Reading Upperintermediate Text 7
Annus mirabilis: 1771
The historian and author Emily Cockayne explains why
1771 is her favourite year from history.
In choosing dates for my
first book, Hubbub; Filth, Noise & Stench in England 1600-1770, I
did not mean to suggest that the country became a clean, quiet and fragrant
idyll in 1771, but the year does mark a turning point. Many cities were being
improved through street widening, paving and the development of sewerage
systems. Oxford lost the Bocardo, a medieval prison once home to the Protestant
Martyrs, as part of John Gwynn’s redevelopment. New bridges opened in Bath,
Battersea and Perth.
1771 was a good time for
neighbourliness. Interconnected and entwined living was common; neighbours met,
saw, knew and cared about each other. They nursed each other through illness.
This was, however, a healthy year. Many hospitals were constructed or expanded,
and there was no major epidemic. Inoculation against smallpox was suppressing
one fearsome disease.
In 1771 Britain was on the
cusp of industrial revolution. Richard Arkwright built the first water-powered
cotton spinning mill at Cromford in Derbyshire. The non- conformist spinster
Eleanor Coade dumped her business partner, who had made outlandish claims about
their artificial stone products. The burgeoning canal network extended markets;
Josiah Wedgwood used the Trent and Mersey Canal to transport pottery from his
Etruria works. In Birmingham, Wedgwood’s chums in the Lunar Circle discussed
pioneering endeavours. Spending the summer experimenting with mint sprigs, mice
and candles, Joseph Priestly proved that plants altered the composition of air.
Readers devoured tales
about the travels of country squire Matthew Bramble in Tobias Smollett’s
epistolary novel The Expedition of Humphrey Clinker. Unfortunately, Smollett
died three months after the publication. Fact-seekers heaved home the new
three-volume Encyclopaedia Britannica. Samuel Johnson celebrated the retention
of a British settlement on the Falkland Islands (‘a colony that could never
become independent’) following Spanish diplomatic standoffs.
Metrosexual men strutted in
Macaroni fashions rivalling extravagant female attire. Absurdly encumbering
hairstyles were mockingly engraved by Matthew and Mary Darly. Marcellus Laroon,
perhaps inspired by gales which battered the country at the end of the year,
illustrated more everyday folk battling "High Winds”. The sporting event to
attend was a cricket match in Chertsey, Surrey. Thomas ‘Daddy’ White came out
for the home side carrying a bat which was as wide as the wicket. The opposing
team protested, and the "monster bat incident” prompted changes in the laws of
cricket. England’s willows lived to weep another day.
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