 to give you an idea about what I am talking about. I find it both entertaining and informative to read people’s thoughts about what the next year may have in store for us. The other day I came across a very interesting presentation entitled Workplace 2020 Keynote at Leadership Summit 2013 by Dion Hinchcliffe, Chief Strategy Officer at Dachis. This looks a timespan greater than a single year but I found it interesting for similar reasons and therefore thought that I would share it here. It looks at the accelerating pace of technological change and how computer use will change by 2020

Workplace 2020 Keynote at Leadership Summit 2013 from Dion Hinchcliffe

It seems from looking at this presentation that change will become even more rapid and fundamental than it is today. This may result in institutional transformations on a scale that have never been known. Institutions that interest groups have taken decades to control may become irrelevant or disappear overnight. The technological changes outlined will, inevitably, have a massive impact on us bloggers as well as on how NGO’s and grassroots groups can impact on policy at local, national, and international level. It seems like the ‘Global Village’ may be transformed into the ‘Global Hamlet’ or even ‘Global House’.

It looks like the years ahead will be interesting.

Wakefield 2013 – An Autumnal Stroll

Wakefield Autumn 15

Since it was such a nice today, I went on an autumnal stroll around my home city of Wakefield. I decided to take some photos on the way. I always take photos when I am travelling abroad, so I thought I would do the same in my home city.  In some ways autumn is my favourite season due to the colours that it provides so I thought it was an appropriate time for photography.  I tried to include trees in the photographs to capture the spirit of autumn.

The walk started around Wentworth Terrace, then proceeded up St John’s North to St John’s Square.  At St John’s there was a veritable army of people with all kinds of filming equipment as if they were about to film an epic on the scale of Ben Hur.  Of course, it might have just been a film class from the nearby college!  Nevertheless they had laid what looked like railway tracks for a moving camera, or was it part of the new HS2 rail link! 😉

Wentworth Terrace
Wakefield Autumn 6

St John’s North
Wakefield Autumn 11

St John’s Church
Wakefield Autumn 2

St John’s Square
Wakefield Autumn 5

Newstead Road
Wakefield Autumn 19

My walk then proceeded into Wakefield’s civic quarter with its County Hall that harks back to the time when Wakefield was the capital of the West Riding of Yorkshire, and its Town Hall.

County Hall 1
Wakefield Autumn 13

County Hall 2
Wakefield Autumn 3

Town Hall 1
Wakefield Autumn 21

Town Hall 2
Wakefield Autumn 4

I went down Wood Street and turned right into Westgate, then right into Drury Lane and then left into the shiny new Merchant Gate development, and then to the Unitarian Chapel and nearby Orangery.

Town Hall Tower through the trees at Drury Lane.
Wakefield Autumn 20

Merchant Gate
Wakefield Autumn 17

I got talking to an interesting chap, while I took the following photograph of the Unitarian Chapel, who told me some stuff that I did not know.   He gave me some background about this old building that was constructed in 1752.  Apparently, the nearby Orangery once belonged to the Unitarian Church and was joined to the Church by an underground tunnel that has since been blocked up.  He went onto mention that there are catacombs under the chapel, where the great and good of old Wakefield were buried.  I never previously thought that Wakefield could perhaps claim the right to a future episode in the series Cities of the Underworld.  I walked on thinking about what exactly Unitarian Church meant…

Westgate Unitarian Chapel
Wakefield Autumn 1

The Orangery
Wakefield Autumn 7

The next photo stop on my stroll was the ancient cathedral which has its origins go in Anglo Saxon times.

Cathedral Precinct
Wakefield Autumn 14

Cathedral 1
Wakefield Autumn 16

Cathedral 2
Wakefield Autumn 12

My last photo stop and the end of my walk was the market – the new market house visible in the picture below.

Wakefield Market
Wakefield Autumn 18

When I got home I did some research about the Unitarian Church via the website of the Westgate Chapel. It seems to be a church that very much reflects my own deist beliefs. The following quote on the Westgate Chapel website summarises my own position on religious matters rather well:

“We believe that faith should be free from the constraints imposed by others. We believe that no one should dictate what another person may or may not believe.”

I will have to investigate unitarian philosophy further…