Guides Mr Douet and Ms Criado on this expedition will have different stories, but for Mr Baldie this all started at primary school when Mr Bigley (bicycle, brilliantine, brilliant), tiring of 35 bawling sopranos and a rather miserable classroom, reinvented himself as an urban William Cobbett, and started walking us round the neighbourhood. We inspected late- and post-Victorian houses and churches, workshops and factories, encouraging us to think about our future as well as improving our general education - two of the largest local employers, the docks and the car plant, were then in terminal decline.
The cake department at the bread factory stuck in my mind, but musical diversions meant that - apart from some minor incursions with works bands in Lancashire - I didn't get to meet big machines with numerate owners again until some 15 years later, when I did more or less useful stuff for several American-owned textile businesses in Germany. This was followed by a Dutch industrial and utility power generation manufacturer, and then finally a software startup which ran scheduling and supply chain operations for manufacturers like Heineken and parts of Unilever and GlaxoSmithKline. (It is said that Eastman Kodak at Rochester, NY still recalls a (successful) sales presentation on how our package would enable rapid restructuring of their US business in the face of a Martian invasion.)
In a wonderful letter to his friend Maurice Delage, the composer Ravel describes one of the great discoveries of his 1905 voyage up the Rhine:
After a lazy day on a very wide river between hopelessly flat banks devoid of character, we came upon a city of chimneys and domes spewing forth flames as well as reddish and blue fumes. It was Ahaus [sic], a gigantic foundry in which 24,000 men work night and day.... We went down to the mills at nightfall. How can I tell you about these smelting castles, these incandescent cathedrals, and the wonderful symphony of travelling belts, whistles, and terrific hammerblows which envelop you? And everywhere the sky is a scorching, deep red. Then, a storm broke out. We returned horribly drenched, in different moods. Ida [Godebska] was terrified and wanted to cry. So did I, but for joy. How much music there is in all of this! - and I certainly intend to use it. (Arbie Orenstein (ed), A Ravel Reader: Correspondence, Articles, Interviews)
I'm not smart enough to survive unscathed for very long in a world dominated by the exact sciences, so my clumsy incursions into science and technology have always been accompanied by cultural excursions of this type. I'd read the steamier bits of Zola as a kid, but a serious addiction to Victorian-era industrial naturalism/realism came while struggling (almost suicidally) through the Silesian dialect version of Hauptmann's De Waber, a bleak tragedy based on an 1844 weavers' rising. Then came more Nordics, the French, and the Spanish - my favourite, Baroja, and writers like Pérez Galdós, Pardo Bazán, Valle-Inclán, Blasco Ibáñez, Oller, Vallmitjana...
These two personal streams meet here in what the Germans call Industriekultur, roughly translatable as industrial heritage. This, without ending up as a witless mishmash, seeks to provide a broader context for industrial archaeology: the history of science and technology is related to that of entrepreneurs, finance and labour, of geographical and architectural space, and so forth.
We have chosen to focus on the Bourbon restoration in Spain, which inaugurated a long period of comparative peace, facilitating a great, overdue, and short-lived qualitative and quantitative leap in industrialisation, and a great burst of creativity in which Gaudí is the best-known of many names.
And the two products we earnestly hope to flog to you are:
Ravel attempted to use his Ruhr experience in an opera, La cloche engloutie, "The sunken clock," based on Hauptmann's Die versunkene Glocke, but abandoned the project, although he apparently reused some of the material in his Spanish clock opera, L'heure espagnole. Here's the Glyndebourne version:
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