Friday, 3 June 2016

Engineering in my Blood

Recently, my wife, Little Nell, has been digging into my Brindley family tree, and has managed to get back to an ancestor born in about 1800 in the West Midlands of England. This is pretty tantalising since there was a famous civil engineer, James Brindley, who lived in the area, dying in 1772.

If we can get one more generation back, we can find out if I am related to him.  However, he only had daughters by his marriage, but his brothers had sons, so perhaps there is a link. At least his legacy has come down to us, both my father and I had careers as professional engineers.  Amazingly, James' mother's maiden name was Bradbury, as was my own mother's.

James'  great contribution to the World was the development of a system of building canals more efficiently and cheaply than had ever been done before.  He started by designing  the Bridgewater Canal, which his company then built, to bring coal from the Duke of Bridgewater's mines to the cotton mills of Manchester at a much lower price than previously, thus kick-starting the Industrial Revolution.  He went on to become the greatest canal builder the country has ever seen, and was among the most well regarded engineers of his day, a precursor to Brunel, Stevenson and Telford.

Before he turned his hand to Canal building, he owned a company designing and building many water mills.  These days, one of them,  the Brindley Mill at Leek in Staffordshire,  has been restored to working order, and is open to the public.  Whilst still living in UK, I was a member of the Brindley Mill Preservation Trust, and visited the Mill on several occasions, once with a group of Brindleys from Alabama.

When he was dying, his friend Josiah Wedgewood the potter, sent his doctor, Erasmus Darwin, the grandfather of Charles, to tend to him.  He diagnosed diabetes, but was unable to save him.
His epitaph from the Chester Courant on 1st December 1772 read:

JAMES BRINDLEY lies amongst these Rocks,
 He made Canals, Bridges, and Locks,
 To convey Water; he made Tunnels
 for Barges, Boats, and Air-Vessels;
 He erected several Banks,
 Mills, Pumps, Machines, with Wheels and Cranks;
 He was famous t’invent Engines,
 Calculated for working Mines;
 He knew Water, its Weight and Strength,
 Turn’d Brooks, made Soughs to a great Length;
 While he used the Miners’ Blast,
 He stopp’d Currents from running too fast;
 There ne’er was paid such Attention
 As he did to Navigation.
 But while busy with Pit or Well,
 His Spirits sunk below Level;
 And, when too late, his Doctor found,
 Water sent him to the Ground.    

Not perhaps the greatest poetry, but I think it covers most of his works and abilities!

Join us this week at Sepia Saturday where our inspiring image originated.

Friday, 4 March 2016

A long way for a drink

This Week's Sepia Saturday picture is of  men delivering water from a well in Queretaro, Mexico.  There are many parallels with life here in Lanzarote at that time, so I thought I'd do a short piece about the importance of water here, and why those men might think themselves fortunate.  In my blog The Lanzarote they Left Behind, I wrote here about the crucial role of the lack of water in driving the waves of migration from Lanzarote to south and central America in previous centuries. Essentially, it is incredibly dry here.  In the last year I have measured about 4 inches of rain at our home in Playa Blanca - about what we normally expect, and a third of that experienced even in the driest states in the USA - and most of that came in 3 days last month, which means that our normally arid landscape has taken on a bright green hue and the fields are full of wild flowers. In Queretaro, Google tells me they get about 20 inches a year, much less than most of UK, but probably an incredible amount for someone used to our parched conditions.  A few people from there probably did make their way to Queretaro but most Lanzarotenos settled in South America and Texas - they fought at the Alamo, and the first mayor and most of the corporation of San Antonio came from here.

Teguise, the old Capital of Lanzarote, still looks like Queretaro did, all those years ago, although it is now in colour, rather than sepia! 

In Teguise, they had a Mareta - literally, a little sea - which was a basin about 60 feet across, full of water, which was sold at a shocking price to the needy, making the owner very rich.

In out long, hot summers, the Mareta would have evaporated quickly and I'm sure many men made a similar journey, with pots on wheelbarrows or, in our case, camels, to fill up their own storage tanks - aljibes - before it all went.  I notice that in Queretaro, the women were filling the jars for the water.  In Lanzarote, they often walked for many miles balancing the jars on their heads - I couldn't find a picture of that, but here is one of them carrying baskets, which gives you an idea of the harsh conditions, that probably made the Americas very appealing.

Most houses had their own rainwater catchment and storage aljibes, but I estimate, that the Lanzarote farmers would run a family, a couple of labourers, a few animals and an acre of so of crops for a year on less water than my wife and I use in a month!  If nothing else living here has made me appreciate the benefits of modern living.  We have a virtually unlimited supply of water now, produced by reverse osmosis desalination of seawater at a big facility just along the coast.  That has enabled the permanent population of the island to rise from about 15,000 a century ago to about ten times that now, and has allowed tourism to bring in 2.5 million visitors each year, providing a much better income for the Lanzarotenos than scratching a living in the dust.